If you’ve played the same guitar regularly for years, or you’ve bought an older model used instrument, there’s a chance that the frets might be due to be changed out, and when the time comes, you might be left wondering, “how much does it cost to refret a guitar?”.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide we’ll be looking into how much it costs to refret a guitar, as well as some other basic info about how to tell when you need a refret, and what causes frets to wear out?
How Much Does It Cost to Refret a Guitar?
The typical cost to refret a guitar is between $330 for nickel frets and $550 for steel frets according to our friend Nick Scout of Scout Guitars. This price would also cover a new nut and a setup, leaving you with a “completely refretted, perfectly playable, setup 21 fret guitar”.
Some of the other factors that influence the price of a refret include:
Number of Frets
This is a fairly obvious answer, but if you’re looking at refretting a 24 fret PRS, or a 15 fret acoustic, it’s likely to cost more to complete the work on the PRS. First of all, there are more frets, so there will be more materials needed for the job. Not only that, but the labor time will be increased.
IIf the neck of your guitar has binding, you may actually need to have that redone at the same time as the frets. On Gibsons with bound necks, the binding actually covers the fret edges, which effectively means in order to refret the guitar, your tech will have to damage the binding, ultimately adding to the cost.
VVintage or high value instruments will need the hands of a skilled luthier, and to ensure that the job is period correct, and finished the right way, this can add a significant amount to the total for the work.
DIY or Paying a Pro
In almost all cases, the labor exceeds the cost of the parts. Fret wire is relatively cheap, and you should be looking at under $20 in materials for a refret (excluding binding and other finish adjustments). The labor on the other hand can cost significantly more (10 to 20 times more in some cases), depending on the skill of the tech or luthier, and any complexities of the guitar you’re having refretted.
Doing the work yourself can save a lot of money (especially if you have some experience with building guitars), but bear in mind, if you don’t already own the proper tools, you might end up spending close to what it would have cost to have a professional take care of it.
Depending on the type of wood used in your guitar’s fretboard, you might end up paying more for a refret. For example, refretting a guitar with a maple fretboard costs more than one with a rosewood board. This is primarily because maple is a much more difficult material to work with, and an inexperienced luthier can easily ‘blow out’ the finish when working it, causing catastrophic damage – this is a real problem for older guitars.
How do I Know When my Guitar Needs a Refret?
Some players don’t realize that frets are technically consumable parts, just like strings. Over time they’ll wear out, and as that happens, you’ll encounter some relatively serious issues with playability.
Especially if frets wear unevenly, you’ll start to notice intonation issues that get progressively worse. Intonation is how well your guitar stays in tune at all points on the fretboard. If a fret is overly worn in comparison to the others, you’ll have to push down further to fret a note, which will bend strings sharp as more movement is required.
Worn frets can also cause issues like fret buzz, which is an undesirable sound when the strings partially impact a fret that you aren’t actively playing on.
What Causes Frets to Wear Out?
Fret wear is caused by using the guitar as intended. Over a number of years, the action of the strings pressing up and rubbing on the frets will erode them, taking material away, and ultimately requiring replacements.
Some situations can exacerbate the process of fret wear, for example, if you use stainless steel strings with standard frets, the stainless steel is much harder than nickel, and will cause frets to wear out faster.
Blues players, and those who use a lot of expressive techniques like bends and vibrato often find that their frets wear faster than rhythm players, who typically play chords, rather than single note runs.
If you play with a heavy touch, again, you’re increasing the friction between the strings and frets, and this will increase the rate of wear.
Another group whose frets wear faster are those who play with heavy gauge strings. As you might expect, the larger surface area of the heavy strings causes more damage to the top of the frets, resulting in faster wear.
Is Refretting a Guitar Worth the Expense?
You might be asking yourself whether or not you’re willing to pay $200+ to refret a guitar when you could potentially buy a new instrument for less.
Of course, if the guitar in question is a vintage model, or otherwise valuable, then yes, a refret is absolutely worthwhile. Having said that, be sure if you’re looking into a refret for a vintage guitar, that you research a luthier who is skilled enough to do the job right with period correct parts, and the proper attention to detail, otherwise significant value could be knocked off your instrument. Quality of past work should be the driving factor in this case, not price.
Even with cheaper guitars, if they hold significant sentimental value to you, perhaps it was your very first guitar, having a refret job done will bring the guitar back to feeling like it did when it was new. Even though the price of the refret might exceed the value of the instrument, getting more years of joy out of your guitar is probably worthwhile.
Final Thoughts on Refretting a Guitar
While it’s not a regular maintenance item, replacing your frets is something that is necessary when they reach a certain state of wear. Playing a guitar with worn frets will result in poor tone, bad intonation, and potentially even further damage to the guitar.
If you’re concerned about wear, be sure to avoid heavy, or stainless steel strings, and try to play with a lighter touch. Even with extreme use, frets should last as long as 10 years, so while the job is inevitable if you keep a guitar for that long, the need to perform it could be further away than you thought.