This page is an overview of the different types of fret wire that are best for use on a Cigar Box Guitar, and to helping you choose the right kind for your build. For a more in-depth discussion about whether you should fret your build, and what you need to get started, see the article “To Fret or Not to Fret” over at CBGitty.com.
First, a little bit about fret wire. Fret wire is generally categorized based on two things: the metal it is made from, and the size of the crown (the rounded bit that protrudes above the surface of the fret board).
There are four primary metals/alloys that modern fret wire is made from: 12% Nickel-Silver, 18% Nickel-Silver, Gold EVO and Stainless Steel. Nickel-Silver is actually an alloy of Copper, Nickel and some other things – there is no actual silver in it. Gold EVO is a proprietary alloy with a distinct gold color produced by the Jescar fret wire company. Of these, the 18% nickel-silver is the most common and popular, although the gold fret wire and stainless steel are gaining in popularity. The 12% nickel-silver is fairly soft and mostly used on nylon-stringed instruments. It is not recommended for cigar box guitars, unless you are using nylon strings on yours. Even then, the 18% nickel-silver is easier to find, so you might as well stick with that. Stainless Steel fret wire is VERY hard and is usually reserved for electric guitars and basses whose players do a lot of heavy note bending. There is really no reason to use stainless fret wire on a CBG – it’s more expensive, a LOT harder to work with, and in our opinion really just not worth the effort.
As for fret wire crown sizes, they are generally categorized as ranging from “narrow” to “wide” in width and from “low” to “high” in height, with various combinations in between (narrow/low, narrow/high, wide/low, wide/high, etc). In general, it’s safe to say that the size of fret wire you want is usually determined by the size of the cigar box guitar you are building. If you are doing a short ukulele-scale instrument, you’ll want a narrower, lower wire; if you are building a long-scale bass, you might want wider and higher wire. Keep in mind that this is a general guide though, and there really aren’t any rules – some builders like using the biggest jumbo wires on their builds.
Enough Theory – Now it’s time for the “Need to Know”!
You can find this fret wire at a great price over at our friends C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply’s web shop. Click here to see all of C. B. Gitty’s fret wire, or click here to be taken directly to the medium/medium nickel-silver wire.
This fret wire has a nice medium crown width and height, and is one of the most popular fret wires used on modern acoustic guitars, and also (in our experience) one of the most popular fret wires with CBG builders. In our opinion, there is no better fret wire for your first attempt at fretting.
If you are looking for something a little different, then you can go with the Gold EVO Medium/Medium fret wire. This wire is a little harder than the nickel-silver, and it is gold all the way through so you don’t have to worry about filing off the color. It can be a really beautiful touch on a cigar box guitar, and we think it goes especially well on darker fret boards. It really isn’t any harder to work with than the nickel-silver, despite being a bit harder, so that’s not a worry. The only real trade-off is that it costs about twice as much – but that can easily be made up by how much it adds to the looks of your build. You can find Jescar Gold EVO Medium fret wire over at C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply.
If you are building a cigar box guitar which is smaller or larger than the “norm” (we consider the norm to be around a 25″ scale length, like a standard acoustic guitar), then you might want to consider a smaller or larger fret wire. For short-scale instruments like cigar box mandolins or ukuleles, consider a narrow/low or narrow/lower fret wire, either in nickel-silver or gold EVO. For larger CBGs and cigar box basses, consider a wide/medium or Jumbo nickel-silver or gold EVO wire. C. B. Gitty Crafter Supply carries all of these sizes in both nickel-silver and gold, so browse on over to their Fret Wire category page to check it out.
Well, that is our overview of fret wire for cigar box guitars. There are plenty of places to go for more information – checking out the links above is a good place to start!