Fanned Frets Explained: Everything You Need to Know
If you’ve ever seen a guitar with fanned frets and wondered what the point of them was, this guide is for you.
There is a lot of misinformation flying around about the benefits of fanned frets are, so I’ll explain how they work, what the real benefits are and whether they’re right for you.
Fanned frets or multi-scale guitars place the frets on a calculated angle to give each string a different scale length. Fanned frets give guitars a longer scale length on the lower strings and a shorter scale length on the higher strings.
I’ll explain what this means below, but if you want to learn more about guitar scale length and why it’s important, read my Ultimate Guide to Guitar Scale Length here.
Understanding Fanned Frets Guitars
Before we look at how fanned frets work, the benefits of fanned frets and more, let’s look at some key facts about fanned frets so you can understand what they mean.
Measuring Fanned Fret Guitars
Normal guitars are measured by their scale length as explained here. For example, a Fender Stratocaster has a scale length of 25.5″, while a PRS has a scale length of 25″.
Fanned frets guitars are also measured by their scale length, but we are given two numbers because they are multi-scale guitars.
When looking for a fanned frets guitar, you are given the scale length for the lowest string and the highest string.
For example, the Ibanez RGIF8 is an eight-string guitar with fanned frets as shown below:
The scale length on the lowest string is 27.2″ and the scale length on the highest string is 25.5″.
Let’s compare this against the Strandberg Boden 8 string:
The scale length on the Strandberg’s lowest string is 28″ and the scale length on the highest string is 26.5″.
While both guitars are 8 strings and both have fanned frets, you would notice a big difference in how they feel to play. I’ll talk about this later in this guide.
The angle of fanned frets also varies across different guitars.
Take a look at the below Ibanez RGIF8 fretboard and notice that the frets start off slanted one way, then gradually change until they are slanted the other way:
The point where the frets are straight like a normal guitar is called the neutral point.
On the above guitar, the neutral point is the 12th fret.
Some fanned frets guitars set the neutral fret higher and some set it lower. On the below Strandberg, the neutral point is at the 7th fret:
Compare the Ibanez and the Strandberg and you’ll notice that this change in the neutral point makes a big difference in the overall feel of the fretboard.
Some fanned fret guitars place the neutral point all the way down the fretboard at the nut like this one:
The frets all slant in the same direction and the angle gradually becomes more extreme as you move up the fretboard. The above guitar will feel completely different than the other fanned frets guitars shown earlier.
I’ll explain this in detail later as we look at playability.
How Do Fanned Frets Work
To understand how fanned frets work, let’s compare them against a normal guitar with straight frets.
The Problem With Normal Guitar Frets
In the below photo of a normal guitar with regular frets, you can see that the string length from the bridge to the nut (find out about guitar parts and their names here) is the same for every string.
The problem of having the length the same for every string is that each string is tuned differently. The low E string is significantly lower in pitch than the high E string.
This is a problem because of the way strings vibrate. Lower pitched notes sound better when they vibrate on long string lengths. This is why bass guitars have longer necks than regular guitars.
You can see in the above photo that the string length on a bass guitar is much longer than an electric guitar. This is because the lower-pitched notes sound best with a longer string length.
Because there is such a wide difference in what the guitar strings are tuned to, it creates a serious problem.
A regular guitar overcomes this problem by increasing the thickness of the string.
The thicker strings keep the lower strings from becoming loose. But it only works up to a point. Fanned frets help overcome this limitation.
How Fanned Frets Work
Fanned frets allow the lower strings to have a longer length while keeping the higher strings short.
This means the length of the low E string can be longer than the length of the high E string, which helps the note ring out clearer.
With a fanned fret guitar, the lower strings don’t need to have thicker gauge strings to keep the tension tight. The longer string length helps keep the string tension at where it feels best to play.
When you look at a 7 or 8 string guitar, it should become obvious why fanned frets are so useful:
The lowest string on an 8 string guitar has a seriously low pitch. If you tried to tune your low E string down to F#, you’ll notice the string becomes slack and floppy.
The longer string length on a fanned frets guitar would keep that string nice and tight without needing a super-heavy gauge string.
Key lesson: fanned frets work by giving each string the optimal length to suit the pitch of the string. Lower pitched notes are best with longer strings.
Do Fanned Frets Make a Difference
Fanned frets do make a difference when compared against normal guitars, but there is a lot of misinformation spread around on how they make a difference.
The bottom line is that fanned frets do make a difference on guitar. Fanned frets make a difference in string tension, playability, and tone. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t make a difference in intonation.
Let’s look in detail at how fanned frets make a difference so you can decide whether they’re right for you.
The very first thing I noticed the first time I picked up a fanned frets guitar is the string tension.
Fanned frets affect string tension, which is a big part of playability. The big benefit of fanned frets is that they increase string tension in the lower strings without affecting the higher strings.
Let’s look at an example to see how much of a difference fanned frets make in string tension.
On a regular guitar with a 25.5″ scale length, the tension on a low E string with 42s would be 14.37 lbs.
On a fanned frets guitar with a 26.5″ scale length, the tension on the low E string with the same gauge string would be 15.52 lbs.
If the angle of the fanned frets were more extreme and pushed the string length to 27″, the tension on the low E string would be 16.11 lbs.
As you can see, a slight difference a fanned fret makes can significantly change the tension across a string.
This means you end up with tighter lower strings without increasing tension in the higher strings.
The more extreme the fanned frets, the higher the tension will be in the lower strings.
Fanned frets do make a difference in tone due to the extra string length across the lower strings.
Lower strings feel tighter, which clearly comes across in the guitar’s tone. If you tune down, you’ll hear a punchier and tighter sound when playing riffs.
Overall Feel and Playability
Fanned frets look very different than regular guitars, but you may be surprised to hear that they don’t feel that different.
The overall feel of a fanned frets guitar depends on how extreme the fan is (the difference in scale length between the lowest and highest strings).
The more extreme the fan is, the more you will notice it as you play chords or move from string to string.
Imagine playing a barre chord on the below guitars and think about your hand position:
You might think that the extreme fan would make barre chords awkward to play, but many guitars prefer how it feels. Depending on the angle of the fan, you may find that barre chords feel more comfortable across the entire fretboard.
A key point with playability is the neutral point. As explained earlier, this is the point where the fret is straight like a normal guitar.
The below guitar sets the neutral point towards the nut:
This means all the frets are angled in the same direction. As you move up the fretboard, the angle becomes more extreme.
The above guitar will feel completely different from the below guitar, which has the neutral point at the 12th fret:
With this guitar, playing high up the neck will feel completely different than low down the neck.
The main point to remember is that the way a fanned fret guitar is set up (where the neutral point is set) plays a big part in how the guitar feels to play.
As explained earlier, lower-pitched notes work best with long string lengths. This is why 8 & 9 string guitars often come with fanned frets as standard.
But if you tune down on a 6 string guitar, you would find that fanned frets make a big difference in playability.
Tuning to something like Drop-C or lower on a 6 string guitar normally requires fairly heavy gauge strings to compensate for the lower pitches. You also end up with a horribly muddy tone that sounds lifeless.
But a fanned frets guitar would let you use lighter strings while keeping the string tension even across all six strings.
Not only do fanned frets improve the playability of low tunings, but they seriously improve the tone as well.
Many people say that fanned fret guitars give better intonation. This isn’t quite right so let’s look at this closer.
Intonation is how in-tune each fret is across the string. If your intonation is out, your open string will sound fine, but when you fret a note it will be out.
The longer the guitar’s scale length, the better intonation tends to be on guitar.
This means a guitar with a 27″ scale length will have slightly better intonation than a guitar with a 25″ scale length.
The fact that fanned fret guitars have longer scale lengths on the lower strings is why many guitarists feel the intonation improves thanks to the fanned frets.
While it is technically true, it’s only a minor change and only on the lower strings. The higher strings will have the same intonation as a regular guitar with the same scale length.
If you really want a guitar with great intonation, find out about True Temperament Frets here. The guide talks about intonation in great detail and why all normal guitars have poor intonation.
Are Fanned Frets Hard to Play
While fanned frets look awkward, they are not hard to play. Many guitarists actually prefer playing on fanned fret guitars due to the way the angle of the frets naturally follows the angle of your fingers across the fretboard.
Let’s look at how fanned frets feel when you’re playing different things:
Whether you’re playing a 6, 7 or 8 string guitar, fanned frets make low riffs sound and feel better.
The higher string tension means you get a tight and punchy tone, which feels great when playing fast or tight riffs.
Alternatively, you can reduce your string gauge on lower strings, which can feel more comfortable.
Overall, low riffing feels tends to feel more comfortable on a fanned fret guitar.
Open chords can feel better or worse on a fanned fret guitar depending on where the neutral point is.
Take a look at the below guitars and imagine playing different open chords:
It should be obvious that each one will feel completely different and some will feel more comfortable than others.
Barre chords tend to feel more comfortable on fanned frets, but it again depends on where the neutral point is.
On some fanned fret guitars, your first finger tends to line up perfectly wherever you play a barre chord.
Bends and Vibrato
Thanks to the shorter scale length on the higher strings, bends and vibrato tend to feel far more comfortable on a fanned frets guitar compared to a normal guitar.
This depends on the scale length used, but a big benefit of fanned frets is that the lower strings feel tighter while the higher strings feel more comfortable when playing bends.
Playing bends on a regular 8-string guitar with a 27″ scale length is incredibly awkward due to the tight tension across all strings. But playing bends on an 8-string guitar with fanned frets is ridiculously comfortable on the higher strings thanks to the shorter scale length.
How comfortable palm muting feels depends on where the neutral point is set.
The neutral point will change the angle of the bridge, which affects the comfort of palm muting.
Check out the below bridge on a fanned fret guitar and think about how you would rest your palm against the strings:
Depending on your hand position, you may find some guitars with fanned frets more comfortable to play and some worse to play. The angle of the bridge depends on the position of the neutral point.
Fanned Frets Pros and Cons
Here are some pros and cons to help you decide whether fanned frets are right for you.
Fanned Fret Pros
- Seriously improves 7, 8 & 9 string guitars
- Better comfort and playability for some guitarists
- Better string tension for low tunings while keeping higher strings comfortable
Fanned Fret Cons
- Every fanned fret guitar is different due to different neutral points
- You need to find a guitar with the right scale length and neutral point to suit your preferences
- Limited benefits on 6-string guitars
- Fewer options for pickups and bridges
Are Fanned Frets Worth It
Fanned frets are worth it if you play in low tunings or want an extended range guitar. A seven or eight-string guitar sounds significantly better with fanned frets.
If you play a six-string guitar in standard tuning, the benefits of fanned frets are minor and it may not be worth it to you.
While normal fret guitars aren’t perfect, the limitations aren’t very noticeable on a six-string guitar in standard tuning. The tension across the strings is fairly even.
But if you were to try and play an 8 string guitar with a 25.5″ scale length, it would sound like trash and be horrible to play. Fanned frets would significantly improve the tone and playability of the guitar.
The more you move away from standard tuning, the more fanned frets are worth it.
Fanned Frets on Different Guitars
Let’s look at how fanned frets look and work on different types of guitars to see whether getting one is right for you.
6 String Guitars
The benefits of fanned frets on six-string guitars are limited. If you pick up a six-string guitar with fanned frets, you may love/hate the difference, or you may not even notice a difference.
When I played a six-string with fanned frets, I did notice a difference but didn’t think it was an obvious improvement over a regular guitar.
The only time I feel fanned frets really make a difference on 6-string guitars is when you use drop tunings.
7, 8 & 9 String Guitars
Fanned frets can seriously improve the playability and tone of extended range guitars.
The first time I played a 7 string with fanned frets, I was blown away by how better it felt and sounded. The low strings were nice and tight while bends were ridiculously comfortable on the higher strings.
When I tried an 8-string with fanned frets then directly compared it against a regular 8-string, I couldn’t help but laugh at how much better the fanned frets felt.
If you play extended range guitars, I highly recommend you try out a fanned fret guitar to see what all the fuss is about.
Fanned frets on bass offer the same benefits as they do on guitars.
The same points need to be considered such as how extreme the fan is and where the neutral point is.
If you play a 5-string bass, you will likely notice a bigger difference in how the fan changes the tone and feel of what you play.
While fanned frets are fairly common on electric guitars, they are still rare on acoustic guitars.
This is likely because acoustic guitarists are less likely to see the benefits fanned frets offer due to their different playing style.
For example, acoustic guitarists are unlikely to use a drop tuning for metal riffs, so they won’t get the benefits fanned frets offer.
While fanned fret acoustic guitars do exist, they have very limited appeal.
If you’re looking for a fanned fret acoustic guitar, prepare to pay a serious price for one for some very limited benefits.
Fanned Frets FAQ
Here are some common questions not covered above about fanned frets.
What does a Zero Fret Do?
On some fanned fret guitars, you may notice that there is a fret right next to the nut as shown below. This is called a zero fret.
A zero fret is a fret placed right next to the nut to hold the strings in position. Instead of the strings resting against the nut, they rest against the fret.
Zero frets can improve intonation and action as the strings are held in the lowest possible position.
As with any feature on guitar, some guitarists love them and some guitarists can’t stand them.
Find out why action is important, how to measure it and adjust it on acoustic or electric guitars in this Ultimate Guide to Guitar Action.
True Temperament vs Fanned Frets
True Temperament frets are completely different than fanned frets with different goals.
The goal of True Temperament frets is to fix the intonation problems found with straight frets. The goal of fanned frets is to change the scale length across each string.
To understand what True Temperament frets are and why they work so well, read through my guide here.
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