Fanned fret guitars

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Ralph Novak's fanned fret guitar

Fanned fret guitars are guitars characterized by a multi-scale fingerboard and "off set" frets, that is, frets that extend from the neck of the guitar at an angle. This is in contrast to the standard perpendicular arrangement of other guitars. Proponents of this style of guitar claim benefits including comfort, better ergonomics, better intonation, and better control of the tension of the strings across the fretboard.[1]

Ralph Novak[edit]

Ralph Novak is a guitar designer, builder and repairer who brought back an old technique in the design of the fanned fret guitar (used on stringed instruments since the origins of guitar itself). His merchandise tag was to provide an "ideal" electric guitar for blues musicians.[2][3] As a musician, he wanted an instrument that provided better tonality and prevented his fingers sliding from the end of the fret when bending the high E string.

"“The fanned-fret idea actually started out from a very simple and very selfish notion”, says Novak, “As a blues guitar player, I liked to do a lot of note-bending, and at the same time I liked to have a crisp, crunchy sound on the low strings. My initial idea was to create a guitar that had a Les Paul-type of sustain and sweetness of the trebles and had the kind of crunch and definition of a Tele or Strat on the basses. From doing repairs for a number of years, I knew it wasn’t the construction, the stiffness of the neck, or the types of wood causing these tonal things. And it wasn’t the pickups.”[3] Novak copied an old method of fret positioning, which provides to each string its natural scale length, to achieve a better intonation on the whole strings set.

Design and construction[edit]

Traditionally, guitars feature nineteen to twenty-two frets arranged perpendicular to the guitar’s neck. The Novak fanned fret guitar has straight frets which are aligned in a non-parallel pattern. The fanned fret guitar has an increased scale length on its bass strings when measured between the nut and the bridge. The aim of this design is to even the tone and the tension of all six strings.[4] The Novak fan frett guitar is made of walnut and lacewood (body) and, birch, maple, Padauk or walnut laminate. Novak recommends pick ups that can master a wide frequency (with wood and string tones) and as much Hi-Fi as possibility. One such pick up is the Bartolini.[3]

Novak patent[edit]

In 1989, Novak patented a new type of fret arrangement which he called the “fanned fret”.[1][5] The patent has expired but Novak holds a trademark over the term fanned-fret.[6] The fanned fret creates a different shape to the guitar and may allow a different performance. The slanted frets lengthen the low strings and shorten the high pitched strings. This is achieved by placing the bridge at an angle to the nut such that the distance between the nut and bridge on the side of the fretboard for the low E string is longer than it is on the side of the high E string. There is uniform string tension across the neck of the guitar, easier adaptability to altered tuning, such as DADGAD, dropped C and dropped D, enhanced definition of harmonics, and the elimination of non-harmonic overtones and unwanted noise.[3] The B string, in particular, sounds lighter and more distinct than it would on non-fanned models. On a traditional guitar, the G string sometimes feels like it has a higher tension than the other strings; on fanned fret guitars the G string retains normal tension and has a somewhat warmer tone.[3]


Musicians who have used the fanned fret guitar include:

  • Charlie Hunter, who has collaborated with Ralph Novak on guitar design.
  • Mike Doherty, Max Roset and Brad Jackson, (fingerstyle musicians).[3]
  • Andy McKee, Everybody wants to rule the world, Africa, and Hunter's Moon.[7][8][9]
  • John Mayer, Neon.
  • Don Ross, Tight Trite Night.
  • Leland Sklar.
  • Calhum Graham, It is what it is
  • Adam "Nolly" Getgood of Periphery
  • Don Alder [10]


Fanned fret guitars are customized instruments, made to the specifications of the guitarist. For this reason, most mainstream guitar manufacturers such as Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, and Paul Reed Smith (PRS) do not offer a line of fanned fret guitars.[11][12][13][14] Manufacturers of the fanned fret guitar include:

  • Avian Guitars,[15]
  • Greenfield guitars,
  • Dingwall designer guitars,
  • Tom Bills custom guitars,[16]
  • Jeff Traugott guitars,[17]
  • Doolin guitars.[18]
  • Riversong guitars, graduated scale models.
  • Strandberg guitarworks[19]
  • Mayones Guitars/Basses
  • Eastman guitars.[20]
  • Lowden Guitars.[21]

Negative neck angle[edit]

Greenfield guitars has developed the 'negative neck angle' guitar. It combines elements of the concert classical guitar and the viola and mandolin (elevated fretboard). The bridge is torqued from front to back (in the direction of the lay of the strings) and from side to side. [3]


  1. ^ a b "Novax guitars." Novax guitars website. Accessed 17 October 2012.
  2. ^ "Ralph Novak." Vintage Guitars website. Accessed 17 October 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g [1] Greenfield guitars website. Accessed 11 December 2012.
  4. ^ "Why fanned-frets?" Dingwall Guitars website. 25 August 2008. Accessed 16 June 2013.
  5. ^ "Patent US4852450A Fingerboard for a stringed instrument." Accessed 29 August 2013.
  6. ^ "Fanned Fret." Trademarkia website.
  7. ^ "Everybody wants to rule the world." Accessed 16 June 2013.
  8. ^ "Africa." 24 November 2009. Accessed 16 June 2013.
  9. ^ "Hunter's moon." Accessed 16 June 2013.
  10. ^ [2] news 01/2015
  11. ^ "Paul reed smith product page." Accessed 18 October 2012.
  12. ^ "Gibson product page." Accessed 18 October 2012.
  13. ^ "Fender products page." Accessed 18 October 2012.
  14. ^ "Ibanez product page." Accessed 18 October 2012.
  15. ^ "Avian Guitars Canada: Songbird Acoustic with fan fret option". Retrieved 2014-12-14. 
  16. ^ "Handmade Guitars : Archtop, Classical, and Acoustic Guitars by Master Luthier Tom Bills". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  17. ^ "Jeff Traugott Guitars". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  18. ^ "Handmade Double-Cutaway Acoustic Guitars". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  19. ^ "Headless, multi-scale and extended range guitars for your unique requirements". Retrieved 2014-01-09. 
  20. ^ "Eastman Guitars: Fanned Fret". Retrieved 2014-10-30. 
  21. ^ "Lowden Guitars". Retrieved 2014-11-28.