Among the many possible options for a G&L guitar opting for stainless steel frets. It’s also one of the most expensive options, with a MAP price of $300. That’s considerably more than some other manufacturer’s charge for stainless steel. I’m at a loss to explain the markedly higher price, other than the hardness of stainless steel likely requires more labor and time on the Plek® machine, and that the lower volume usage of stainless raises the purchasing cost. But should you consider stainless steel frets?
Stainless steel frets will certainly last longer than the typical “nickel silver” fret material used for guitar frets. Most stainless steels contain both nickel and chromium, which provide corrosion resistance and durability. The inherent hardness of stainless will resist fret wear better, and the chromium gives them a brighter finish. Medium jumbo frets will also wear slower than narrow vintage frets because there is more material in contact with the string, and subsequently less pressure per square inch on the fret. Of course playing style directly affects fret wear, and how much and where you spend your time on the neck will matter. But even with conventional frets unless you keep your guitar for twenty years or gig relentlessly, you may never encounter significant fret wear.
More so than longevity, the big reason for stainless may be how they feel. The harder stainless finish creates less friction with the string, resulting in easier fretting and bending. Stainless fret guitars feel fast and require lower effort. Stainless frets with a nice hard ebony fingerboard practically play themselves. If you have a need for speed, go stainless.
Hypothetically one would expect the harder stainless fret material to sound brighter than standard nickel silver. In practice I don’t notice any significant audible difference, and in the grand scheme fret material does not play a great role in determining tone.
Should You Fret About Stainless?
If you faithfully play your guitar many hours a week and/or rely on it for your profession, then the durability advantages of stainless make sense. If you fit that description and prefer the narrower vintage frets, stainless is all but a must. But most of all, stainless frets have a great silky feel that enhances the playing experience, and makes the guitar feel quicker and easier to play. If you are OK with the additional cost, they are a worthwhile upgrade no matter how much you play.