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I've seen fanned frets on some extended-ranged classical and electric guitars. What are the benefits of guitars with fanned frets? Are there any drawbacks?

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See this related answer on scale length; brief discussion of fanned frets at the bottom: music.stackexchange.com/a/1091/36 –  Alex Basson Apr 28 '12 at 23:08
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3 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Multi-string guitars

The idea of fanned frets is, in essence, to combine the baritone or bass guitar with the regular guitar in one instrument. Fanned frets enable strengthening the tone of the lower strings by giving them a longer speaking string length. They can also enable a high string that can be tuned higher than is possible on a conventional guitar by giving it a shorter vibrating length, enabling a higher-tuned string that won't break under the tension.

Classical

In the modern era the technique was first used on an 8-string guitar designed by classical guitarist Paul Galbraith and built by luthier David Rubio. Galbraith wanted an instrument where he could play notes one 5th lower than on a standard 6-string, and one 4th higher as well, adding a full extra octave to the instrument. He called his design the "Brahms guitar" because he found he could play convincing arrangements of Brahms solo piano repertoire on his instrument. He then built up his own repertoire of arrangements where he plays solo classical guitar with lower bass parts and a fuller sound.

enter image description here

Bartolex 8-string fanned-fret classical guitar

Low "A" to high "a"

Jazz

Next up came Charlie Hunter, who worked with luthier Ralph Novak to create an 8-string electric guitar that has the range of the regular 6-string but also adds a full octave lower. (This design has a longer scale length enabling the extra bass range, but doesn't enable any higher notes). Charlie Hunter plays in a style where he covers the range of both the bass guitar and the electric guitar all by himself (Ralph Novak's slogan is "Fire you bass player"). Hunter usually performs with just himself and a drummer.

Novax Charlie Hunter guitar

Novax Charlie Hunter 8-string fanned-fret jazz guitar

Low "E" to high "e"

Metal

Now progressive heavy metal and djet guitarists are getting into the game. Strandberg Guitarworks makes a Misha Mansoor model.

Strandberg Misha Mansoor guitar

Strandberg Misha Mansoor 7-string fanned-fret guitar

Low "B" to high "e"

Here are some luthiers that build 8-string fanned-fret classical guitars.

Here are some luthiers that build 8-string fanned-fret jazz guitars.

A well-known company that makes more hard-rock oriented guitars

Six-string guitars and bass guitars that use fanned frets

The technique of fanned frets has also been applied to the conventional 6-string guitar and the conventional 4, 5 and 6-string bass guitar. The theory here is that the lowest strings and the lowest notes make a stronger, fuller sound by giving them extra vibrating length, and the upper strings get a brighter, clearer sound by giving them a shorter vibrating length.

The best example is Dingwall bass guitars, whose low "B" string has a scale length of 37 inches (940 mm), while a conventional bass guitar with a low "B" string has a scale length of 34 or 35 inches (864 mm or 889 mm)

Dingwall Leland Sklar signature bass guitar

Dingwall Leland Sklar signature 5-string fanned-fret bass guitar

Low "B" to high "G"

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what about drawbacks? is playability affected? –  bluevoodoo1 Apr 28 '12 at 23:29
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I have never owned a fanned-fret guitar. I have just played one or two for a few minutes at trade shows. It seems to me that one could become accustomed to it with time. But making use of extra strings, different tunings and an extended range would certainly require practice to develop new techniques. –  Wheat Williams Apr 29 '12 at 2:11
    
As a commentary on tuning... I thought I'd heard that Charlie Hunter's 8-strings are the lowest 3 bass strings + the top 5 Guitar strings... E, A, D + A, D, G, B, E (low to high); and a commentary on 7-string "metal/shred" is often a low A rather than B (look at me! one finger power chords!), dropping everything another half-step is not unheard of either (Ab, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb)... I even had one guy in the studio that dropped it another half step (but that low of a tension get's floppy on too short a scale length and leads to intonation problems). –  David Axtell Moore II May 28 '12 at 23:59
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As luthier Chris Larkin explains for this 9 string bass monster - To get suitable tension on the huge variation of string sizes it required different scale lengths for each string and so needed fan frets.

enter image description here

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Not sure I'd be able to play that baby, but I do love the acoustic fretless bass he built for our bassist. –  Dr Mayhem Apr 28 '12 at 18:13
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The question of: "What are the benefits of guitars with fanned frets?" is a good question. The correct answer depends on what your intentions are. If all you ever want to do is strum chords to back up your singing voice or play along with others than you'll do just fine on your standard six string guitar.

However ,,, if your ambitions run far beyond playing backup with other instruments to soloing on one guitar ,,, then you've got a world of trouble. It's been said the guitar is an easy instrument to play ,,, but a difficult instrument to play well. And so it is. Why is that? It's because great music is the range of the Grand Staff and then some. That's the nature of the beast. So there are only three options! Either start or join a band or an orchestra ,,, or increase the string count ,,, or possibly do many additional practice sessions trying to do what the human hands were never designed to do.

There are three things that can trouble great guitar playing: 1) String count. 2) String length. And 3) Choice of tuning. If you can bring all three of these parameters together in the correct order You can make many many technical problems go away.

How many strings should the guitar have? Ten strings seems to work well when tuning in 4ths which is what medium sized guitars are usually tuned to. I tune my fan fretted ten string classical in fourths with my third right in the middle between my 5th and 6th string. This allows me to preserve six string chord shapes. In fact it opens up another useful chord shape not found on six stringers.

I play five wound bass strings and five unwound treble strings. This configuration works really well and allows me to chase music I wouldn't otherwise go after. In fact: There's very little music I can't chase after. I like to call my guitar a Grand Staff guitar because it makes sense to write music for it using the Grand Staff as opposed to how it's usually done.

It may surprise some people I play a fan fretted ten stringer ,,, and as far as I know it's the only one so far in existence. What surprises me is no one ever thought of it before. In anycase I have played six, seven, and an eight stringers before I got the ten stringer. So I know a few things about string count, string length and choice of tunings. This works and it works very well.

Any specific answers to playing a fan fretted ten stringer I'll be happy to answer.

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Any chance of a picture?! –  Bob Broadley May 2 at 21:56
    
@Bob Broadley I've only have gotten around to posting one video of myself on YouTube playing 'O Mio Babbino Caro'. You can get a fairly good look at it there. –  user10542 May 5 at 23:07
    
Awesome, I'll take a look! –  Bob Broadley May 5 at 23:12
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