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Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars

25 Aug 04 - 02:28 PM (#1256555)
Subject: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: Lanfranc

The Martin 000-18MC Martin Carthy special edition guitar has a zero fret, as has the 000-18 that he has played since forever. As can be seen from the picture posted by his son, here, so had Paul McNeill's Martin which was, if I recall aright, a 00-18.

Personally, I've never been totally convinced by the alleged virtues of the zero fret, despite its use by Fylde and a number of other respectable makers, but I cannot recall ever seeing another Martin with this feature, nor can I find any reference in the standard Martin reference books to the zero fret being available as an option.

As it affects the scale length, I would have thought that it would have to be incorporated from new, but I could be wrong here.

Does anyone else have any knowledge or opinions on this admittedly rather arcane subject?


25 Aug 04 - 03:24 PM (#1256601)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: Cluin

The zero fret would have to be planned for in the guitar design. You couldn't add one later without major adaptation of the neck and fingerboard.

I have one guitar (an Epiphone) with a zero fret. It plays and sounds as nice as any of the others. The idea with it is to have all notes sound the same, i.e. all are fretted, and it reduces the job of the nut to lateral string spacing.

Many luthiers say the nut can function as both string spacer and "first fret" so why bother with a zero fret? Also they like to be able to work on the nut with their little files for set-ups and finetuning too.

Six of one and half-dozen of the other. A zero fret would neither persuade or disuade me from buying and playing a nice sounding and feeling guitar.

25 Aug 04 - 03:26 PM (#1256602)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: Cluin


Should be dissuade.

25 Aug 04 - 04:13 PM (#1256635)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: dick greenhaus

I have an Apollinio with the zero-fret feature, and it works jes' fine. It certainly makes notch depth of the nut largely non-critical. It strikes me that leaving a bit more space between the nut and the zero fret might provide a handy place to park a capo.

25 Aug 04 - 05:15 PM (#1256703)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars

Never had any experience with a zero fret guitar but I like the concept. Seems to me the nut has its work cut out for it, and having to replace one seems like a pretty formidable and painstaking task. I'm all for anything that would increase the time between replacements for this piece of equipment.

25 Aug 04 - 08:26 PM (#1256933)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: Bernard

The old Italian Eko guitars (still available from Brandoni in Wembley, UK!) all had zero frets - but of a thicker gauge than the rest of the frets! I suppose this was to allow for wear, but I replaced the zero fret with a standard gauge fretwire on both of mine without any problems - apart from a hernia from carrying the buggers around - they were bloody 'eavy!!

It's fairly common practice on solid body electric guitars, and seems to me a sensible method of construction - getting the slot depths right in a new nut is certainly fraught with problems!

One thing that is likely to make a guitar play slightly out of tune (apart from the obvious!) is the strings being a little too high at the nut - as you have to deflect the string slightly more than would otherwise be necessary, the pitch is raised a little... so it's one area I give a lot of attention to when setting up the action.

25 Aug 04 - 08:40 PM (#1256936)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: Bernard

Oh - nearly forgot! It's fairly simple to retro-fit a zero fret - the fret simply goes on the end of the fingerboard where the nut would be, with a small piece of suitable wood glued in place to secure it. The nut is then replaced.

If the truss rod adjuster screw is at the nut end of the neck, a little kerfertling (technical jargon! Hah!) may be necessary to get everything accessible, but it's no big deal!

25 Aug 04 - 08:45 PM (#1256938)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: Cluin

What a very well-respected luthier had to say on the subject of zero frets: from the horse's keyboard.

It might be of interest for some of you to browse this man's site too. Lots of interesting info there. I have a copy of his book on guitar building, generally agreed to be the premier book on the subject.

William Cumpiano, luthier

26 Aug 04 - 05:05 AM (#1257149)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: s&r

Some years ago we bought a Giannini guitar for a close friend. It would not tune properly, and for a long time we thought it was 'finger trouble' on her part. Eventually I tried to find out the problem, and found that the first fret spacing was about 6-7 mm too long....I installed a zero fret. Problem solved.


26 Aug 04 - 06:14 AM (#1257164)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: mooman

Nothing wrong with a zero fret and many fine guitars have one but I personally prefer just a good quality nut for the reasons explained by Cluin in the third paragraph of his 3:24 PM post above, i.e. it gives additional setup and adjustment possibilities.



26 Aug 04 - 07:25 PM (#1257715)
Subject: RE: Tech: Zero fret Martin Guitars
From: Guy Wolff

Great to see this thead. I bought one of these this last fall and love the guitar . I do play in open tunings mostly and find the Zero fret very very helpful . I have a lot of guitars and this is the only one with a zerro fret but it is an excetioal sound and is always right on the money ! Intonation and tuning are a breeze.
            When I saw Martin Carthy in concert he mentioned that it took some real perswaideing   on his part to get Martin to build the guitar with a zerro fret.   .             I hope you get a chance to play one of these wonderful guitars . I cant remember but I think they said they were going to make 81 units .
               All the best , Guy      
               ps (THanks BESEED for helping me get the guitar to the airport !! )