Guitar Frets: What You Need to Know About Their Life Cycle (for Beginners)

When you’re just learning guitar, you might be curious about the life cycle of your guitar’s frets. Most beginners are aware that they should change their strings regularly, but what about the other components?

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned musician, knowing about the life cycle of guitar frets will help you maintain your guitar and ensure its longevity.

If you’ve ever wondered about the frets on your guitar, you’ve come to the right place.

Do Guitar Frets Wear Out?

Guitars are built to last a long time, but of course, there are expensive brands and inexpensive brands. This means that each guitar is different when it comes to how high in quality the components are.

Guitar frets are usually made out of nickel silver, which is an alloy that doesn’t actually have any silver in it. Still, when you play your guitar regularly, the frets can indeed eventually wear out.

Other things that can wear out frets faster include:

  • Bending of the strings (as opposed to plucking them)
  • Using slides and capos
  • Pressing harder on the frets
  • Using heavier strings, which exert more pressure on the frets
  • Humidity that is too low, which can shrink the head of the guitar and cause “fret sprout”
  • Too much sweat on the frets

These things are part of being a guitar player, of course, but they can still shorten the life span of your frets if you do them too frequently.

How Do I Know If My Guitar Needs New Frets?

Fortunately, there are some easy ways to tell if your guitar needs new frets, so you won’t have to wonder about it for long. Be on the lookout for the following traits, which usually mean you need new frets:

  • Indentations on some of your frets
  • The sustain of the string tone is shorter
  • You hear your strings make a “buzzing” sound
  • A pitch that is incorrect or “wrong”

These are the things that tell you that you need to replace your frets. If you don’t replace them and you keep playing, the sound simply won’t be the same and it can even sound like you’re continuously off-key or off-pitch.

How Often Do Frets Need to Be Replaced?

In reality, the frets on your guitar can last anywhere from just a few years to between 20 and 30 years before having to be replaced.

But the problem with this question is that it is very difficult to answer. There are so many types of guitars and so many factors that go into how long you can keep your frets without replacing them. Much of how often they need to be replaced depends on what the frets are made out of, the style you use when you play, and of course, how often and how intense you play your guitar.

How to Replace Guitar Frets

Replacing guitar frets is not a simple project to take on. If fact, it may be best to leave it to a professional. Nevertheless, here are the steps to take when you wish to replace your guitar frets.

First of all, keep in mind you need to work gently so that the guitar isn’t ruined or made worse.

  1. Remove the old frets first by heating them and then using a pocket knife to remove them
  2. Clean out the fret slots with canned air, a razor, or something similar
  3. Prepare the gouges by using a razor to make several deep slices into your fretboard gouges
  4. Going slowly, “lift” the cuts you just made into the gouges with a razor so the splinters are raised without being broken off
  5. Prepare the rosewood by using a rotary tool to sand off some of the rosewood and making some dust
  6. In the old gouges, pack the rosewood dust-tight into the webbing of splinters
  7. Drop some “super glue” into the packed dust so the gouges will be filled; let it sit overnight
  8. Sand down all of the glued spots, making sure they are flush with the original fretboard
  9. Wipe the dust off, then rub some mineral oil into the entire fretboard
  10. Cut your fret wire; keep in mind that are many different sizes available
  11. Lay the fret wire across the first fret slot, then cut with nippers at the edge
  12. Cut and shape the wires one at a time since each fret slot size will be different
  13. Put the fret into a vise and use a grinding tool rated for metal to grind down the tang to roughly 3/16 of an inch in from each end
  14. Lay prepared fret gently into the slot and adjust side to side; then tape it into the slow with a mallet
  15. Once all of the frets are in their respective spots, slowly grind the frets flush with the binding
  16. Put your bevel on the frets’ ends with a cut-off wheel; go slow and do three to four frets at a time
  17. Switch to a sanding disk to take off small burrs and so the shape of the fret is the right one
  18. Use a polishing cloth bit and polishing compound on the frets, making sure you pay attention to the ends of each fret to make them smoother
  19. Clean up your fretboard by checking to make sure everything is right and giving it another good cleaning with mineral oil

Tips for Making Your Guitar Frets Last Longer

In addition to easing up on your playing style, capo use, and the other tips mentioned earlier, there are three other things you can do to help your frets last longer:

  • Use a high-quality fret type, such as stainless steel
  • Make sure you always store your guitar properly when it isn’t being used
  • Always wash your hands before you play the guitar – every time

How Often Do You Need to Level Frets?

As a general rule, leveling frets should only be done once or twice in the lifetime of the guitar. If you’re using taller fret wire, you might be able to get one or two more levelings out of it.

How Do I Know If I Need Fret Levels?

The main “symptom” you’ll have if you need frets leveled is constant buzzing or dead spots. Whether the buzzing is coming from just one fret or all of them, it signals a need for a leveling.

Final Thoughts

Maintaining your guitar’s frets is essential for keeping your guitar in tip-top shape and keeping it from declining prematurely. If you don’t fret your guitar correctly, it can cause problems later on. You may even damage your guitar’s neck.

It’s important to keep an eye on your guitar’s frets so that you can ensure that they’re in good condition. This post covered how to do just that.

We also went over the life cycle of guitar frets and explained why you need to keep an eye on them and what you can do to make sure that they’re in good condition.

I hope this post helped!