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Fanned Frets Explained – What Are These Weird Guitars?

18/04/2024

Have you ever browsed some guitars and seen an outlandish axe with frets that look like they’re struggling to stand up? That, there, is a fanned fret or multi-scale instrument! But what are these weird angular creations? And why do they fly in the face of conventional guitar wisdom – the regimented, evenly divided fret markers that sit in such a pleasingly parallel fashion?

Well, we’re here to strip away the vagaries of technical guitars, and explain just what fanned frets are, and why they’re great! We have examples and top tips for budding virtuosos, so read on to find out all you need to know about these off-axis marvels.

What are fanned frets?

Put simply, fanned frets are laid at an angle rather than perpendicular to the board. This design has some important effects on playability, including:

  • Improved intonation: Angled frets ensure optimal string tension across varying scale lengths, enhancing precision and clarity and leading to a more in-tune performance
  • Enhanced comfort: The frets align with natural hand movements, reducing wrist and finger strain and increasing playability and comfort
  • Versatile tonal options: Different scale lengths for strings enable a broad tonal range, from deeper tones on lower strings to brighter sounds on higher ones
  • Customisation: Players can tailor their instruments to their playing style and tonal preferences through customisable scale lengths and fret angles
  • Adaptability to different tunings: Fanned frets maintain string tension and clarity in alternate tunings, particularly beneficial for lower tunings, avoiding the muddiness common in standard guitars

Fanned fretboard

A brief history of fanned frets

The concept of the multi-scale arrangement isn’t new; it has roots in the ancient harp and more recent piano, where varying string lengths produce different tones. The first appearance of fanned frets traces back to the 16th century, showing that even early instrument makers recognised the benefits of this layout for improving musical tonality and playability.

Despite their early introduction, fanned frets didn’t become a mainstream feature on guitars until a modern resurgence. This revival was driven by a growing appreciation for the nuanced improvements in intonation, comfort, and tonal range that fanned frets offer, and new breeds of super shredders (like Javier Reyes) pushing the boundaries of ordinary playing.

Today, you’ll typically see this design on performance instruments that are geared towards highly technical playing. You’ll find it on both solid body electrics and steel/nylon stringed acoustics – meaning there’s a fanned fret guitar out there for all preferences!

How do they work?

Fanned frets assign varying scale lengths across the strings of a guitar, effectively allowing lower strings to have a longer length while keeping the higher strings shorter.

This design ingeniously tailors the scale length of each string to its pitch and tension requirements, resulting in optimal playability and tonal quality.

By extending the length of the lower strings, fanned frets ensure that these strings can maintain a tight tension without the necessity of a thicker gauge. This aspect is crucial for achieving a clear, precise sound, particularly on the bass notes where muddiness can otherwise be an issue.

The advantage becomes even more pronounced in guitars with seven, eight, or more strings (take notice metalheads!). Instruments designed to accommodate such an extended range often struggle with keeping the lower strings – added to provide deeper bass notes for almighty chugs – tight and articulate.

Fanned frets address this challenge head-on, making them particularly useful for guitars beyond the standard six-string setup. The longer scale length on the bass side of the instrument prevents the lower strings from becoming floppy, ensuring that they remain tight and responsive even when tuned down.

In addition to improving the instrument’s overall sound and intonation, multi-scale frets also enhance the player’s comfort, making intricate solo work and extended play sessions more manageable.

A guitarist playing a multi-scale guitar

How do fanned frets affect a guitar’s tone?

Fanned frets significantly influence a guitar’s tone through two key mechanisms: scale length variation and string tension management. While subtle, these elements work together to create a richer, more harmonically diverse sound palette.


Scale length variation

The scale length of a string – the distance between the nut and the bridge – affects how much energy is transferred to the guitar’s top when the string vibrates. In fanned fret designs, lower strings have longer scale lengths, which means they can drive the guitar’s top with more energy.

This results in a more resonant and robust tone, particularly noticeable in the bass frequencies on acoustics. The enhanced energy transfer gives these notes a fuller sound with more depth and presence.

Conversely, the shorter scale lengths for higher strings require less tension for proper pitch, which allows these strings to respond more quickly and with a brighter, more sparkling character. This combination of deep, resonant lows and clear, articulate highs creates a tonal balance that’s highly sought after, especially in multi-genre applications where versatility is key.


String tension

By adjusting the scale length across the strings, fanned frets enable more precise control over string tension. This means that lower strings can maintain a higher tension without necessitating thicker string gauges, which can muddy the tone.

High tension on the lower strings also contributes to improved intonation and sustain, making for a more lively and dynamic sound. Meanwhile, the higher strings benefit from a gentler tension, enhancing their vibrato and making them easier to play, without sacrificing tone quality or volume.

The cumulative effect of these factors is a guitar that offers a wide expressive range, capable of delivering deep, punchy basses and shimmering highs with equal proficiency. Whether for complex chord voicings in jazz, extended range in progressive metal, or nuanced fingerstyle arrangements, fanned fret guitars provide a distinctive tonal advantage that aligns with the diverse demands of modern music.

Feel and playability

Fanned fret guitars introduce a unique feel and playability that adapts to the natural positioning of your hand. Key to this design is the “neutral point” – a fret where the fanning is the least noticeable, typically designed to align with the most comfortable hand position for the player.

As you move away from this neutral point, either towards the headstock or the bridge, the angle of the frets becomes more pronounced. This can affect the feel and playability, especially for those unaccustomed to the layout.

The more extreme angles of the frets on either end of the fretboard are particularly noticeable when playing barre chords or intricate fingerstyle pieces, requiring a slight adjustment in hand positioning and technique. However, many players report that once they adapt to the initial difference, the ergonomic benefits are obvious.

The angled frets facilitate a more natural hand posture as the diagonal movement of the hand up and down the neck, aligns with the natural arc of finger movement, reducing strain on the wrist and fingers during extended playing sessions. This makes them great for complex chord shapes and fast, technical playing. Particularly when it comes to barre chords, angled frets can make a huge difference.

G4M 529 Pro Fanned Fret 7-String Electric Guitar

What techniques are fanned frets suited to?

Low riffs

Fanned frets are great for adding clarity and punch to low riffs, making them a favourite among metal and progressive rock guitarists. The extended scale length on the lower strings ensures tightness and articulation, allowing for aggressive, fast-paced riffing without losing definition. This makes them ideal for genres that demand precision and depth in the lower register.


Bends and vibrato

The unique tension distribution across the strings in fanned fret guitars makes bends and vibrato easier and more expressive, especially on the higher strings. Thanks to the shorter scale length of these strings, they’re more pliable, allowing for more nuanced vibrato and smoother, more controlled bends.


Palm muting

Varying scale lengths are also great palm-muting techniques, commonly used in rock and metal genres. The increased tension on the lower strings results in a tighter, more pronounced palm-muted sound, offering a chunkier, more impactful effect. This is especially useful for creating rhythmic textures and driving riffs.


Fingerstyle and tapping

Since the layout of fanned frets aligns with your natural hand position, you’ll find that techniques like fingerstyle and tapping become easier. As mentioned earlier, once you’ve adjusted to angled frets, you’ll find them extremely comfortable as they offer easy access to complex fingerings and extended tapping passages.

This ergonomic design helps with intricate melodic lines and polyphonic textures.

Are fanned frets right for me?

Fanned frets cater to a wide range of playing styles, but they’re particularly well-suited to guitarists who want precision, versatility, and ergonomic comfort. If you’re contemplating whether fanned frets are right for you, consider the genres you prefer to play and your playing style.

These frets are particularly good for these four types of musicians:

Metal and progressive rock players: The clarity and tightness on the lower strings make fanned fret guitars a favourite among metal and progressive rock guitarists. The design supports low tunings and complex riffs without sacrificing sound quality – great for playing with aggression and precision.

Extended range guitarists: If you play seven or eight-string guitars, or beyond, fanned frets can significantly enhance your instrument’s playability and tonal range. The extended scale length on the lower strings keeps them tight and articulate, a crucial feature for maintaining clarity in lower tunings.

Lead guitarists: Fanned frets allow for expressive soloing with less hand fatigue. This is great for lead guitarists who need to be able to effortlessly perform bends and vibrato.

Fingerstyle and experimental musicians: The nuanced tonal palette and ergonomic benefits also appeal to fingerstyle players and those who want to explore and get creative with their playing. If you’re pushing the boundaries of technique and sound, fanned frets offer the versatility and comfort needed for innovative play.

G4M 529 Pro Fanned Fret Guitar

Pros and cons of fanned frets

Pros Cons
Improved intonation across all stringsRequires adjustment period for technique
Enhanced ergonomic comfort, reducing wrist and finger strainMay feel awkward for traditional playing styles
Broader tonal range, with tighter lows and crisper highsLimited availability and can be more expensive
Better suited to alternate tunings, maintaining string tensionNot all musicians will benefit from the design changes
Customisation options for personal playing style and sound preferencesVisual aesthetic might not appeal to all players

Our favourite guitars with fanned frets

G4M 529 Pro Fanned Fret 7-String Electric Guitar

G4M 529 Pro Fanned Fret 7-String Electric Guitar, Ocean FadeKey features

  • High-output passive humbuckers
  • Unique burl finish
  • Superior tuning stability

Pros

  • Powerful, aggressive tones
  • One-of-a-kind aesthetic
  • Reliable tuning stability

Cons

  • May be pricey for beginners

If you’re in the market for a guitar that brings a new dimension to your music, the G4M 529 Pro is great. It caters to the needs of players who prefer aggressive and powerful tones thanks to its high-output passive humbuckers. And a unique burl finish ensures your guitar won’t just sound distinct but will stand out visually on any stage or in any studio.

This guitar isn’t just about aesthetics and sound; it’s also built for performance. With superior tuning stability provided by a single saddle bridge system, you’ll find yourself spending less time tuning and more time playing.

The G4M 529 Pro is strung with 10-59 strings, ready to handle anything from deep, growling lows to crisp highs. This setup is perfect for players looking to take their playing to the next level without being held back by their instrument. Whether you’re a seasoned seven-string player or looking to expand your musical palette, this guitar offers a blend of visual uniqueness, tonal aggression, and performance stability that’s hard to beat.


Ibanez SML721

Ibanez SML721, Rose Gold ChameleonKey features

  • Colour-changing Chameleon finish
  • Dyna-MIX10 switching for tonal variety
  • Wizard profile neck with multi-scale design

Pros

  • Vast tonal versatility
  • Rapid playability
  • Excellent tuning stability

Cons

  • Complexity may overwhelm beginners

The Ibanez SML721 gives you plenty of sonic versatility with its innovative Q58 humbucking pickups and the dyna-MIX10 switching system. Whether you’re after thick, aggressive tones for rock and metal or clear, articulate sounds for cutting through the mix, this instrument delivers with ease.

The playability of the SML721 sets a high standard. Not only does it boast a multi-scale fretboard, but it also has a Wizard profile neck for even faster, more fluid movements across the frets. Coupled with Gotoh locking machine heads and a mono-rail bridge, you’re assured of exceptional tuning stability, letting you focus purely on your performance.

Designed for players who demand both visual flair and musical flexibility, the Ibanez SML721 is a testament to craftsmanship and innovation.


Cort KX307MS

Cort KX307MS, Open Pore MahoganyKey features

  • 7-String multi-scale design
  • PowerBar Humbucker Set
  • Mahogany body with deep resonance

Pros

  • Tight low-end and enhanced playability
  • Balanced output across all strings
  • Warm, deep tonal qualities

Cons

  • May require adaptation for traditional players

The Cort KX307MS meets the demands of modern guitarists. This seven-string marvel boasts a multi-scale design, ensuring optimal string tension for punchy lows and comfortable playability. Designed with extreme music in mind, it guarantees precision and power in every note.

Armed with PowerBar Humbucker pickups, the KX307MS offers explosive output across all strings, providing the clarity and balance necessary for intricate shredding and heavy riffing. The guitar’s mahogany body enhances its sonic depth, offering a warm resonance ideal for aggressive musical styles.

There’s also a roasted maple neck and fretboard that not only improves stability but also adds a sleek feel and bold tone to your playing.

With features like an individual hardtail bridge for superior sustain and precise intonation, the KX307MS is a powerhouse designed for guitarists who demand versatility, stability, and a standout aesthetic.

FAQs

What is the point of fanned frets?

Fanned frets optimise string tension and improve intonation across the fretboard. This design allows for a more comfortable and natural hand position, enhancing playability and sound quality, especially on extended-range guitars.


Are fanned frets easier to play?

Fanned frets can be easier to play for some, as they are designed to match the natural curvature of the hand, however, they will take a bit of getting used to. They offer improved playability and comfort, particularly for complex chords and extended playing sessions.


Is it hard to get used to fanned frets?

Getting used to fanned frets may require a short adjustment period, but many players find the transition smooth. The ergonomic benefits often lead to a more comfortable playing experience over time.

Final thoughts

Fanned frets offer something to players who want to take their music a step further. For those who value intricate riff work and finely balanced shredding machines, these instruments exist to push your playing into another realm.

Obviously, they’re not for everyone! But if you find yourself yearning for more speed and fluidity, a multi-scale fretboard might just be the perfect answer!

 

Content Writer (Guitars)

Mark has been a guitar aficionado for around twenty years. A lover of all things 6-string, he spends his days putting pen-to-paper about all manner of interesting instruments. From entry level Squiers to the most coveted Custom Shop desires, Mark's written about them.

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