Fanned frets are becoming more and more popular these days, but at first glance, many people do not know what to make of them. Why do it? And why does it look so funky? This post will shed some light on that issue.
Fanned frets? What’s that?
The reason that the frets on fanned fret guitars look curved or “fanned” is because the bass and treble sides of the guitar neck have different scale lengths. Generally the bass side is longer, and the treble shorter. If you are unfamiliar with the term “scale length”, it’s basically the distance from the nut to the bridge (for the purists, it’s technically twice the distance from the nut to the twelfth fret). The scale length determines how spread apart or close together the frets are.
Most Fender guitars have a 25.5” scale length, which provides a tight, snappy sound. Gibsons generally have a 24.625” scale length, which makes for a warmer, mellower sound in comparison. In order to make a Fender/Gibson hybrid fanned fret guitar we start with the Gibson scale length for the treble side and “stretch” the bass side to a Fender scale length. Viola! A fan is born. This gives us the tight Fender sound of the bass strings with the warm Gibson sound of the treble strings. This post will give more insight into the benefits of creating such a monster.
1. Fanned frets are more comfortable
Have you ever noticed that it can be awkward and even painful playing bar chords on the lower frets because of how you have to sharply bend you wrist? How about trying to play on the highest frets and having to lean your shoulders down in order to access them? When we have parallel frets, we have to accommodate our bodies to them. But what if, instead, we accommodated the frets to our bodies?
This is essentially what fanned frets are. Try this. Pretend you’re holding an air guitar in front of you. Without bending your wrist, move your fretting hand slowly back and forth like you were sliding all the way up and down the guitar neck. See how your hand naturally makes the “fan” shape? Depending on whether you hold your guitar low and horizontal or high and angled like in a more classical position, the “fanning” of frets can be customized to match your hand’s natural fan. For this reason, fanned fret guitars can be much more comfortable for you to play than parallel fretted guitars.
2. Longer bass strings for more even tone
Guitars with parallel frets are a huge compromise between scale length and string tension. Have you ever wondered why bass guitars are longer than guitars? That’s because bigger strings must be stretched further to be heard clearly. Can you imagine putting bass strings on a normal guitar such as a Stratocaster? Tuned to pitch and you wouldn’t be able to bend them; tuned down, they would sound extremely “floppy”.
Unfortunately, a guitar with parallel frets is a less dramatic version of this phenomenon. Does one of your strings sound better than the rest on your guitar? That’s because that particular string is best matched with the scale length of your guitar compared to the other strings. As strings get thinner, they sound progressively snappier and even brittle or shrill. As the strings get thicker, they sound progressively “flubbier”. This is the reason why so many seven and eight string guitars sound “floppy” on the low strings; the scale length isn’t long enough for the thicker strings to be heard clearly.
With fanned frets, the scale length is progressively increased as the strings get thicker, and progressively decreased as the strings get thinner. By adjusting the amount of fan, you can effectively make EVERY string the best sounding string on your guitar, which makes for an overall better sounding instrument.
3. Even tension across all strings
We mentioned already that a guitar with parallel frets has a single scale length. The effect this has on the sound of the strings as they get thicker or thinner is directly related to the tension (tightness) of the strings. For a given scale length, thinner strings are stretched tighter, and the thicker strings become progressively looser. The vast majority of guitar players are used to this phenomenon, so they may not have ever really thought about it; but unevenness in the tension of the strings can cause unevenness in your playing.
Look on the back of a pack of strings. Some brands, such as D’addario, give the string tension in pounds and kilograms for each string. Notice how much difference there is from string to string? Due to the different tensions, when bending or even simply fretting notes, you have to apply different pressure when playing each different string; and surely no one consciously compensates for the tension of each individual string as they play. Wouldn’t it be much less hassle if all of the strings had the same tension and you could play with the same pressure across the entire guitar neck? Fanned frets can help you achieve that even feel.
Maybe now that you know a little more about fanned frets and their benefits, you’ll be more inclined to try them.
Originially published by Jonathan Boyd in Tuned Up Tuned In.