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A Multi-scale fingerboard is an instrument fretboard which incorporates multiple scale lengths. The scale length (often simply but confusingly called the scale) is the vibrating length of the strings.
Guitars, including bass guitars, generally employ a single scale length for all of the instrument's strings, though the employed scale length varies significantly between manufacturers (electric guitar scale typically falls between 24" and 25.5"). This measure is the effective length of each of the vibrating strings, not counting compensation for adjusting intonation.
A multi-scale fingerboard or fretboard is typically based on two scale lengths, but could potentially incorporate more. The most typical use is one (long) scale length for the low string and a different, usually shorter, scale for the highest string. This could be achieved by angling the nut, and bridge, and fanning the frets. Strings between the highest and lowest would also each have a unique scale length.
The concept of the Multiscale fingerboard goes back to at least 1900, when the first patent for such a fingerboard was filed by E. A. Edgren. (Patent #652-353, E. A. Edgren)
In his 1900 patent Edgren describes in his claims: “… a musical instrument the combination with a sounding body or box, of the following instrumentalities, to wit: a neck approximately in the form of a double convex in cross section…” a plurality of frets secured to said neck, said frets being positioned at an angle one to the other so that the first and last frets incline in opposite directions “... it will be noted that the bottom flange of the head C runs at an angle so that one side of the neck B will be longer than the side opposite. The frets diverge, running from the center outward, so that the lower frets extend slightly in a direction opposite to the upper frets”. This patent is no longer in force. When it was, it affected only instruments with a curved fingerboard, such as most steel-string guitars.
Possibly the first modern multiscale fretboard was used on an instrument called a StarrBoard, invented by John D. Starrett in 1977. Starrett developed a tapping instrument that employs a matrix of halftones, fretted horizontally with strings spaced vertically, to allow one fingering to cover all scales. Because of the large range of notes from low B below E on a bass, to high B four octaves above, however, he needed a way to have a long scale for the low B, but a shorter scale for the high B. He simply laid out the two scales he thought would work and connected the dots.
In 1989 Ralph Novak patented an arrangement of frets he calls “fanned frets”, denoting "a series of straight frets aligned in a non-parallel pattern", and "each of said frets extending along a straight line" and "with said plurality of strings substantially converging to a point". This patent has expired. Novak also has a copyright on the use of the term “fanned frets”. (Patent #4,852,450, Novak)
- Bandora (instrument);
- Orpharion, another early modern instrument, similar to the bandora;
- Charlie Hunter, an American jazz guitarist who has performed and recorded with a “fanned-fretted”, eight-string electric guitar built by Ralph Novak;
- Jean Baudin of the band Nuclear Rabbit plays nine and eleven string bass guitars which feature fanned frets;
- Brahms guitar, an eight-string classical guitar with slanted frets, originally developed by guitarist Paul Galbraith and luthier David Rubio.
- Neon (song), a song by blues-rock artist John Mayer.
- Gordon Giltrap
- United States Patent Office
- A calculator to calculate fret locations for a multiscale fretboard can be found on the Calculating Fret Positions page of the Liutaio Mottola Lutherie Information Website.