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GretschTech: the Zero Fret

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Zero fret on a G6122-1959 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman.

What’s the deal with the zero fret found on some Gretsch guitars? What is it, why is it there and what does it do?

A “zero fret” is an extra fret located directly in front of the nut. You don’t often see them these days, although they were once fairly commonplace. Regarded today as an antiquated feature, they nonetheless still appear on a small number of instruments as an item of vintage-style authenticity.

Nonetheless, a zero fret isn’t merely a cosmetic touch—it does serve a subtle purpose appreciated by discerning players. In effect, it takes over the role of the nut in determining string height above the fingerboard. A zero fret can even out string action even more uniformly than the nut.

It’s easy to understand how the zero fret achieves this. On most guitars and basses, the nut serves as the anchor point for the vibrating length of the string at that end of the instrument (the bridge saddles serving the same function at the other end of the instrument) and as the string “spacer.”

The slots cut into the nut are of a generally uniform depth, but there can be very slight variations, which in turn produce very slight variations in the height of each individual string above the fingerboard. Guitarists with a discerning fretting hand feel may be able to detect such small variances.

The zero fret eliminates these variances and uniformly evens out string height even more finely because all the strings rest on it as they pass over it, with the nut relegated solely to its role of spacing the strings apart evenly across the width of the fingerboard.

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