The subtle radius of the fretboard largely determines how your guitar feels and plays. Which one suits you best?
What is fretboard radius?
At first glance a fretboard or fingerboard, may seem completely flat, but if you look closely, you can see that there is usually a slight curve in it. A cross-section of the neck, as seen in the picture above, shows this more clearly.
The main reason for this slight curve or: radius is playability: it makes playing bar chords a lot easier, because you don't have to push so hard.
Which fretboard radius suits me?
Which radius suits you best, may differ. A lot depends on your playing style and some people switch easily between them, depending on what they need from a guitar. A general guideline is: the more of a curve the fretboard has, the more suitable it is for chords. Flattening the fretboard makes it more suitable for solo work.
The way this curve is determined is called the radius and at first it may seem somewhat illogical because it is derived from the length of the diameter of the circle that is used, usually in inches. The lower the number, the smaller the circle and the bigger the curve, as you can see in the drawing below.
Many electric guitars have a fretboard radius of 9.5 inches, which is a good 'mid size' that appeals to a lot of players and is now pretty much the standard with Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters. But we also see a lot of guitarists who prefer the more vintage feel of a somewhat thicker neck, combined with a fretboard radius of 7.25 inches. A lot of Fender Custom Shop guitars are ordered with these specs and Kauffmann guitars also have a 7.25 inch radius. Just because it feels so good.
On the other side of the spectrum, Gibson opts for a radius of 12 inches for a Les Paul. That may be a bit more demanding when you play chords, but you get 'space' in return for solo work. And there is much more to choose from, because PRS, for example, has a radius of 10 inches on some models, and sits very nicely between Fender and Gibson. Are you a shredder? Ibanez has guitars with a radius of 17 inches and above, designed to make your fingers fly!
Acoustic guitars generally have a flatter fretboard, Martin and many other brands often have a 16 inch radius. Gibson also offers a J45 with a 12 inch radius. Do you play a lot of electric guitar and want to switch to an acoustic? Then a more rounded fretboard (i.e. with a lower number) can make you feel right at home on your new acoustic guitar.
Do you want to learn solo-lines on an acoustic guitar, but find yourself struggling with your current model? Then a different radius can help. The fretboard of classic guitars for example, is almost flat, while crossover models offer you something between a completely flat and slightly rounded fretboard. Some guitarists love that.
What is compound radius?
With a compound radius, the radius of the fretboard changes as you get higher on the neck. At the first position the fretboard is more curved, making it suitable for chords and the closer you get to the body, the flatter the fretboard becomes for faster and easier solo-ing, giving you something like a '10-14 inch' radius.
This set up offers the best of both worlds and makes these guitars great all rounders. Brands like Haar Guitars often have a compound radius. Collings gives some of their acoustic guitars a compound radius for the ultimate playing comfort.
Want to know more?
Which radius suits you best is just a matter of playing, trying and feeling. After the lockdown you can do so in in our store, but until then, you can also order guitars and try them at home through our Fellowshippers.
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