You’ll come across the ‘fretboard radius’ listed in the specifications and mentioned in the description of any guitar or bass included on the Bax Music website, but what is this mysterious measurement and why is it important? In this blog, we offer the humble novice a crash course in the concept of the fretboard radius and hopefully make picking out the right guitar or bass just a little bit easier.

Guitar & Bass: What Does ‘Fretboard Radius’ Mean?

So, What is the Fretboard Radius?

The fretboard radius basically describes the roundness across the width of a fretboard. This might sound complicated, but it’s actually much easier to grasp when you see it. So, in the image below, you can see that the radius can be visualised as the section of a circle. The bigger the circle, the flatter the fretboard. For example, a circle with a 7.25 inch radius is smaller and rounder than a circle with a 9.5 inch radius. In other words, the lower the fretboard radius measurement, the rounder the fretboard, and the higher the measurement, the flatter the fretboard.

Guitar & Bass: What Does ‘Fretboard Radius’ Mean?
Fretboard radius (source: Fender Guitars)

Which is Better? A Round or Flat Fretboard?

The fretboard radius makes a big difference when it comes to the playing feel of a guitar or bass. It’s important to note that there is no ‘best’ radius since it really comes down to what feels best beneath your fret-hand. That said, many guitarists find that a more rounded fretboard tends to feel more comfortable when grabbing chords, while a flatter fretboard feels more comfortable when playing single notes, bending, or hammering on and off. As such, these days you can get something called a ‘compound’ radius which essentially gives you the best of both worlds since the fretboard is rounded at the headstock, and gradually flattens out as you reach the body (see the image below).

Compound radius (source: Charvel Guitars)

Do All Guitar Makers Use the Same Fretboard Radius?

Now that you (hopefully) have a better understanding of what the fretboard radius is, we can take a quick look at what different guitar manufacturers do with it. In the fifties, Fender started using a really round 7.25 inch radius, but around a third of the guitars that they make now have a 9.5 inch fretboard radius. Gibson® and Epiphone® models have a 12 inch radius, which could be described as the kind of perfect ‘middle ground’. While ESP are known for building guitars for real, hardcore shredders, they also opt for a 12 inch radius for their models, and for a number of years now, their daughter-company, ESP LTD have started shifting towards a flatter 13.75 inch radius. Charvel and Jackson are known for their compound radius, which starts at 12 inches and graduates to 16 inches, while Ibanez guitars have a much wider range where you can get guitars with a 12 inch fretboard radius as well as guitars with a 17 inch radius. At the flatter end of the spectrum lie the true metal-monsters, Schecter and Ormsby, whose models tend to come with a 16 inch fretboard radius. All of these manufacturers and their models will, of course, include exceptions but hopefully this little round up gives you a better insight into why you may prefer one brand over another.

But Wait! There’s more…

The fretboard radius is a really important feature of a guitar or bass since it has a big impact on the playing feel, but it is only one feature among a whole bunch of other features. You also have the width of the neck, the profile (so, the shape of the back of the neck), the kind of wood used to make the fretboard, the type of frets, and the finish. To be honest, every aspect of the neck is blog-worthy, but the best advice you’ll ever get when picking out your first guitar or bass is to try out as many as you can. Basically, don’t get bogged down by all the theory that goes into building a guitar, because if a guitar feels good to you, then it probably means that it’s actually good.

See Also…

» Acoustic & Electric Guitars
» Acoustic & Electric Basses
» Classical Guitar Buyer’s Guide?
» Acoustic Guitar Buyer’s guide
» Bass Guitar Buyer’s Guide
» How Important is the Wood Used to Make the Fretboard?

1 response
  1. Frank says:

    I’ve experienced hand cramps with bass neck radius of 12″ and above.
    I sold my fantastic Yamaha 5 string due to the 23 inch radius fretboard and find that my Sterling Stingray 11 inch radius is a little extreme at times.
    For 5 string work I strung a Fender style P bass B-E-A-D which has a Jazz style neck in order to play with greater ease in low B.
    I ordered a new Sire V5 4 string with a 9.5 inch radius, 38mm nut, with the rounded fretboard edge as my future go to 4 string.
    I’m assuming hand problems from playing bass after 55 years you will have to make changes in order to be more comfortable when gigging.

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