Fan fret guitars

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
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Fan fret guitars

Post by Banjoworm » Thu Aug 10, 2017 1:55 am

I have been playing guitar since childhood (more years than I want to admit) and classical since the early 70s. Like a lot of players, I find that achieving a good tuning is difficult, transient, and always a compromise. IOW, it's a pain! There have been multiple attempts at a neck/fret design for better intonation. The latest, I believe, is the fan fret design (see Tom Bills' guitars for example). I love to hear from anyone that either plays or just has some experience with this design relating their ability to achieve better and more consistent intonation. If they are significantly superior, I'm interested.

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Re: Fan fret guitars

Post by MartenFalk » Thu Aug 10, 2017 3:24 pm

I might just add that fan fret guitars is a very, very ancient idea. I have one guitar, dated 1900 with fanned frets (see photo).
But already in the 16th century for example the Orpharion had fanned frets...
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Re: Fan fret guitars

Post by powderedtoastman » Thu Aug 10, 2017 8:48 pm

It looks to me like fanned frets have recently become pretty popular in electric guitars, particularly baritone and extended range guitars (8-strings or more). The draw there is that the standard scale length (usually 25.5 inches) would leave the lower strings too floppy, but a blanket change to a longer scale length like 27 or 30 inches means higher tension and it could be harder to play the higher strings, so the composite scale you get with fanned frets really improves that situation. It's also said that adjusting to the fanned frets is not too much of a problem for most players.

I couldn't say whether it improves intonation that much... I've seen guitars with really funky fret shapes (True Temperament or something?) and things like that, but I always figured that would be too much of a hassle if you ever needed rework on it, and the initial cost is really expensive.

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Re: Fan fret guitars

Post by Laudiesdad69 » Thu Aug 10, 2017 9:20 pm

My favorite local music store has several luthier built, fan fret electric guitars. And yes they are expensive. I absolutely hated it, you really have to look at your left hand, as it doesn't feel the same as standard guitars. You can't just close your eyes and play. Bending licks also sucks on these guitars. Of course for a CG this wouldn't be a problem.

Alan Carruth
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Re: Fan fret guitars

Post by Alan Carruth » Fri Aug 11, 2017 12:39 am

'Fanned fret' is a copyrighted term, I believe. Ralph Novax 'invented' multi-scale fretting some time ago, and actually got patent on it. Then it was pointed out that the concept goes back to Orpharions in the 17th century or maybe even earlier. The patent was thus invalid, but I think he still holds the copyright to the term. Hence it's often referred to as 'multi-scale'.

There are a number of reasons cited for using it, but better intonation is generally low on the list. It's difficult to get decent intonation on a too-short string, of course, but normal guitar sets for six-string instruments are correctly sized to minimize that. If you extend the scale down with extra strings, and/or use a particularly short scale, you might run into problems. I've made multi-scale guitars with steel strings, which have more intonation issues than nylon. I don't think it makes a dramatic difference in intonation or even tone for the most part.

Keep in mind that it's easier to get all the frets in just the right places when they're parallel; fanning them out introduces some uncertainty, unless you're cutting them with a computer controlled milling machine or really precisely made jig. It might be hard to gain more precision in intonation than you lose.

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Re: Fan fret guitars

Post by Banjoworm » Fri Aug 11, 2017 12:42 am

Thank you all for the valuable information. You have saved me from what would likely be wasted effort.

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Mike Atkinson
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Re: Fan fret guitars

Post by Mike Atkinson » Fri Aug 11, 2017 1:23 am

The local shop recently had (an apparently sold) a Cordoba varied scale, fanned fret instrument.
Low E was at 650 scale.
High E was a 630 scale.
Looked very interesting. I was hoping to make a visit to try it out. But I noticed it is not on their web site any longer.
2016 Cordoba Esteso Cedar
Cordoba C5

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