Fretwork wizardry by Ruokangas Guitars


Sometimes it feels like I’ve painted myself and my team into a corner with my approach to making guitars – seeking perfection in every detail. Fretwork is a good example of this. We use a lot of time to do the frets – perhaps more than any sensible person would do! It takes hours just to shape, sand and buff the dome fret ends, chasing the holy grail of fretwork. But then again, the frets are such a crucial element that just needs to be right, no matter what. So… to hell with being sensible, I say.

We’ve decided not to count the hours or the minutes, but instead just keep on doing the very best we can. Skillfully installed and finished frets make a world of difference to how the guitar feels to play. Expert levelling enables low and buzz free action – and mirror buffed frets make bending notes smooth as butter.

Big or small frets?
The fret size is purely a matter of taste. Some like lower frets so they can feel the fretboard under the fingertips – while others enjoy the effortless bending of notes with higher frets. All our common fret sizes are available in both stainless steel and nickel silver materials.

Our small frets provide the familiar narrow and low feel of vintage S and T style bolt-on guitars. Not perhaps the most popular size in modern guitars, but for some players this is the one and only way to go.

The medium frets are very common in modern electric guitars. They’re comfortable all-around frets that don’t feel super low but not extra high either.

The narrow/high frets are generally more common in T and S style guitars. They provide the vintage narrow look, yet the height makes the playability similar to jumbo size frets.

The jumbo frets are very common in modern electric guitars. The big frets equal fast, comfortable feel and precision when bending notes. The overall playability is smooth and effortless. Jumbo frets are very popular in most of my models.

The low jumbo frets have the width of the jumbo frets and height of the medium frets. They’re not quite as low as what is sometimes referred as the vintage “fretless wonder” type frets, but the feel is similar – wide, but low enough so you can feel the fretboard better under your fingertips.

When accurately installed and crowned, both narrow and wide frets are equally well in tune. So in this regard, the fret width does not affect to tuning. However, if frets are poorly crowned or worn down, this may have an effect to the tuning of the guitar – and with wider frets the effect can be slightly bigger. The height of the frets does not technically affect to the tuning either – but your playing technique certainly does. If you press the strings with excessive force against the frets, the guitar does appear to be out of tune – and with higher frets the effect is more dramatic.

Stainless steel is a modern day fret material, and an alternative to the traditional nickel silver. Stainless steel has slowly become the favourite of many guitar maker masters around the world due to the superb durability and smooth playability it offers. When expertly installed, stainless steel frets will last for a lifetime. Stainless steel has become over the years the most popular choice in my guitars – so popular, that we don’t offer nickel silver frets anymore on the Guitar Creator as an option.

Nickel silver is a metal alloy consisting of copper with nickel and often zinc. The name refers to the silvery appearance, but the material does not contain elemental silver. Frets made of high quality 18% nickel silver lasts for years in active use. Eventually nickel silver frets will however wear down and need to be redressed – and finally at some point the guitar will need a full refret. Even if we don’t offer nickel silver on the Guitar Creator, we can certainly use this material in a custom ordered guitar.

Some say stainless steel frets make a guitar sound brighter, and the playability suffers too. We’ve done a lot of A/B testing on this, and my conclusion is, that when stainless steel frets are expertly installed, dressed and buffed, the possible tonal difference is insignificant, and the playability is absolutely top notch – smoother than one can achieve with traditional fret material. Nevertheless, there are some rumours circulating around that “stainless steel frets are no good”. In my experience, the possible problems with stainless steel frets can be usually tracked down to poor installation, dressing and/or buffing. It is a hard material, and requires extra attention to detail – sloppy work gives sloppy result. So if you take your guitar to be refretted with stainless steel, be sure to have the job done by an experienced professional with good references. Some criticism towards stainless steel frets seems also to originate to factories who choose not to use stainless steel because it’s slower to work with and wears down their tools. And while this is very true – stainless steel does wear down tools cause it’s so hard – it doesn’t have anything to do with tone.

All fretwire we use is RoHS compliant.