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How to Tie Fret Knots (Fretting Instruments with String)

How to Tie Fret Knots

Parts needed:

  • monofilament nylon fishing line (10 to 15lb test).

Tools needed:

  • Scissors

  • Small file

  • Fret Calculator.

For fret placement, I recommend the Stewart MacDonald Online Fret Calculator:

This tutorial comes from an old issue of Mugwumps magazine, a now-defunct publication that is getting harder and harder to find.  This lesson on fret knots should hopefully inspire many new DIY instrument ideas from you all.

You would think that the metal strings would cut into the frets, but it doesn't The saz plays just as good today as when I purchased it thirty years go!

I first learned about tied fretting techniques when I purchased a tourist-grade Turkish saz during a trip to Israel back in 1989.  The instrument is fretted up the neck with nylon filament frets, each one wrapped around four times.

From the original article: "Fret Not; The Fret Knot Is Back" by Peter Hoover

An idea centuries old has returned to make learning to play such instruments as the fretless banjo a bit easier.

A family of instruments called the viols, popular for several hundred years up to the mid-eighteenth century, was fretted - but not with the sort of frets seen on modern banjos, mandolins or guitars. Instead, players tied lengths of gut or hard twine around the neck at appropriate places , and stopped the strings against these, in order to get the clearer, more accurate notes this arrangement produced.

Select the fret material. I have found that monofilament nylon fishing line (10 to 15lb. test) works well. Thinner line gives a less definite note.

  1. Cut off about two feet of line and form it into a single loop. With the instrument neck horizontal and the peghead to the left, slip the loop up in back of the neck and drape it over the front. (fig. A).

  2. Take one of the single ends, and making a loop of it, put that loop through the first loop. (fig. B)

  3. Then take the other free end and run it through the second loop (fig. C).

  4. Take the free ends and snug them tight. The fret knot is complete. Putting a simple overhand knot on top (fig. D) helps keep the fret knot in place.

  5. The fret, as tied, consists of two pieces of line side-by-side. Before snugging down the knot for the last and final time, be certain that the two strands are parallel.

  6. For neatness sake, I try to locate the knot itself on the front of the neck, about 1/4" below the fingerboard, which is less in the way.

Fret placement is critical. I have learned that when the proper fret position is found, it is a good idea to file two unobtrusive V-notches at either side of the fingerboard so that the snugged-down fret knot will not budge.

About these plans:  In researching various obscure musical instruments, I have discovered the treasure trove of information from Mugwumps, a now defunct magazine originally published by Michael Holmes of Silver Spring, MD.  The bi-monthly journal celebrated old time music, unusual folk instruments and served as a classifieds for the emerging bluegrass community of the 1970's.

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Philip Taylor
Philip Taylor
Jan 25, 2022

Great for making historical instrument replicas like my Hittite guitar dating back 3600 years. In the olden days, slip ring tuners were used as mechanical (geared) tuners didn't come in until the 19th C.


Unknown member
Jan 24, 2022

I like this idea a lot. Especially for testing some things 😃


Jim Stanley
Jim Stanley
Jan 19, 2022

Great low cost idea especially if making a bunch for something like a children's workshop. No metal edges to snag a finger or arm. I like the innovative ways folks have worked to make music. All of these articles have been very useful as I begin my journey in CBGs!

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