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Thread: Fret Size

  1. #1
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Fret Size

    In the beginning.... ;>)

    Frets started out quite thin, .04, and now a days they are almost all .08 width. What's with the change?

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    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    My first experience with larger frets was on my Kentucky KM-950. At the time I purchased my 950 I was mostly playing my Collings and it took awhile to adjust to the larger frets on the 950. I liked the larger frets enough after getting used to them that I ordered the larger EVO gold frets on my Stiver build. I did so because I was both used to them and because this is to be a life time mandolin and am hoping to get a longer fret life before needing a refret.
    I think the larger frets do require more precise fingering with the fret hand than smaller frets, though I say that without total certainty.
    With that said, I do not know the reason for larger frets than those reasons I gave for myself.
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  3. #3
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    Had a re fret on m y '22 A, they offered a choice so I went with the 'like they used to use' width..
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    So far, I’m not a fan of larger frets.
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  5. #5

    Default Re: Fret Size

    Larger frets started to become popular on electric guitars for ease of bending. Idea being that they keep your fingers off the actual board so it's less friction. I always liked them on my guitars because it felt like I could have a lighter touch, since they kind of mimic a scalloped fretboard. Personally, I think narrow tall frets (6105) are perfect on everything.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    For one thing, very few people actually prefer the .040" wide frets and although fret manufacturers have made many shapes and sizes of fret wire for guitars over the years they apparently don't seem to think that mandolin makers and players need or want choices of fret wire. (In reality it probably comes down to what sells. Guitar sales are many times the number of mandolin sales.) For years I wanted fret wire of a width somewhere between .040" and .080" but it was not to be had. Only recently is it possible to get "intermediate" sized frets.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    For the record, Stew-Mac makes an .053" wide wire. It has been available for many years. The .037" height is a little less than what I consider to be optimal, but it works well enough. The part number is #0764. Jescar sells a similar wire.

    Jescar also sells an .040" wide x .039" high wire. It is currently available in stainless steel only.

    Dunlop sells .043" and .053" wide wire, but the height is only .031", which I consider to be unacceptable. They also sell an .063" wire, but the height on it is even worse, at .028".

    My personal preference is for .080" wide wire on a mandolin.

  8. #8
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    For the record, Stew-Mac makes an .053" wide wire. It has been available for many years...
    Yep, nasty, straight sided, rough feeling stuff it is. Too much work to achieve a nice-feeling crown for me on that stuff.
    Recently Jescar has offered .053" by .037" in both NS and EVO. I like it better than Stewmac's similar wire but I'd still like to have something around .060" wide or so.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    Well, I look at it this way: I've installed 3 or 4 lbs. of .080" wire in mandolins over the years, and so far, not one customer has complained to me that they didn't like it.

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    I have come from years of experience playing banjo. For me the original fine frets on my 2002 F-9 were extremely uncomfortable to play. Plus they wear very fast if a person plays a lot. When my frets were due to be replaced about 4 years ago, I asked for banjo-width Evo Gold. I've never regretted that, the instrument is much easier for me to play now. And with Evo Gold there is no visible wear so far.

    That said, for someone used to fine frets, I'd highly recommend trying wide frets out on another mandolin for at least a few days before making the decision. It's worth the time and effort so there will be no questions or regrets down the road.
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  11. #11
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    For me the original fine frets on my 2002 F-9 were extremely uncomfortable to play. Plus they wear very fast if a person plays a lot. When my frets were due to be replaced about 4 years ago, I asked for banjo-width Evo Gold. I've never regretted that, the instrument is much easier for me to play now. And with Evo Gold there is no visible wear so far.
    dhergert
    Do you find that larger frets require more precise fingering with a smaller margin for error for optimal tone? I'm talking a small difference so it is difficult for me to know if this is real or merely a perception I have. As I stated in #2 I have grown to like them better but had to acquire a preference for them with a small investment of playing time. I ask this question due to me not understanding why I didn't take to them immediately.
    Perhaps like other fine things in life like wine and coffee they are an acquired taste and people will always hold individual opinions.
    Stiver A style (MAS has stopped here)
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    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
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    Harley Benton A style (grandchildren's learner)

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    I put wider frets (.080) on the last refret on one of my mandolins. I like it in the lower registers, but not in the higher. I think I will use the Jescar .053 evo for the next one. Somewhere in the middle, tho I have never had a problem with the narrow frets and have usually preferd them for decades.
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    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    What got me going down this road is being cramped in the high registers. Lou Stivers did a fret job on my '23 A2 with the Jescar SS#39040 which is the same size as the original wire. For me it is a significant difference and with the SS frets the wear factor is going to be minimal, (another mandolin with .08 stainless steel frets shows no wear after 7 years of regular daily play.) I really like the narrower frets and will be sending my Stiver Fern off to Lou for a switch.

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    Billy Packard
    Gilchrist A3, 1993
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    Not knocking anyone's preference or experience, but I'm having a hard time understanding how taller or wider frets could make anything more "cramped". Logic tells me that the scale remains the same, and the crown of the fret is still in exactly the same place as it was previously. I know little changes can feel big on the mandolin, but it still doesn't make sense to me. Once again, not knocking anyone's own experience or belief. Just trying to understand.
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  16. #15
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    Height aside, for me it's the increased fretboard available with narrower frets. In the photo above you can see there is more room with narrower frets. While the crown is in the same place there is more room to come down with the finger. Once I played a Gil that had the narrow EVO wire and right away I could tell the difference in the cleaner execution above the octave. All my other mandolins have the .080 wire and it's easy for me to tell the diff. And you are so right--sometimes a small change can make a big difference.

    When I started my mandolin journey in the '80's wide frets were all I saw and I never thought about it. I didn't play many mandolins before I ordered my Gil A3 in 1992 and after that it was all I played. After years of that I got the 1923 A2 which had the original frets which were pretty worn but showed me there are other things possible.

    Call me the "Pea and the Princess" and I admit to being very fussy but I know what I like and am eager to try the narrower frets on the amazing 1990 Stiver.
    Billy Packard
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  17. #16
    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    I like the size typically used by Jazz guitarists on an L5. The are wide, fairly tall and I can feel much easier when I come in contact with the fret. On the smaller frets i have a tendency to push harder as I can't feel the fret contact point as easily.
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  18. #17

    Default Re: Fret Size

    I assume the 0.080" wide wire became popular in the past because of extended lifespan. The traditional narrow bead wire develops grooves pretty quickly if you hit hard (can anyone say bluegrass?). It now has become widely accepted and is stock on many high end instruments. To my ear, it does have a meatier, less delicate tone which is fine for the way I play. I agree with John that around 0.060" would be a nice compromise.

    EVO, of course, has changed all this. It is remarkable how little wear accumulates. I'm in process on putting it on the eighth instrument and am only now considering new nippers and fret end file. Diamond crowning files can't seem to tell the difference. Try that with stainless! On my next personal instrument I'm strongly considering Sunburst's idea of 0.080" wire for the first octave and 0.053" for everything above the 12th (in EVO of course).

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    Default Re: Fret Size

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    dhergert
    Do you find that larger frets require more precise fingering with a smaller margin for error for optimal tone? ...
    ... Perhaps like other fine things in life like wine and coffee they are an acquired taste and people will always hold individual opinions.
    As far as the margin of error is concerned, that has not been my experience. But I'm actually sure that preferences like these are an acquired taste; the fact that we have many different -- yet equally valid -- experiences here attest to that. My positive experience with wider frets is based on my being used to wider frets from decades of banjo playing and I'm sure if the banjos I have routinely played had fine frets, I'd probably prefer them.

    That said, I'd still recommend trying fretwork out if there's any way to do so. In my case, I coincidentally purchased a very inexpensive "backup" mandolin that happened to have wide frets, and that was how I discovered that wide frets was what I was missing on my F-9.
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."


    2002 Gibson F-9
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    [About how I tune my mandolins]
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  21. #19

    Default Re: Fret Size

    I like big and tall frets also, they take mandolins requiring more pressure than my aging hands can provide and get them into the comfort zone.
    I learned about jumbo frets in the guitar world, and the same arguments apply to mandolin, sans the intonation issues because mandolin frets just aren't that far apart, even near the nut, and the double courses are pretty hard to push out of tune.

    I desire taller more than wider however, as experimentation (I've had a lot of fret wire sizes over the years) proved that taller is more important to alleviating the need to press harder in my case. It took a buzzy mandolin that just would not play well for me and made it into a crystal clear player. Yeah I'm bad, so every little bit helps IMHO.

    The theory goes that the more of your finger pad that touches the fretboard, the more energy is wasted, I can feel (in a bad way) anything under about 45 height.

    If anybody cares, this is the fretwire I put on all my mandolins:
    Stewmac 155 (50x80), not quite a jumbo fret (in guitar parlance), but about is big as you can go before jumbo (which would be 100 wide and up).
    Davey Stuart tenor guitar (based on his mandola design), TC octave mandolin.
    Eastman MD-605SB, MD-604SB, MD-305, all with Grover 309 tuners.
    Eastwood 4 string electric mandostang, 2x Airline e-mandola (4-string) one strung as an e-OM.
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  22. #20
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    I think that the .080" wire came in because a large number of people found it easier to play, started asking for it, and the manufacturers actually paid attention to them.

    I find it amusing that when folks started discovering it as much as 20 years ago, the general consensus was that it was great stuff. But now that it has became a standard, all of a sudden people are expressing doubts.

    Sometimes I think folks just want to change things just because they like new trends.

    All I can say is that I've installed the .080" wire on dozens of mandolins, and all of the owners were very happy with it.
    I have been known to change to the .053" wire starting at the 16th or 18th fret if a player expressed concern about the target area in the upper registers.

  23. #21

    Default Re: Fret Size

    Whatever size of EVO Michael Heiden used on my A5 is perfect. It's not the tiny stuff.
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  24. #22

    Default Re: Fret Size

    Is this where we tell all the Eastman lovers that they have tiny frets and they will play a lot easier if you refret them? Eastman OEM size is 53x31, a medieval torture device for unsuspecting students.

    I am an Eastman lover too, but they all got a refret... :-)

    Last time I checked (a few years back) a lot of manufacturers were using 40-45 height, which isn't quite to my preference but is a lot better than 31.

    I just went to Weber's site and they are using 50x80 on their current mandolins, but also offer a smaller fret size if requested.
    Davey Stuart tenor guitar (based on his mandola design), TC octave mandolin.
    Eastman MD-605SB, MD-604SB, MD-305, all with Grover 309 tuners.
    Eastwood 4 string electric mandostang, 2x Airline e-mandola (4-string) one strung as an e-OM.
    DSP's: Helix HX Stomp, various Zooms.
    Amps: QSC-K10, DBR-10, THR-10, Sony XB-20.

  25. #23

    Default Re: Fret Size

    I think it has a lot to do with our obsession with "vintage". It has to be EXACTLY as it was back in the day or it's not going to be as good, because we all know old = better, right?

  26. #24
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    Default Re: Fret Size

    Quote Originally Posted by Honeybucket View Post
    I think it has a lot to do with our obsession with "vintage". It has to be EXACTLY as it was back in the day or it's not going to be as good, because we all know old = better, right?
    I don't think it is that as much a the possibility that you learned on little frets and that is what is comfortable to because it's all you know. When you play larger frets you may or may not like them. I have found them comfortable in the lower register, but above the 12th fret I don't like them as much.
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  28. #25

    Default Re: Fret Size

    Quote Originally Posted by kurth83 View Post
    Is this where we tell all the Eastman lovers that they have tiny frets and they will play a lot easier if you refret them? Eastman OEM size is 53x31, a medieval torture device for unsuspecting students.
    I just picked up a new Eastman MD504 a month or so ago, and it has 53x37 frets. They feel substantially larger than the tiny frets that were on the cheap instrument I had before that. So far, I'm finding the larger frets a lot easier to play. Granted, there's not much room on the board past the 12th fret, but I'm not playing there anyway :D
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