Fanned Fret Guitars

Fanned Fret Guitars Explained (read this before buying)

In this article we’re going to be looking at fanned fret guitars or multi-scaled guitars as they’re often called. If you’ve heard about multi-scaled guitars but don’t know what the deal is with them, or you just want to find out more about them. Come with us as we explore the world of the fanned fret guitars.

Guitar Scale Length

Before we get into fanned fret guitars or as they’re also known, multi-scale guitars, we need to understand just what a scale length is. The scale length is the length of the strings from the nut to the twelfth fret doubled. Originally when there were only a couple of guitar manufacturers scale lengths made little difference, with Gibson Les Paul guitars having a scale length of 24 ¾ inches and Fender Stratocasters having a scale length of 25 ½ inches.

As more and more manufacturers started producing guitars they all had various scale lengths which is why guitar string manufacturers make strings so long, it’s to accommodate as many guitar brands as possible. To find out more about scale length follow this link

Multi-Scale Guitars

How multi-scale guitars work is the scale length alters depending on the string. Which means you no longer have to keep increasing the string gauge to keep the string tension tight enough to play. The bridge is set at an angle to allow the length of low bass strings to be longer than the high treble strings. That means all of the strings are set at the same tension as a regular guitar with a standard scale length.

Fanned fret guitars work by giving each individual string the perfect length to suit the pitch of that string. Lower pitched notes work better with longer strings. So the angled bridge is farther away from the nut on the bass strings and closer to the nut on the high strings. This is how 7 and 8 stringed guitars can be played without losing string tension.

Fanned fret guitars could almost be described as a cross between a standard guitar and a baritone guitar. Deep bass notes with no noticeable extra string tension, and standard high treble notes without any tension difference. The result is a sweeter sounding rich treble from the high strings and a piano-like bass on the low strings.

Do Fanned Frets Make Any Difference?

Compared to regular fretted guitars, fanned frets do make a difference. Fanned frets make a difference in;

  • Tone
  • Playability
  • String Tension

String Tension

The first thing you’ll notice with a fanned fret guitar is the string tension, it’s the lower strings where it’s most noticeable. That’s because the lower strings are further from the nut so their tension is increased whereas the high strings are positioned where they always are on a standard guitar so no difference in tension. 

Tone

Due to the lower tuning of the lower strings, on a regular guitar they can sound dull and flat. But on a fanned fret guitar those same low tuned strings sound sharper, more punchy. Far tighter sounding especially when playing riffs on the lower strings.

Playability

In all honesty, a fanned fret guitar feels very much like a standard guitar after you’ve been playing one for only a short while. The fanning of the frets is dictated by just how extreme the scale length difference is, and the more extreme the scale length is the more noticeable the difference will be. 

Many guitarists say they prefer playing a fanned fret guitar, and that once they’ve gotten used to it, they find the fanned fret easier to play than a standard guitar. Barre chords for example, feel far more comfortable to play right across the fretboard.

Neutral Point

On a fanned fret guitar the neutral point is the point where the frets become straight again, like on a standard guitar. Some fanned fret guitars have the neutral point on the 7th, 9th or even the 12th fret. Depending on where the neutral point is set, will have a large influence on how the guitar feels to play.

Alternate Tunings

Once the guitar is tuned to a standard tuning, with every string set at the same scale length, some strings will be easy to bend while others will be too tight or too loose. This isn’t too much of a problem as we only usually bend higher, lighter strings. The problems start when we get into alternate tunings.

Playing in a lower tuning something like drop B for instance (with the strings tuned to B, G, Ab, B, E, Ab, Db) which is 2 ½ times lower than standard tuning on the 6th string and 1 ½ times lower on all other strings. This means the bass strings can be too spongy, almost impossible to play because of how loose they are. This is where fanned fret or multi-scale guitars come in.

Playing drop B tuning on a standard guitar would mean changing to a heavier gauge string set to accommodate for the loss of tension. But with a fanned fret guitar there’s no need to alter the string gauge, as the tension is maintained via the scale length differential. This makes the guitar easier to play and keeps it right tonality wise as well.

How Hard Is It To Play A Fanned Fret Guitar?

Fanned fret guitars might look awkward, but they are in fact, no more difficult than a standard guitar to play. There are plenty of guitarists that prefer fanned fret guitars because the angle of the frets fits the natural angle of their fingers across the fretboard. Low riffs are tighter, with a punchier feel due to the correct string tension.

Palm Muting

Depending on the neutral point, which changes the angle of the bridge, palm muting can be easier, or more difficult. 

Chord Playing

When it comes to playing chords on a fanned fret guitar, barre chords are far easier than on a standard guitar. Open chords can be problematic depending on where the neutral point is. But with barre chords it seems like your first finger always lines up with the fret.

Vibrato & Bends

Due to the shorter scale length on the high strings, vibrato and bends feel easier, more comfortable on a fanned fret guitar compared to a standard guitar. Depending on the scale length, the lower strings feel tighter but the higher strings feel comfortable. Playing bends on a standard 8-string guitar can be difficult due to the increased scale length and tightness of the strings. Playing the same bend on a fanned fret 8-string is so much easier due to the shorter scale length and lower string gauge.

What Are The Pros & Cons Of Fanned Fret Guitars?

As with all innovations there are advantages and disadvantages, let’s look at the pros & cons of the fanned fret guitar. 

What Are The Pros Of Fanned Fret Guitars?

The pros to playing a fanned fret guitar include;

  • Comfortable to play (all across the fretboard)
  • Better playability than standard guitars (at alternate tunings)
  • Far better for 7, 8 , 9-string guitars (string tension)
  • Better overall string tension (high strings bend easier)
  • Better intonation on lower strings
  • More space on the lower strings for rhythm playing

What Are The Cons Of Fanned Fret Guitars?

The cons of the fanned fret guitar include;

  • Less options for bridge types and pick-ups
  • No uniformity (each fanned fret guitar is different due to varying neutral points)
  • No benefits over standard 6-string if playing in standard tuning
  • Large fans can be uncomfortable
  • Not good for players that prefer short scale guitars

Are Fanned Fret Guitars Worth It?

Fanned fret guitars are worth it if you want to play in alternate tunings and/or prefer playing with extra strings. 7 and 8-string guitars play and sound far better than regular guitars with those extra strings. 

If you prefer to play a standard 6-string guitar in standard tuning, there is little to no benefit in getting a fanned fret guitar. The tension across the 6 strings is fairly standard on a regular 6 string guitar. The differences only become apparent when playing 7,8 or 9-string guitars, then a fanned fret is far superior.

The more strings you have and the farther away from standard tunings you like to play in, the more useful a fanned fret guitar will be. Under those circumstances, a fanned fret guitar is definitely worth it.

Fanned Fret Bass Guitars

As with 6-string guitars, so with bass guitars, fanned fret basses are available and the same provisos apply. If You play a standard 4-string bass, there’s not really much point investing in a fanned fret bass. However, if you play a 5 or more string bass, a fanned fret will make sense. You’ll need to get used to the neutral point, but the increased playability will be evident from the get go.

Fanned Fret Acoustic Guitars

Believe it or not, there are fanned fret acoustic guitars available for sale. They have a very limited appeal though, because there aren’t too many acoustic players playing in drop C and so on. The negatives far outweigh any positives when it comes to fanned fret acoustics.

The History Of Fanned Fret Instruments

The piano has a multi-scale setup as does the harp but the first recognisable plucked instrument to make an appearance was in the 16th century. Fanned fret instruments that could be plucked,  first made an appearance in the 16th century on an instrument called an Orapharion, which was a type of Cittern. There was also the Bandora which employed a longer string length for the bass strings compared to the treble strings. The first patent for a fanned fret fingerboard was filed in 1900 by E. A. Edgren.

Then in 1977 John Starrett invented the StarrBoard which applied similar ideas but was nothing like a guitar. But it was Ralph Novak that first introduced this arrangement to a modern electric guitar in 1988. Now his original patent has expired, there are a number of companies producing fanned fret or multi-scale guitars.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it hard to play fanned frets?

It is not hard to play fanned frets in many ways; it’s easier than trying to play a 7,8 or 9-string guitar with a standard fret system.

What is the advantage of fanned frets?

The advantages of fanned frets is in string tension, especially in the lower strings. As they have an increased scale length, the lower strings are tighter without being too tight and definitely not too loose as is often the case on standard fretted guitars. Plus there is no need to alter the gauge of the strings to accommodate for the strings slackness.

What is a zero fret?

A zero fret is an extra fret situated directly below the nut on some fanned fret guitars. Instead of the strings resting on the nut, they rest on the zero fret; this is to improve intonation and keep the action as low as possible.

Why do some bass guitars have slanted frets?

If you see a bass guitar with slanted frets, it’s a fanned fret bass guitar. This is done to level the string tension across the guitar. 

Are multiscale guitars worth it?

Multi-scale guitars are worth it if you want to play 7,8 or 9-string guitars to keep the string tension comfortable without altering the string gauge.

Is it hard to play a multiscale guitar?

It is not hard to play a multi-scale guitar. The position of the frets seems to fit in perfectly with your fingers (especially when fretting barre chords).

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