The guitar, the lute, and the viola da gamba all have frets. Have you ever wondered why? Well I can tell you this: it’s not so that the players can find the notes. Think about it: violinists and violists do without frets, and even cellists and double bass players, whose strings are as long or longer than those of the guitar, find their notes just fine without frets. But the guitar, the lute, and the members of the viola da gamba family are much less powerful than the members of the modern violin family, and they need help to be heard. That’s where the frets come in. If you press a string down with just your finger, your soft flesh absorbs vibrations and takes away some of the sound. But frets are made of hard material like bone, plastic, or even metal, and when you press a string on a fret, the fret doesn’t absorb the vibrations—or hardly absorbs them—and that helps the fretted instrument sound louder than it otherwise would.
This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.