Stainless Steel Frets

wox

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,736
Price difference is negligible.

Seems like a no brainer and I’d guess that we see it more in the coming years as people start to ask for it.

Maybe not on “vintage correct” guitars, but on everything else, it makes sense to build longer lasting instruments that won’t need fret work in 3 or 5 years.
 

crazymauler

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
274
I’ve heard/read that the material (SS) is significantly more difficult to work with, for manufacturers and luthiers (cutting, shaping, polishing, more expensive tools required, etc.) I’ll admit I’m surprised the cost for SS isn’t much more than nickel.
 

dreamspace

Member
Messages
973
Have them in a couple of Warmoth builds, and have owned higher-end guitars that came with SS frets.

Honestly can't hear any difference, nor have I experienced more string-wear, which seems to get pushed a lot of various forums. They do feel a bit smoother, though.

Maybe change just takes time? Harley Benton offers guitars with SS frets, for as low as $400. I'd imagine other brands in the $500-$1500 range jumping on that trend, too.
 

wox

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,736
I’ve heard/read that the material (SS) is significantly more difficult to work with, for manufacturers and luthiers (cutting, shaping, polishing, more expensive tools required, etc.) I’ll admit I’m surprised the cost for SS isn’t much more than nickel.
I think you'll find a lot of extremely experienced luthiers and repair folks here on TGP who will tell you otherwise.

I am far from a pro, but have done a bunch of SS refrets and it's not much harder to work with.

Undercutting the tangs for boards with binding is the most difficult change for me because I can't use my old tang cutters and I have to do it by hand with a file (which takes forever, but I very rarely do bound boards).

Some members here have created some clever solutions that only take seconds and any manufacturer would use something like this.

Installation is no harder, and leveling, crowning, fret ends, and polishing take marginally longer.
 
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wox

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,736
Also, you'll find a lot of manufacturers already using SS, I'm a bit surprised to not see on Gibson's Modern line, the new Fender Ultras, Charvels, etc.
 

Crunchtime

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,327
I’ve heard/read that the material (SS) is significantly more difficult to work with, for manufacturers and luthiers (cutting, shaping, polishing, more expensive tools required, etc.) I’ll admit I’m surprised the cost for SS isn’t much more than nickel.

I can only speculate as I don't do fret work but, I suspect SS frets require a bit more skill and perhaps may be a bit tougher on tools so manufacturers don't want to spend the money to get their workers to be at that extra skill level since a lot of manufacturers fret work is questionable at best with nickle frets as it is.
 

TattooedCarrot

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
4,095
Hard material to work on and get right. Also, some people perceive a tonal difference. I had some on an '80 Les Paul Custom done by Michael Tuttle who's known for being one of the best at them and man they looked like perfect little hot dogs. Played so smooth, never wore out. I personally did not hear a difference, but acoustically it did seem like the strings clanked a little more.

 
Messages
4,219
Seems like a no brainer, they don’t wear when using nickel strings, right? So why doesn’t every manufacturer use them? I have no idea what raw stock price differences are between different fret wires. I can’t imagine it is that much?
In my opinion/experience, it's just another of those things that many "purists" refuse to adopt on sheer principle alone because its different. I've had people here on TGP tell me they can hear a tonal difference between a guitar with SS frets and the same guitar with nickel frets when plugged into an amp, which is absolutely hilarious. If someone can actually identify that difference and definitively narrow it down to the fret type, it's likely they're more bat than human.

To me, there is absolutely no disadvantage to SS frets from a guitarist's point of view, and a ton of advantages including slinkier bending & vibrato, no need for costly fretwork, etc. A lot of major companies use them already with more companies being added to the list all the time (Kiesel, Tom Anderson, Suhr, Ernie Ball, Vigier, Strandberg, Mayones, Ibanez, Charvel, Schecter, G&L, etc). The companies that refuse to use them are (unsurprisingly) the ones with more "purist" fanbases (i.e. Fender and Gibson) aka I suppose they believe the people who buy those types of guitars will not be interested in or will be turned off by SS frets...and they're probably right :).
 

Bob Arbogast

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
970
I have a Martin M-36. A few years ago, I had the first seven frets replaced with SS. I detect no change in tone moving from the first seven frets to the rest.

This is on the same guitar, just one guitar, the same neck, the same body, the same nut, the same end pins, the same strings, the same tuners . . . the same guitar! ;)
 

radiolab

Member
Messages
1,124
Hard material to work on and get right. Also, some people perceive a tonal difference. I had some on an '80 Les Paul Custom done by Michael Tuttle who's known for being one of the best at them and man they looked like perfect little hot dogs. Played so smooth, never wore out. I personally did not hear a difference, but acoustically it did seem like the strings clanked a little more.

man. That right there is a beautiful thing.
 
Messages
2,530
Its basically impossible to A/B the same guitar with nickel vs SS frets so much like the tonewood issue or bolt on vs set neck vs neck through or semi-hollow vs solid, you just have to go with experience with many guitars. What properties did all guitars with X share?

For my part I do find SS fret guitars sound different. In my experience they are brighter and have a sharper attack. Kind of like putting NYXLs on replacing your average strings. That's not a bad thing but maybe it's not what everybody wants?

I have owned a couple guitars with SS frets, and I have one right now. I personally don't see a need for the whole industry to switch over. But I also don't seem to go through frets as fast as some people.
 

blong

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,214
I do a lot of fretwork. I can tell you, from my experience and several other luthiers with even more experience than I, all feel stainless is tougher to work with. It's now super tough, but a few things I find when I do stainless refrets:

1) They are harder on nippers and files, and on my wrists/hands. They chew up nippers and dull files faster, and it is harder to cut. If you have to undercut the tang for a bound fretboard, it's tougher to cut the tang and file it down. I have quality tools. I have two sets of nippers. The ones I use on NS and EVO wire last forever. It's years before I replace them. The ones I use for stainless get replaced after about 7 to a dozen refrets. And the force it takes to cut them is harder on the wrist. I feel it, bigtime.

2) It has to be radiused almost exactly, if not perfectly, to the fretboard radius. Metal can have a spring action, and stainless is definitely more "spring-y." If not radiused properly, it can pop up in some places. So that takes a little more accuracy, and, therefore, time. NS and EVO I tend to overradius just a bit so the barbs grab the walls of the slot a little better.

3) It is harder to polish up. Once frets are leveled, the marks left in the material have to be polished out. It's harder material, so it takes more time to polish up to butter smooth. Once done, it's great stuff and will stay smooth and buttery for much longer.

4) It can wear strings faster, particularly the wound strings. But it takes a while. I have guitars with all 3 fretwires: NS, EVO (probably my favorite, as it has some of the qualities of SS but is easier to work with, to me, for all the reasons I'm listing here), and SS. I have so man guitars and some go in the rotation for a long period of time. Some don't get string changes as often as others. The ones with stainless, I see the wear in the wraps on some frets, but it's not so fast that it makes a difference to me. I do change strings on those guitars a little more often. If you change strings every 2 to 4 weeks, you may not notice it. If you use strings until their lifeless, you will notice it to some degree. I say this effect is negligible.

5) I do hear a modicum of difference on already bright guitars. I do hear that ping. It's slight, and mostly noticeable if I play unplugged, but on one of my guitars, I hear it. That guitar is already bright, and it is noticeable on that guitar. I don't hear it on all guitars, so I'm in the middle camp on whether you can hear it or not. I have begun to wonder, and this is entirely anecdotal, we'd have to have oscilloscopes and frequency analyzers to truly see if there's a difference, but after probably a hundered or more of SS fret jobs over the past few years, I have begun to wonder if some woods or guitars enhance those frequencies more than others. I have a 1983 Kramer Pacer refretted with SS, and the guitar was already bright. It's the one I hear it on most. I do think I can hear it on some guitars, but not others. It's like changing saddles or a trem block, you can sometimes tell a difference in frequencies that are enhanced. Is it enough to bother me? Nope. I just notice it. But I keep on playing and don't let it get to me. I have probably 5 or 6 guitars with SS? Not sure, I'd have to go thru the inventory, but I do believe I hear it on certain guitars more than others. Also, when I pick up a new guitar, I usually can't tell. I did pick up a new guitar not too long ago and asked if it was SS fretwire b/c I heard that same ping or zing. We looked up specs, and it was. Could be a lucky guess, but I was sure I heard it. Most guitars, I can't tell.

I'm a one man shop, doing fretwork and structural repairs on the side, for zen and extra cash. I have a small clientele. I don't do pup swaps of an Invader pup in a pawnshop Ibanez or Squier score. I'm not a snob, I just choose not to do that work. I give out the number to our mom and pop shops. I'm a professor, a dad, husband, coach, and just a busy guy. So I do the jobs the local shops can't or won't do. I enjoy it, and I keep it small so it's still enjoyable. I went public for a while and got backed up for over 6 months within a few weeks. So, I took down my website, my signs, and went back underground after I got caught up. There's a lot of, "I got this bad hum" type jobs that I just don't have time for. I do almost all the fretwork in our area, and all the neck resets and really tough jobs. So, after all these years, that's my experience with SS. It's an honest observation, and only from my perspective. I'm sure those that read the internet and become exports on these forums will disagree and tell me what I know from countless jobs is all bs and incorrect. Go figure. I know some really big names in guitar building and the repair world that did a few stainless steel fretjobs and said, "Nope, not anymore." They say it is not worth the time of the tools. And, yes, I do charge extra for SS, whether others like it or not. I know what it does to my hands and my tools.

Bob
 

CapnRex

Member
Messages
1,129
Yep they should be the standard and nickel should be reserved for "vintage-correct" guitars.

It's just like cheap pots and switches - the difference to manufacturers is pennies but they decide to cut corners in these places.

But in my Fender bag there was a LEATHER POUCH that held allen keys, and I think my Gibson came with a cheap strap and cable.

Cut THAT crap out and just give us the good parts!

Same with using square heels on guitars - it can't be much of a cost difference to round them and make the darned things comfortable.

These things have been pushing me away from the big American manufacturers.
 

griggsterr

Member
Messages
6,881
Isn't there a Jescar material that is nearly as hard but is easier to work with? It seems It might be gold colored.
 

griggsterr

Member
Messages
6,881
I have had a couple SS fretted necks from Warmoth.
Acoustically they were noticeably bright and pingy. And for the guy that plays direct sometimes It's there. But if you put it through an amp with a regular speaker it's less noticeable.
 

wox

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,736
I have a Martin M-36. A few years ago, I had the first seven frets replaced with SS. I detect no change in tone moving from the first seven frets to the rest.

This is on the same guitar, just one guitar, the same neck, the same body, the same nut, the same end pins, the same strings, the same tuners . . . the same guitar! ;)
Reminds me that some luthier refretted a shop demo guitar with the frets alternating NS and SS and no one ever noticed the difference.

Anyone remember who that was?
 




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