Fret height vs action

JoeRockHead

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Hello everyone, not sure where I should be post this but I'll try here as it seems pretty open topic. I have only been playing a few years and I have allot to learn for sure, but I know I love the sound of a growly overdriven Les Paul, like rolling crackelling electric thunder. My idea of God like tone is on T.Rex Slider. Any way, I have an Epiphone SG And a Gibson 2014 LPJ, and both have medium jumbo frets. I press rather hard to make my chords and probably sound out of tune more than I even know. One day last year, I walked into my local guitar center and they had two used Guild Starfire guitars for around $400 each, I wasn't particularly interested as I didn't expect the semi hallow bodies to rock my sound, but I tried them out anyway, just unplugged. The first thing I noticed was the fret heights were really low, I could just touch the strings and they were contacting the fret board and it was extremely easy to play and my chords sounded great, on both guitars. I was astounded, but I left the store and looked up some info on the guitar, couldn't find anything about the frets and action that jumped out at me, but thought about it a few days and I went back and both were sold. So what I'm wondering, If that type of fret heights / action worked so well for me, should I be looking for a guitar with some type of a small fret wire, or is it that the frets were worn down or lowered somehow?
 

mdubya

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IHMO - it should not be a goal to press the strings into the fret board.

Lower frets are going to be harder to get the guitar set up just right, but otherwise, play what you prefer.

All of my frets are medium or vintage sized. As long as the guitar is set up decently, I don't have problems with either.

Bigger frets hurt my fingers more, but...they also feel like being let off the leash sometimes, too.
 
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Roxy13

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I had someone ask me a few weeks ago if I might have a guitar for him with really worn out, low frets. He said he prefers them as he only plays rhythm. He even asked me if I would level down new ones to the nitty gritty for him.
 

Tone deaf

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Have a real pro set up your guitar and/or learn to do it yourself.* In my experience, the "going out of tune when you fret the instrument" problem can usually be resolved with properly cut (height) nut slots, properly adjusted saddle height and stop tail piece adjustments.




* Dan Erlewine's "Guitar Player Guitar Repair Third Edition" is the place to start.
 

Roxy13

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I was totally shocked that someone wanted me to destroy a brand new refret! I was like eek! I don't think I can do it! I'll let you know about the next sad thing I rescue that has almost no frets left.
 

dspelman

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You're gorilla gripping your strings. You need them to touch the fret and that's all. Don't be pulling them down to the fretboard. I have three guitars wtih minimal frets (LP Customs from the mid-50's), also called "fretless wonders." It's extremely difficult to bend or produce vibrato in the modern idiom with these guitars. That's why the 58/59/60 model guitars were so sought after. They had taller frets, humbucking pickups and the CSB paint, and they were far more playable as modern guitars.
 

drew365

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I have a '66 Guild Starfire and it has tiny vintage frets. They measure .036". Even though I've had the guitar since new and it was my only guitar for about 40 years, I don't really like the small frets. As was noted above, it makes it difficult to do nice bends, which I do a lot of. I would recommend a medium jumbo fret of about .048" and learn to play with a lighter touch. That will improve your overall playing much more than getting vintage fret wire and giving in to the guerilla grip. On the other hand, my custom shop Clapton came with .038" vintage fret wire, so I guess E.C. makes it work for him.
 

charlie chitlins

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If you like low frets, use low frets;
although, there are very few with well-developed technique that like them.
You'd be better off polishing up your technique before you spend too many more years doing it wrong.
 

ARandall

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Technique is important....vitally so.
Your goal should be to learn the skills required to deal with any guitar.....regardless of any construction detail, technical spec or layout it has.
The only caveat is if something will cause injury to you. Otherwise you must learn to adapt so you have choices.
 

jwinger

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Each to his own...I had two guitars with the old narrow, skinny, shorter frets. Regretted both with 59 style. They play better and haven't notice any tuning issues.

I'd have someone check your setup, especially the nut
 

NotScott

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You're gorilla gripping your strings. You need them to touch the fret and that's all. Don't be pulling them down to the fretboard. I have three guitars wtih minimal frets (LP Customs from the mid-50's), also called "fretless wonders." It's extremely difficult to bend or produce vibrato in the modern idiom with these guitars. That's why the 58/59/60 model guitars were so sought after. They had taller frets, humbucking pickups and the CSB paint, and they were far more playable as modern guitars.
Everything said above x2!
 

DarrellV

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Good advise above! ^^^^^^



IME fret height and action are two different and only remotely related things.

Lemme 'splain....

I came from a bass guitar background and played one for many years.

When I switched to guitar I found my fingers were not as cooperative at bending into certain chord shapes, so I went with lighter strings, like 9's , to make the fretting pressure easier for me.

When I got my 82 Lester it had wore out frets so I sent it out for a re fret.

Meanwhile I played a MIM strat with low worn out frets and really low action, so to me it played really well.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I was Gorilla gripping the strings....
The low frets on my strat let my fingertips hit the wood behind the strings, absorbing the pressure, and the frets being so low there was very little de-tuning.

When I got the Lester back with new medium jumbos OMG, it felt like playing razor blades!

At that point I was forced to be more aware of my grip and to lighten up on the grip. There was no neck wood to absorb my tip pressure now, only string. And it hurt! I had 9's on it then.

Now, I've said that to say this.... Fast forward to today.

All of my Lesters (and I have to assume yours too), have the ability to be set up with a nice low action height.

They all have new frets around medium jumbo.

Assuming the nut slots are cut correctly on yours you should have very little distance to press down to hit the 1st frets.

I have found after setting the neck relief (truss rod) almost flat and bridge height down to no buzz that I can get almost the same amount of string height down the entire neck. So....

Low and even action across the fretboard translates into less down pressure (grip) needed to fret the strings. Regardless of fret height, and string thickness..

Less pressure also means less de-tuning and finger hurtz.

In fact, and I found this weird, last week I went up to 11's because I found I was fret bending the 10's and they felt a bit too loose under my fingers.

I love them! They do not hurt my fingers and I can still bend them as needed but only because my Lesters will take and hold a proper low setup.

Because of this there is very little change under my fingers in down pressure while I'm playing.

If the action were higher, I doubt very much I could squeeze down on 11's without some discomfort.
 

JoeRockHead

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Good advise above! ^^^^^^



IME fret height and action are two different and only remotely related things.

Lemme 'splain....

I came from a bass guitar background and played one for many years.

When I switched to guitar I found my fingers were not as cooperative at bending into certain chord shapes, so I went with lighter strings, like 9's , to make the fretting pressure easier for me.

When I got my 82 Lester it had wore out frets so I sent it out for a re fret.

Meanwhile I played a MIM strat with low worn out frets and really low action, so to me it played really well.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I was Gorilla gripping the strings....
The low frets on my strat let my fingertips hit the wood behind the strings, absorbing the pressure, and the frets being so low there was very little de-tuning.

When I got the Lester back with new medium jumbos OMG, it felt like playing razor blades!

At that point I was forced to be more aware of my grip and to lighten up on the grip. There was no neck wood to absorb my tip pressure now, only string. And it hurt! I had 9's on it then.

Now, I've said that to say this.... Fast forward to today.

All of my Lesters (and I have to assume yours too), have the ability to be set up with a nice low action height.

They all have new frets around medium jumbo.

Assuming the nut slots are cut correctly on yours you should have very little distance to press down to hit the 1st frets.

I have found after setting the neck relief (truss rod) almost flat and bridge height down to no buzz that I can get almost the same amount of string height down the entire neck. So....

Low and even action across the fretboard translates into less down pressure (grip) needed to fret the strings. Regardless of fret height, and string thickness..

Less pressure also means less de-tuning and finger hurtz.

In fact, and I found this weird, last week I went up to 11's because I found I was fret bending the 10's and they felt a bit too loose under my fingers.

I love them! They do not hurt my fingers and I can still bend them as needed but only because my Lesters will take and hold a proper low setup.

Because of this there is very little change under my fingers in down pressure while I'm playing.

If the action were higher, I doubt very much I could squeeze down on 11's without some discomfort.
DarrellV so what helped you was switching to thicker strings which were more difficult to push down to the fretboard? I use 10s now by the way...
 

DarrellV

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DarrellV so what helped you was switching to thicker strings which were more difficult to push down to the fretboard? I use 10s now by the way...
They may help you, actually, if you have such a strong grip. They won't bend through the frets as easy, and are a bit stiffer under the fingers. You can try that, it's a quick fix...

The big thing was learning to be conscious of my grip strength. I would actually take notice of my left hand at times while playing and force my hand to relax a bit. I found this eased tension in my wrist tendons too, which I didn't know I was torquing on as hard as I was.

Once I built up some more hand and finger strength (ie, coordination) I was able to play 10's without issue. Hand and finger warmups and stretches help too.

I went to 11's recently because it seems like my hand strength has developed more in areas that I need for playing, and now I'm crushing the 10's.

But the real magic to me that makes it all work is having a guitar that can hold a great setup, with low string height.

The fret height doesn't matter any more, but the string height is paramount to me.

If' it's a bit high off the frets I catch my fingers on the adjacent strings while cross picking, or find myself annoyed by how much I have to lift my fingers to get over to the next string while soloing.

I like my guitars set up so they can almost play themselves..
 

JoeRockHead

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I'll h
They may help you, actually, if you have such a strong grip. They won't bend through the frets as easy, and are a bit stiffer under the fingers. You can try that, it's a quick fix...

The big thing was learning to be conscious of my grip strength. I would actually take notice of my left hand at times while playing and force my hand to relax a bit. I found this eased tension in my wrist tendons too, which I didn't know I was torquing on as hard as I was.

Once I built up some more hand and finger strength (ie, coordination) I was able to play 10's without issue. Hand and finger warmups and stretches help too.

I went to 11's recently because it seems like my hand strength has developed more in areas that I need for playing, and now I'm crushing the 10's.

But the real magic to me that makes it all work is having a guitar that can hold a great setup, with low string height.

The fret height doesn't matter any more, but the string height is paramount to me.

If' it's a bit high off the frets I catch my fingers on the adjacent strings while cross picking, or find myself annoyed by how much I have to lift my fingers to get over to the next string while soloing.

I like my guitars set up so they can almost play themselves..
I'll have to try something with heavier strings next time I stop at guitar center, whenever they can open back up again that is. Still under Covid lockdown as of today anyway...
 

DarrellV

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I'll h


I'll have to try something with heavier strings next time I stop at guitar center, whenever they can open back up again that is. Still under Covid lockdown as of today anyway...
Who knows, that might be the ticket for you.

That's why they make so many different gauges of strings....

Just make sure to do yourself a favor and play one that is set up decently.

I find the factory set ups on LP to be a bit high for my liking.

But now that I think about it, I have read on here of people who like high action and heavy strings for just that reason. They would mash lighter strings or they play so hard they would buzz the heck out of them if they were low.

Good luck, we'll be here when ya get back!:cheers:
 

Freddy G

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I was totally shocked that someone wanted me to destroy a brand new refret! I was like eek! I don't think I can do it! I'll let you know about the next sad thing I rescue that has almost no frets left.
It's just someone's preference. I installed a new ebony board on a member's goltop recently and he asked for "fretless wonder" frets. So not only did I install the lowest frets, but i also then ground them right down .
He loved it!
 

ehb

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I'd get a reputable tech to adjust the neck/action first and foremost before taking down frets. That may solve your problem.

On Lesters, I use 10s, 9s on Fenders (longer scale)... Feels about the same to me. Plus, Lesters >IMHO< tend to stay in tune with itself more reliably with 10s. Again, MHO.

I would also inspect the mechanics of how you are playing to see if you yourself is the culprit.

Case in point. I grew up around musicians and bands from curtain climber age. Always around musicians (yeah, I'm the result of a rather bizarre childhood)...

My late bro played bass for ~50 years when he passed. From a very early age, picking up guitars and basses that were always within reach, he beat it in my head 'Play the damn frets, NOT the board. The fret is the anchor point, not the fretboard. Playing the board will tire you out, make your fingers hurt, and probably hold you back in improving'... He beat that into my brain. I listened as he had the chops, experience, and C.V. to know...Plus watching his left hand was like watching slow motion no matter what he was playing...funk, jazz, R&B, RnR, etc... He could go from Jaco to Entwistle to Goddard to Oakley and his left hand structure didn't change visually.... He used just enough pressure, no more, no less... This in itself made it difficult to see what he was actually playing as there was so little obvious movement. There is a lesson in that.

Also, the strings you play just may not be the right string for you. I really love the sound of the DM blue pack strings but absolutely HATE the feel of em and they do NOT soften up. I use Gibson Brite Wire's on all my electric guitars, buy em in bulk... Best string there is >to me and my playing<... Some love Slinkys. I detest em. To each his own....

Always do the simple NON-DESTRUCTIVE stuff first. Then play the hell out of it for a while, keeping the above in mind.

And Google is your friend. Search on stuff about making guitars easier to play and such.... You might find it is something simple YOU can do to alleviate issues.

Any guitar with a good neck and anchor points on the body can be made to play.....usually with minimal work by a knowledgeable tech. Anybody pretty much that has worked on bolt guitar/basses can tell you that sometimes it can be as simple as a narrow strip of veneer wood to find the spank. (I keep my copper tape trims for such. Put the Stank back in a 61 P a couple days ago. A few minutes, four screws, copper tape scraps (malleable, think it out), and I was 90% to full joy... Customer was gassed! Sometimes the simple things can cure a 'seemingly' major issue....

Good luck.
 

pillbug

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I would recommend getting an Epiphone Les Paul Custom with .009s or .010s.
It has lower frets and it will nail the T. Rex tone too :)
 


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