Why Do Guitars Have Fret Markers? It’s Kind of Complicated

Jon Clemence
4 min readMay 18, 2022

If you are more than an absolute beginner at the guitar, then you are probably aware of, and maybe even know a little about, those little dots on the neck of your instrument:

A picture of a guitar neck.

These dots are called fret markers, and they are there for a very good reason.

Fret markers are a form of inlay, and they serve as a visual guide so that the guitar player can quickly locate where he or she is on the neck at any time.

Or, to put it simply, they tell you which note you’re playing.

These markers have been added to virtually every guitar neck (with the exception of classical guitars) since at least the 1950s. The first Fenders had them, as did the Gibsons of the time.

But what is the history of these dots? Who invented them? And why are they in the positions they are?

The history of fret markers

As for the history of fret markers, it’s often said that they started with the electric guitar revolution in the 1950s. In fact, if you were to ask the big brands (Fender and Gibson) they would probably tell you the same.

While it may be true that fret markers became standard during this time, they weren’t invented by Leo Fender or Ted McCarty. We know that to be true because there are extant examples of much older guitars with fret markers. The oldest known guitar with dots was built around 1805, in fact. (Here’s a similar one from 1850).

Prior to this, guitars and other stringed instruments still featured inlay work on the fretboard, but it was strictly decoration and had no functional value.

So we can say that fret markers were in use as early as 1805 and became commonplace at least by the 1950s, but as to exactly who created them or when they were first used, well, that fact has been lost to history.

But there is another question to consider: Why are they located on certain frets and not others?

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Jon Clemence

Medium needs more guitar-related content. I. Am. That. Hero!