On many guitar and bass guitar product pages, you will often come across “fretboard radius”. But what exactly is this and why does it matter?
In this article we will try to give you an idea of the fretboard radius concept, so that hopefully choosing a guitar will be a bit easier!
If you are still in doubt, we also have an article about starting on acoustic or electric guitar.
What is the fretboard radius?
The fretboard (or fingerboard) radius refers to the degree of bulge across the width of the fretboard.
Sounds complicated, but it’s easier when you see it. In the image below you can see that you can visualize the radius as a piece of a circle.
The larger the circle, the flatter the curve. For example, a circle with a radius of 7.25 inches is smaller and therefore more convex than a circle of 9.5 inches. In other words, the lower the number of the fretboard radius, the more convex the fretboard. The higher the number, the flatter the fretboard.
A convex or flat fretboard?
The fretboard radius has a significant effect on the playability of a guitar.
It is important to realize that there is not one “best” radius. This is completely subjective.
That being said, guitarists generally like a convex fingerboard for chords and a flat fingerboard for loose notes and strings.
Nowadays you can also opt for a so-called “compound radius.” Here the fretboard goes from rounder at the head to flatter when going down towards the body (see the image below).
How do guitar brands compare to each other?
Now that you have an idea of what the fingerboard radius is, let’s take a look at how different manufacturers deal with it.
In the 1950s Fender started with the very convex 7.25 inch radius, but today you will find a 9.5 inch radius on two thirds of its electric guitars. (like the Squier Stratocaster has 9.5 inch on amazon)
Gibson and Epiphone go for the happy medium with 12 inches.
It is striking that ESP, a brand that mainly focuses on really ripping guitars, also opts for the 12 inch radius. For a number of years, however, the guitars of subsidiary brand ESP LTD have shifted from 12 inches to the slightly flatter 13.75 inches (Example: the ESP EC-256 on amazon).
Charvel and Jackson are known for their compound fingerboard radius, which ranges from 12 to 16 inches. Check out the Jackson JS Series for an example (on amazon-of course).
A brand like Ibanez has a wide range: they have both guitars with a radius of 12 inches and models with 17 inches.
The metal monsters of Schecter and Ormsby are also on the “flat” side of the spectrum at 16 inches.
Of course all these brands have their exceptions, but this can hopefully give you insight into why you like or don’t like a guitar from a certain brand.
But wait, there is more …
The fingerboard radius is an important aspect of the guitar as it greatly affects the ease of playing.
However, the radius is only one element in the sum of its parts.
There are also the width of the neck, the neck profile, the type of wood used for the fingerboard, the type of frets and the finish.
We want to advise beginners to try out as many guitars as possible. So don’t lose yourself in all underlying theoretical aspects! Does the guitar feel good? Then it will be alright.
Check out this video for a narrated explanation: