There are two reasons in particular. One is that the playing effort is less. But another, perhaps more important, is that with these frets, the space between frets where the string sounds good producing a nice sound is bigger, giving you much more security. In this video I explain in detail about all this and you can also listen the guitar maker Paula Lazzarini talk about them and why she has used them in her latest elevated fingerboard guitar that she has made especially for MaderaGuitarras.com.
I first heard about the use of high frets on the classical guitar from Yuris Zeltins, a very good friend of mine and one of the most knowledgeable classical guitar experts in the world and perhaps the most prestigious restorer in the world today too.
For decades Yuris has repaired from his workshop in San Diego many guitars including the best in history such as Santos Hernandez, Torres, Hauser, Fleta, Arcangel Fernandez… and many of the guitars that Guitar Salon in California needed to fix for their shop, he restored them. He also restored many of the Miguel Rodriguez guitars belonging to the collection of the Romero family who live also in San Diego. I had the pleasure of meeting Yuris for the first time in 1997 in San Diego in his workshop and lately we have had more contact as he has come to live in Seville here in Spain and we have also both been part of the jury of the Granada International Guitar Making Competition me since 2017 and he since 2018.
Well, he told me that he began to have the idea of using these high frets many years ago, seeing also that these frets were used in the electric guitar or in the acoustic guitar or in both, I don’t remember exactly which one.
And that he saw that it would also give very good results on the classical guitar. The thing is that with the high frets, (and as we will see later on in this video that the guitar maker Paula Lazzarini will also explain to us), with these frets you just have to make the effort to go down until the string touches the fret and that’s it. With the normal or shorter frets you also touch the wood of the fretboard, but with these you don’t have to do that. They are high and thick frets. So your fingertip doesn’t touch the fingerboard.
But something even more interesting to note. The space between frets where you can play the string and when you play it sounds good gets bigger. You know that the string has to be played a little bit close to the fret and in a specific place. If the fingertip goes a bit too high or too low you get that dirty, distorted sound of not making a clean sound. With these frets the space where the string sounds good is bigger and therefore it gives you much more security, you play more relaxed, also without so much mental pressure that you always have to play in that specific place so that the note sounds good. This is a bit revolutionary in my opinion because it really changes a lot to play with so much added security that the note will sound good.
Coming back to the Yuris Zeltins story… he saw these advantages and one day in San Diego, where they both lived, the guitarist Celedonio Romero came to him and wanted or needed to change the frets on his Miguel Rodriguez, the famous churchdoor that he used in his concerts. And Yuris proposed him to use the high frets. Celedonio said ok, yes, and Yuris put them in and Celedonio was very happy. In the 90’s Celedonio died and his son Pepe Romero, in order to pay homage to him, took his father’s guitar that year for his concerts around the world. Pepe was still not used to using those high frets and even commented to Yuris that those frets gave him the impression that as you went down to the 13th, 14th, 15th fret, seeing them so high and thick made it seem like he had less room to play. But Yuris told him that no, that the space between frets was the same, that it was some psychological thing of Pepe, that for him it seemed like he had less space.
The fact is that he finally took the guitar with the same high frets and Pepe thought that at the end of the year and after the concerts he would change them or something like that.
But, after months of playing the guitar with the high frets on concerts Pepe got used to these frets. And came to Yuris and said, this guitar is very comfortable, I want you to put these frets on my entire guitar collection! Well, I don’t know if he did it. But the fact is that now he still uses these high frets on his guitars. And the high frets are always used on the guitar made by his son, the guitar maker Pepe Romero Jr, and his grandson, also a guitar maker, Bernardo Romero, and I have owned several of their guitars and indeed they always use these high frets. But they are different in relation to those used by Paula Lazzarini, not in terms of height, but in that those of the Romero family guitar makers are much thicker frets as you can see in these pictures of guitars I owned from them compare to the Lazzarini ones.
But need to say also that It’s not all positive things with these frets. So let’s talk about the glissandos.
They are not more complicated to play but it’s a different sensation because you are passing your fingertip over many very high frets very fast and it’s perhaps a bit more … I wouldn’t say complicated but it’s a less fluid sensation. For this reason these frets are never used in flamenco guitar because in this style of music, glissandos, slurs and these techniques are used constantly. But with classical is ok because I repeat there is no problem to play it from time to time as Classical repertoire you find.
My question is, why with so many advantages that these frets have and specially with the main one being the playability with a wider space between frets where you can put your fingertip, why aren’t they used more?
I would say that most guitar makers don’t use them nowadays. Is it because of lack of knowledge about them and their advantages? or because of fear that the guitar will be rejected by the customer for not having the usual frets? or that it takes a bit of practice to get used to these frets, although in my experience it takes practically no time at all to get used to them.
The advantage of having more space to put your fingertips to make the note sound good is a very very good reason to use them. Talking with Paula about it she told me that at first people are a bit afraid but once they use them and they play with them they cannot go back to the shorter frets… I don’t know…
If you are a guitar maker and you have used them, it would be very interesting if you could give me your opinion about them below. And if you are a guitarist and you have used them or don’t want to use them, tell me why.
Let’s see now what Paula Lazzarini has to say about these frets that she has used in the last guitar she has made for Madera.