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Thread: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

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    Question Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    I have a 2012 Red Diamond Vintage '22 that I bought in 2015. I liked it immediately - very strong midrange and even good low end. E-string not quite as strong but I thought a few adjustments would improve it.
    The fingerboard had a slight radius when I bought it, and I realized quickly that I'd prefer it to be flat. So I sent it off to Don Macrostie - he removed the radius, and at my direction installed EVO frets. I really liked the idea of longer-wearing frets since I dent them rather quickly.
    It sounded good when I got it back - still very strong and sparkly, though the E-string was still a little "squeaky" to my ears. The EVO frets lived up to their reputation, showing no wear after 5 years.
    Recently, I decided to have the fret ends redressed - they'd always stuck out a little bit far for my taste. I gave it to Ian Davlin at Lark Street Music in Teaneck, NJ to do the work.
    He called me after looking at it, and suggested a total refret, since redressing the EVOs and dealing with some not-quite seated frets was going to be difficult. I agreed, and decided to try standard-width nickel-silver frets again.
    I got it back yesterday, and I'm having trouble believing the difference! First of all, Ian's fret work is impeccable - absolutely first-class. I'm really glad he suggested the refret.
    But it's the change to nickel-silver frets that shocks me - the mando sounds much sweeter and "rounder". And the E-string issues are gone - the E now matches the strength and tone of the other strings! I realize some of this is due to the replacement of not-quite-seated frets, but I'm convinced that most of the difference is the fret material.
    This brings up the question: has anyone else here had this experience (or the opposite)?
    Speaking for myself, I wouldn't go back to EVO frets again despite their clear wear advantage.
    Thanks for taking the time to read this - bgpete

  2. #2

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Wow! That brings up an interesting level of tweaking. Basically, we want a fret material that is hard enough to wear well, but "soft" enough to sound good! I never even thought of it before. Similar to tonewood debates.......

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    I of course went the first (other) direction => to Evo, and so far I wouldn't change anything. My wife and I also had her guitar and my main playing banjo re-fretted to Evo after my mandolin experience. There does seem to be a subtle brightness difference between Evo and nickle-silver and we like that difference.

    But, if I were in your situation I'd also be asking myself what else changed along with the re-fret. A re-fret usually entails a complete re-setup, including possibly gluing frets, probably a new nut or at least adjustments to it, always bridge adjustments, new strings unless you request otherwise (and if the repair person will agree not to change them), possibly a fingerboard leveling, possibly a truss rod adjustment, etc., etc. All of these setup related changes have the potential to change tone, and pretty radically.

    It's important to mention, nickle-silver frets are typically softer today than they were 40 years ago. So hardness may not be the only tone consideration related to frets. I have a heavily played banjo that I built back then that still has original frets, and they continue to look like new.
    -- Don

    "The less I play it, the better it sounds!" -Zippy the Pinhead
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."
    -DH

    2002 Gibson F-9
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Thanks for the replies, gentlemen.
    Jeff, I've been wondering for a while what stainless frets "sound" like, considering that they're even harder (I believe) than EVOs! Might be pretty bright!
    Don, you make a good point - all those changes could be affecting the tone of my mando. But I'd already done quite a few of them on my own, with no change to the E-string problem, namely bridge, nut and truss rod adjustments, and (obviously) strings.
    This refret used the same bridge and nut (heights adjusted) and new strings (same kind I always use).
    As far as I know, the frets aren't glued. He may have leveled the fingerboard slightly (haven't asked him yet).
    It certainly could be the combination of all these things, as you say - but the difference, to my ears, seems to be a hard-versus-less-hard one. I'm betting on the fret wire.
    - Pete

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    While there may be no way to know for sure, perhaps the original fret seating issue may have had an effect on tone, and the newly well seated frets is another variable. The several things I've had refretted with EVO didn't change the tone to my ears.

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    formerly Philphool Phil Goodson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    In spite of your beliefs, I have a hard time believing that the fret material made the difference. Certainly not the experience of many folks who have reported their experiences here. Perhaps the excellent new setup deserves all the credit. But, obviously, your life , your instrument. Believe what you like.
    Phil

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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    I am no luthier. But I have listened to some of the best. This is not to voice an opinion but to ask some questions that beg answering.

    Does the refretting topic not also ask the question of compression refretting. If I understand correctly the frets serve as a stabilasation for the neck. Looking at bar fret guitars compression refretting is necessary in order to retain the sound quality.

    I had a bridge insert made for a fine guitar (D-16M, my Dirty Daisy). The quack did a job that left me gaping for breath. It was so terrible i about quit playing the guitar until I had Jürgen Richter (Hamburg) give the guitar (bridge insert) a go. Whereas the quack lowered the insert to an unplayable situation, Jürgen Richter raised the insert (well both made a new insert...) and it did a great job. Also once I tried to reposition the bridge on my wonderful Strad-O-Lin... I made a poor job of it. The result was sad. So I gave the mandolin to some ace violin makers. They repositioned the bridge. It was perfect on the octave harmonics but... everything else was off terribly. Again I had to hand it over to someone who knew mandolins.

    My experiences tell me that what you talk about may not only concern the question of EVO vs. "old style" frets. An intersteing topic no doubt.
    Olaf

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by grassrootphilosopher View Post
    ...An intersteing topic no doubt.
    When stainless and evo frets were introduced, I figured it was just a matter of time before people reported that they could hear a difference between them and nickel silver. Just a matter of time before discussions of which sounded better began, with some folks saying that the "old style" is much better (of course), some saying there is no difference, some saying one of the newer materials is better, and pretty much nobody offering any evidence other than anecdotes. Looks like I get a prediction right once in a while.
    Carry on!

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    Registered User Russ Jordan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Which top shelf builders use evo or stainless steel frets?
    Russ Jordan

  12. #10

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Again, thanks for the interesting replies!
    I certainly don't discount the idea that the setup is partly responsible for the difference in sound, but after many years (almost 60 - eek!) of fooling around with strings, I feel that it's rare for a refret or a new setup to vividly change the sound of an instrument without some other variable being introduced. Sadly, many is the time I've bought instruments with "potential", only to have them resist my efforts to bring out that imagined potential - they still sounded the way they sounded.
    This is my first experience with different fret wire, so the change back to nickel-silver was an experiment. Considering how little else was changed, I have to suspect the fret wire.
    Sunburst, of course you're right - the world is full of opinions! But it's hard to offer evidence for preferences when they're just that - preferences. I used the word "different", not "better" in my initial post for that reason - I wanted opinions from others.
    I suppose we could get out the mics and spectrum analyzers and see if there are quantifiable differences, and no doubt someone has done it or will do it. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to!
    But keep those posts coming - I'm having fun!
    - Pete

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by Russ Jordan View Post
    Which top shelf builders use evo or stainless steel frets?
    I know for sure Austin Clark (out of Boise, Idaho) uses Evo, possibly among other choices. He did the Evo re-fret work on my mando, my banjo and my wife's guitar.
    -- Don

    "The less I play it, the better it sounds!" -Zippy the Pinhead
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."
    -DH

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug (plus an assortment of other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Frets that are loose, poorly seated, or unlevel can have a significant effect on tone.

  15. #13

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    I'm not aware that any of the big companies (Martin, Gibson, Taylor etc.) have switched to harder fret material, but from reading stuff on the Cafe, it appears that many smaller builders have gone in that direction.
    Luthiers and smaller builders might have mixed feelings about EVO/stainless - on one hand, fret jobs keep the money rolling in, but on the other, years of working on frets must be awfully hard on the hands and wrists. Might be nice to see more instrument that don't need fret work...
    What say you, luthiers and small builders?

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    There's not much in lutherie that's not hard on the back, shoulders, neck, hands, or eyes.

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Well said, cc56 - I can understand how that would be true. Good thing you love it, right :-) ?
    Sorry if I got this thread off-topic - I was really looking for folks who'd gone back and forth between the harder and softer frets.
    Sunburst, speaking of off-topic, what you posted reminds me of this: when the home electronics world changed from tube to solid-state (which has huge advantages - less heat, smaller size, more reliable, etc.), the opinions flew. Someone in the industry said "we didn't change because it sounded better, but the advantages were too big to ignore".
    After all these years, and improvements in both, that controversy still rages and the opinions still fly!

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Excellent set-ups and fretwork are a wonderful thing.

    Support your favorite luthier/repair-guy/person!

    I've never even played a Mando with EVO or SS.

    Will be needing a couple mandolins refretted this year. Think I'll stick with nickel silver.

    I'm a dinosaur.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by bgpete View Post
    ...After all these years, and improvements in both, that controversy still rages and the opinions still fly!
    ...And that's just one example. Sometimes people claim that they can hear, see, feel, etc. differences because of their experience and expertise. Sometimes it can be demonstrated that they can and sometimes it can be demonstrated that they can't. Ever since the expert wine tasters tests and the Paris violin study I've become much more skeptical.

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  22. #18

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Sunburst - I agree, there's a ton of BS artists in the world - in my business (40 years in sound reinforcement) I've run into many. But I've also met quite a few folks who had hearing abilities that seemed supernatural to me. Ray Charles comes to mind - if you were mixing his band, heaven help you if you did something not to his liking in the front PA, not just the monitors. He heard EVERY little detail and would bring hell down on you if you changed the most minute thing without his permission.
    Doc Watson was another - I watched him tune an autoharp from completely useless to perfect in about 2 minutes, by ear, of course. Try that sometime...
    One last one - I have an acquaintance who can tell you within 3 or 4 Hz the frequency of a feedback note - easily tested, he's always right.
    You never know who has extraordinary hearing (I don't, but I've trained myself to analyze what I'm hearing, to some extent.).
    But - back to the thread - anyone else make the fret swap and have an opinion on it?
    Thanks to all posters - pete

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    ...And that's just one example. Sometimes people claim that they can hear, see, feel, etc. differences because of their experience and expertise. Sometimes it can be demonstrated that they can and sometimes it can be demonstrated that they can't. Ever since the expert wine tasters tests and the Paris violin study I've become much more skeptical.
    That Paris violin study and plenty of other studies like it that show how psychological factors impact our perception is a reason I always take the frequent "how does X mandolin compare with Y?" discussions with a huge grain of salt, even when I'm the one who makes the comparison. The look of the instrument, the name on the peghead, the atmosphere where you play them, whether it is the first or fifth mandolin you've played on the day, and many other factors make it very hard to trust what we think we've heard. I used to swear I could tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi before I did a blind taste test.
    "Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man."

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Skepticism is good.

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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by Russ Jordan View Post
    Which top shelf builders use evo or stainless steel frets?
    The ones you pay.
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Quote Originally Posted by bgpete View Post
    Sunburst, of course you're right - the world is full of opinions! But it's hard to offer evidence for preferences when they're just that - preferences. I used the word "different", not "better" in my initial post for that reason - I wanted opinions from others.
    I suppose we could get out the mics and spectrum analyzers and see if there are quantifiable differences, and no doubt someone has done it or will do it. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to!
    But keep those posts coming - I'm having fun!
    - Pete
    Pete, I appreciate this thread and your opinion, as well as the other opinions. Two or three years ago, I posted in an EVO thread that surely there must be a downside to using these frets and I want to know what it is, but I have yet to see or hear what it is. Preference, of course, is the key. Subjective, but to me that's just about all that counts in playing music. I appreciate hearing your preference. I play EVO and nickel-silver frets most every day. Generally, I prefer the EVOs, and I do hear and feel a difference, but the difference doesn't matter too much for most playing. People have different perceptions. Whether I put EVOs on a new mandolin or replace nickel-silver with them depends on a variety of considerations. Most of my new mandolins get nickel-silver.

    I am curious why it was going to be difficult to re-dress and deal with poorly seated frets. Did the luthier say it was due to the EVO material?

    The setup that can be achieved after a full fret replacement or a thorough fret leveling can (but doesn't always) make a huge difference in the sound of a mandolin, regardless of the fret material. I would say that has more to do with the luthier's talent for mandolin setups.

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    Registered User archerscreek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Weber introduced a couple of new mandolins at Winter NAMM (Road Dog and Pronghorn I believe) with the Evo Gold frets. Martin has been making the Modern Deluxe series guitars with EVO gold frets for a year or so.

  29. #24

    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Tom - thanks for your post. Good to hear that someone else hears a difference between EVO and nickel-silver! So maybe I'm not imagining things, though the jury is still out on that.
    My luthier felt that he would have to remove, reshape and reinstall enough frets that it would be easier and quicker to pull 'em all and start over, spending his energy on his own work, rather than someone else's. My mando has a scooped fretless fingerboard extension; only 22 frets to change, so it made sense to me. (Ian's work on even the highest frets - that I never play - is exquisite.) There's something nice about starting with a clean slate.
    I tend to be obsessive about my instruments' strengths and weaknesses, but I agree that for most playing the fret change wouldn't make a big difference (if any) to a listener, not that anyone particularly wants to hear me play. It has more to do with having a familiar instrument in my hands, playing it in a location where I know its sound, and then suddenly having it feel and sound different in a way that I really like. I find that I need that kind of familiar situation to judge whether I like an instrument or not. Playing a lot of quality instruments in a store can really spin your head around, but you won't know until you get them home whether you can live with them.
    In a nutshell, that's why I posted this thread: I found myself sitting in my playing room saying "wow, I like this better".
    Thanks, archerscreek - I admit I'm not really well-informed about what builders are offering what these days.

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Changed back to nickel-silver frets

    Somewhere along the line I've gotten the impression that Evo frets are lighter in weight than nickle-silver. Might be because Evo frets are supposedly made of the same material used for modern metal glasses frames, which are supposed to be light yet strong...

    The cumulative fret weight on a neck might have a bearing on tone.

    Can anyone here with experience with both provide a weight comparison of equal lengths and designs of Evo frets and nickle-silver frets?
    -- Don

    "The less I play it, the better it sounds!" -Zippy the Pinhead
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."
    -DH

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug (plus an assortment of other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

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