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Zero Fret Information


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Hey everyone, I just got finished cutting the template for my new build today. Due to nut height issues with the Earvana on the second build, I was looking into maybe doing the next build with a zero fret. And despite digging around in the archives, I can't find much information regarding the process, so I'd want to field a few questions here.

-Should the zero fret be any larger/wider than the other frets? My guess is no for the best action, but yes so it wouldn't have to be replaced nearly as often.

-How far away "should" the string retainer be from the zero fret? And, for that matter, how thick/high? Obvious answers to this question include "as close as possible" "as thick as necessary" and "higher than the strings". Definitely close to the fret itself, so the fret doesn't rub against the end of the fretboard.

-Should the string retainer be placed up against the end of the fretboard, or on the headstock? i.e. flat or angled side?

-Should the strings be touching the retainer? My guess is no, so the slots would have to be pretty deep.

Here's the other catch: I'm undecided on getting a locking trem system, so I've decided to leave space for this modification if I choose to go down that path later.

-Do zero fret systems work with locking trems? Or trems in general, I should say.

-Should I leave space behind the string guide to put a locking nut, or would headstock suffice? I feel that the headstock option may be covering the truss rod if it needs adjustment, but leaving 3/4" or so of dead space would just look weird.

-I found this picture that has quite a lot going on: zero fret/string guide/locking nut/string tree. Maybe this could be the way to go. Ugh, if I could only make up my mind, trem or not.

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I've been using zero frets on my builds. I like the sound on the open strings, and it does make cutting a nut easier somewhat easier for the beginner. (Which was my original reason for using them, although if you already can make a nut for a guitar, it's not really any easier - just harder to screw it up.) Anyway, answers are based on my limited experience.

-Should the zero fret be any larger/wider than the other frets? My guess is no for the best action, but yes so it wouldn't have to be replaced nearly as often.

I like something a bit larger than the rest of the fretwire, mostly because I do like my action a little higher at the nut than is probably ideal for most people. I'm not talking about using fretwire that much bigger though. Every production guitar I've seen with a zero fret uses the same fretwire across the whole neck, however, and I've done this with good results as well. Surprisingly, the zero frets don't seem to wear down nearly as much as you'd think - my first guitar with a zero fret, while it is probably starting to need some fret work (that thing's had the heck played out of it) the zero fret is pretty much as good as the day I built it. I find this surprising because you can tell exactly where I capo my guitars frequently. I imagine heavy trem use might take more out of the zero fret, but I don't have any experience to back this up. I've been thinking of experimenting with a zero fret made of steel fret wire, and regular fretwire for the rest of my neck.

-How far away "should" the string retainer be from the zero fret? And, for that matter, how thick/high? Obvious answers to this question include "as close as possible" "as thick as necessary" and "higher than the strings". Definitely close to the fret itself, so the fret doesn't rub against the end of the fretboard.

I'm assuming by retainer your talking about the nut, here?

I just put the nut at the end of the fretboard (mounted gibson style), leaving that distance to be determined by how much LMI leaves at the end of the board after the zero fret slot. I usually angle the end of the board after the zero fret slightly to make sure the strings clear. The farther back you put the nut in relation to the zero fret, however, the more you can bend in the first position, which can be kind of a neat trick on a non-trem guitar. Heck, I suppose if the nut was far enough back, you could bend in the open position!

I shape the height of the nut the same as I would for a regular guitar - just over the top of the strings on the unwound ones, a little over half buried for the wound strings. I think it keeps them from looking too weird. I taper the tops a bit more than I do on a regular build, because the string is going to be following the headstock angle until it hits the zero fret. Width wise, I use Gibson size (3/16") nut blanks, but any normal size would work.

-Should the string retainer be placed up against the end of the fretboard, or on the headstock? i.e. flat or angled side?

I put it against the fretboard, on the same surface of the neck that the fretboard sits on. (Gibson style) I've seen other builders use a Fender style (mounted in a slot in the board itself) and Martin style (mounted past the board, on the angle surface of the headstock). I think this is really a matter of personal preference, and what's going to be easiest for your construction methods. Also check out Scott French's website - he's done some need zero fret stuff using slotted metal "dots" as his nut after the zero fret.

-Should the strings be touching the retainer? My guess is no, so the slots would have to be pretty deep.

In the bottom of the nut slot? After the zero fret? They can, but I'm not convinced it matters either way. If you're using a lot of trem, it may work out that there's some string binding going on somewhere that's not helping tuning stability. They don't touch on mine, nor the couple of production guitars with zero frets I've seen.

Here's the other catch: I'm undecided on getting a locking trem system, so I've decided to leave space for this modification if I choose to go down that path later.

-Do zero fret systems work with locking trems? Or trems in general, I should say.

I use a Hipshot trem and locking tuners in combination with a zero fret on my latest build. Works great. I can't see why a locking trem would be any different. Think of the zero fret as any other fret, it's just being fretted automatically and constantly.

-Should I leave space behind the string guide to put a locking nut, or would headstock suffice? I feel that the headstock option may be covering the truss rod if it needs adjustment, but leaving 3/4" or so of dead space would just look weird.

If you've got a locking nut, you don't really need a string guide - unless you're talking about fender-type string trees or something. Just put a locking nut where the string-guiding nut would be, anywhere after the zero fret. a replacement, not an addition.

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You're the man, J! Thanks for clearing up pretty much everything, and giving me a ton to think about! Specifically, the replacing the string guide with a locking nut, instead of adding to it. Off the top of your head, do you have the dimensions for a Floyd locking nut? I don't have a guitar with a locking trem, so I don't have anything to reference.

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my first guitar with a zero fret, while it is probably starting to need some fret work (that thing's had the heck played out of it) the zero fret is pretty much as good as the day I built it.

That doesn't surprise me. I would expect that most of the fret wear comes from the strings being hammered into the fret by your finger... probably more wear if they're already vibrating (hammer-ons). The zero fret sees none of this of course, as the strings never "strike" it but just rest on it.

Anyway, that's my half-educated guess. :D

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The only string motion a zero fret sees is, parallel movement through string bending (bending a string 0.5" halfway up a 25.5" scale instrument with the guiding nut 1/8" behind the zero fret causes less than 1/100th" of movement) or perpendicular to the wire when you're tuning the string. Point in example is Brian May's Red Special which went for at least twenty years without having to have the zero fret replaced. You would get marginally more movement across the zero fret from string bending if you have a larger distance between the zf and the guiding nut, but only very very marginal.

It's not important to have the strings bearing down hard on the zero fret by creating a harder break angle - only as much contact as you'd get if you were fretting a string with your fingers elsewhere on the board. You might argue that the string isn't coupling as well since it's not bearing down with pressure, but fretted strings don't gain any perceivable advantage from coupling down hard across a nut or zero fret anyway as it's beyond the vibrating string length.

I bevelled my last zero fret slot slightly deeper than I bevelled the rest of the board so that the tangs of the fretwire seated happily in the slot, but were easy to remove and causes no chipping when I do. I did this on the basis that when levelling the rest of the fretboard I can remove the zero fret and reinstall it as I use taller fretwire like yourself J.P.

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Thanks for the elucidation, Pro! I think what I'll do is draft out a 1:1 scale drawing of the headstock/nut/fretboard area, and tape it onto my neck blank, and go from there. I'll leave a space after the fretboard end equal to the size of a regular locking nut, in case I want to retrofit it with a Kahler down the line. Now the real issue is trying to make the extra space not taken up by the guide nut to not look awkward... Or just make a damn big Corian guide nut :D

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The nut doesn't need to do anything other than keep the strings in line so a nut the same size as a "normal" nut is sufficient even if you have crazy uneven string run angles like an Explorer or Jackson pointy. Good call on planning ahead in case you want to retrofit a Kahler!

There's nothing wrong with a damn huge Corian guide nut if it suits the design ;-)

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I think leaving the retro option open is key. My Carvin has a Wilkinson trem which isn't terrible. And honestly, I don't even use it that much, seeing as I'm primarily rhythm-oriented. But in the off-chance that I change my mind, it's not bad to have.

I'm guessing that a Floyd nut is 3/4" deep or so. I've got no locking trems to say yay or nay on.

PS. Congrats on getting modded, Pro!

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