Frets are the types of things on a guitar that are just…there! And, I mean that as in they’re not exactly the type of thing that you’d think about when purchasing a guitar. The spaces between the frets, i.e. fretboard decoration on a PRS….sure, that’s something you’d consider.
But what exactly are frets, and why are they so important when it comes to the vital components of a guitar? Let’s take a look.
Why are frets so important?
The fret is what allows guitarists to choose which note, or notes, they’re going to play. It is also an incredibly handy indicator of where you need to play versus an instrument like a violin where constant vibrato is required to find the correct note.
It’s not just an indicator of where to play the correct notes though.
Frets create sustain that otherwise would have to be applied via something like a bow (especially in smaller instruments). This sustain is caused by the addition of the metal fret, rather than the sustain of only a finger. For example, using our comparison to the violin, the bow is then needed for sustain as the finger alone doesn’t have the support of the fret to make the note ‘ring’ for longer.
The addition of the metal fret then means that there is little to no difference in sustain between something like an open string being played, and a noted being played via a fret (when positioned correctly by the player). The fret itself offers a smooth transition for the player from an open string to a fretted note, without the player having to really think about compromising for any sustain issues.
Are fretless guitars hard to play?
Fretless guitars are naturally harder to play as many guitarists are, often subconsciously, used to using the guidance of the frets in terms of where they need to place their fingers, or for the notes they want to fret. Naturally, this is taken away with a fretless guitar.
Fretless guitars are a lot like playing a slide guitar, in that it is very difficult to land correctly on a note without sliding up or down to it first. The lack of frets also means that sustaining that specific note is harder, therefore many fretless guitar players will opt for a lot of vibrato and slide playing to compensate for the lack of frets.
Here’s a great video of Guthrie Govan demonstrating technique on a fretless guitar:
So, what do we conclude here? Well, that frets are certainly way more important than many of us even stop to realise. Also, we can throw in there that fretless guitars are a whole load of fun!
If you have more questions about guitar fundamentals then we’re always asking common questions to help you out. This includes the basics such as why are pickups expensive and also why should you play guitar with a pick?