What’s up with the crooked frets? Yes the slanted frets on my guitars are awesome conversation starters. But that’s not what it’s all about.
According to Wikipedia, Ralph Novak, guitar builder and designer, patented the Fanned Fret at the end of the 80’s. While the patent has expired, he still holds the trademark of the term “Fanned-Fret”. Fanned Frets create a different shape to the guitar. The slanted frets lengthen the bass strings and shorten the treble strings. This is further achieved by positioning the bridge at an angle opposite to the nut.*
Fanned Fret guitars are multi-scale instruments designed with a real purpose.
To understand the concept, we need only look at non-fretted stringed instruments. Consider the piano and the harp dulcimer and you immediately notice the bass strings are always longer than the treble strings. The reason for this is to create proper tension with a longer, thicker string to produce full low notes. Conversely the treble strings need to be shorter so they can be tightened to produce the higher pitch. There is a beautiful resonance you get from a longer bass string. When you tune down to D or C or even further, a longer bass string makes all the difference in the quality of the bass notes. The treble string remains normal length or slightly shorter depending on what you need and can offer a great feel that allows for easy playing high notes, bending strings, etc. The combined string lengths or scales, can provide the perfect amount of bass, sweet trebles and playability that you want for your personal style.
Another benefit is slightly improved intonation. You can understand this if you look at a True Temper Fretted guitar like the Bamburg JSB currently on our website, a Micro-Fret guitar, or a Sitar. You will see that accurate placement for every note on every string would require many tiny frets. The Fanned Fret and its longer length bass strings help intonation across the entire fingerboard.
One other powerful benefit is simply the tension of each string in relation to one another. On a standard guitar as you play from the bass strings down to the treble strings, the treble strings are often more tense and noticeably tighter feeling. Fanned Fret guitars help even out the tactile feel and to me are smoother feeling when playing across the strings.
“There is also something about the splay of the fret that feels extremely comfortable, it seems to suit my hand beautifully, more naturally than straight frets.” Paul Heumiller
One other note I’d like to make is that there is very little difference in the overall feel of playing a fanned Fret guitar. I have handed them to many players in our shop without them knowing I was handing them a fanned Fret guitar and often they don’t even notice until they take a hard look at the fingerboard. On a technical note, you can choose where to place the one perpendicular fret and that decision will effect the feel at the first position and elsewhere. Common choices are the 7th, 9th or 12th frets. After owning several fanned fret guitars I’ve settled on the 7th fret for my playing. It keeps the first position very easy to play. “We once had a Jeff Traugott guitar where all the frets were slanted backward toward the headstock 10 degrees. This one purely ergonomic and can be comfortable to some players as well. Though you don’t get the multi-scale benefits.” – Paul Heumiller
Now let’s look at some common Fanned Fret scale combinations and the uses for each. Let me start by saying there are no hard and fast rules. I encourage experimentation and fearlessness in this regard. The least amount of fan that we typically see is a half an inch combining the two common Martin scales 24.9 inches on the treble to 25.4 inches on the bass. This is a great design for someone playing in standard and drop D and even DADGAD but not really going to lower tunings. You’ll feel very little difference at all but you will get improved intonation and clarity and the short trebles are a joy to bend. Other scales we often use for DADGAD players is 25 inch treble scale and 26 inch bass scale, Paul’s Somogyi employed this combination. This works great for DADGAD and even some C tunings. The one inch fan is still very manageable and very versatile. Both of these scales above can be used with standard gauge strings – light gauge works fine as well.
For my personal McConnell guitar we elected to use 25.5 inches on the treble side and 26.25 on the bass side. Jordan McConnell and I decided on this scale combination as I primarily play this guitar in low tunings C9, Gsus4, and DADGAD down a whole step to C. Paul says “I left the trebles long because we wanted them to bite. But I can also put it in standard pitch and it works great. I use 12.5 to 55 gauge strings – just personal preference here.” On the longer side of Fanned Fret would be 25.6 on this treble side to 27 inches or so on the bass side. This big of a spread you’ll feel a bit more but it can go very low – all the way down to A or B, crossing into baritone territory. “I once owned a Traugott with this spread and it was killer!. Bill Tippin is currently building me a short Fanned Fret guitar, this one will be 24.75 – 25.5, I plan to play it mostly in Drop D and Standard and wanted really bendy trebles!” – Paul Heumiller
There’s really no limit to what you can do with the Fanned Fret to accommodate your music and your style of play. At Dream Guitars we are Champions of the Fanned Fret concept and almost always have one or two in stock. We work with many builders who offer Fanned Fret options and owner Paul Heumiller is currently working on a new Fanned Fret Baritone design with Ken Jones that will be available in Spring of 2014.
Give us a call to discuss your needs and see if a Fanned Fret guitar is right for you. We would love to help you design your perfect Fanned Fret guitar.
“We all know that 12 fret guitars tend to have a different tonal profile than 14 fret guitars. Often they are often a little more complex and seem to just breath a little easier in the low end. This is largely due to the bridge position being shift down to a more central position in the lower bout. With a fanned fret guitar, the bass end of the bridge is in a ’12 fret’ position and the treble end is is in a ’14 fret’ position. This makes it easier for the bass strings to move the top and produce a nice full bass response. Meanwhile, at the other end of the bridge, the treble strings are still in a 14 fret position. The top is ‘tighter’ there and better able to produce good strong trebles. So… it seems to me that a fanned fret guitar, by virtue of the angled bridge, gives us the tonal best of both the 12 fret and 14 fret design.” – Mark Blanchard – Blanchard Guitars