How To Count the Frets

[reprinted by permission from MegArticles Two-Handed Tapping Archives]

11 weeks old
Image by Brian Hathcock via Flickr


It’s not a silly question.

I have been surprised by how many times this question comes up.

Since this little question baffles so many people, I did a search on our favoriite search engine, and didn’t find the answer there. Google doesn’t know!

So … the answer is here. And soon you will know more than Google!

I am greatly aided by Mr. Lon Withrow, who very kindly sent me the following two photographs.

On Chapman Stick and on Mobius Megatar instruments you find Markers at Fret Two

As shown here, on Chapman Stick and on Mobius Megatar instruments, you will find Fret Markers at Fret Two Position.


Near the top of the photograph, you can see the ivory-colored ‘nut’. Now on Mobius Megatar instruments, although we refer to the nut (because that’s what everyone calls it), in actual fact the ‘nut’ is mainly functioning as a string guide, to keep the strings all lined up where you want them.

Unlike normal guitar nuts, which have grooves filed to match each string size, our unique ‘nut’ has triangular notches, which causes the different-sized strings to self-adjust their position. This feature enables you to arrange strings in any configuration, with large strings going to small strings from left to right, or from right to left, or big strings in the middle, or big strings on the edge. It doesn’t matter. The strings will all correctly self-adjust their positions due to the triangular notches in the ‘nut.’

Now we must also consider the *height* of the strings. In a normal nut, the slots are different depths, according to the string gauges. But here we take a lesson from the past and use a ‘Zero Fret.’


Look just below the ivory colored ‘nut,’ and you’ll see a fret. This is fret number zero. On many guitars, using a conventional nut, there is no zero fret, because the nut is the ‘zero fret.’ But here on the Megatar you see an actual metal fret, and it’s number is zero.

Now because all the strings are resting upon the zero fret, this means that their lower surfaces are all in a row, and all the lower surfaces are therefore at the same height. So the use of an actual zero fret means that you can arrange the strings in any order, ascending in any direction, and still all of the strings will be correctly placed just high enough, regardless of their various gauges.


The use of the Megatar custom nut triangluar-slot design, coupled with the use of a true zero fret is unique in guitar design, to the best of my knowledge. And what it gives us is perfect string positioning, regardless of the tuning arrangement of the strings that you mount on the instrument.


Immediately below, and just touching the zero fret, you can see the black ‘sound deadener‘ of a rubbery material that makes the string go mute very quickly.

Some people would call it a ‘string mute.’ Apparently the first string mute was used by Dave Bunker on one of his patented instruments a number of years before the Chapman Stick, or Warr Guitars, or Mobius Megatar. In theory, nobody should have been allowed to use a string mute, because it was patented! But Dave didn’t care, and string mutes have been used on the Stick, Warr, and other touch-style instruments since forever.

We cannot take credit for this wonderful stuff. Mark Warr of Warr Guitars showed it to us. It is used in the foundations of houses in the Los Angeles area, to reduce vibration coming from earthquakes. And you will find it sold in the kitchenware department of your local hardware store, as ‘shelf liner’. (When you place plates on it, they don’t move around!)


Slightly below the sound-deadener (or string-mute) is Fret Number One.

If this were a conventional guitar, where there was only a nut, then this would be the first metal fret you’d come to, and so the label 1st Fret would be more obvious. But on an instrument where there is a zero fret, then fret Number One is not so obvious!


In the photograph, Lon is pointing at the double-dots on the Megatar, and they’re located between the First and the Second Fret. The “First Fret” (meaning Fret #1) is above his finger. The “Second Fret” (meaning Fret #2) is below his finger.

Like on any guitar, the dots refer to the fret immediately below them. So the double-dots fretmarker is marking “Fret Two”.


In a zero-fret design, the first metal fret is Fret Zero.

The next metal fret is Fret One.

The next metal fret is Fret Two.

And so on.

It’s easy when you just count, starting at zero.

Playing the note at Fret One - Playing on the Fret

Playing the note at Fret One - Playing Right On the Fret


Here the musician is playing the note at Fret One.

Because the sound-deadener is located between Fret Zero and Fret One, it takes slightly more tapping power to sound this note than sounding other notes on the fretboard. But the note at Fret One is playable and useful.

The next thing to notice is that the musician is playing almost directly ON the fret. (The finger illustrated could be even MORE on the fret.) You will get the best tone when you play ON the fret.

Again, clarifying the fret number is just a matter of counting.

Near the top of the photograph you can see the ivory-colored ‘nut’, and then directly below (about a quarter of an inch; about a centimeter) is a metal fret. It’s hard to see in this photograph, but it’s right at the top of the black string-deadener material. That initial fret is the zero-fret, right near the ‘nut position.’

So the next fret after fret zero is Fret One, and the photo shows the musician playing a note on Fret One.

I hope this long article on a short subject has been useful.

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