Big frets vs smaller frets (influence on playability)

I like big frets. It started with Washburn MG40 which I got as a teenager. It had the biggest frets I’d ever seen. The frets were so big my fingers were often completely off the fretboard and life was good.

Then came some other guitars, studies, graduation, work, wife, kids, mortgage etc.

Not too long ago I noticed I can suddenly afford a guitar I really want, there is some time to devote playing it and CtC solved the impossible instrument problem.

Life is good.

The most stunning fact of CtC was that I could rise the action on my guitar! Something I was never able to do before. I always pushed them as low as I could and hated the buzz.

Higher action changes the instrument. It becomes like a deer in high grass, all air.

All preferences aside, I can play low frets, but I can’t bend them. The neck peels flesh away from my nails.

There is a sweet spot for the string height to hit. It is here, just below the nail, in a bend:

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The size of 6100 in the original post is the size of 6000. That is the Malmsteen Strat wire. 6100 is 0,110 x 0,055. My guitar has 6100s. Measured with caliper to the third decimal inch and 6100 it is.

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Hi Nitro,

Let us start by saying it’s a good thing you’re not a mandolin player!

Interestingly, you point out fret width taking up precious real estate! My first reaction is … ‘get outta here, man, come back after six months of practice’ :smile:

But kidding aside, my first foray with the big Dunlop 6000 wire was moving up and down the neck, I’d get a finger stuck on a fret in motion, and the whole action would come to a screeching halt!

Point is everybody has their oddities on hardware they’re not accustomed to. I’d say give it more time, big frets are good!

The Case for BIG frets, just two points really:

  1. Easier Bending. This one needs no explaining.
  2. Easier to play with higher action:
    This one takes some doing to earn the benefit and is often not talked about in general, especially if you add scalloped into the mix.
    Point is you’ve been doing it wrong ( for argument sake, for an alternative perspective ) all this while; relying on the fretboard to stop you means you’re potentially less in touch with the string dynamics and are relying on the fretboard for pressure feedback.
    Once you get used riding just the frets your fretting hand will adjust to find that optimum pressure level with a few days practice.

You currently are using more pressure than required is my understanding based on reading your posts.

My fretting hand goes through three stages when training on new motions, at first, it’s weak and dodgy, then as the thing starts to kick in with reps and time ( sleep, it’s vital), the hand movements are exaggerated and using a lot more pressure, the third stage is when the same material starts to feel like you gliding, just skipping along while playing with clarity and full control.

As you cited SRV to YJM and everything in-between, two extremes. Though whats common is SRV’s #1 as almost scalloped by the end of it and had colossal Jumbo frets as he prefered. There’s seems to be a theme here.

I think at any given point of time you need to pick your battles and figure out what sort of player you’re going to aspire to be.

I guess I’m saying is give it time and you’ll be better off for it.

Having said this I’m in the middle of scoring an old Japanese Fujigen Gakki 1994 ST57 Stratocaster with 7.x radius! I’m fully expecting to refret that guitar in a year, it’s going to be a trip to play them old skinny vintage frets after two years of exclusively playing YJM sig strat.

But man big frets doing really help you play faster, I remember the last time I played my 94’ MIM, they came with vintage frets that by now are soooo worn down I was flying on it since as I said at some point your left-hand starts to glide over the board without much effort.

I suppose the catch is you can have higher action with big frets and therefore a better tone. Oddly enough I’m at 2.5mm fret top to string bottoms E to E, at Eflat on YJM (8-46), the tension is perfect for shred, feel like 9s at std. tuning, those string are something else, surprisingly long-lasting and freaking loud. Rings loud and sounds terrific into the amp. Doesn’t hurt to use Raw Vintage saddles, easily add a very noticeable amount of volume and punch, my guitar started to feedback on its stand which never happed with the regular Fender stamped saddles. I wouldn’t say the same about lowered action and small frets.

So main advantages, better tone with higher action, forces you to use string dynamics, eventually leading to better technique.

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Perhaps also worth mentioning, my fingers are not “normal”. They are really small. I can easily fit all four to the first fret.

25,5" scale never gets crowded for me. There is plenty of space to play however big the frets are, all the way to the 22nd.

Luckily my fingers are long. It helps overcoming the lack of fist width. In that respect I can basically play what Troy can but nowhere near what, say, George Lynch can reach.

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Have you tried using gauge 8.5 strings to counteract the additional tension?

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Ok, what you’re saying here makes MUCH more sense to me. String tension shouldn’t differ between two equivalently set up guitars with different fret heights, and action should be identical between two guitars with the same distance from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string (although depending on how hard you’re pushing down you may be able to “bend” the string downwards towards the fretboard farther after fretting on taller frets, though that impacts intonation and if you’re doing this you’re fretting too hard.

What DOES have a big difference, though, is feel. And, this is super subjective. I like big frets - I haven’t gone as far as a scallop, but I like jumbo frets where your finger barely, if at all, touches the fretboard, because I think it’s a lot easier to bend cleanly on them (and, likely, because it’s what I’m used to). For me, all this stuff makes them more comfortable, it’s something I’m more used to, and it just feels subjectively “better” to me.

I personally think larger frets do offer a lot of advantages… But no one can tell you you’re wrong to prefer smaller frets. I’d say give the new guitar some more time and see if it’s something you can get used to - it sort of makes sense it would be a lot easier to go from jumbo frets back to vintage, if the thing throwing you is you’re trying to fret too close to the edge of the jumbo fret - but if not, hey, you now know what you prefer, and that’s never a bad thing. :+1:

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Thank you for your comments. I have spend some time playing the Pro, with narrow-tall (which are actually exactly as tall as the Performer frets that are throwing me off), and it’s fine. Not quite the same level of feel and comfort I have on the medium frets, but definitely close.

I decided to either buy a Pro, or a Standard/Custom Shop Strat with medium-jumbo frets that sounds equally good to the Pro.

I also found by experimenting with tunings that 10s in E-flat have the best feel for me in terms of tension and sound.

I will try the 9.5 Ernie Ball strings too in the coming weeks.

The fret thing is more or less sorted for me, I like the feel of medium-jumbo and I like thinner necks although I could get used to the deep C and narrow tall frets of the Pro if given some time.

Can’t recall if anyone’s mentioned this yet, but have you considered Warmoth for a replacement neck?

I think part of the reason a replacement Fender neck is fairly expensive (well, aside from the fact that making and finishing a neck really is rather a lot of work, much more so than a body, with the fretwork) is that an American Fender neck with a cheap knockoff body is awfully hard to tell at a glance from a real American Strat.

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Yes, I certainly considered it (and might again in the future). I decided to give it some time first, because those Warmoth necks aren’t exactly free either :grin: But it’s an excellent company so I will certainly consider ordering one to my exact specs if I still can’t get used to the Pro neck a few months down the line.

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1-month later update:

Fortunately the story has a happy ending. I got rid of the Performer Strat with the mega-jumbo frets and got a Pro Strat with “narrow-tall frets” and a thicker neck.

In general, the guitar felt pretty good right of the bat. The sound is amazing (those V-mod pickups are exactly the sound I am looking for in a Strat, while the Yosemite sounded a bit plasticky/glassy/harsh for my taste. They had that artificial noiseless quality about them, although they aren’t noiseless.).

The neck was slightly thicker than I was used to, which felt a bit uncomfortable at first, but no deal breaker.

The frets, although they were quite a bit higher, felt great and I could immediately feel that I could feel both a bit of the neck, but I could also bend strings with greater ease.

Now, after a month of playing I can say that I’ve never been happier with a guitar.

The thicker neck turned out to be a big improvement for me because my left hand is now much more relaxed, so now it’s the thinner necks that feel weird :grin:

The frets feel totally natural.

Conclusion, it wasn’t so much the height as the overall size of the frets that made the Performer strat weird to play for me, especially the width in combination with the height. I consider the narrow-tall size to be an improvement (for me) compared to the medium-jumbo.

If I were to buy a Strat in the future I would surely take the Pro Strat as a starting point.

Thanks to everyone for sharing insights about fret height and playability, it helped me greatly to keep things in perspective and not do anything rash/foolish such as a refret when all could be solved relatively easy.

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Hey, glad to hear you ended up with a guitar you’re happy with!

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Thx, Drew it really is the first time in 25+ years that I feel this happy with a guitar. Best part of all is that it’s completely stock, so I can find it easily second-hand if needed.

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Almost two years in since I hit the volcano method, and some since, my findings are exactly the same as yours, I wasn’t sure till I got my MIJ 57’ strat. Even with the skinny wires are 10/46 I found I prefered my usual 2.5mm action.

I have switched the strings on that guitat to YJM 8/46, it’s even better now and it adds more consistency between my two guitars.

It’s a great thing to find the guitar that suits you, sometimes this can be a moving target, but CTC really does take a lot of the guess work out, when you hone your technique correctly it’s easier to know what you precisely prefer.

Congratulations.

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I always hated the sound of strings buzzing and choking on the string, so I could never be satisfied with really low actions (1-1.5mm). However, I think that there comes the love that people have for big frets, because high/big frets allow you to get under the strings when bending, despite the low action.

Currently my action more or less Fender Strat factory spec which is 2mm and 1.8mm (low e / hi e at 12th fret).

That guitar looks stunning by the way. How does it sound? And what amp do you play through?

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Thanks nitro, the guitar is lovely, absolutely timeless, very responsive and a good amount of headroom, I’m not so thrilled with the pickups though, can’t wait to get my old MIM back from a refret job, that has some Lindy frailin Vintage Hots, that guitar sounds like Lenny. This one is a bit darker, I’m yet to figure out if it’s the pickups or my current amp set up in general.

I have a pick guard loaded with SD JB/Jazz HH. Between the MIM and MIJ, one’s going to be SSS with the Vintage Hots and the other HH, not sure just yet.

I’m currently playing through a Dr.Z Carmen Ghia and a matching Dr.Z 1x12 Tone Tubby Alnico loaded convertible Cab ( closed). My main drive is from a pair of Vemurams, Karen pre clean boosted with their Budi. Seems to get me in the ball park.

Though there are plans to get a classic rock band going later this year so I got an RR100 super lead arriving in October. My dream amp, Blackmore to YJM and everything inbetween I hope.

Here’s a clip of the MIJ stock with the Ghia mixed. Clams n’ all :roll_eyes:

here’s what the karen sounds like:

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I played only scalloped guitars from 1987 to 2001 and now do not play them. Jumbo frets are way good enough and I dislike micro frets (or the fretless wonder-type frets).