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The Frets

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Tyler N
(@tyler-n)
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Hey I've always wondered why they decided to mark the 3 | 5 | 7 | 9 | 12 | 15 | 17 .... frets on the neckboard.

To me they have just been reference markers for quick finger placing.

But now I wonder is there more to it than just simply markers? or is their a reason why the guitar marks these specific frets?

~ if so what do they mark?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TxmW-rIGFA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAvejpRYsQM
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margaret
(@margaret)
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Great question! I know the 12th fret is marked specially (two dots instead of just one on some guitars) because it is the octave above the open string.

The others do serve as visual reference points, but I have no idea why the particular frets were selected. If there is a reason other than "because it's always been done that way," then somebody around GN is sure to know.

Stay tuned.....

Margaret

When my mind is free, you know a melody can move me
And when I'm feelin' blue, the guitar's comin' through to soothe me ~


   
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Denny
(@denny)
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When we're playing, especially standing, we can see where we are on the fretboard by looking at the fret markers, without having to angle the guitar.

Denny


   
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Hyperborea
(@hyperborea)
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When we're playing, especially standing, we can see where we are on the fretboard by looking at the fret markers, without having to angle the guitar.

Sure but why not 3, 6, 9, 12? Or 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12? You could use those positions too unless there's some reason for the place the markers are now. Some guitars do mark the first fret too. It's also not some sort of scale thing - too few of them for the diatonic scale and the wrong spacing.

That's a great question. I'm curious to know the answer.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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Voidious
(@voidious)
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From the "off the top of my head" department: I'd initially say 5, 7, and 12 are the first ones you'd want marked: perfect 4th (also same pitch as next string), perfect 5th, and octave. Obviously 17 and 19 are the octave up of the 4th and 5th intervals. From there, 3 and 9 probably just seem more intuitive than 2 / 4 / 8 / 10.

But I am totally just guessing here =)

-- Voidious


   
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NoteBoat
(@noteboat)
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This got me really curious, so I've spent an hour or so surfing... the first explanation I came across is on the Gibson forums:

Fret markers were invented by Julio Sor, a world reknown Flamencoist, brother to Fernando. As Julio's eyes aged, he developed astigamatism and the fret wires all started to appear crossed. That and whilest playing into the early morning hours in a Barcelona grog shop, a man gets a might thirsty... To help him find the correct fret, he added a pencil mark at the 5th fret. Sebsequent to this he added pencil marks to 5, 7, 9 and 11. It is not known whether the mark was an 'X', check mark or dot. Fernando said there should be a mark as well at the 12th (octave) fret. In doing so it messed up the ever-other-fret system Julio had started up, but mark it he did. Since this was a special fret and landed immediately next to 11, he decided on two marks to help his astigmatic, and sometimes inebriated, eyes find the correct fret when playing those high notes. Eventually the adjacent marks made Julio's eyes hurt and he knew one or the other had to go. Bowing to his older brothers superior prowess as a guit tar player, he compromised by moving 11 to 3. Eventually, the luthiers of the day began to paint the simplest of figures, the dot at the odd and 12 frets.

Ok, so I'm a skeptic. I don't trust a lot of what I find on line, and I'd never heard of Julio Sor. But Fernando lived from 1778-1839, so I started looking at pictures of old stringed instruments at museum galleries on line.... were fret markers used before the late 1700s?

Sure enough, they were. And I've looked at enough to draw some speculation of my own...

Early luthiers liked to decorate instruments. From as far back as the 1500s I find full fretboard inlays. And in the 1600s, I find some that don't have full inalys - only the first five frets or so... maybe they were trying to cut costs?

In the 1700s I start seeing the same number of markers (four or five) spaced along the fretboard... like this example at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Markers are at 1, 4, 7, one spanning 9-10, and 14. Following the tradition of classical guitars, the neck joins the body at 12, so you really don't need a marker there.

I figure fretboard markers started out as simple decorations - I've found them in Russian, Middle Eastern, and Western European instruments of the late 1700s. There doesn't seem to be any standard placement between countries, or between luthiers within a single country... so I think it's something that was simply decorative.

In the 1800s you start to get factories making instruments, instead of them being made one by one. With more fretted instruments being made, it follows there are more fretted instrument players- and they start finding these decorations a convenient way to navigate the neck. Standards start developing...

1897 Howe Orme mandola with markers at 5, 7, 12, and 14.

The change to "navigable" fret markers didn't happen overnight. here's a Leomaster - looks like probably 1920s-30s construction to me - that still has markers arranged for decoration - even though they're at 5-7-9-12-15, the doubles are at 5, 9, and 15... making a symmetrical arrangement.

My best guess is that certain brands were popular, and other companies knocked them off - that's how we got the 25.4" scale length (from Martin), the basic electric body styles, etc. Over time we got a sort of standardization, but it could just as easily have been every 3 frets if manufacturers had copied other designs.

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Rahul
(@rahul)
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I think it looks visually appealing that way.


   
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Chris C
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Fascinating. :)

Great question, and great research from NoteBoat. 8) Like Voidious, I'd just vaguely thought that the 5, 7 and 12 were useful, for similar reasons to the ones he quoted, and the rest might be pretty much for decoration and to balance the look of it up. In practice, I seem to use mostly the 5 and 12 for reference. But after that it would be handy to have one more between 5 and 12, but I wouldn't really mind if it was at either 7, 8 or 9. So NoteBoat's findings made very interesting reading.

Cheers,

chris


   
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Tyler N
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NoteBoat wow! that was an interesting read, and I am surprised someone went out on a limp to gather the information you've researched - very admirable of you. I must admit, from my topic I was expecting a direct answer such as "the markings simply mark the harmonic places, and or octaves" to validate an answer I was probably missing out on, however with your research it might prove to be a little more than just that or on the contrary nothing more or nothing less.

Judging from the pictures of earlier guitars, can you safely say tthat the markings besides being reference points can vary, therefore the markings are not specifically intended for any other particular reason.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TxmW-rIGFA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAvejpRYsQM
my idol


   
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Tyler N
(@tyler-n)
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Topic starter  

Fascinating. :)

Great question, and great research from NoteBoat. 8) Like Voidious, I'd just vaguely thought that the 5, 7 and 12 were useful, for similar reasons to the ones he quoted, and the rest might be pretty much for decoration and to balance the look of it up. In practice, I seem to use mostly the 5 and 12 for reference. But after that it would be handy to have one more between 5 and 12, but I wouldn't really mind if it was at either 7, 8 or 9. So NoteBoat's findings made very interesting reading.

Cheers,

chris
LoL ... if it is found that truly they are there for nothing more but markers for the player. I wouldn't mind getting rid of em lol .... (mines dont look too fancy anyhow ~ big ol white dots that dont compliment the color of the wood)

yeah I wouldnt mind not having them there I guess

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TxmW-rIGFA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAvejpRYsQM
my idol


   
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Chris C
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You might like the Martin DX 1. That doesn't have any markers on the fretboard anyway.... :)

Image at Martin website

Here's another with no markings on the face of the fretboard....


image from this webpage: Wolfgang hollowbody

Apparently some Jacksons have no dots on the fretboard, and I image that there's plenty more 'dotless' ones around. 8)

Cheers,

Chris


   
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TRGuitar
(@trguitar)
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Noteboat ... you are obviously an exellent teacher! Nice research.

"Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
-- The Webb Wilder Credo --


   
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Nuno
 Nuno
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Great question! :D
Ok, so I'm a skeptic. I don't trust a lot of what I find on line, and I'd never heard of Julio Sor. But Fernando lived from 1778-1839, so I started looking at pictures of old stringed instruments at museum galleries on line.... were fret markers used before the late 1700s?
I was reviewing some old Spanish encyclopedias and there aren't references to Julio. Obviously Fernando has a entry. There are references to his father who also played guitar. If Julio existed, he probably played.

There is a great tradition here and I'd like the origin were Spain. But this time probably we have to search the markers origin in Center and Western Europe. This a quote of the Spanish Wikipedia:

"En todo caso, parece claro que fue en España donde tomó carta de naturaleza, pues a diferencia de las guitarras construidas en otros países y lugares de Europa, donde se fabricaban guitarras sobrecargadas de incrustaciones y adornos que la hacían casi imposible de tocar, la guitarra española se hacía para ser tocada y fue tan popular que incluso Sebastián de Covarrubias, capellán de Felipe II y egregio lexicógrafo español, llegó a decir: "La guitarra no vale más que un cencerro, es tan fácil de tocar que no existe un campesino que no sea un guitarrista"."

It explains the differences between the Spanish and other European guitars "sobrecargadas de incrustaciones y adornos", overloaded with inlays and decorations (sorry for the "free" translation). The quote by Sebastián de Covarrubias, chaplain of Philip II, King of the Spain, says: "The guitar is as cheap as a cowbell, it is as easy [playing] than there aren't a peasant who isn't a guitarist" (sorry for the "free" translation again).

The Spanish guitars, and the flamenco guitars are similar to the Spanish, are austeres in the decorations. I think I never saw a flamenco guitar with markers. The text that Noteboat found speaks on Julio as a "flamencoist". If the origin was the flamenco, it seems reasonable all the flamenco guitars would use the markers now.

Just speculating! :D

Now, from Argentina, the genealogy of the guitar. The text explains some aspects of how, who and when build each guitar (sorry, in Spanish). BTW the Argentinian call "guitarra criolla" to the Spanish guitar.

http://www.guitarraonline.com.ar/genealogia1.htm

Nuno


   
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TRGuitar
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In best Tommy Chong voice in regards to Julio .... "Hey! I jammed with that dude man. He was laid back ...."

"Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
-- The Webb Wilder Credo --


   
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