Why Do Guitars Have Frets?

Why Do Guitars Have Frets?

If you’ve just started on your guitar playing journey, you might be wondering why guitars have frets and what exactly their purpose is. 

You may even wonder if fretless guitars exist and why other stringed instruments such as the violin and cello do not seem to have any frets on them. 

So why do guitars have frets? Guitars have frets because they make it easier to play the guitar. Frets let you know where to stop your fingers when pressing down on the string so that you don’t play out of tune.

Frets divide the neck into fixed segments which is what allows you to create notes and chords with your hands. Each fret represents one semitone, which is the smallest musical interval in the western hemisphere. 

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a fretless guitar. They are actually not that uncommon in the music world, but that may surprise you because they are not often mentioned in guitar forums or other places where guitarists interact.

What is a fretless guitar? A fretless guitar is simply a guitar without frets, either because someone has manually taken them off or the guitar itself was custom-made. Fretless bass guitars are usually the most commonly made. 

One of the biggest disadvantages of playing a fretless guitar is that you don’t have the frets there to guide you on where to place your fingers so you really have to rely on your skills and technique to get the notes just right.

Playing a fretless guitar, however, does have the advantage of sounding softer and much warmer than a regular guitar. When you don’t have frets in the way, it gives your guitar a much broader range outside the typical scales that a fretted guitar uses.

Why Don't Other Stringed Instruments Have Frets?

If you’ve ever looked closely at a violin or a cello, you may have noticed that they do not actually have frets on the fingerboard. But why is this?

When it comes to guitars, frets make it a lot easier to produce a chord, because you can essentially put your finger anywhere within a certain fret and the note is will be the same across the whole fret. Essentially, this means that the pitch is generally fixed.

With violins, cellos, and other stringed instruments, forming chords is not as common and the pitch is not fixed because there are no frets to stop the string.

Also, a guitar is strummed while a violin is bowed. It’s important to note that certain instruments were made for certain purposes. Guitars are mainly rhythmic instruments and cellos, violins, etc are better described as melodic instruments. 

What Are the Dots on the Fretboard?

The dots on a guitar’s fretboard acts as a guide for the person who is playing the instrument. It allows for the guitar player to quickly and easily find any position on the fretboard. 

Not only is this important for making chords, but it makes doing solos quite a bit easier as well. The dots, otherwise known as fret markers, are usually found on the front of the fretboard itself and also up on the side of the neck, closest to the low E string.

Most guitars have the fret markers located on the 3rd fret, 5th fret, 7th fret, 9th fret, 12th fret, 15th fret, and 17th fret. Of course, this will usually depend on how many frets your guitar has. 

Obviously, most shorter guitars that are primarily student-sized might not have the 17th fret marked, because it may be impossible to position your finger there in the first place.

Fret markers are an essential tool that can help you learn the fretboard much faster than if your guitar did not have these. Fortunately, most guitars have them and in my opinion, is preferred more than unmarked fretboards.

Is It Worth It To Refret a Guitar?

Refretting is the process of replacing worn frets on your guitar’s fretboard or neck. Worn frets are usually caused by the strings being pressed against the frets. This is a normal and regular part of playing the guitar. 

But is it actually worth it to refret your guitar? The answer to this primarily depends on what value that you place on the guitar. If your guitar is a cheaper model, it might not make sense to spend the money to have your guitar refretted. 

The reason for this is because having your guitar refretted can cost anywhere between $200 and $400, so if the cost is more than your guitar is worth, it may be time to just get a new guitar.

The exception to this may be if your guitar was passed down to you from a family member and you consider it to be a family heirloom or keepsake. Even then, consider having it framed in a special glass case and hung where you practice the guitar. Looking at it may even provide some extra motivation to keep practicing so you can master the guitar.

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I love playing around with various types of guitar gear so I started this website to share my guitar gear knowledge with the world. Enjoy!

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