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Want to know what all the hubbub is about? Have you found yourself asking aloud ‘what are jumbo frets’ and have not as yet been able to put a pin in the real answer? Are you even looking to invest in some jumbo frets of your own, or perhaps are looking into purchasing a guitar with some already installed?
Whatever your reason for finding yourself here upon this article today and whatever your level of experience, we will be exploring alongside you the various sizes of fret and attempting to answer what are jumbo frets, hopefully leaving you with something new to think about and contemplate.
Table of Contents
- We Need to Talk About Frets
- Fret Anatomy
- Why Fret Size Matters
- Which Fret Size is the Best for You?
- A Spectrum of Fret Sizes
- Jumbo Fret Materials
- When It’s Time to Refret
- Final Thoughts
- FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
We Need to Talk About Frets
Before we proceed, we ought at least to agree on one thing: despite how central a part of the guitar-playing experience they are, frets are rarely discussed as much as they ought to be. This is, of course, for very obvious reasons. However, there are specific guitars available called fret guitars.
Where guitar strings, for example, can be changed over and tested side by side fairly quickly and immediately, the changing of an entire fretboard’s worth of frets is a long and arduous process that more often than not requires the involvement of a licensed professional, a guitar technician or luthier trained for the job.
Despite this, we all ought to still agree on the importance of the frets, both to the overall sound produced by the guitar as well as how it feels to produce that sound for each individual user.
If they have such an obvious and vital impact on arguably two of the most important aspects of the guitar playing experience, then they ought to be discussed more and be taken a lot more seriously, and not just in discussions about what are jumbo frets, no?
This is of course not to say that every single guitarist reading this article ought to jump up immediately and change their frets without a moment’s hesitation. The process of changing frets over, especially if you are going to involve a guitar tech or luthier, is rather pricey, around the price of a new low to mid-range guitar in fact.
The aim of this article is, instead, to get people thinking more about these things before going out and purchasing a guitar. Every single guitar, by the very definition (aside from those excused of frets), will come fitted with a set of frets, and the kind of frets a guitar is installed with ought to be taken into account before parting with one’s hard-earned bucks.
A key point to clear up before we proceed on with our analysis of fret size and what are jumbo frets would be what exactly we are referring to when we talk about fret size in the first place. Contrary to your possible assumptions, fret size does not refer to the distance between the individual frets laid into the fretboard wood, but rather to the literal size of the frets themselves.
The space between the frets has more to do with what is scale length on a guitar, and thus if this is of more interest to you I would recommend scoping out some of the appropriate resources.
Beneath the Surface
Just as with bodily anatomy, there will be certain parts of the fret that are visible from the outside, and then there will be parts that operate beneath the surface but that are no less important. This latter part of the fret, referred to as the ‘tang’, is built into the fretboard and lays the foundation for securing the fret into a solid place.
This lower part, though rarely if ever felt by the guitarist (other than in removing them entirely from the fretboard), is of the utmost importance, for where would any part of the surface be without a solid foundation.
And while the pole length of the lower part is referred to as the ‘tang’, the part that really keeps the fret locked into place without fear of it falling out is the ‘stud’, a sharp, blade-like outcropping that grips into the wood for dear life.
As Below, So Above
However important the ‘stud’ and the ‘tang’ are below the surface of the clean guitar fretboard, the parts that are going to be the most important to most users, especially those who do not intend to make their own modifications, will be the goings-on upon the surface of the fretboard, for this is going to be the primary influence on the feel and playability of a guitar on a quotidian level.
The ‘head’ of the fret is anything that sits above the surface of the fretboard, while the tip and its relative shape and size and diameter are referred to as the ‘crown’, a term that may at points be elided to be more succinct, but which will be referred to at most points during this article when we are talking about the size and shape of a fret.
We can even divide the fret sizes further, and the professionals often do. Indeed, when we are talking about fret sizes and, thus, about the crown on the head of the fret, then it is useful to divide the crown into two more definable elements, those being the width of the crown (from edge to edge) and the height of the crown (from the surface of the fretboard to its tip).
Fret wire producers and manufacturers are (usually) masters in their field and, so, have perfect control over the shape and size of a fret: they can design and produce a fret that is tall and narrow, short and wide, tall and wide, or indeed short and narrow, all dependent on their whims.
Each of these individual factors of the fret’s anatomy will have an obvious impact on a guitar’s playability from person to person, and can, less obviously, even impact the overall tone of the guitar to a certain degree.
So, before we go forth and discuss our way through today’s query of what are jumbo frets, we must first familiarise ourselves with other sizes, and thus where jumbo frets sit in the spectrum of fret sizes.
Why Fret Size Matters
For guitarists, understanding fret size is key to finding an instrument that feels comfortable and suits their playing style.
The width and height of frets directly affect how easily strings can be fretted and strings’ action. Taller, wider frets make it easier to fret notes clearly by reducing the pressure needed to press strings down to the fretboard. This can benefit guitarists with larger fingers or those wanting to play complex leads and chords with ease. However, some may find overly large frets uncomfortable. Finding the right balance is essential.
While playability factors more into fret size selection, tone is also affected. Larger frets increase the mass and surface area contacting the strings when fretted. This can make the tone slightly warmer and louder. The difference may be subtle, but discerning guitarists can notice it. Factor in tonal preferences when fret sizing along with playability needs.
Customizing Feel and Sound
Rather than settling for factory-installed frets, many guitarists opt to replace frets over time, installing sizes optimized for their playing style. This degree of customization enables dialing in both the tone and feel. While an involved process, it allows upgrading playability precisely as technical skills progress. The ability to truly personalize an instrument makes understanding fret sizing fundamentals worthwhile.
Which Fret Size is the Best for You?
The width, height, and shape of the frets significantly impact playability and comfort. Rather than accepting the factory-installed frets, personalizing your guitar with ideal frets can optimize the playing experience.
The best fret size for you depends on several key factors:
Finger Size and Dexterity
Guitarists with thicker fingers or less dexterity may benefit from taller, wider jumbo or extra jumbo frets. The added surface area and reduced pressure needed to fret cleanly facilitates complex chords and leads. Those with smaller hands often favor narrower, vintage-style frets offering tighter string spacing.
Playing Style and Technique
Shred players executing fast solos, string skipping, and complex chords require easy, low-pressure fretting enabled by jumbo frets. Rhythm players may lean toward more vintage specs providing brighter, livelier tone. The width and height should match your go-to techniques.
The tonal qualities imparted by different fret sizes can suit certain genres better. Larger frets tend to produce a warmer, rounder tone well-suited to blues and classic rock. Players wanting more articulation and bite for metal may choose smaller frets instead.
A Spectrum of Fret Sizes
Much as with the strings that are threaded above the length of them, the fret size is measured in 1000ths of an inch, and likewise fret sizes are characterized numerically, though with names referring to the relative thickness of them that come to more commonly be used in discussions or exchanges with others.
There are many manufacturers, each of which uses slightly different measurements, in a quest to be even more annoying in snubbing one another, but today we will be using the reference of one of the largest fret wire manufacturers, Dunlop.
6230 – Vintage Frets
Out in the wild world of guitar worship, you are rarely going to meet a type of fret wire thinner than this here 6230 fret wire. If you have a vintage guitar, or even a copy or reissue copy of a vintage guitar, then chances are it is fitted out with 6230 fret wire, since this is the kind of fret wire that was used on most vintage guitars as produced before the 1960s, including most if not all Fender guitars from this era.
So, if you do indeed have a vintage guitar, or you own a guitar that is attempting to copy or mimic a vintage guitar from around this period, then you will most likely be in the lanky and capable hands of a set of 6230 vintage frets. It is for this reason and the aforementioned that, even when these frets are produced in this day and age, they are still referred to as ‘vintage frets’.
As produced by Dunlop, they are .078″ wide from the edge, and 0.43″ high from the surface of the fretboard to the tip of the crown.
6105 – Modern Narrow and Tall Frets
Next in our journey toward answering what are jumbo frets, we tackle a modern incarnation of the common fret. When compared with their vintage brethren, they are quite obviously wider and taller, constructed from fret wire that is .090″ side from side to side, and .055″ tall from the surface of the fretboard to the tip of the crown.
Despite appearances, there is more that relates these more modern types of fret and those previously mentioned of a more vintage variety, namely the relationship between the width and height measurements being almost exactly the same, just enlarged and magnified to be on a greater scale.
For some reason or other, these tall and narrow frets have simply become larger as time has gone by. They are still incredibly popular, being in fact one of the most common frets that you are likely to find on guitars that have been manufactured in the last several decades.
6150 – Vintage Jumbo Frets
Though decidedly less popular than the kinds of fret wire previously mentioned, vintage jumbo frets still occupy a pride of place among many guitars today, especially those looking to strike a middle ground between the thin vintage caliber of the older fret wire and that of the more modern incarnations.
Vintage jumbo fret wire and the resulting vintage jumbo frets are far wider than the modern and vintage examples previously listed, coming in at .102″ wide from side to side, and .042″ tall when measured from the surface of the fretboard to the tip of the crown.
Simultaneously, they are not quite as tall as the previous two examples and have thus decided to exaggerate the width instead of adjusting the height exactly via ratio.
So, rather than being tall and narrow like the previous two of its fret brethren, it is short and wide, a variety which can be preferred by some, though which is entirely down to personal preference. Balance is key, and so even if you already have your preferences, it might be nice to try out something new, if of course, you are in the market for a new guitar or for reinstalling a new set of frets.
6100 – Jumbo Frets
So, in an attempt to offer a brief answer to the question of what are jumbo frets, they are a type of frets that prioritize sheer size where other thinner kinds of fret simply do not.
Their width is comparable to vintage jumbo frets, but their height is also magnified, exaggerating both the X and Y spectrum of its fret size, with a width of .110″ as measured from side to side, and a height of .055″ when measured from the surface of the fretboard to the tip of the crown.
This exaggeration in width and height makes them one of the bigger frets that you can buy on the common law market, besides super jumbo frets which are, of course, even bigger frets. They become more and more common as artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Rory Gallagher – who famously put jumbo frets to good use – are further etched into the marble floor of rock and roll’s spunk-encrusted annals.
6130 – Medium Jumbo Frets
Before we move on to expand the query of what are jumbo frets, it is worth bringing medium jumbo frets into the discussion of common fret sizes.
These frets sit somewhere in the middle of the more modern and narrow frets and jumbo frets, striking a healthy balance for those not willing to commit all the way to the tonal obesity that jumbo frets can mean at the end of one’s fingertips, measuring in at .106″ in width from side to side of each fret, and .036″ in height as measured from the surface of the fretboard to the tip of the crown.
When measured in this way, medium jumbo frets are almost as wide but not quite as tall as the jumbo frets whose name they somewhat borrow. Owing to a desire in many for balance, these kinds of frets are becoming increasingly popular and can also be found on a number of guitars straight out of the factory, both on modern guitars and those seeking to mimic guitars from a previous time.
Jumbo Fret Materials
Nickel Silver Alloys
Most jumbo frets today consist of nickel silver, an alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc. The exact ratios vary between manufacturers and models. The material offers a balance of workability for shaping and decent fret life. However, unhardened nickel silver will wear faster than alternatives.
Stainless Steel Alloys
Some guitar brands use stainless steel for jumbo frets, like Fender’s Stainless Steel Medium Jumbo. The increased chromium content boosts hardness and resistance to grooving. This prevents premature fret wear despite aggressive playing styles. The added density also brings slightly brighter tone. The downside is stainless steel doesn’t bend as easily for custom fret work.
Fret makers apply proprietary surface treatments to enhance durability and smoothness. Techniques like cryogenic processing and nickel plating alter the molecular structure for dramatic gains in hardness and corrosion resistance without changing the underlying material much. The result is jumbo frets that feel smooth and last longer before replacement is needed.
Though the primary benefit of asking oneself what are jumbo frets (and of using them on oneself and on one’s own instrument for that matter) is thought primarily to be upon the playability of the instrument in relation to the user, there are certainly influences on the tone that ought not to be neglected, lest we forget what we came here to do.
First and foremost, it is inherently wrong to separate the tone of a guitar from its playability, because the latter is going to, in some way, influence the former (and vice versa to a certain degree). If a guitar feels right and good before us and we are at our most comfortable in playing it, are we not going to produce better tones because of it?
However, supporters of answers to what are jumbo frets believe that they produce a ‘bigger tone’, a claim which is hard to quantify and in some sense a little simplistic, though steeped in some truth.
Theoretically, a larger mass of metal in the fret ought to result in a greater vibrational relationship between the metal of the string and the wood in the fretboard, regardless of what is the best guitar fretboard wood, which ought in turn to produce a stronger and more resonant sound.
Larger frets can, however, result in a lessening of clarity, there being a wider breaking point where the string meets the fret, resulting in an effect on the precision of the notes played.
Inversely, many believe that these two factors are rendered largely inconsequential within the context of a whole setup – of pedals and amps and pickups and strings – though if you are a stickler for tone, then you will be all ears at this point.
As repeatedly stated throughout this article, the central benefit of asking and answering for oneself what are jumbo frets is centered on the guitar’s playability. Playing the guitar, you are almost always going to be in contact with the frets in some way, and in this way, we can easily see how vital they are in the experience of benefitting from playing the guitar and how important they ought to be considered.
With taller frets, for example, there is less contact between the fingers and the fretboard, which in turn means that there is less pressure needed for the notes to ring out properly, making bending and tapping easier.
Likewise, however, if using a heavier technique it is altogether too easy to use too much pressure with a jumbo fret, pushing the note ever so slightly out of tune, increasingly likely if the guitarist in question favors guitar strings of a lighter gauge.
Inversely, in the case of wider frets, it can feel a whole lot easier to slide up and down the fretboard with wider frets, and the angle between the fretboard and the top of the crown is less acute. Overall, this can contribute to a smoother feel, depending on personal preference, of course, making bends and sustain a whole lot easier, too.
Similarly, wider frets like this can encourage intonation problems once they start to wear out a little, the point of contact between the string and fret becoming closer to the bridge, however fractionally, pulling the note upwards in pitch.
When It’s Time to Refret
Recognizing when your frets need replacing is crucial for maintaining optimal playability. As frets wear down from use, fret buzzes, dead notes and other issues can arise. Refretting restores playability, improves tone, and prevents further fretboard damage.
Clear Signs Your Frets Need Replacing
How do you know when it’s time for new frets? Telltale signs include prominent divots and grooves, flattened fret tops, and loose, popping frets. Deep grooves form along the most-played strings, progressively worsening tone and playability. Flattened fret tops increase string height, making notes harder to fret. Loose frets move under string pressure, causing annoying buzzes and dead notes.
If you notice these symptoms, consider having an expert luthier or guitar tech examine your frets. They can measure wear and confirm if refretting is warranted based on the remaining fret height. Generally, 1/16 inch or less of fret height indicates replacement time.
Benefits of Periodic Refret Jobs
Rather than waiting until frets are completely worn, periodic refretting every 5-10 years maintains optimal playability. New frets interfacing cleanly with strings prevent fret buzzes and achieve the best tone. Their full height also reduces hand strain. A smooth refret job by a skilled luthier feels like playing a brand-new guitar again.
So, there you have it, folks! Hopefully, you are somewhat wiser about the importance of fret sizes, both in terms of the tone and of the playability of a guitar (and the relative symbiosis between the two), and hopefully, your skyward queries of what jumbo frets have been satiated.
Take this knowledge with you wherever you go, whether that be in discussing these things with a fellow guitar enthusiast, or with oneself in moments of decrepit loneliness, or perhaps even in the case of your investing in some jumbo frets of your own – to replace those on a guitar you already have, or on a guitar, you are seeking to purchase.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Many of the intentions behind the fret size are to do with the playability of a guitar, and how it feels depends on the hands that are feeling them. In asking what are jumbo frets, we can offer answers regarding their relative thickness and height in comparison to thinner and shorter frets and how this has an effect on how easy it is to fret a not and make it sound aloud clearly. In a lesser sense, the tone of the notes produced will also be affected, with a larger mass of metal typically resulting in a greater vibrational coupling between string bending and fretboard, producing a stronger and more resonant sound overall.
Their jumbo nature ought not to put off beginner guitarists, especially those who are going to be using their instrument in more of a lead capacity, as this is exactly what they are built for. My own advice would be for a beginner guitarist to start on thinner or more standardized fret sizes so that they can develop their own style instead of catering it to the jumbo frets that they will likely become rather accustomed to. That is if the beginner in question does not already have grand ambitions of being a lead guitarist, or of imitating their favorite guitarist known to use jumbo frets.
Contrary to popular belief, the width and height of the frets installed on a guitar’s fretboard can and do have a significant difference, especially on playability from user to user. It is largely in this field that our answer to what jumbo frets lies, in the relative playability of the instrument. Some sources purport that the tone is also affected by the installation and/or use of jumbo frets on a guitar, and while this is up for debate, the effect of the playability on the overall tone is not.
Despite being called jumbo frets, the frets themselves – i.e. the parts of the guitar onto which you place your fingertips to make the notes desired sound aloud – are not rendered any larger in relation to the fret sizes. The fret size onto which you place your fingertips to make the notes sound aloud is largely determined by the scale length of the instrument, and thus will not be affected if the size of the frets is altered. There are even arguments to suggest that jumbo frets might be better for smaller hands, owing to the lessening of the amount of effort required to make a note sound aloud properly.