Stainless steel frets


#1

Has anyone replaced their banjo frets with stainless steel? I’ve heard it makes the tone a bit sharper but lasts 10 times as long as nickel. Why don’t banjo’s have SS as standard?
Thoughts/comments?


#2

I don’t have SS frets. From what I have heard and read, they are not standard because they cost more than normal frets and luthiers find them more difficult to work with.

I gouged my standard frets pretty good the first two years of learning but still haven’t needed to change them six years in.


#3

Hi Jon

Yes I replaced the frets on my Fender with stainless steel frets. SS wire is much harder than regular fret wire and lasts much longer. I do all my heavy practice on the Fender. You’ll need special tools. Regular tools are not strong enough to cut the wire. I used a multi tool with a cutting disc, Not sure it changed the tone any. I think folks become obsessed with what changes the tone of a banjo. For me I would say it’s mostly in the banjo head.

Good question, luthiers would be out of a job.


#4

You need to practice more :rofl::joy::rofl::sweat_smile::heart_eyes:


#5

This. SS is tough to work with.

On guitar there is a slight tonal difference. Some people say they are more “pingy.” I have mixed frets on a couple guitars. If I REALLY listen I think I can tell a difference. The wear difference is huge. I suspect I won’t ever have to change my SS frets, but I have replaced frets as quickly as about 4 years with “nickel” frets.


#6

Yes. I’m kind of worried about my Goldstar banjo. It already has grooves on the frets. Trouble is in the UK I’m not sure there is a really good luthier to do this job. I’ve watched and read up a lot about replacing frets and how difficult SS is and you can break tools on it. Also I worry about heating up the old frets and levering them out. However they say SS can last 10 times as long. I wish all banjo’'s had SS…I’m sure people would rather pay that extra for peace of mind. I saw one guy online using silver solder to fill in and recrown worn frets. Seemed to work but that was on a guitar.


#7

I think I’m in a similar boat to you, because I started soon after you (I think) and my frets already have grooves, and I live in Africa, so, not a lot of luthiers hang out down here :joy: but I am hoping to upgrade before I have to do any serious repairs, cuz my banjo was cheap :money_mouth_face:


#8

I feel ya pain. Yes I’ve already contacted one Luthier in the UK and they don’t touch SS. I think they maybe worried it would do them out of work in the future. It’s also more expensive because of the work involved.
I also read that the fretboard has to be leveled precisely as SS is unforgiving and not so easy to shape by filing. However it’s doable with an experienced Luthier.
Unfortunately my banjo was expensive and I looked upon it as a long term investment before I knew about all this fret wear that happens. :smirk:


#9

Some of you all are faced with some tough choices for fret maintenance. Here’s kind of how and why I got to what I am currently doing (replacing earlier instead of waiting until things were worn out).

Fret replacement and fret leveling are time and/or money consuming activities and unfortunately part of life with fretted instruments. If you play a bunch, it gets pretty annoying. Fret leveling is pretty easy to do with only a few tools. You can get by with a flat file for leveling and a crowning file or triangle file (and good eyes) for shaping. This covers your basic leveling work along with straightedges and material to polish the frets. I prefer leveling blocks, but files will get you there. If someone were in the position where they didn’t have access to luthiers, I would absolutely suggest getting comfortable with fret leveling. It’s pretty easy to learn and rewarding. For many folks, this is all you would need.

However, you can only level frets for so long. Once they lose about 25 to 30% of their original height, I start looking at replacement. To get all the tools you need to replace is a bit more extensive and the skill requirements go up a bit. I considered getting tools to do that, but I figured it would take too many mistakes before I could do it to my liking, so I have pros do replacement. If I lived where some of you do, I would get the tools and go for it. If possible, get a beater instrument to learn on before you work on something that you don’t want to mess up.

The reason I have been going with SS is durability. I (like most everyone) wear the lower frets much more quickly than the higher ones. When you level, you will also be leveling frets that don’t have much wear (that is what leveling is… bringing other frets down towards the level of the most worn spot of the most worn fret). So if you level a bunch, when you get to the point that you need to replace frets, you have replace most if not all of them. On my most recent partial refret, it was a guitar that was new in 2010. For the first 4 years, I did minor leveling. When I got to the point that I was going to be taking much off the upper frets, I quit leveling. I had the bottom 9 frets replaced with stainless and then blended. I am pretty sure I will never wear out frets 10 and up. Now that I am running SS on the lowers of 3 instruments, they show very little wear over years of use. So for the last 5 or so years, I have been replacing the lowers earlier; before the uppers get worn from leveling. You could do partials like that with nickel as well, but in my case, I elected to go with SS. I think I have a near permanent fret solution. The downside: a bit more cost and arguably a slight degradation in tone.

One last note, another option for material is EVO. It is supposed to be harder than nickel, but not as tough to work as stainless. I have not used it, but many folks do, and I have heard the tone is great. It is golden in color (which may be good or bad for you).

Like I said, some of you have some tough choices. I hope this post helps in your decision making.


#10

Good points. I have started looking for some old necks or broken banjo’'s to practise on. It’s the removing the old frets that I worry about as I don’t want to damage the fingerboard. So I think practising on old cheap/broken banjos is the way.


#11

I went back and checked, and my banjo actually has very little fret wear, it was my guitar that has very worn frets, and it’s actually not worth the price of the re-fret it needs :joy:


#12

In addition to practicing on beaters, check out Dan Erlewine’s fretting videos on YouTube – you can avoid some hazards and it accelerates learning. SS frets are fairly workable. I don’t think the SS alloy is the hardest in the stainless range. Just more expensive. They file and polish nicely and hold the FB curve well. As Mark and others point out great for durability. I can’t really tell much about the sound difference – seems ok to me. All things considered metal frets of any type are pretty good and last longer than the catgut frets on my lutes. :slight_smile:


#13

Thanks Dan, will check out those YouTube vids. :+1:


#14

I put evo frets on my golden era and am very happy with the choice. It was about a year ago and there is no wear yet.


#15

What is EVO fret wire made from? I gather it must be harder than nickel. Wonder if @BanjoBen has ever used EVO or SS? I would imagine for a pro musician fret wear must happen frequently. I would have thought SS would be a more common choice as having frets pulled and installed regularly can’t be great for fret slots. I mean from what I’ve learned you can often get a few chips especially with ebony.


#16

I’ve never had anything but nickel. I’ve heard great things about EVO, which the internets says is a copper alloy.