I remember when I started out in this game. One day someone brought me a guitar for a refret. No problem, I’d already done plenty and was pretty happy with my abilities. But there was a problem…
This one had a zero fret.
Hmm… What do I do with that? Do I refret and level all the regular frets and then replace the zero fret? Do I install a taller zero fret for more clearance? That seemed like it made sense but I wasn’t feeling it. How do I get the zero fret set up if I do it this way? The more I thought about it, the less this felt like the way to go.
I tried looking around the internet but found nothing that answered my question. The amount of useful information on the internet is increasing in quantity and quality all the time but, back then, I could find nothing to guide me in my zero fret quest. Oh no. I have to rely on my own abilities and powers of reasoning. That’s always terrifying. 😉
As I thought it through, it became more and more obvious what the way forward was. I was nervous because I wasn’t completely certain but I gave it a go.
And it worked.
Want to know how to treat a zero fret when levelling?
Don’t do anything special.
Just treat the zero fret like any other fret.
It makes complete sense when you think about it. You can finger a guitar at any position and that fret beside your finger becomes the ‘zero’ point for that string. For all intents and purposes, you’ve shortened the scale length of that string to wherever you’re fretting. You finger somewhere else and that fret’s now the zero point.
There’s really no difference between the zero fret and the others.
Having the strings pass through the nut and down to the tuners just means that the strings are ‘artificially fingered’ permanently at the position of the actual zero fret.
When you’re levelling frets, you don’t treat the ninth fret any differently to the eight or tenth. There’s no reason to treat the zero fret any differently to any of the others. Just level them all exactly as you would if there were no zero fret.
When you’re building a guitar – or refretting one – with a zero fret, setup is made simpler. You level and crown all the frets as normal and you don't need to spend so much time getting the height of each nut slot exactly right. (More about this next time as I want to talk a little more about a particular problem with modern zero frets).
I’m not sure of the current state of internet information on levelling a neck with a zero fret but, for anyone who, like me, has wondered about this, I’ll sum this up:
When levelling, treat the zero fret like all the other frets. Level it and crown it with the others. Same height/plane.
Zero frets make life a little easier for the builder or repairer.
What about the nut?
Then nut doesn't control the string height any more. It’s really there just to keep the strings in the right place and stop them shifting around side-to-side.
Cut the nut string-slots good and low (lower than you think you should) so the strings sit firmly on the zero fret. Like really firmly. If the contact isn’t solid, you’ll get a sitar effect on the open strings (which probably isn’t what you want).
Because you don’t have to spend so much time dialling in the nut slot height, setup is a little faster and easier.
And that’s it. I hope this adds to the store of internet information and that, some day, it serves to ease someone else’s confusion.
This article written by Gerry Hayes and first published at hazeguitars.com