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Harder Nickel Silver Frets?


GarrettS
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I've played on nickel silver (NS) frets forever and I like the sound, but I filed them down through playing, using wide vibrato with harder strings, NXYL. 

I was very optimistic about stainless steel (SS) frets, but now, owning a guitar with them, I realize I dislike the silverware ping sound they produce. 

I would rather have frets that sound good but wear out than frets that sound like shit forever. 

Do Jescar EVO gold ping like SS? 

Or is there a way to make NS frets last longer? Who makes them? For my build, I decided to use three fret sizes to achieve a gradation, or tapering of fret width from very wide in the low frets, to super slim on the high frets.

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Fret sizes: 1-11 Extra Jumbo (Jescar 58118-EVO) 12-18 Jumbo (Jescar 57110-EVO), 19-24 Slim tall (55090-EVO), tapered.

I based the sizes on Jescar EVO gold but I don't know how they sound. After hearing so many guys rave about SS frets and then finding I don't like how those sound, I feel like I'd rather play it safe with NS frets. Can NS frets be bit harder? Can I get the sort of fret width taper of Extra Jumbo to Slim Tall with harder NS frets? 

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54 minutes ago, GarrettS said:

I've played on nickel silver (NS) frets forever and I like the sound, but I filed them down through playing, using wide vibrato with harder strings, NXYL. 

I was very optimistic about stainless steel (SS) frets, but now, owning a guitar with them, I realize I dislike the silverware ping sound they produce. 

I would rather have frets that sound good but wear out than frets that sound like shit forever. 

Do Jescar EVO gold ping like SS? 

Or is there a way to make NS frets last longer? Who makes them? For my build, I decided to use three fret sizes to achieve a gradation, or tapering of fret width from very wide in the low frets, to super slim on the high frets.

I based the sizes on Jescar EVO gold but I don't know how they sound. After hearing so many guys rave about SS frets and then finding I don't like how those sound, I feel like I'd rather play it safe with NS frets. Can NS frets be bit harder? Can I get the sort of fret width taper of Extra Jumbo to Slim Tall with harder NS frets? 

I think it's probably dangerous to talk about the sound of frets... but I'll go out on a limb for you.  I've never played ss yet... I can tell you that I did notice what I think to be a bit more of an accent on the extreme upper highs with evo.  I personally think anything is manageable by compensating in pickups/woods/nut/electronics... and it def isn't something that struck me as a negative entirely.  Admittedly there are so many variables in guitars that I would never say for certain that it def was only the evo I was hearing... but that was just my impression.  I've put evo on a mahog guitar with maple top maple neck and ebony fb, I've put it on maple body with maple carved top maple/wenge neck and grenadillo fretboard, and on an ash body with maple top and maple fretboard and neck.  all had different bridges (the last had brass tele saddles).  It only really stood out to me on the first one with ebony fretboard... so take that for what it's worth.

I recently read a thread where a guy compared the hardness of various frets from fret suppliers... fairly scientific... think it was at mylespaul.com... apparently at the time the stew mac frets were a hair harder than some other suppliers.  don't take that as bible as I know stew mac carries some overlapping brands as others... but I mention it to point out that not all nickel frets are the sm.  

hope something there is useful.

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I find SS frets do indeed have a bit more brightness too them, guitars I've made with SS seem to sustain better too, but these could just be one or two of many variables. If you want a slightly more hard wearing nickel silver fretwire Jescar Nickel frets are good. Generally that is what I use unless I have to use SS.

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  • 3 months later...

I can't believe this topic is still around. 

FRETS DO NOT HAVE A "SOUND".

You're talking about a piece of metal hammered or pressed into a very hard piece of wood to serve as an anchor for one end of a string when you press it down with your finger. Everything about guitar fretboard and fret design is there to keep that piece of metal from vibrating or moving in the slightest. The only way it would have a sound is if it vibrated in sympathy with a note that was being played, and that would mean that you have a loose fret, not that the fret is contributing to the sound of the instrument. 

Just think about this for a minute. The frets serve as anchors for the notes you fret with your fingers. What else serves as that kind of anchor? The nut! More specifically, whatever material the nut is made out of. Open notes that are not fretted have the nut serving as the string's anchor. And there are numerous materials that have been used to make nuts over the years. 

So think to yourself, is there a tonal difference that you can consistently pick out between open notes which are anchored by the nut and fretted notes which are anchored by the metal fretwire? When listening to music, do the open notes and fretted notes just leap out at you as being glaringly different from each other? Can you pick out the open notes from the fretted ones on a recording, where you have to use just your ears and not your imagination?

No, you can't, and neither can anyone else. Now think about this: do you really think there is MORE difference between a nickel silver fret and a stainless steel fret than there is between a nickel silver fret and a plastic nut? Nobody can reliably tell the difference between notes fretted on nickel silver and open notes anchored by a bone/graphite/Corian/Tusq/plastic nut. There's a world of difference between a nickel silver fret and all those nut materials, yet nobody can tell them apart solely by sound. Yet people think they can hear a difference between one metal and another slightly harder metal doing the same job. With no proof, yet they'll all insist that their Golden Ears can hear it and if you can't that's your problem. Hell, while we're at it, can anyone tell the difference in sound between different nut materials? No, they can't, and those materials have WAY more difference from each other than nickel frets and stainless frets do, but it doesn't make them SOUND any different.

Stainless steel frets are a wonderful advancement in the guitar world. Once you get past the slightly harder installation and initial level and dress, there is no downside to them. We don't need to have a bunch of misinformation getting spread around the internet about them.

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27 minutes ago, Mind Riot said:

Everything about guitar fretboard and fret design is there to keep that piece of metal from vibrating or moving in the slightest. The only way it would have a sound is if it vibrated in sympathy with a note that was being played, and that would mean that you have a loose fret, not that the fret is contributing to the sound of the instrument. 

I beg to partially differ. Only partially. I fully agree that there can't be any audible difference between the materials.

But there is a difference or two.

First, there's differences in actual measurements. As @ADFinlayson mentioned in another post the width of the tang and the size of the barbs can vary from one manufacturer to another. Thus, if the slots are cut equal, a wider tang will make the surrounding wood compress more than a narrower one. Yet the narrow one may still sit tight enough not to resonate. But it may vibrate just enough to act as a damper, killing the sound sooner. And as with all vibrations the highest frequencies die first. That would somewhat explain the OP's experience.

Second, not only does the wood compress, metals compress as well and silver nickel compresses more than steel. Thus even if the frets are of exactly equal dimensions the steel will sit tighter in the slot. Again we're talking about the damping effect caused by the flex.

Third, and this is most likely the least important, different metals conduct heat differently. Nickel silver is made of copper and nickel and zinc, all of which conduct heat much better than steel. When the strings vibrate against the fret some of the energy is changed to heat which causes thermal expansion, more for nickel silver than for steel. Again that affects the seating and thus the damping effect.

The only truly solid fret is one that is carved directly out of the fretboard and the only truly uniform material would be man made - a fretboard ground out of a single slab of either SS or nickel silver would tell if there's an audible difference caused by the material.

My ears aren't good enough any more to hear frequencies past some 12000 Hz but my kids can hear much higher frequencies. Thus I wouldn't trust my ears for telling a minuscule effect to high tones, I'd ask a highly sensitive teenager to tell if there's any difference.

 

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We are so far off into the weeds on this one now, it's just completely ridiculous.

Okay...

1) You think a fret with a narrower tang can vibrate just enough to dampen vibration and kill the sustain of a note?

Prove it. Give us some science, some tests, backing up your claim. I'm calling this out as complete and utter bullshit, and I'm also certain that you have absolutely zero evidence to support that claim, because you're making it up.

Whether a fret wire's tang digs forty thousandths of an inch into the fretboard wood or only thirty thousandths, it is not going to vibrate. Frets are seated so tight into very hard woods that the only way we can get them in there is to hammer them in or use a lot of pressure from a drill press or some other tool to press them in. If a fret slot was so oversized that a fret could vibrate that would mean you have a loose fret due for a replacement, as I said before. Things that are hammered into wood do not vibrate. Do you have nails just falling out of the 2x4s used to build your house? No, because wood holds them in place for a long, long time. And that's softer wood than fretboards, and nails are smooth, they don't have teeth to keep them jammed in tight like fretwire does.

2) So you say that nickel silver frets are actually under so much pressure from being in a fret slot that the metal will actually compress, and to a measurable degree, and measurably more than the SS frets. 

I assume you have some proof of this? You've tested the amount of pressure exerted by the walls of the fret slot? You've somehow managed to measure the dimensions of the tang of some nickel silver fretwire before and after installation and found it compressed to a smaller size? Because, while I'm not a metallurgist, I'm fairly sure that to actually get nickel silver to compress to a smaller size would take many, many tons of pressure. The notion that our relatively tiny amounts of pressure brought to bear on fretwire by fretslots in any way relates to that is just ludicrous. 

 3) Oh god. Thermal expansion from energy transferred from fret buzz? And you think that creates enough heat to make a fret actually swell? There is twenty times as much heat coming from your finger pressing the note than there ever will be coming from a string buzzing against a fret, and neither will produce enough heat over a large enough area or a high enough temperature to have any effect on anything. You think that a finger holding down a note or some fret buzz is enough to make metal thermally expand? Gee, that must be why all my fretwire gets deformed whenever I close my hand around it. The warmth of my hand is so much greater than just fretting one note or some fret buzz, the metal is expanding and changing shape, but only in the areas warmed by my hand. Makes sense to me. Science!

God, what is it with people and guitars? Nothing in this post would ever actually affect anything, absolutely none of it has any kind of scientific basis, and I know for a certainty that you cannot and will not provide any kind of evidence or proof to support it, because there isn't any. This is all guitar fantasy, just made up pseudo-science, and it's all bullshit.

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5 hours ago, Mind Riot said:

We are so far off into the weeds on this one now, it's just completely ridiculous.

No, I don't have any proof of any of those, nor do I have any equipment to measure them. As I said there's most likely no audible difference.

What I do know is that both fret slotting saws and fret tangs come in various widths. Builders here have told that they either have difficulties to hammer/press the frets into the slots or they have difficulties to make them stick. If you need glue to keep frets down then there's enough space for vibration. And if the neck bends backwards after fretting then something has to compress in order to the neck to straighten. That's just logic.

I also do know that steel is harder than nickel silver and if there's enough pressure it will compress easier. And fretboards are made of very hard woods. Supposedly you can use more pressure to force a steel fret into a really tight slot - I've read someone here having had nickel silver frets bend instead of sliding into tight slots. In such a case the fit must be really tight.

Agreed, the thermal expansion thing was far fetched. It's a real thing, though. But as you said it really can not affect the tone by any stretch.

Can I hear the difference of any of the three factors? No. Can you hear any? Based on your comment, no. Can a dog or a cat or a bat hear them? Who knows? Can any of them be measured? Most likely yes. Does it matter? Most likely not.

My main point was to raise some discussion and that worked.

 

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What is the deal with this forum? You only get a few minutes to edit a post then you're locked out?! The only reason it posted is because I hit Cntl and Enter at the same time by mistake when I was writing the post, so I had to finish up the writing while my edit window slipped away.

Okay, projectguitar, if that's how you want to run it, I guess I'll have to be really careful I don't hit the wrong keys and if I do I guess everybody will just have to deal with me posting half finished stuff then posting the finished version a bit down the page.

23 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

If you need glue to keep frets down then there's enough space for vibration.

See, you keep making these statements like they're established facts, and you don't have the slightest clue about whether they're actually true or not. There's enough space for vibration if a fret has to be glued in? How do you know this? Have you tested it somehow? Measured it? You may think that it's true because it sounds plausible to you, but facts require more rigorous standards of proof than that.

And in fact, a fret going into such a loose slot is going to be the least likely to vibrate, not in spite of but because of the measures that will have to be taken to make sure it stays seated. Frets in that situation will likely have their tang crimped to created a zigzag pattern in order to reach the walls of the slot and hold the fret in, and then they'll be glued in place (or perhaps the glue will be put into the slot first). There's not going to be any vibration going on.

I mean, for crying out loud, silencing a plucked guitar string, the only part of a guitar that is supposed to vibrate freely, only takes the gentlest touch with a single finger. That people think that these tiny, minuscule peripheral little things that aren't even real are somehow exerting influence over the sound of their guitar is just insane. 

 

23 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

I also do know that steel is harder than nickel silver and if there's enough pressure it will compress easier. And fretboards are made of very hard woods. Supposedly you can use more pressure to force a steel fret into a really tight slot - I've read someone here having had nickel silver frets bend instead of sliding into tight slots. In such a case the fit must be really tight.

 

Yeah, but you're talking about this in the context of claiming that the pressures exerted by 1/4" thick piece of hardwood is enough to actually compress metal to the point where it would make a measurable difference, and a difference from how compressed stainless steel would be under the same circumstances. 
You're talking about a guitar neck...exerting the kind of pressure that is most easily found in the center of the earth. We don't even have machinery yet made that can actually compress most metals, except in the fusion reaction of a nuclear bomb.

But you think somebody plinking around on a guitar could cause that kind of pressure...that would compress metal. Hoooo...I need a drink...

 

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26 minutes ago, Mind Riot said:

See, you keep making these statements like they're established facts, and you don't have the slightest clue about whether they're actually true or not. There's enough space for vibration if a fret has to be glued in? How do you know this? Have you tested it somehow? Measured it?

If the fret bounces off the slot it's obviously loose. If it's loose there's space for it to vibrate. I wasn't talking about homogenizing or stabilizing the wood in the slot, although it too is done for the same purpose, to make the slot uniformly tight to prevent the fret from vibrating in a softer spot.

36 minutes ago, Mind Riot said:

But you think somebody plinking around on a guitar could cause that kind of pressure...that would compress metal.

Maybe I've used a wrong term, deforming might be closer. That can be done with hand tools. When cutting the fret ends they stretch and deform to a sharp point.  I also mentioned that the wood around the fret compresses during hammering the frets in, making the fit tighter. As steel is harder than nickel silver you can push SS frets into tighter slots without deforming the tangs.

Maybe I should keep from commenting before my English is good enough to prevent making people angry.

 

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10 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

If the fret bounces off the slot it's obviously loose. If it's loose there's space for it to vibrate.

If a fret is so loose that it actually bounces off the walls of the slot then it's simply going to fall out of the neck. As I'm trying to explain, that is a set of circumstances that would never exist, or at least it would never exist up to the point of 'dampening' the sustain and tone and doing nothing further as you've described.
New guitars are not going to have loose, worn out fret slots.
The only way a guitar is going to have some loose, worn out fret slots is if it is an older guitar that has already been refretted before, probably more than once. And in that circumstance, the new frets are going to have their tangs crimped and possibly glue utilized to keep the new frets in tight.
Fret slots become loose and worn out from refrets, from frets being forced in and yanked out . Which means that a worn out fret slot is not going to exist with a fret bouncing around in it for any length of time, sucking up your tone. The worn out slot will be discovered and dealt with during the refret because the refret itself is the primary cause of the worn out slot. 
Do you understand?

New guitar=new fret slots=no vibration
Old guitar=worn fret slots=crimped tangs and glue=no vibration
No tech with two brain cells is going to install a fret into a slot that's too big for it and just send it out loose and say "Eh, close enough, it'll probably be fine." They're going to crimp the tang and use glue, worn out slots are why these techniques exist.

And I expect what you're thinking right now is something like "Yeah, but what about fret slots that wear out over time as you play? Some frets are going to work their way loose!"

Somewhere, sometime, some tech has run across just about everything you could imagine, so I can't say never. But there are guitars with original frets still firmly in place where they were hammered in over a century ago. Frets do not act like little saws vibrating to destroy their slots. When they're in proper, they do not move. And even if their slots are too big, there are relatively easy ways to make them go in proper.

I have to ask, do you actually work on guitars, specifically fret and nut work? 

10 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

Maybe I've used a wrong term, deforming might be closer. That can be done with hand tools. When cutting the fret ends they stretch and deform to a sharp point.  I also mentioned that the wood around the fret compresses during hammering the frets in, making the fit tighter. As steel is harder than nickel silver you can push SS frets into tighter slots without deforming the tangs.

Maybe I should keep from commenting before my English is good enough to prevent making people angry.

 

I apologize, I'm just frustrated and exasperated. I've had similar conversations with other people many times in the past, and separating facts from assumption and claims with no scientific basis can be trying.

I don't see any problem with your English; I wouldn't have guessed it wasn't your first language.

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5 hours ago, Mind Riot said:

New guitars are not going to have loose, worn out fret slots.

Just during the last few months a semi-professional builder told here that the new fret brand didn't match with his fret slotting saw as well as the brand he had previously used. It either was a matter of different design i.e. thinner tangs or sloppier manufacturing. So loose frets can be an issue even in new guitars. Not necessarily in standardized factory builds but in bespoke instruments.

5 hours ago, Mind Riot said:

I have to ask, do you actually work on guitars, specifically fret and nut work?

No, I'm just a hobbyist. I've built five necks from scratch using fretboards slotted by the tutor of the communal guitar building course. A good thing building guitars in a group is that it allows to participate in the building of a dozen guitars instead of one which is a learning process by itself. It also helps that the tutor has a Master degree in Luthiery so the basics are right. During the years I've also watched about a thousand guitar building videos which at best can show the issues and methods as well as a real person - or even more since you can rewind and watch again so many times you really understand what's going on. Without claiming to be a master I'd say that I know the mechanics of fretting, how to do it and why do it that way.

And, as you noticed, I like to wonder how things work or might work, the mechanics behind.

Lastly, I NOTICED A FLAW IN MY FIRST POST! When talking about thermal expansion my line of thought went upside down: Nickel silver expands more than steel so when the frets warm up they will fill the slots better, thus reducing any damping effect there may be. In theory a warm neck should transfer the highest harmonics better. Also, as you mentioned the warmth of your fingers have more effect than any string vibration, and the warmth of your palm will warm up the entire neck. The unit for measuring thermal expansion is a multiplier telling the effect of a single degree higher temperature. I suppose the neck will become several degrees warmer above room temperature after some playing so the metals certainly expand. Does that make any audible difference? Most likely not. But it could be measured or calculated using existing charts.

Lastly, all this pondering is purely theoretical!

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Alright, alright, time to dial it back a little I think but I will add a little about fret looseness.

The way a fret seats is entirely dependent on the material properties of the substrate. If you pressed a fret into clay or other completely plastic material, the barbs describe a path into the material that is also the same way out of that material. Wood is not like this, however not all woods are the same. The barbs compress wood fibres on their path into the fret slot, with those fibres experiencing a degree of deformation that is a mixture of displacement, compression, etc. Frets are retaining by virtue of these fibres elastically regaining a degree of their original form; the path created by the barbs closing back up and locking the location in place. This is why I prefer to press frets with a modified f-clamp these days, so the fret can be held tightly whilst the fibres lock it up (the spritz of water I do may or may not provably help).

A fret can vibrate in place, yet still be retained. A combination of incorrectly-sized fret slots and incomplete reversal of fibre displacement/deformation can easily cause this. The fret may not fall out - or that might simply be a matter of time -  but it is far from seated adequately. Glue might be an option here, however it really should not be necessary unless the wood is particularly fractious in not "springing back". I know of no good "real wood" examples, but composites and torrefied ("roasted", "baked", "caramelised", "boiled/burnt/toasted/poached") woods, or - as stated - refretting into slots that are worn from previous fret insertion. Again, this is why I don't like hammering frets since any springing back of the fret itself can feasibly re-deform fibres in "the barb path" until a greater proportion of them fail, reducing final retention. Dead blow hammers are the best solution if hammering is absolutely necessary. Think about how you run your thumb down a hair comb, your thumb being the barb and the comb being the leading edge of the end grain in the fret slot.

Thermal expansion of metals is unlikely to be a factor by comparison to other aspects of fret seating and retention. Wood is definitely far less stable than metals in response to heat and moisture, but not so much that a fret slot will be affected. I'd recommend consulting different species' properties with regards to longitudinal movement (in line with the grain/fibres) versus radial and tangential; generally the movement in response to heat and moisture is so small as to be negligible. I don't think that even centuries-old guitar fingerboards express the wood shrinking back between (well-seated) frets so much that they lose them or they vibrate. I might be wrong on that one.

I see no reason to use glue in a new installation of fretwork unless the frets do not have barbs (say, custom-milled True Temperament which I don't think are even available uninstalled, or Martin-style bar frets) or the wood is not entirely behaving like most woods. The example of torrefied woods' brittle nature being one that is most likely to be seen. Even then, good fret slotting and fret prep/insertion practice avoids pretty much all of these issues.

SS is springier than EVO and nowhere near as deformable as soft standard NS. SS is absolutely less forgiving of anything other than perfect fret slotting, bevelling and insertion practice. If it starts bouncing, it gets messy very quickly. If it's over-radiused too much, expect more bouncing and unseating. The only way I would fit SS these days is pressing. The fret slots need to be cut to the right kerf using a slotting box or jig. The wire would need to be radiused to almost the same radius as the board itself.

----

Find consensus, work on the discussion together in the same direction guys. Arguments and disagreement solve nothing other than side-taking. This should be an elevation and description of ideas, not one of muddying, opinionating or general obscurantism.

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8 minutes ago, Bizman62 said:

Lastly, I NOTICED A FLAW IN MY FIRST POST! When talking about thermal expansion my line of thought went upside down: Nickel silver expands more than steel so when the frets warm up they will fill the slots better, thus reducing any damping effect there may be. In theory a warm neck should transfer the highest harmonics better. Also, as you mentioned the warmth of your fingers have more effect than any string vibration, and the warmth of your palm will warm up the entire neck. The unit for measuring thermal expansion is a multiplier telling the effect of a single degree higher temperature. I suppose the neck will become several degrees warmer above room temperature after some playing so the metals certainly expand. Does that make any audible difference? Most likely not. But it could be measured or calculated using existing charts.

 

This aspect can be completely discounted. Even though metal changes dimension measurably, wood does moreso. To get the metals used in fretwork to change size enough that they would have issues in a specifically-sized fret slot, they'd need to be heated/cooled to temperatures beyond that where a guitar could be physically touched, or wood doesn't self-combust or fracture. This is not a worthwhile path to pursue.

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16 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

Just during the last few months a semi-professional builder told here that the new fret brand didn't match with his fret slotting saw as well as the brand he had previously used. It either was a matter of different design i.e. thinner tangs or sloppier manufacturing. So loose frets can be an issue even in new guitars. Not necessarily in standardized factory builds but in bespoke instruments.

You've been talking about this like it's a widespread phenomena when it's based on the anecdotal experience of ONE LUTHIER?

Wow. You continually jump to conclusions that are not supported by the evidence you present.

One luthier getting some off spec fret wire does not mean that loose frets are a concern even on new guitars. What it means is that one luthier got some off spec fret wire, and that is ALL that it means. You've made up everything else.

I mean, do you even know if he USED the bad fret wire?

And you're proving my point in this post. The fact that the builder talked about his situation publicly means he caught the fret wire issue and fixed it. He either got some better wire, or crimped the tangs, or used glue, or something to prevent the frets being loose. If he just used the bad wire and sent the guitar out with loose frets that doesn't prove that loose frets are a widespread legitimate issue. It just proves that he's a bad luthier.

Any way you look at it, there's no evidence to support your claims. Which is not to say that loose frets have never happened ever in the history of fretted instruments, but you've blown it up into this big thing where it happens on old AND new guitars and it kills sustain and tone, when you don't even have solid proof of one single instance of this happening ever (again, not saying it never has, just saying that you haven't proved it). Just an anecdote about a luthier getting some too small fretwire and a whole lot of assumptions without evidence.

You can think I'm a jerk if you want but I've been reading bullshit about guitars that has no basis in reality and is all based on speculation and assumption for literally decades now and every now and then I'm going to take a stand for the truth and the facts. If that really makes you angry or hurts your feelings, I'd humbly suggest that you stop stubbornly repeating the bullshit you've made up, because you know it's just made up bullshit as well as I do.

16 hours ago, Prostheta said:

 

This aspect can be completely discounted. Even though metal changes dimension measurably, wood does moreso. To get the metals used in fretwork to change size enough that they would have issues in a specifically-sized fret slot, they'd need to be heated/cooled to temperatures beyond that where a guitar could be physically touched, or wood doesn't self-combust or fracture. This is not a worthwhile path to pursue.

Nicely stated.

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