Ask Bob: Stainless Steel Frets, Ceramic Nut/Saddle
Question: A few years ago, I became the proud owner of a Taylor T5 Standard. My beautiful "Belle" is everything I've ever dreamed of, and she'll do things I don't even ask her to do. But I have a bit of a problem. Like every other guitar I've ever owned, I'm beginning to groove the frets already! The first solidbody electric I ever owned was an original Vox, and I grooved the frets so badly it couldn't be tuned.
My guitarist friends tell me I need to switch to stainless steel frets, that they are harder and wear better. My question is, will there be a noticeable difference in tone between nickel and stainless, and do I have to have all of my frets changed, or can I change just the ones I'm wearing out? (I tend to play a lot of open chording, so the trouble is all in the first three or four frets.)
On another note, have you ever heard of anyone using stone or ceramic for the nut and saddle? I'm just wondering what the tone would be like for those?
Answer: Pretty sneaky, Tim, getting two questions in like that! OK, stainless steel frets. Yes, they do sound different. I don't prefer them on acoustic guitars, at least based on the last time we decided to try them in production. We decided we preferred the sound of nickel-silver. By the way, Tom Anderson Guitars uses SS frets on their electrics, and they sound great.
As for stone and ceramic nuts: ceramic, yes; stone, no. The Tusq nut and saddle we use is almost ceramic. It stops shy and sounds great because of it. Pure ceramic sounds, well, kinda like ceramic. I'm not trying to be smart, but it's amazing how you can imagine in your head the properties of ceramic and know before you listen what it will sound like. Shrill, overly brilliant, and not all that great. That may be a moot point because even if it delivered tonal nirvana, it still wouldn't be used because it's ridiculously hard to work, and there is a practical side to guitar building to consider.