Zero frets

On an average guitar, with 19 frets, there are 120 possible notes ( some repeated of course) , 114 of which are formed by holding the string onto a polished nickel silver fret, and the other six notes by holding the string in a groove in a piece of bone.

I could never see the sense of "stopping" the string in one fashion for open strings, and in another fashion for fretted notes. Neither does it seem logical to use different materials for the two different situations.

Holding the string in a closely fitting nut slot affects the strings vibration and exaggerates "end effects", which are one reason for difficulties in intonation, particularly on the stiffer strings. The end effects are different for each string, and also for different "partials" within the same note.

Piano makers take this seriously, it is called “inharmonicity”, where all the different partials within a note are not quite in tune with each other. If you think a string sounds a bit weird, that is what is happening.

Allowing the open  string to rest gently against a fret without being constrained in a tight slot minimises these end effects and reduces the need for intonation correction at the saddle.

I first started using it after working on Martin Carthy’s guitar, which had been modified with a zero fret- to begin with I thought of it as a way of improving string height and string length accuracy, but I've come to see it more scientifically. Maccaferri and Gretsch used the idea in rough form, and the famous Italian maker Marco Roccia used a fret and nut spacer formed separately in one piece of bone. A number of modern makers are beginning to see the advantages. Although it has been used on cheap guitars, when done properly, it is not a short cut. Even if it was, it wouldn’t be appropriate to save a small amount of time and money on an expensive guitar. To take advantage of its benefits, the angles of the strings over the zero fret need to be carefully adjusted to be similar to the angles produced by finger pressure behind¬† any other fret, the slots in the nut must be shaped and smoothed to aid easy tuning, and it is very important that the zero fret is at the correct height for proper string clearance.

It's difficult and time consuming to do properly, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it worthwhile.

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