Every guitar has to be maintained regularly. It means that you need to restring it after a while, clean the fretboard, adjust the action etc. But what about frets? Do you also need to refret your guitar?
And how long do guitar frets usually last?
It depends on the fret material, frequency of your playing and the style of your playing. Taking all these factors in account, guitar frets life can range from a few years to even 20-30 years.
It’s impossible to give the exact answer to this question.
Owning a guitar is in some sense similar to owning a car. Every now and then you need to change its tires, pour some gas, change the oil, replace the brakes and so on.
In that sense it’s correct to assume that even guitar frets need replacement after a while.
Things Affecting Guitar Frets Lifespan
Let’s go through each factor that affects the lifespan of guitar fret.
How Does Playing Style Affect Fret Wear?
As it’s been said at the beginning, the lifespan of your frets is affected, among other things, by your playing style.
In other words, how you play your guitar determines the rate at which your guitar frets wear.
Let’s be more concrete here.
More Bending = Faster Fret Wear
The more you bend strings while playing, faster your frets will wear. Witch each bending, a string is brushing over the surface of the fret.
When you just pluck a string at a certain fret, it will exert pressure on a particular place on a fret’s surface. But when you bend a string, it will exert the same pressure all over the fret’s surface region along which the string “travels”.
This is by no means an argument against bending (that would make no sense). It’s just that it happens that the more you bend a string on a certain fret, the faster that fret will get worn out.
So, the bottom line is this: More bending equals shorter fret lifespan. How much shorter? It’s impossible to tell exactly.
Finger Slides And Capos
Some guitarists like to use slides, or “bottle necks”. The more you use a slide in your guitar playing, the faster your guitar frets will wear.
Slide adds a significant amount of weight, and therefore, pressure on guitar frets. That’s why guitar frets will wear faster the more you use it.
It’s the same with capos. Each time you put a capo on a certain position on your fretboard, it will add a significant amount of pressure on the fret.
Again, this is not an argument against anything, it’s just the way it is.
If you use slide heavily in your playing, you can expect the lifespan of guitar frets not longer than few years. One thing you can consider is to use a good quality slide. Good bottle slides are the ones that are smooth.
Here’s the one I have. It’s great because its surface remains smooth over time. Check it out for more info on Amazon.
Harder Pressing = Faster Fret Wear
Another aspect of playing style that shortens the frets lifespan is hard pressing on the frets.
Some guitarists like to press on the frets harder than the other. Harder you press onto frets, shorter they’ll endure through the time.
Effect Of String Gauge On Frets
String gauge affect the life of guitar frets, also. In what way?
Well, heavier strings exert stronger pressure on frets. Lighter strings exert smaller pressure. Stronger pressure causes faster fret wearing.
It’s that simple.
If you’re particularly concerned about this issue, I advise you to think about getting yourself a lighter gauge pack of strings. Here are my favorites: Elixir strings.
IMO, these are the best ones; they are coated with ultra thin material which makes them more durable and more resistant to corrosion and dirt. I prefer medium gauge strings, but nonetheless, lighter gauge variants are equally great. You can choose the gauge level yourself.
Check them out on Amazon (first one is an acoustic pack, second one is for electric).
To find out more about how string gauge affect various things on your guitar, check this article.
Humidity can become your guitar’s big enemy if you’re not careful. In what way can humidity affect the lifespan of frets?
Low humidity is the enemy in this case. If the humidity level of the surrounding air is too low, a guitar neck starts to shrink.
Guitar neck is made of wood, obviously. Most guitar frets are made out of different materials, a mixture of nickel and cooper. There are also stainless steel frets.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that different materials act differently when subjected to the same temperature and humidity level. Wood tends to shrink much more than something made out of nickel.
So, in the case of low humidity, wood shrinks which causes something that’s called fret sprout. Fret sprout happens when there are frets going over the neck, since the neck shrunk. What you have then is sharp fret ends hanging over the neck.
In that situation playing guitar gets very uncomfortable. In that case, sanding is needed. If you’re interested in this process, take a look at the video below.
Another factor that shortens the lifespan of guitar frets is sweat. Sweat coming from your fingers can cause corrosion on your guitar frets.
When corrosion develops on frets, it’s time to consider replacing them with new ones. Rusty frets can not only worsen your playing, but harm guitar strings.
Find out more about how to deal with the sweat on a guitar here.
Anyway, the best you can do to avoid humidity issues is to store your guitar in a case or in a bag. I have Gator hard case for guitars that I don’t plan to use in near future. Hard cases like this one provide protection against humidity and temperature changes in your home.
When It’s Time To Refret Your Guitar?
Before you even think about changing the frets on your guitar, you need to be confident that they need replacement. How to know it? Here are some common indicators.
If you notice a few indents on some particular frets, it’s the sign that these frets need to be taken care of.
How do these indents usually look like? Take a look at the video below showing it.
Indents that can develop on certain frets are caused by pressure exerted by string. They usually form on those frets that are played frequently.
There are some helpful methods with which you can level a worn out fret. However, sometimes it’s better to just install a new one instead. Anyway, if you’re not experienced in doing it, it’s best for you to take your guitar to repair service. (In your guitar shop, perhaps).
2. String Buzzing
When a guitar fret is worn, it often causes a string buzzing. Why is that so? Well, when fret is worn out, it means it’s height isn’t as high as it should be in the first place.
Obviously, a guitar fret that’s too low cannot sustain the tone of the string. Therefore, a buzzing sound often occurs.
Keep in mind that string buzzing can be caused by many different sources. For example, string buzzing is often an indicator that the action height on your guitar is too low, therefore it needs to be adjusted.
So, it’s crucial to carefully examine the source of buzzing. Worn out fret can definitely cause buzzing, so if you’re confident that this is the reason of it, you know that it’s time to change the fret.
3. Short Sustain
When a guitar fret is worn, it usually causes the sustain of the string tone shorter. Again, that’s something you’d expect to happen.
Worn guitar frets are lower in height than they should be, so they cannot apply the pressure strong enough to enable proper sustain.
If you notice that the sustain is worse than it should be, it’s quite possible that you’ll need to change certain frets from your guitar.
4. Change In The Pitch
Some frets may produce a sound that’s “incorrect”. A pitch that’s just wrong. For example, let’s say you pluck a high E string on 12th fret. Then you pluck it on 13th fret. And then you realize these two frets produce the same tone!
How is this possible? Well, it happens sometimes that an indent in a fret causes the drop in pitch.
I had this exact thing on my old guitar, and every time I had to play that string on a 13th fret I had to bend it upwards a bit, just to avoid getting it hammered in the intend.
Anyway, that’s a reason to remove that fret and install a new one.
If you’re suspicious about the state of your guitar frets, you have only one option to follow. Take your guitar to professional examination. Don’t mess with it on your own, especially if you’re not experienced with fret problems.
I hope this article gave you some valuable information about this issue. Unfortunately, as you can see, it’s impossible to give straight, exact answer to the question from the headline.
As it’s been said at the beginning, guitar frets can last from few years to a few decades. It just depends on too many factors.
Anyway, don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles from this site about various guitar topics and issues!
Cheers, and rock on!