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Nickel-Silver Fret Wire vs. Stainless Steel: Why RainSong Guitars Choose Nickel-Silver

acoustic guitar fretboard

The two main guitar fret wire materials used today are nickel-silver and stainless steel. There are, of course, pros and cons of stainless steel frets, as there are nickel-silver ones. But stainless steel frets are significantly more durable and require less upkeep. So why does a guitar company like RainSong, which prides itself on crafting high-end, nearly indestructible guitars, still choose nickel-silver fret wire? Fret wire hardness and tone play a role for sure. But there's a lot more to the story.

Nickel-silver Vs. Stainless steel fret wire

pile of nickels

Nickel-Silver Fret Wire

Nickel-silver fret wire is the go-to choice for guitar frets and has been for a very long time. Despite its name, it doesn't have any real silver in it. Instead, it's a mix of copper, nickel, and zinc. The material is so ubiquitous in guitar making that, unless a guitar specifically specifies another fret wire material, it's sporting nickel-silver.

Why? Keep reading.

stainless steel silverware

Stainless Steel Fret Wire

Stainless steel fret wire is a relative newcomer in guitar craftsmanship and fret wire choice. It's been around a while, but its extreme durability only brought it to its current popularity in the last decade or two. Because stainless steel is harder than most guitar string materials, it almost never wears out, requiring little to no fret maintenance. Sounds like our guitars, right? So why don't we use stainless steel frets on our acoustic guitars? Because we like nickel-silver better.

Here's Why

  1. Nickel-silver is the long-time industry standard for a good reason

  2. It's the best blend of guitar fret durability and ease of maintenance

  3. Stainless Steel Fret Wire Sounds Too Bright…For Us

Nickel-silver is the long-time industry standard for a good reason

electric guitar and amplifier

There are many benefits of nickel-silver frets, but the fact that they are the undisputed standard in guitar building is reason enough. From the most iconic guitars in history to the finest being made today, nickel-silver fret wire is an excellent material that's earned its place at the top. They've held that crown for decades upon decades.

Because of this, nickel-silver is the feel and tone we've all come to expect from our electric guitars and acoustics. Stainless steel is great, but it's different, and we want you to feel right at home the minute you pick up a RainSong.

It's the best blend of guitar fret durability and ease of maintenance

Most guitar builders and luthiers think of fret wire much like a car's tires. The car is built to last for a long time, but the tires are meant to be replaced. In a way, it's because they wear down that they offer the desired driving experience, performance, and comfort you expect. So, wearing them out doesn't mean the car isn't as good or durable.

Man playing a rainsong acoustic guitar in a sports car

It's the same with fret wire wear and tear. Unlike a tire, however, fret wire can be re-leveled, profiled, and dressed multiple times before it has to be replaced. This is where nickel-sliver takes the lead. Thanks to its softer (still plenty durable) nature, nickel-silver is easy to work with. It responds great to a luthier's tools and mates perfectly with any guitar fretboard materials. Even composite! With a few lessons in proper guitar fretting techniques, anyone can learn to maintain their nickel-silver frets.

Stainless steel may need less maintenance, but thanks to it often requiring specialized tools and a lot more work, it also costs more to service.

Stainless steel fret wire sounds too bright…for us

What's the best fret wire for tone? This debate gets as much attention today as 'if tonewood matters.' The answer is the same for both. It's up to the player and guitar builder. They do sound different, especially to the player.

rainsong acoustic guitar

We get the perfect blend of tone and sustain with nickel-silver frets. Noticeably warmer-sounding than stainless steel, the material complements the piano-like detail of our carbon fiber guitars beautifully. We're not the only ones who think this.

RainSong Sales Manager Dave Coram weighs in.

"I have talked with a few customers who have done refrets on their RainSongs with stainless steel and, though some have liked it, others said they were too bright."

In conclusion

Choosing the right fret wire material is the same as all guitar-building materials; it comes down to personal preference. For us, nickel-silver is the best. It sounds fantastic on our instruments, it's easy to work and maintain (head here for a few RainSong Guitar maintenance tips), and it's the sound and feel we all know and love.

Stainless steel frets are fantastic. We even have them on many of our personal guitars at home. But for the reasons above, every RainSong carbon fiber acoustic guitar proudly wears nickel-silver on its fretboard.

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