I’ve been looking at a lot of different guitars and ukes and I’ve noticed something I think is “Strange”…
It has to do with the positioning of the marker-dots.
Cumpiano & Natelson state that “Single dots must appear at the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th frets; a pair of dots denotes the octave at the 12th fret. Marker dots can be addet optionally at the 15th, 17th and 19th frets”.

Ok, there will be some kind of reason for these “fixed” positions, but: I’ve seen guitars and ukes with dots not at the 9th fret, but at the 10th…???

Does anyone here know why this is? Did some builder/ luthier once made a mistake that was coppied by others? Or is there something else going on?

I would realy like to know why there is this difference...


Bart van Weperen

Tags: marker dots

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Mandolins generally have 'em at 10th, guitars at 9th.  


Early banjos have markers at 9, but later ones (post 1920) most often at 10.


Why?  I dunno - life is tough in the music world, I guess. . .

Or, there's my wife's 1880s Stewart banjo with a star at 10, nothing at 12, and a dot at 14. Presumably these are for fingerings of F and C chords in C tuning.

I've got an Stewart guitar that my great grandfather purchased used ca. 1920, the bracing and size make me think it is about 1890.  It too has a marker at 10.  I've had a couple folks tell me that guitars made west of the Mississippi were made with the 10 marker because the flat 7 was more common than the 6.  I don't know if that's apocryphal or not, but Western music and it's relatives, blues coming later, and all rely the flat 7, so... who knows?  Anyone else hear of this theory?


French gipsy Jazz guitars have dots onthe 10th fret. I've seen a lot of classical guitars with dots on the 10th too. No explanation, besides the obvious "10th fret is a D on the E strings, whereas 9th is a C#".

This wonderful L-5 was probably custom-ordered with 10th marker to match the owner's banjo, a Gibson Granada, no doubt:



I am getting a guitar this week coming up that has nothing on the 12th fret, but two dots on the 13th!  (I have no clue!)
Nevermind that last post. The picture I was looking at was too small. The two dots are on 15th fret. I so wish that NIng allowed posts to be edited. I so dislike the 15 min window.
Gotta love the first fret marker too - it's always so hard finding that first fret...
When looking at the purpose of these dots, I take it to be only of use for a/ the player. They are of no use whatsoever for the builder/ luthier. (the dots, not any more or less elaborate inlay on the fretboard)

At any point in history there will have been a first stringed instrument with marker dots and I wouldn’t be surprisid if these first dots were added after that instrument was finished, just becourse a player wanted this visual aid… Or the player just painted some markers him/herself.
With that “history” in mind it could verry well be that since then these dots were placed where the player(s) wanted them to be. And if that too is true, the different playing-styles and different musical styles could explaint the “wandering dots”… That still leaves the Mystery of the 1st fret marker, as Mark pointed out…

Differences in the position of inlays in the fretboard, on the other hand, could partially also be a matter of “looking good”, aesthetics (???), so that could verry well be a “builders choise”…

Lets leave it at this: I’ll just blame the players for these wandering marker dots… Some like coffee, others prefer tea or something like that!

Best of luck to you all!


I always thought it had something to do with open string harmonics. I can get a harmonic on the 3rd 5th 7th 9th and 12th on the old Yamaha flat top sitting next to me. Can you get a harmonic at the 10th fret of a banjo or mandolin?


I do know that the first time I made a finger board for a banjo and for a mandolin they had a dot at the 9th not the 10th. It was pointed out to me right away.




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