I often complain that after decades and decades, we’ve made so little progress with improving some of the basic faults that guitars (and most fretted/stringed instruments) inherit.
Some of those problems include:
- Intonation – Strings aren’t supposed to be exactly the same length, nor are frets supposed to be the same distance apart. We’ve attempted to solve this with individually adjustable bridge sections, the Buzz Feiten system, and to a lesser degree, non-traditional fret layouts.
- Action – necks play best with a little curve to them. Nuts, frets and bridge saddles aren’t all at the same height. We end up with action that is higher than we’d like, or buzzing and fret-out problems.
- Tonality – Play an open A minor chord. Play a G barre chord. These two chords fit together in lots of songs, but they sound kind of terrible. Not in a harmonic sense, but a dynamic one. Strings resonate way differently when fretted vs unfretted, which makes for a real inconsistent sound in your playing.1
- Nut Slots – A typical guitar will have a nut that supports your standard .009-.010 gauge strings. That’s great for most people, but if you’re into jazz or big meaty chords, you might want .011-.012. Then you’re filing your nut slots. That creates all sorts of other issues if you want to change string gauges from time to time.
Well guess what? A zero fret solves all those problems. So why doesn’t every guitar have one? There’s no paying licensing to any company to install them (like you do with BFTS). They aren’t complicated or expensive (like most options to fix the above). They don’t fundamentally change the way the guitar plays or looks (like fanned frets).
My only explanation is that guitarists are a stubborn bunch and don’t like change. Any time I see the topic come up on a major forum, one or two people say how they have them and love them. Several others will talk about how they’d like to try it out. That’s about it. There’s no topic outside of boobs that is more universally accepted on guitar forums. Sure, once upon a time it was controversial, but that seems to be in the past.
But yet, people aren’t making a point of buying guitars with this option. They aren’t getting their existing guitars modified.2 Everyone just keeps buying the same guitars with the same flaws.
Find a guitar with a zero fret. There’s not too many electric options, but acoustics are somewhat easier to find. Play an open D chord, notice how nicely in tune it is. Notice how low the action is without sending you to buzz land. And try to find a serious drawback.
- I realize this is a highly debatable “problem” and I happen to love the sound of open chords. But, it creates such a different sound that it can be an annoyance for a lot of songs. I think we’re just conditioned to live with it more than anything. ↩
- Most shops would tell you there is no way to modify a guitar to add a zero fret. Really it’s not practical at all, but money can make it happen. ↩