If you’re a bit new to the talk about the different types of guitar frets, you might want to know in which manner they change the sound of your favorite instrument. Needless to say, today we’ll tackle that very same topic, with an emphasis on the question: do stainless steel frets sound different?

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of stainless steel once you’ve read the signature on some forks & spoons. Anyway, that’s how the author of this text found out about the material thinking it was a cutlery manufacturer called Stanley’s Steel. Here at Music Gear Heads, we tend to be pretty serious about what we’re doing, so let’s avoid the unnecessary trivia. In the text you’re about to read, you’ll find everything you want to know about the topic of various types of guitar frets!

Most guitarists would tell you that the material of your frets won’t directly affect the sound of your instrument, it’ll rather influence your feel and fret durability. However, some guitarists have noted that this doesn’t stand for stainless steel frets. In other words: they report that stainless steel frets make your guitar sound brighter and harsher. 

If you’re thinking reading just the preview will bring you closer to finding out if stainless steel frets sound different, it actually will. However, feel free to read the whole text!

Table of Contents

What are stainless steel frets on a guitar?

First of all, know that stainless steel guitar frets are either loved or hated by guitarists worldwide. It’s that kind of relationship we’re talking about. Anyway, you’ll want to know that stainless steel frets are impervious to oxidation and corrosion. Also, they never require you to polish them. Here are some other useful facts about this type of guitar frets:

  • with stainless steel guitar frets, you won’t have to worry about the so-called mirror-shine surface staying intact for years. 
  • also, the fret crowns will stay the same as the manufacturer intended. There won’t be any wearing (and here’s how much wear is simply too much) or flattering, nor will there be a reaction to the regular strings. 
  • lastly, with stainless steel guitar frets, you’ll get zero friction and greatly increase your strings’ lifespan. 

Once you’ve read these facts, there’s a chance you’ve asked yourself: are stainless frets better than the rest?

Are stainless frets better?

Well, it kinda depends on what you’re going after. If you’re on the lookout for frets that will make it seem like your finger strength has suddenly increased, stainless steel frets are totally the way to go. Here are some other pros of using stainless steel frets: they’ve got a relatively long lifespan, their bends are much smoother, they react more to your attack (they’re more responsive), and, lastly, they never get dull. However, keep in mind that if you’re using nickel strings, stainless frets might ruin them. Also, stainless frets are known to be quite expensive.

What guitar makers use stainless steel fret wire?

You’ll be happy to know that Jackson, EVH, and Charvel Guitars use them in the manufacture of some of their higher-end models. Also, keep in mind that agile Semi-Custom guitars offer the option of stainless steel frets. Let’s not forget the fact some Ibanez RG models also possess them. Warmoth and Musikraft, too, on their so-called partcaster models.

All in all: you could say that they’re used by most major guitar makers, with the addition of smaller labels (or boutique makers), too. Some of these models come with built-in stainless steel frets, but most offer it as a kind of upgrade.

Let’s see if there’s anything more that we’d like to mention before we consider the main question. Oh, it seems that we’ve got something!

How to identify stainless steel fret wire on guitars?

So, how does a person know that they have stainless steel guitar frets on their guitar? Well, it’s a fairly simple trick we’ll gladly share with you:

  • Just place a magnet on the fret wire. If it’s stainless steel you’re “dealing with”, there won’t be any attraction between the magnet and your guitar’s fret wire. We’ve told you it’s very simple! 

Okay, now that we’ve covered some basic info surrounding stainless steel guitar frets, it’s time we answer the main question this article has proposed: do stainless steel frets sound different?

A close-up photo of stainless steel frets on a red guitar.

Do stainless steel frets sound different?

In other words: would upgrading to stainless steel frets affect your guitar tone (like colored guitar strings sometimes do)? Also, one might wonder: does fret material affect tone? Here’s our answer to that last one:

  • Most players will argue that the type of fret wire they’re using will actually affect the sound that’s coming out of their instrument. However, experts say that the influence of frets is more about feel and durability rather than tone. The thing is: whether you play with new, “freshly picked” frets or worn frets will affect your feel and the potential of your guitar to intonate, and that will, subsequently, affect the sound that’s coming out of your instrument. 

Let’s see if stainless steel frets are an exception to the rule!

Okay, so do stainless steel frets really make a difference?

If you were to ask around the guitar player community you’ll find browsing internet forums and message boards, you’d get a lot of different responses. Some folks like to point out that stainless steel frets make your instrument sound a bit brighter, and that’s especially evident once you first strike a string. They also add that stainless steel can make your guitar sound a bit harsh. However, we wouldn’t go that far. Here’s the thing:

  • Most guitarists would still agree that the stainless steel frets affect the way your guitar feels rather than directly influencing the tone. On the other hand, there are many folks that point out the brightness of their guitar sound after they’ve refretted it with stainless steel frets. 

Therefore, our final answer stands: it most probably won’t affect your tone much, but it might make it more bright. Now that we’ve covered that, it’s time we take a look at what else is there left to say about the different types of materials used in the production of guitar frets.

Oh, and speaking of brightness, here’s a guide on how to brighten a muddy humbucker.

Other types of guitar frets (in terms of material)

Okay, so here we’ll show you some other types of guitar frets in terms of material used during their production. Since we’ve focused on only one type of material in this text, it would be a bit unfair not to mention the other ones. So, shall we start?

Brass frets

You won’t see brass frets in most newly-made instruments. However, the good old brass is still used for frets. In other words: most vintage guitars you’ll stumble upon have brass frets. Even some contemporary manufacturers use it with their products.

Keep in mind that brass frets aren’t something you’d call the hardest fret material in the world. Also, they’re prone to wear out quicker than other fret wires. Speaking of worn-out guitar frets, we’ve published an article about whether you can wear out stainless steel frets.

Let’s see what else’s in store!

Nickel silver frets

Don’t let that name fool you even for a second there since nickel silver frets actually contain NO SILVER. The thing is: nickel silver is a copper alloy, it’s basically some copper + zinc (brass) with nickel added for hardness. Also, the nickel will turn the color to the recognizable silverfish tone we’re all too familiar with.

The amount of nickel that can be found inside the fret will tell us how hard the fret is. You’ll want to know that most guitars you’ll find on the market have about 18% of nickel in their nickel silver frets. However, it’s possible to find some that have 12% but that’s quite a rare sight, so to speak. Lastly, know that most guitars contain nickel silver frets, it’s the most widespread fret material out there.

Evo frets

And for the last addition on our list, we’ve got Evo frets. It’s the newest thing on the market. They’re made from a mixture of copper, tin, iron, and titanium (CuSn15Fe1Ti0.1). Also, you’ll want to know that it has absolutely zero nickel, which is great for folks that have an allergy to it. The feel and hardness (and tone, okay) of Evo frets can be best expressed as a solid middle ground between nickel silver (18%) frets and stainless steel frets.

Evo frets are gold in color, and they can look really nice on certain guitar models. Also, they’re great for folks who want to prolong the lifespan of their frets without completely affecting their fretting tools by going the stainless-steel style.

The end of the road

Okay, folks, that’s all there’s to say about whether stainless steel frets sound different (affect tone). Now you’ve got an idea about the whole guitarist community dispute over the fact of whether or not stainless steel frets affect the sound that’s coming out of your favorite instrument (and in which manner).

For more useful tips and info surrounding your favorite (string) instrument, simply pay a visit to this page on our neat little blog.