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Thread: fret marker positions

  1. #1
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    Default fret marker positions

    Hi all, just wondered why guitars generally have a marker at the 9th fret, but mandolins and ukes for example, have one at the 10th fret. I've a feeling I've read about this before, but can't quite remember the reason. Thanks Mike.

  2. #2

    Default Re: fret marker positions

    I remember seeing some guitars with fret markers at the 10th fret. Given the popularity of the minor pentatonic scale, I actually find it a bit odd that 9th fret is almost universal on guitar. I mean, why mark the minor third but major 6th? I think the answer is that it doesn't really matter. But it's a great question and I'm interested if anyone has any insights!

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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    I always get the impression that mandolins with a marker at the 9th fret (e.g. Fylde) are made by people who primarily build guitars and know no better.

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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    For mandolin, the markers indicate frets where the notes are all naturals: no sharps or flats. So that is why we need markers at the 10th fret, and I suppose why there should be no marker on the third fret.

    I don't know why guitar frets are where they are.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    It seems to be the practice for instruments tuned in fifths, mandolins, tenor banjos, tenor guitars, etc. I am very addicted to the fret markers in my playing, and have a laundry list of advantages of a tenth fret marker over a ninth. But I have no idea if any of the items on my list have anything to do with why the practice started in the first place. And what seems so obvious and essentially right to me may only be prejudice due to extreme familiarity.
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  7. #6

    Default Re: fret marker positions

    I'm with A4, having the dot on "D" just makes more sense to me. I jump back and forth between guitar and mando constantly. When I built myself an archtop guitar, I put the marker at the 10th fret, certainly killing any resale value. That's OK, I no have intention of ever letting this one go anyway.
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  9. #7
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    Most gypsy guitars have 10th fret markers. A4's explanation is often mentioned, but whether that result was planned or serendipitous is debatable.

    I have a gypsy guitar with a 10th marker, and one friend who I see a couple of times a year is deeply affected by it. He complains vociferously as soon as he sees it, "I don't know how you can play that thing", etc. (He also plays mandolin BTW, but the irony escapes him). I've been switching back and forth between guitar and mandolin for many years and don't pay any attention to the markers, until he plants that seed in my head. Then I can't do anything right for a few days. Good thing he doesn't live any closer, I probably wouldn't be able to play at all.

  10. #8
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    In the beginning of the 1900's some manufacturers put the guitar marker at 10 and some put it at 9. I'd love to have a logical explanation but I've never seen one. It was one way we used to be able to differentiate manufacturers of old parlor guitars.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    It doesn't make much difference to me. As long as I know where it is I can use it, though I try not to need them.

  12. #10

    Default Re: fret marker positions

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Roy View Post
    I'm with A4, having the dot on "D" just makes more sense to me. I jump back and forth between guitar and mando constantly. When I built myself an archtop guitar, I put the marker at the 10th fret, certainly killing any resale value. That's OK, I no have intention of ever letting this one go anyway.
    I doubt that would put off many interested buyer.

    When I bought a friend's classical guitar, it had no fret markers, other than a dot on the fretboard edge above the 7th fret. I worried that it would be an issue, but never gave it another thought and it was no problem ever. (It helps that on a classical guitar the body joins the neck at the 12th fret so that's also very easy to find.)

    Recently I replaced my classical with a nice solid wood guitar hand-made in Grenada, with my favorite woods (cedar top, ivory fretboard, rosewood sides & back.) No dots at all. ... I'm gonna have to have a dot added. I do need that one dot! My wife offered nail polish to do the job. :-)
    Last edited by JeffLearman; Mar-22-2021 at 3:21pm.

  13. #11
    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffLearman View Post
    When I bought a friend's classical guitar, it had no fret markers, other than a dot on the fretboard edge above the 7th fret. I worried that it would be an issue, but never gave it another thought and it was no problem ever. (It helps that on a classical guitar the body joins the neck at the 12th fret so that's also very easy to find.)
    Good points. The dots on the face of the fingerboard are only cosmetic really, since the player doesn't see them. But a dot here and there on the top edge helps break up the distance from the nut to the body join.

    A famous classical guitarist I studied with long ago put a dot with liquid paper at the 7th fret for concerts, then took it off for practice and classes. I think he saw markers as a sign of weakness— but still needed that one dot. By the way, nail polish works too.

    Here's what I had the builder do for markers on my mandolin: 7, 12, and 17.

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    Last edited by Bruce Clausen; Mar-22-2021 at 3:43pm.

  14. #12
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    Wow learned a lot! I never have thought to fret markers. I actually prefer none on my instruments. I had no idea there was actually some kind of reason for their placement! Doh!
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    Jo Dusepo, luthier Dusepo's Avatar
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    It's tradition, partly based on the tuning ans therefore where works best for players or where players expect them. As a comparison, balalaikas traditionally have dots on the 2nd fret instead of the 3rd.
    I am a luthier specialising in historical and world stringed instruments. You can see more info at my website.

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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    50 years of playing guitar and I still can't figure out why anybody would want a fret marker on the C# or F# notes vs the more useful D or G notes! I always put it on the 10th fret for my personal guitars.

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  17. #15
    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    Quote Originally Posted by Dusepo View Post
    It's tradition, partly based on the tuning ans therefore where works best for players or where players expect them. As a comparison, balalaikas traditionally have dots on the 2nd fret instead of the 3rd.
    Bizarrely, a violin was discussed on the Maestronet forum last year that had inlaid dots on the fingerboard. According to the owner, the dots gave the correct positions for a whole-tone scale. Go figure...

    https://maestronet.com/forum/index.p...comment-905297

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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    Thanks for the interesting replies everyone. For me, as a fairly limited guitar player, I rarely venture that far down the neck so it doesn't really make any difference, but when building I'll continue to place the dots traditionally dependant on what instrument I'm building. Although I'm an amateur/hobbyist builder, I like to build different instruments as a challenge, so far guitars, banjos, ukuleles, mandolins and currently an guitar shape octave mandolin which prompted me to question the position of the markers.
    Cheers Mike.

  19. #17

    Default Re: fret marker positions

    I've seen guitars with a fret mark for F (first fret).

    10th fret makes sense. I can't think of a good reason to mark the 9th fret, but there it is, on my Martin and my G&L strat. Maybe someone thought that sticking with odd numbers are best (until you get to 12, of course.) Or maybe it was just considered more visually appealing, with nice regular spacing and symmetry about the 12th fret. It does mark a harmonic, but then, the 4th fret marks that same harmonic and gets no dot. Perhaps it was Martin who started the trend.

    "Gypsy jazz" guitars usually have a mark at 10, as do most European-made guitars. But I doubt that's what I remember from my earlier days. Maybe it was the cheap classical guitar of my sister's that I first learned on that had a dot at 10. I just remember noticing that some guitars were different, but I sure don't remember whose.

    I've seen several explanations that it makes more sense for an instrument tuned to 5ths, but I don't understand why that would matter. It also doesn't explain the ukulele, which is tuned to (mostly) 4ths but has a dot on fret 10. Ditto for banjos.

  20. #18
    Registered User Greg Mirken's Avatar
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    Five string banjos from the 19th Century typically have markers at 5, 7, 9, and 12. Tenor banjos, which surged in popularity in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, have them at 5, 7, 10, and 12 [Tenors are also tuned in fifths]. Since that time 5-string banjos have continued the 10th fret marker.
    The quirkiest are the S.S. Stewart five string banjos, which have a prominent marker at 10 and none at all at 12! My wife says this actually makes sense for C tuning, but I have to take her word for that.
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  22. #19
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: fret marker positions

    Dots on the top edge are the more useful, except when I am learning a tune from another mandolinner. Then seeing their dots is important.

    Fret markers is another one of those things, no shame in using them, no pride in not.
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