I recently read a thread on a builder forum where one builder proudly proclaimed that stainless frets once installed require no leveling/dressing and never will.....

Silly me - I thought that stainless fret wire was simply harder but had I known that it would improve my lutherie chops to the degree that no leveling or crowning would be required after installing the frets I might have jumped on the stainless bandwagon too.

To top it all off the assertion that when stainless frets are installed no fret dressing will EVER be required made me feel like I missed out even more.....


So what do you guys (men and women) think of using stainless frets and the assertion that it eliminates the need for leveling, crowning and future fret dressing? 

And if you can't stop laughing because you only thought that stainless would last longer I know how you feel...... ;)  Such magical properties for this stainless wire - who would have thunk it.....


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First let me say this is one of the most amusing discussions I've ever seen on this forum.Even Frank (the king) Ford chimed in.With that said I have personally never encountered ss frets.So I would have to say I find them not only self leveling but easy to dance too.I give them a 35.

Prior to building myself, I had a guitar built for me & kid you not, I loved and played that new guitar so much, I went through a set of regular nickel frets in less than 1 year- there was nowhere near enough left to dress them. Got the luthier to put stainless on, I sold that guitar years later and frets were still perfect. Now in my own biz I try & use stainless as much as possible. All my own axes are stainless now, years old, heavy play and there may be max. 1/10 of  1 percent of wear on a couple of spots. I disagree though that they would not need a level at installation. I do believe its true from personal experience- stainless frets will require far less dressing and re-crowing down the road, certainly less replacement, I dont really see whats laughable about that given the huge difference in the hardness of the material? BTW- i am not the original poster the guy Hesh is talking about. OK free to slag-on. Im sure someone will be adamant it somehow destroys tone too.


If you read the post, Hesh refers to the hardness of stainless steel twice. It was the claims of no maintenance that was laughable. (I wasn't kidding about the Hogwarts thing though)

Personally I think stainless steel frets are over kill. I run a busy shop with a lot of repeat customers and I can't think of a time I've had to do more than one refret on the same guitar. The Strat that's been my main electric for 20yrs (before kids I played 3 weekends a month) has had the frets dressed once. I do a lot of partial refrets ss frets are not an option for those. I'd look into ss frets if there were requests but nobody asks for it.


PS. There could be an argument for your strings not lasting as long. 

I think I'll just go with a Planet Waves Humidipak instead since it "eliminates all maintenence" sic

I have some N.O.S. 1980's Brass Nuts in supply. Holy Grail of sustain! 

Hi Rory - nothing against stainless frets here and I do offer them AND install them when folks want them.  As John rightly said what I find laughable is the claim that using stainless eliminates the need to level upon installation AND the need for ANY fret maintenence down the road....

There are a couple of thing I don't like about SS frets: first, they a a bitch to my tools, I have to buy a new set of cutters; and second, they add too much 'zing' to the sound. I would use them for mandolins, since those have to be tiny frets on a high-pitched instrument, but on anything else.

The hardness of metals is routinely specified and measured in manufacturing, which makes me wonder why those who sell fret wire don't just give us the numbers. 

To say the wire is stainless steel is not to tell us how hard it is.  Frets as hard as a stainless knife blade would be plenty durable, but so strong and elastic that they would have to be matched to the fingerboard curvature perfectly before installation, and so hard you would have to cut and dress them with silicon carbide abrasives.  On the other hand, annealed stainless scratches quite easily, and is certainly a lot softer than an unwound steel guitar string.

I was just looking over a guitar belonging to a Brazilian choro player, a 7 string which was new in 2002.  There were scoops under every contact point on every fret, all the way to the body.  I've never seen them so deep, some of those spots were almost flush with the fingerboard.  South American guitar hardware is not known for its quality, but consider that those are nylon strings!  Nobody puts mileage on a guitar like a choro player ...


Except perhaps flamenco players, who routinely waste frets the same way. Right behind them (using copperwound and steel strings) are the gypsy jazz guys. They were my test cases for stainless vs. EVO, where EVO won handily on all scores. 

John, you know more about metals than just about anyone I know. I'm really glad you tagged in. 

My apologies to LMI, which now shows numbers for their SS, EVO and nickel silver wires.  There is a significant spread, and the figure for SS wire tells me that it is workable but would certainly damage tools like those fret nippers that have edges with a radically acute angle.

There are the cited numbers and then there's the actual on-the-gound experience. Based on my experience and that of some others in my pod, the stainless frets really don't live up to the hype.  I'm less inclined to believe what others say, and more inclined to believe my own eyes. 

The 300 series of stainless steel cannot be heat treated (other than annealing or softening). The 400 series have a different structure and can be heat reated (440C is a grade encountered in some custom knives).


The 300 stainless steels can only be hardened by work hardening (i. e. by applying mechanical deformation to the surface by hammering or some other method, even filing). As mentioned above, annealing removes the cold working and if done for a long enough period at a high enough temperature allows the stainless to recrystallize. Stainless can be ordered, in some types of products as 1/4 hard, 1/2 hard or full hard which gives an indication of the amount of cold work.


As work hardening usually applies to the surface only it is not possible to provide a valid hardness. A 300 series stainless that is work hardened can be difficult to work with and tends to spring back. If you are filing a 300 series fret and it starts to squeak then you have already work hardened the surface and will probably find it much more difficult to file it further.


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