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Design philosophy of the zero fret.

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  • Design philosophy of the zero fret.

    I have two guitars with a zero fret. I have always been a fan of the idea. It has always seemed to be to be more intuitive design because it is more consistent with the rest of the neck, you can check neck relief without a capo using a wider area of the neck and it takes the worry out of cutting nut slots to such a specific depth.

    I asked a guitar tech why the zero fret was not more commonly used, and he seemed to think that using a nut was done in early guitars, and just got grandfathered in as the standard.

    I was not thinking about this as I removed the strings on my Steinberger Spirit earlier this evening to clean and condition the fretboard. After loosening the strings, I noticed something striking:

    There is notable fretwear on the zero fret. Significantly more than any other fret.

    When I saw that, it hit me: the zero fret never became the standard because of how much wear the zero fret must absorb. There are at least 138 fret locations on a guitar (22 frets × 6 strings + open), and while the amount of playing time on each of those locations is not evenly distributed (I imagine hardly anyone plays above the 13th fret of the low E very often), fretwear is still spread out quite a bit. Except the zero fret. That fret gets wear on every bend and every open note you play, plus string pressure 24/7. Regular nuts feel the same pain, of course, but they can be made out of materials that are more resistant to wear* and can be replaced easier than a zero fret.

    That is the conclusion I came to on the matter. But, I am no tech and nothing of a luthier. If you have differing thoughts, please chime in!

    *Although it may be counter-intuitive, harder materials do not necessarily withstand wear better than soft materials. It is more about the properties of the material.
    Last edited by superheavydeathmetal; 12-19-2016, 08:22 AM.
    Resident Schecter fanboy - Line 6 - NYXL - too much gain

    This user has gone 130 days without purchasing a guitar.

  • #2
    Just thinking out loud here: If you think about what causes the wear you are seeing on that zero fret and then think about the case where you have a string sitting in a "v" on a nut. I would think in cases where the string sits in a "v" on a nut it is supported on the sides by that "v" so the string doesn't move side to side much at all. Therefore, I'd expect a lot less wear on a nut. However, as the string vibrates, htere is a tension and relaxing motion along the length, so the string can act as a saw perpendicular to the nut. I wonder which is the predominant cause of wear? In the case of the zero fret, what if it were stainless steel? I guess it would wear a lot slower.
    Last edited by Zippin44; 12-19-2016, 12:35 AM.


    • #3
      Yea you guys are on top of this for sure and I agree with both of you. Literally all of the wear patterns of a fret are horizontal with the fret because of the string rubbing against it. Stainless steel frets are one idea used to help with the longetivity of the frets. I wonder if Titanium frets are a reasonable idea?? (Aside from the cost factor obviously) Could you imagine never having to replace them ever? You'd obviously have to level and lightly crown them on occasion, but still....

      I'd say that the zero fret sees more abuse than a regular nut would because as pointed out by Zippin44, the strings are supported by either side by the nut slot and therefore inhibits its destructive motion.
      I had a zero fret acoustic when I was 16, but it was a flipped righty, so I traded it for a bag of weed and then bought an older Epiphone acoustic but with a regular nut, which I replaced.. I haven't owned a zero fret guitar since that acoustic and all of my guitars but one have a locking nut. For many years I was predominately a Floyd/Kahler guy so it was basically mandatory that I also had a locking nut. I would choose a regular nut over a zero fret though, no doubt about it.

      What are the differences tonally between a regular nut and a zero fret?
      I would tend to think that the zero fret would sustain longer because it is able to oscillate more freely. I would also be willing to say that the zero fret would have a somewhat darker tone with a lot less highs and high mids because it wouldn't have the contact area that a regular nut would have, so it wouldn't have the attack in due part of that.

      Personally I prefer a brass nut over any other material anyways because of the bright tonal qualities of the material. When shaping my tone, I find that it's much easier when adjusting my 15band rack mount EQ that it's easier to cut something than boost something that isn't there.
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      • #4
        Very insightful, gentlemen. Thanks for your input!
        Resident Schecter fanboy - Line 6 - NYXL - too much gain

        This user has gone 130 days without purchasing a guitar.