First Fret Necessary? Does it make a difference in sound or playability without it?

bohemewarblerbohemewarbler St. Louis, MO✭✭✭✭ Jordan Wencek No.26, Altamira M01D-12 fret

Hey Everybody,

I just refinished my 12-fret D-Hole Altamira guitar and had a "professional" do the stripping. He also volunteered to do some fret work without me requesting this. I believed he must have replaced the first fret with a fret of the wrong size because I now see that fret sits higher than the nut and is larger and taller than the other frets, making the guitar unplayable. I'm thinking a quick fix would be just to take out that fret, as I seem to recall folks saying that the first fret is irrelevant in these gypsy jazz guitars. I've contacted this professional and am waiting to hear back from him. But in the I really need this first fret?

Please advise.



  • wimwim ChicagoModerator Barault #503 replica
    edited October 2021 Posts: 1,459

    The first fret is really important for playing tunes in F 😉

    Now as for the zero fret.. no you can't just take it out. The distance to the nut is greater and the guitar will be impossible to tune. It is pretty normal for the zero fret to be larger/taller, and this shouldn't make the guitar unplayable provided it's not sitting much too high, so there might be something else wrong.

  • bohemewarblerbohemewarbler St. Louis, MO✭✭✭✭ Jordan Wencek No.26, Altamira M01D-12 fret
    Posts: 243

    Hmm... I did look at my 14-fret oval hole and the strings do seem to be resting barely on that first fret before reaching the nut. There's a gentle slope downward from the strings and into the notches of the nut.

    I did string the guitar differently in a way I never had on this guitar. I'll try restringing it the way I usually do and see if that makes a difference. Still waiting to hear back from the fella who stripped it of its original finish. See if he did something different to the frets.


  • Posts: 4,807

    Zero fret can make big difference in playability. I had mine replaced because I did want the higher than usual zero fret. We ended up at around 1.8mm but even at 1.9-2.00mm guitar was a lot stiffer, so 0.2mm made a pretty significant difference.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • richter4208richter4208 ✭✭✭
    Posts: 527


    Interesting about the strings feeling stiffer with a higher zero fret. I have a guitar that has that stiff string vibe that would be nice to mellow a bit. never heard of this as a possibility tho.

  • bohemewarblerbohemewarbler St. Louis, MO✭✭✭✭ Jordan Wencek No.26, Altamira M01D-12 fret
    Posts: 243

    Oh yeah, the "zero" fret, I plum forgot. Hmm... I'm totally uneducated in these height matters regarding the zero fret. So maybe the larger zero fret was deliberate by the Altamira luthiers. Until I hear back from the sanding fella, I'm retracing my steps and restarting the process. I also put on a different tail piece, so I'm putting the original back on. I'll get back with y'all. Thanks for info!

  • GouchGouch FennarioNew ALD Originale D, Zentech Proto, ‘50 D28
    Posts: 121

    If one were to take the zero fret out, and then not move the nut right up to the fingerboard to exactly where the zero fret was, and you tuned the open strings normally…every fretted note would be flat (in relation to the open, tuned strings). You and everybody else would hear the noticeably “off” tuning. So don’t yank the zero fret without a plan to move the nut as part of the job, IMO.

    Zero fret height, also IMO, is ideally the same height as you’d normally file the bridge slot depth if done right (it’s a delicate, precise art for sure).

  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,320

    The zero fret is just like any other fret and yes on these guitars it is necessary (unless the guitar was built originally without one in which case the nut would be moved up to where the zero fret is. Take it to a luthier who can do fret work and get it done right. Fret work is very fussy not something to try if you have no experience and or the proper tools.

  • Posts: 4,807

    @richter4208 long story short, I read some things on the forum that made me want to experiment. So I made a shim which raised the zero fret around 0.2mm. The frets on my guitar are 1.3mm and zero fret is 1.5mm. I liked what I felt with the shim on over the zero fret so I had Craig B replace the zero fret with the higher one. Like I mentioned we ended up at 1.8mm. These things are subjective but I like the slightly stiffer feel of the guitar compared to before. So yes, it's entirely possible to mellow out the strings feel with lowering the zero fret. Check where it sits now, it all depends on that. I also read that the last thing you want is zero fret lower than the rest, this is not good.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • bohemewarblerbohemewarbler St. Louis, MO✭✭✭✭ Jordan Wencek No.26, Altamira M01D-12 fret
    Posts: 243

    I'm looking into it. After having the guitar stripped of its original finish, I refinished the guitar myself to give it an antique look (Tru Oil on the back and sides and Danish Oil tinting on the top). That was my goal. Looks nice, but I didn't expect the guitar to be unplayable afterwards!

    I did hear back from the luthier who stripped the guitar of its original finish. He thinks maybe "something moved due to heat" he used to get off some of the original finish. He said he didn't do any anything to the frets except use a polishing eraser to clean them.

    Any thoughts?

  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Genovesi, Burns, Kremona Zornitsa & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    Posts: 959

    Heat? Can cause all sorts of distortion; check the neck joint first, but if the top is warped? Did he use heat to also strip the neck finish?


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