Many guitarists associate instruments with zero frets with the cheap import guitars made in the ’60s and ’70s. These guitars were often riddled with problems, and the zero fret became a visual cue for a guitar to avoid. But, given that players no less discerning about tone than Chet Atkins and Django Reinhardt favored zero fret-equipped guitars, they might be worth reconsidering.
A zero fret removes some setup burden off of a standard nut by placing a fret where the front of the nut normally is, reducing the nut’s role to regulating string-to-string spacing. A properly set up guitar with a zero fret can have excellent intonation and buttery action, and some players claim that fretted and open notes sound more alike and sustain longer.
The Zero Glide replacement nut ($30, direct) is an easily reversible and non-permanent retrofit for guitarists who may want to explore these benefits on a favorite guitar. I’ve played many instruments with zero frets, and when they’re set up well, I’ve found them to be effective. So, using guidelines on Zero Glide’s website, I measured the nut width and string spacing on a Seagull S6 dreadnought-style guitar that we often use as a test bed here at AG, and ordered a pre-cut nut. (Note: While I went the DIY route—which involved trimming and filing the zero fret and shaping and fitting the new, pre-slotted bone nut—I’d recommend having a professional handle your conversion, for a clean look.)
Once installed, the pre-cut slots were perfectly spaced, and I immediately noticed much less of a difference between the sound of open and fretted strings. Notes on both open-position chords and runs that mixed fretted notes with open notes sounded more balanced and in-tune than with the stock nut. It’s also worth mentioning that I didn’t notice any intonation issues after installation. Notes were in-tune up and down the fingerboard, and fretting notes in the first and second position was noticeably easier.
If you’re the kind of player who spends a lot of time playing runs and chords at the end of the neck, you might appreciate the subtle but noticeable effect the Zero Glide adds to your guitar. And if you don’t care for it, changing back to a standard nut is easy.
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.