What Is Fret Sprout & What Can You Do To Fix It?

Playing the guitar and bass is an exciting experience that can be hindered by various issues that can pop up unexpectedly. One such problem that guitarists and bassists can sometimes encounter is fret sprout, which can make it uncomfortable to play.

In this guide, we will discuss what fret sprout is, its causes, and, most importantly, how to fix it if you find that you have fret sprout!

Understanding Fret Sprout

Many players with fret sprout don’t always notice it at first and aren’t familiar with what causes it. This section will cover what fret sprout entails and how you can determine if you have it on your instrument.

What Is Fret Sprout?

Fret sprout is a term used to describe the condition where the ends of the frets protrude from the sides of the fretboard on a guitar or bass.

This common problem occurs when the fingerboard shrinks while the metal fret wire remains the same length, resulting in exposed and sharp fret ends.

This protrusion can be felt when running your fingers along the neck of the instrument, causing a hindrance in playing smoothly. It’s possible you’ve felt them already, but if you’re unsure, the next section will show you how you can spot fret sprout.

Detecting Fret Sprout

Finding sprouting frets is relatively easy, even for beginners. It can be seen with the naked eye because the frets won’t be level with the wood, and by carefully running your thumb and fingers along the neck of the guitar. 

With this method, you can feel any protruding sharp frets. But be gentle, so you don’t accidentally get cut by the metal! 

It is essential to distinguish between normal fret ends and actual protrusions that extend beyond the fretboard. If you feel the latter, your guitar may indeed have fret sprout. Here’s what it typically looks like:

Notice how the metal is sticking out of the side? This is fret sprout!

The Causes Of Fret Sprout

Fret sprout is typically only caused by a few different things; below, you will learn about some of the factors that can contribute to this common issue.

Weather & Humidity

One of the primary causes of fret sprout on the guitar is warm and dry weather because when the air lacks moisture, the guitar’s fretboard can shrink, causing the frets to stick out. 

Similarly, low humidity levels in the environment, even in a non-dry place, can lead to the shrinkage of the fingerboard and the development of fret sprout.

Transport Conditions

During transportation, guitars are sometimes exposed to containers with low humidity levels. This can cause the wooden fretboard to shrink, resulting in fret sprout. Leaving your instrument in a hot car can also do this.

Proper care should be taken to ensure guitars are transported in environments that maintain adequate humidity levels. However, sometimes fret sprout can occur when getting a guitar shipped to you if the conditions are too hot and dry.

Fret Dressing & Craftsmanship

In some cases, fret sprout can be a result of poor fret dressing or craftsmanship. Cheap instruments from lesser-known brands may have sharp frets due to a lack of quality control during manufacturing. 

Additionally, improper filing of guitar frets during the fret dressing process can also lead to sharp and protruding edges, categorizing them as fret sprout.

Fixing Fret Sprout

While fret sprout can be prevented by taking precautions with your instrument, it can usually be addressed without having to do an expensive refret job. If you have fret sprout, here’s how you can fix it.

Restoring Moisture to the Wood

A common way to address fret sprout caused by low humidity is to restore moisture to the instrument. 

Naturally, this can be achieved by using a room humidifier if the guitar is kept outside of a case or on a guitar stand. Alternatively, using a case humidifier when storing the guitar can also help maintain proper moisture levels. 

Proper humidification will prevent the fretboard from shrinking again and alleviate fret sprout, and you’ll learn more about this later.

Filing & Smoothing Fret Ends

If your guitar has sharp fret ends, filing them down is a viable solution. However, this method should be cautiously approached to avoid damaging the finish. 

If you’ve never done this before, to safely file the fret ends, cover the areas around the frets with a low-tack painter’s tape to protect the fretboard. 

Use a fret end dressing file to gently file down the sharp edges, taking care to maintain an even and smooth surface. Finally, polish and clean the frets to ensure a comfortable playing experience.

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Seeking Professional Guidance

In some cases, particularly with severe fret sprout or lack of experience in fretwork, getting professional assistance from a guitar technician or luthier is recommended as they have the expertise and specialized tools to address fret sprout effectively and ensure optimal playability of your instrument.

On average, repairing fret sprout and getting your frets leveled out will run you about $100 to $150. But, of course, the rate varies per technician – be sure to get quotes from different ones in your area!

How To Prevent Fret Sprout

In most cases, except for getting guitar with it right out of the box, fret sprout is a preventable problem. However, people often get it because they are unfamiliar with it and its causes. However, even if you have fret sprout and get it fixed, you can still take precautions to stop it from happening again!

Maintain Proper Humidity Levels

In order to prevent fret sprout, it is crucial to maintain proper humidity levels for your guitar. Store your instrument in an area with adequate humidity or use a humidifier to regulate the moisture in the environment. This will help prevent the wood from shrinking and minimize the occurrence of fret sprouting, and it’s good for the overall health of your instrument.

In addition to a humidifier, you’ll also want a hygrometer; sometimes, these come included with humidifiers, but not always. Hygrometers will help you monitor the humidity and temperature levels where you store your instrument, whether in a room on a stand or in your guitar case. A humidity reading of anywhere from 40 to 55 percent is ideal for guitars and basses.

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Regular Maintenance & Inspection

Performing regular maintenance on your guitar, such as cleaning and conditioning the fretboard and frets, can help prevent fret sprout because it helps you become aware of the condition of your entire fingerboard.

Periodically inspecting the frets while you clean them and addressing any sharp edges as soon as possible can prevent the issue from escalating and keep your fretboard in good shape.

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Pursue Good Craftsmanship

Investing in a guitar from reputable brands known for their quality work can significantly reduce the likelihood of experiencing fret sprout. 

These guitars often undergo rigorous quality control measures, ensuring the frets are well-dressed and free from sharp edges. As mentioned earlier, guitars, especially cheaper ones, can sometimes arrive with fret sprout, but this is less likely with ones of higher quality.

Conclusion

Like worn-out frets, fret sprout can be a big inconvenience for guitar players, but it is a problem that can be resolved, especially on fretboards without binding. 

By understanding what causes fret sprout and how to fix them, you can maintain the comfort of your instrument. Remember to maintain proper humidity levels, promptly address sharp fret ends, and consult with a professional for assistance if needed.

With these measures, you can enjoy playing your guitar again without the hindrance of fret sprout!