For many beginning bass players, the number of frets on your bass won’t be a huge concern. You’ll likely be thinking more about issues such as weight, overall size, and cost as you’re starting out. But, later on in your bass guitar journey, you may think a lot more carefully about how many frets on a bass is ideal for you. Let’s talk about why.
The number of frets on a bass guitar will determine how many notes you can play on each string up and down the neck. Electric bass guitars typically have between 20 and 24 frets. The number of frets on a bass is determined by its style and its intended use rather than the scale length or size.
It may sound strange that the number of notes available on a bass can vary from instrument to instrument, but just remember that you may even have the option of an extra string or two if you want that. The electric bass is an evolving and dynamic instrument. They are definitely not all made alike.
Let’s talk about the frets on a bass
What are frets anyway
The frets on a bass guitar are the small wires that run across the fretboard at very specific intervals all along the neck. Their placement is all based on math, and it’s super interesting if you’re into that. It’s important to note that frets don’t refer to the spaces in between those wires.
The frets on a bass allow you to find notes and hold them as you play. This is in direct contrast to fretless basses that have no wires to help you find notes at all. On a fretless bass, it’s entirely up to you to find the exact spot to place your finger in order to find a note. If you’re off even a little, you’ll be sharp or flat…and everyone will know.
Frets make it a lot easier to find notes and keep them from going sharp or flat as you play. You should develop good fretting techniques as you learn to play bass, but frets can be very forgiving when it comes to holding notes.
Taking care of your frets
Just a quick note about fret care on a bass guitar. In general, frets are sturdy and don’t need a lot of upkeep. However, over time they can wear down, and your tone can suffer a bit from that. This is especially true if you use rougher round wound strings and change them often.
You can have your frets conditioned at your local music shop, or you can do it yourself if you’re OK with a bit of work on your own. Also, if your frets get too worn, you can have them replaced pretty easily as well. However, this is usually a job that you’ll want to have a professional do for you.
Do I need a 24-fret bass neck?
For me, this falls into one of those categories of questions that are easily answered by, “You don’t need it unless you know you need it.”
The extra notes you’ll gain from a 24-fret bass neck will be in the higher register, and they’ll almost always be used for soloing. If you know you want to develop into a bass player who solos often and plays the kind of music that might require lots of notes in the higher register, a 24-fret bass might be great for you.
However, if you fall madly in love with a bass that’s within your budget and fits your style, and it happens to have 24 frets, buy it. If it feels great in your hands and makes you want to play more, you should own it.
But, is less than 24 frets going to leave you wanting more?
Is 20 frets enough on a bass?
If you’re worried about a 20-fret bass neck not providing enough notes or enough room to play, take a look back at the vast number of incredible players who have done amazing things on a Fender Jazz or P Bass.
In fact, most standard Fender basses today feature 20 medium jumbo frets. Also, a 20 fret bass neck was the standard on most vintage Fender basses, which is why so many musicians used this style of neck.
If it was enough for James Jamerson, it’s probably enough for the rest of us. It really is all about what you do with the notes you have. A few extra frets will not magically make anyone a rock star.
Frets on a short-scale bass vs long-scale bass
Often, people equate short-scale bass necks with fewer frets simply because the length is smaller. While this is perfectly understandable, it’s also incorrect. The scale length of a bass guitar doesn’t typically have anything to do with how many frets the bass will ship with.
It may be just as common to see a short-scale bass with 22 or 24 frets as it is to see a long-scale bass with 20 frets. Because of this, it’s important to consider fret spacing if you have larger or smaller hands.
Think about the math of it again. If you’re squeezing 24 frets into a 30-inch neck, the frets are going to be pretty close together. For someone with smaller hands, this can be a huge benefit. However, for someone with really large hands, it can feel quite cramped.
This is one reason why it’s so important to go into a music store and play different basses before you settle on one to purchase, even if you buy one online. But try really hard not to go into a music store and take up a salesperson’s time and then go online to buy the same bass you played in their store. Most salespeople work on commission, and their time is valuable too.
An explanation of fret wire and fret size
Fret wire is a special type of wire that’s shaped to fit in the small slots on a guitar or bass neck and also provide a rounded, smooth top for the strings and your fingers to work with. It’s just like regular wire that comes in a roll or spool, but its shape is what makes it different.
Fret wire can be made with lots of different types of metal, and you might see anything from gold to different alloys. However, Fender says that the most common is nickel silver, an alloy that, oddly enough, has no silver at all.
Fret size is another thing altogether, and it can be a very personal preference for many advanced bassists. Fender states that medium jumbo frets are the most common these days, but that a narrow tall fret wire is becoming very popular as well.
Basically, fret size refers to how large the rounded part of the wire is that sticks up above the neck. This is the part that you actually see as the fret on a bass guitar. There are lots of different options for fret sizes, and it’s also something that experienced and professional players like to change up from time to time.
How many frets on a bass: Final thoughts
I hope that helps answer the question about how many frets on a bass neck is ideal. It really depends on you.
In the end, it’s all about feel with an instrument like a bass guitar. You may own several over the course of your playing career, whether you play professionally or just in your bedroom. Give it some time and thought, and eventually, you’ll know your preferences really well.
Play as many different kinds of bass guitars as you can. Really try to notice the differences between each one, including fret sizing and spacing, neck radius, and anything else you can feel.
Let us know your favorite scale lengths and fret sizes and why you prefer them in the comments below.