Guitarists are picky bunch when it comes to the ideal specs on their instrument, but the debate around the number of frets on a guitar’s fretboard is very much justified. Whether your guitar has 21, 22, 24 frets or even more, will change how comfortable you’ll find it to play, what you can play and even how it will sound. Here’s a brief overview of how just 22 and 24 fret guitars differ:
- Guitars with 22 frets have a shorter fretboard than those with 24 frets
- This means the neck pickup is fitted further away from the guitar bridge
- It gives them a ‘fatter’, more rounded tone
- The neck pickup on 24 frets guitars will generally sound more balanced and defined
- You also get a full four octaves a breathing room playing notes higher up the neck
- Vintage-inspired electric guitars are also made with 21 frets, while some modern guitars might have 27
Should you get a guitar with 22 or 24 frets?
The most obvious point between owning a guitar with either 22 or 24 frets are those two extra fret positions, which give you four complete octaves to play. It’s not often guitarists use the 23rd or 24th frets, although there’s no reason why you couldn’t or shouldn’t make the most of them. You’ll find they are mainly utilised in rock and metal, so unless you’re into those types of music, you probably won’t find yourself up there all too often – especially if you like playing along to some more popular tunes.
Just to name a few, the likes of Megadeth, Avenged Sevenfold and Children of Bodom all reach into the higher frets in their guitar solos. Some players like Wes Hauch, Rusty Cooley and Jake Bowen take things even further, notching up 27 frets on their custom shop guitars.
But the real reason many players like to hold the fort at 24 is the breathing room it gives you when fretting that high. It gets considerably more uncomfortable playing up at the 22nd fret where you run out of space. There’s also the case of fretboard familiarity: once you’re used to a certain number of frets, moving to any other setup can feel frustratingly unfamiliar.
Do 22 fret guitars sound different to 24 fret guitars?
Yes. If you were to compare two identically spec’d guitars, one with 22 frets and the other with 24, the neck pickups will sound different. That’s because the fretboard of a 22 fret guitar is shorter without the two additional frets, meaning the neck pickup can be placed further away from the bridge of the guitar. On the other hand, a 24 fret guitar has less room to accommodate the neck pickup on the body without extending scale length, forcing it in closer to the bridge pickup.
In essence, the 22 fret guitar gives you two wider tonal extremities: the bigger, bassier and livelier sound of the neck pickup and the crisper, cutting edge of the bridge pickup. The difference between neck and bridge pickup tones on a 24 fret guitar are slightly more understated, and enough for some guitarists to opt for the sonic range of 22 frets.
There are very few guitar builders who make exactly the same guitar in both 22 and 24 fret versions, so a comparison between, say, a Fender Jazzmaster and Ibanez RG to prove tonal differences are moot. However, there is one guitar manufacturer who do make extremely similar guitars in the form of PRS. We can observe the change in sound between the PRS Custom 22 and Custom 24 models to prove the effect it has on tone.