As beginners, we are so overwhelmed by all the information we are taking in mentally and visually that we don’t get the opportunity to notice things that are right in front of us. The number of frets on a guitar is one of those things that we only pay attention to when our instructors begin addressing them during a lesson.
If you are absolutely new to guitars and have not even held one so far, you would have never even known that electric guitars usually have more frets than acoustic guitars. In fact, you would not even have the slightest idea of what “frets” are.
What are Frets?
Guitar players produce notes in various pitches by shortening the length of the strings. This is done by holding the strings down on the neck, specifically in the spaces between the metallic wires that are attached to the neck. These metallic wires are called frets, and they are positioned at a precise distance from each other.
Holding the strings down between these spaces, close to the frets but on them, shortens the length of the strings and increases the pitch. The pitch gets higher when you hold down the strings as you move down the fretboard and get closer to the area where the body of the guitar meets the neck. Frets also act as reference points on the fretboard, making it easier to find the location of the notes.1
What is a Fretboard?
A plank of wood that is attached to the entire length of the neck. Frets are attached to this strip of wood. It is also called “fingerboard.“
Number of Frets – Acoustic vs Electric Guitar
Acoustic guitars usually have fewer frets, usually between 18 to 20, and electric guitars have around 22 to 24 frets. The number of frets on a guitar usually varies depending on the type and model. However, some of the older versions of acoustic guitars have as few as 14 frets, while some modern guitars have as many as 39 frets.2
The frets that are placed closer to the area where the neck meets the body of the guitar, also called the upper frets, are usually impossible to play, especially on acoustic guitars. These frets are usually added to maintain the esthetics of the instrument.
Why do Electric Guitars Have More Frets Than Acoustic Guitars?
As mentioned earlier, the upper frets of an acoustic guitar are less accessible. This is due to the structural design of acoustic guitars. The bodies of acoustic guitars are larger compared to the sleeker, smaller bodies of electric guitars.
There are several acoustic guitars with a cutaway made to the upper bout to increase accessibility to the upper frets. However, most acoustic guitars have rounded bouts instead of the cutaway design, as the sound of an acoustic guitar is heavily dependent on its hollow body. The larger the body of the guitar, the higher the volume. Therefore, most acoustic guitars have fewer frets as the design prioritizes sound over accessibility.3
Another reason for the difference in the number of frets is that the upper frets of an acoustic guitar don’t sound as good as the bottom frets. When a string is pressed down on the upper frets of the acoustic guitar, the length of the strings gets too short. This results in a reduced transfer of vibrations to the soundboard of the acoustic guitar and affects the tone of the notes played on the upper frets.
What is a Soundboard?
The sheet of wood used to construct the top of the acoustic guitar’s body is called a soundboard.
Also, the techniques for playing the acoustic guitar frets on the upper positions are considerably more difficult to master.4 It gets harder to press down on strings due to the height and thickness of the strings.
Most electric guitars, on the other hand, are built with cutaways in one or both of the upper bouts and therefore have easier upper fret accessibility. The sound on these instruments is also primarily generated through electronic amplification. Therefore, it makes sense to provide access to the upper frets as they sound good when played on electric guitars. The strings are also easier to hold down at the upper frets as the strings used on electric guitars are thinner.
Structurally, electric and acoustic guitars are two very different instruments. The difference in the number of frets is just one among the many details that vary with regard to these instruments. Next time you get a chance, try to notice all the other details and you’ll realize that they are, in fact, two very different instruments and absolutely incomparable.
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- The Structure of the Acoustic Guitar：The rule of strings and pitch – Musical Instrument Guide – Yamaha Corporation. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.yamaha.com/en/musical_instrument_guide/acoustic_guitar/mechanism/mechanism003.html
2. How Many Frets on a Guitar? The Answer Might Surprise You. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://zinginstruments.com/how-many-frets-on-a-guitar/
3. Why Your Acoustic Guitar has fewer frets than your Electric. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://theacousticguitarist.com/dont-fret-why-your-acoustic-guitar-has-less-frets-than-your-electric/
4. GUITAR LESSON 3 – Chapter 6 – Playing Guitar In The Higher Frets – YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7a5pyoCNCs