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Fretted guitar fingerboard Gfingerboard.JPG
Fretted guitar fingerboard
Fretless violin fingerboard Violinfingerboard.JPG
Fretless violin fingerboard

The fingerboard (also known as a fretboard on fretted instruments) is an important component of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge. To play the instrument, a musician presses strings down to the fingerboard to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch. This is called stopping the strings. Depending on the instrument and the style of music, the musician may pluck, strum or bow one or more strings with the hand that is not fretting the notes. On some instruments, notes can be sounded by the fretting hand alone, such as with hammer ons, an electric guitar technique.

Adhesive material which is used for bonding of various materials

Adhesive, also known as glue, cement, mucilage, or paste, is any non metallic substance applied to one surface, or both surfaces, of two separate items that binds them together and resists their separation. Adjectives may be used in conjunction with the word "adhesive" to describe properties based on the substance's physical or chemical form, the type of materials joined, or conditions under which it is applied.

The neck is the part of certain string instruments that projects from the main body and is the base of the fingerboard, where the fingers are placed to stop the strings at different pitches. Guitars, banjos, ukuleles, lutes, the violin family, and the mandolin family are examples of instruments which have necks. Necks are also an integral part of certain woodwind instruments, like for instance the saxophone.

Bridge (instrument) device for supporting the strings on a stringed instrument

A bridge is a device that supports the strings on a stringed musical instrument and transmits the vibration of those strings to another structural component of the instrument—typically a soundboard, such as the top of a guitar or violin—which transfers the sound to the surrounding air. Depending on the instrument, the bridge may be made of carved wood, metal or other materials. The bridge supports the strings and holds them over the body of the instrument under tension.


The word "fingerboard" in other languages sometimes occurs in musical directions. In particular, the direction sul tasto (Ital., also sulla tastiera, Fr. sur la touche, G. am Griffbrett) for bowed string instruments to play with the bow above the fingerboard. This reduces the prominence of upper harmonics, giving a more ethereal tone. [1]

In music, a bow is a tensioned stick which has hair coated in rosin affixed to it. It is moved across some part of a musical instrument to cause vibration, which the instrument emits as sound. The vast majority of bows are used with string instruments, such as the violin, although some bows are used with musical saws and other bowed idiophones.


A harmonic is any member of the harmonic series. The term is employed in various disciplines, including music, physics, acoustics, electronic power transmission, radio technology, and other fields. It is typically applied to repeating signals, such as sinusoidal waves. A harmonic of such a wave is a wave with a frequency that is a positive integer multiple of the frequency of the original wave, known as the fundamental frequency. The original wave is also called the 1st harmonic, the following harmonics are known as higher harmonics. As all harmonics are periodic at the fundamental frequency, the sum of harmonics is also periodic at that frequency. For example, if the fundamental frequency is 50 Hz, a common AC power supply frequency, the frequencies of the first three higher harmonics are 100 Hz, 150 Hz, 200 Hz and any addition of waves with these frequencies is periodic at 50 Hz.

An nth characteristic mode, for n > 1, will have nodes that are not vibrating. For example, the 3rd characteristic mode will have nodes at L and L, where L is the length of the string. In fact, each nth characteristic mode, for n not a multiple of 3, will not have nodes at these points. These other characteristic modes will be vibrating at the positions L and L. If the player gently touches one of these positions, then these other characteristic modes will be suppressed. The tonal harmonics from these other characteristic modes will then also be suppressed. Consequently, the tonal harmonics from the nth characteristic modes, where n is a multiple of 3, will be made relatively more prominent.


Six strings bass guitar fingerboard Trastes.jpg
Six strings bass guitar fingerboard

A fingerboard may be fretted, having raised strips of hard material perpendicular to the strings, which the player presses the strings against to stop the strings. On modern guitars, frets are typically made of metal. Frets let the player stop the string consistently in the same place, which enables the musician to play notes with the correct intonation. As well, frets do not dampen string vibrations as much as fingers alone on an unfretted fingerboard. Frets may be fixed, as on a guitar or mandolin, or movable, as on a lute. Fingerboards may also be unfretted, as they usually are on bowed instruments, where damping by the finger is of little consequence because of the sustained stimulation of the strings by the bow. Unfretted fingerboards allow a musician more control over subtle changes in pitch than fretted boards, but are generally considered harder to master. Fingerboards may also be, though uncommon, a hybrid of these two. Such a construction is seen on the sitar, where arched frets attach at the edges of a smooth fingerboard; unfrettable strings run inside the frets, while frettable ones run outside. The fret arches are sufficiently high that the exterior strings can be fretted without making the finger making contact with the interior strings, and Frets may be marked by inlays to make navigating the fingerboard easier.

Fret musical instrument part

A fret is a raised element on the neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend across the full width of the neck. On most modern western fretted instruments, frets are metal strips inserted into the fingerboard. On some historical instruments and non-European instruments, frets are made of pieces of string tied around the neck.

In music, intonation is the pitch accuracy of a musician or musical instrument. Intonation may be flat, sharp, or both, successively or simultaneously.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that usually has six strings. It is typically played with both hands by strumming or plucking the strings with either a guitar pick or the finger(s)/fingernails of one hand, while simultaneously fretting with the fingers of the other hand. The sound of the vibrating strings is projected either acoustically, by means of the hollow chamber of the guitar, or through an electrical amplifier and a speaker.

On six-string guitars and bass guitars, markers are typically single smallish dots on the fingerboard and on its side that indicate the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th frets—and the octaves of those positions higher up the neck. A double dot or some other variation marks the 12th fret and 24th frets. Variations on the standard dot shape can make a guitar more distinctive. Position markers are sometimes made luminescent (through using paint, or illuminated with light emitting diodes) to make them more visible on stage. Position markers are also sometimes repeated on the edge of the fingerboard for easy viewing.

The bass guitar is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric or an acoustic guitar, except with a longer neck and scale length, and typically four to six strings or courses.

Over time, strings wear frets down, which can cause buzzing and deaden the sound. Fixing this occasionally requires replacing the frets—but more often they just need "dressing". In fret dressing, a luthier levels and polishes the frets, and crowns (carefully rounds and shapes) the ends and edges. Stainless steel guitar frets may never need dressing, because of the density of the material. [2] Not having frets carefully and properly aligned with the fingerboard can cause severe intonation issues and constant detuning. The ultimate way of determining the source of a buzz and detuning problem is to measure the levelness of the frets. A straightedge positioned on the neck in the "lie" of one of the strings should show nearly level frets. (There should be a slight relief to compensate for the elliptical shape of the vibrating strings.)

Relief, or profile, refers to the amount of curvature in the fingerboard of a guitar or other similar stringed instrument. When the strings of a guitar vibrate, they vibrate in an elliptical shape. Thus, providing the best possible action requires that the guitar fingerboard have a slight curve to allow the strings to vibrate freely. Incorrect relief may cause fret buzz.

Ellipse Plane curve: conic section

In mathematics, an ellipse is a plane curve surrounding two focal points, such that for all points on the curve, the sum of the two distances to the focal points is a constant. As such, it generalizes a circle, which is the special type of ellipse in which the two focal points are the same. The elongation of an ellipse is measured by its eccentricity e, a number ranging from e = 0 to e = 1.


On bowed string instruments, (such as violin, viola, cello, and double bass), the fingerboard is usually made of ebony, rosewood or other hardwood. On some guitars a maple neck and fingerboard are made from one piece of wood. A few modern luthiers have used lightweight, non-wood materials such as carbon-fiber in their fingerboards. [3]

Violin bowed string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths

The violin, sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in the family in regular use. Smaller violin-type instruments exist, including the violino piccolo and the kit violin, but these are virtually unused. The violin typically has four strings, usually tuned in perfect fifths with notes G3, D4, A4, E5, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings, though it can also be played by plucking the strings with the fingers (pizzicato) and by striking the strings with the wooden side of the bow.

Viola bowed string instrument

The viola ( vee-OH-lə, alsovy-OH-lə, Italian: [ˈvjɔːla, viˈɔːla]) is a string instrument that is bowed or played with varying techniques. It is slightly larger than a violin and has a lower and deeper sound. Since the 18th century, it has been the middle or alto voice of the violin family, between the violin (which is tuned a perfect fifth above) and the cello (which is tuned an octave below). The strings from low to high are typically tuned to C3, G3, D4, and A4.

Cello musical instrument

The cello ( CHEL-oh; plural celli or cellos) or violoncello ( VY-ə-lən-CHEL-oh; Italian pronunciation: [vjolonˈtʃɛllo]) is a bowed (and occasionally plucked) string instrument of the violin family. Its four strings are usually tuned in perfect fifths: from low to high, C2, G2, D3 and A3, an octave lower than the viola. Music for the cello is generally written in the bass clef, with tenor clef and treble clef used for higher-range passages.


Fingerboard profile looking from nut to bridge. Scheme and essential parameters Fingerboard scheme.svg
Fingerboard profile looking from nut to bridge. Scheme and essential parameters

Typically, the fingerboard is a long plank with a rectangular profile. On a guitar, mandolin, ukulele, or similar plucked instrument, the fingerboard appears flat and wide, but may be slightly curved to form a cylindrical or conical surface of relatively large radius compared to the fingerboard width. The radius quoted in the specification of a string instrument is the radius of curvature of the fingerboard at the head nut.

Most bowed string instruments use a visibly curved fingerboard, nut and bridge to provide bow clearance for each individual string.

The length, width, thickness and density of a fingerboard can affect timbre. Most fingerboards can be fully described by these parameters:


Graphs of r(x) function for typical fingerboard profiles Fretboard-radii-graph.svg
Graphs of r(x) function for typical fingerboard profiles

Depending on values of radius r and their transition over the length of the fingerboard, all fingerboards usually fit into one of the following four categories:

1FlatBoth nut and bridge are flat. The strings are all in one plane, and the instrument does not have a radius (the radius is in a sense infinite).
2CylindricalThe fingerboard has a constant radius, and the fingerboard, the nut and the bridge all have the same nominal radius (that of the fingerboard is strictly speaking a little smaller than that of nut and bridge).
3ConicalThe fingerboard has a varying radius, usually linearly progressing from to . Sometimes it is also called a compound radius. [4] The nut and bridge are both curved but the nut radius is smaller than that of the bridge.
4CompoundWhile not strictly conical, with a curved nut and linear bridge. All parts of the fingerboard have some curvature, but the fingerboard shape is not strictly a cone., usually


Classical guitars, some 12-string guitars, banjos, dobros, pedal steel, and a few steel stringed acoustic guitars have flat fingerboards. Almost all other guitars have at least some curvature. However some recent five and six string electric basses have flat fingerboards.

For guitars, some players feel that smaller radii (7.25–10") are more comfortable for chord and rhythm playing, while larger radii (12"-16" and up to flat) are better for fast soloing. Conical and compound radius fingerboards try to merge both these features. The nut end of the fingerboard has a smaller radius to ease in forming chords. The bridge end of the fingerboard has a larger radius to make soloing more comfortable and prevent "noting out" [5] ("fretting out"), in which a string comes in contact with a higher fret during bends.

A Brief History Of Discovering The Conical Fingerboard in 1978 by luthier Denny Rauen can be found in American Lutherie #8/Winter 1986 and String Instrument Craftsman May/June 1988 under the title "Multi-Radius Fingerboards". This special radiusing is a standard on many of Denny's custom-built guitars and refret work beginning in 1978. Denny Rauen's articles on the "Multi Radius Fingerboard" are the first published documents on using a conical fingerboard to improve string bending while retaining comfortable chording.

Bowed string instruments usually have curved fingerboards, to allow the player to bow single strings. Those of the modern violin family and the double bass are strongly curved, however those of some archaic bowed instruments are flat.


Examples of some instruments' fingerboard radius parameters:

Vintage Fender Stratocaster guitar7.25" (184.1 mm) [4]
Modern Fender Stratocaster American guitar9.5" (241 mm) [4] 1 11/16" (42.8 mm)
Gibson guitars12" (305 mm)1.68" (43.053 mm)
Danelectro guitars14" (355 mm)
Ibanez guitarsRG and S series: 15.75"-17" (400-430mm). Artcore: 12" (305mm). SZ (305mm)
Jackson guitars16" (406 mm) [4] or compound, from 12" (nut) to 16" (heel). A compound radius is common on their newer models
Warmoth guitarsCompound, from 10" at nut to 16" at heel. [4]
PRS Guitars [6] Regular10" (254 mm)1 21/32" (42 mm)2.25" (57.1 mm)
PRS Guitars Wide Fat and Wide Thin1 11/16" (42.8 mm)2.25" (57.1 mm)
PRS Guitars 5131 43/64" (42.4 mm)2 3/16" (55.5 mm)
PRS Guitars Hiland1 21/32" (42 mm)2 7/32" (56.3 mm)
PRS Guitars Santana11 1/2" (292 mm)1 21/32” (42 mm)2.25" (57.1 mm)
PRS Guitars Custom 22/1211 1/2" (292 mm)1 47/64" (44 mm)2 19/64" (58.3 mm)
Most electric guitars with LSR roller nuts9.5" to 10" (241 mm to 254 mm) [4]
Most electric guitars with Floyd Rose bridge10" (254 mm) [4]
Traditional Classical guitarsflat (no radius)Variable by maker Variable by model
Martin acoustic guitars16" (406.4 mm)Variable by model
Gibson acoustic guitars12" (305 mm)
Full size (4/4) violin 42 mm24 mm40 mm


Scalloped fingerboard of Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster Scalloped fretboard.jpg
Scalloped fingerboard of Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster

A fretted fingerboard can be scalloped by "scooping out" the wood between each of the frets to create a shallow "U" shape. The result is a playing surface wherein the players' fingers come into contact with the strings only, and do not touch the fingerboard.

The process of "scalloping" a fingerboard well, if done by hand, is tedious work, usually done by careful filing of wood between the frets, and requires a large investment of time. Consequently, it is relatively expensive to have done. Generally, luthiers scallop fingerboards with a special milling machine that has 22 or 24 (according to neck dimensions and number of frets) wood cutting tools. This equipment saves time and adds precision to the process of scalloping the wood in the neck's radius the same in all fret spaces.

Scalloped fingerboards are most commonly used by shred guitarists, most notably, Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen, who have signature models developed with Fender. Ibanez JEM series guitars, designed and played by Steve Vai, come standard with the last 4 frets scalloped. In 2008 Ibanez made available their E-Gen model, a Herman Li signature, which includes four scalloped frets (21st to 24th). Karl Sanders of the death metal band Nile also uses several guitars with scalloped frets, including several Deans, and KxK Guitars.

In the 1970s, English guitarist John McLaughlin played with Shakti, along with Indian violinist L. Shankar, using an acoustic guitar with a fully scalloped fretboard. McLaughlin explained that this feature increased the ease and range of string bends by eliminating friction between finger and fretboard. The scalloped fretboard also facilitates the rapid, microtonal variation that is important in Indian music, as exemplified by classical Indian Sitar music. Without scallops, the guitarist must play microtones by sliding the string sideways on the fret.

Experimental luthier Yuri Landman made an electric guitar for John Schmersal of Enon called the Twister with a partial scalloped neck for only the thin strings, (like little playground slides).

Other examples of lutes with scalloped fretboards include the South Indian veena and Vietnamized guitar (called đàn ghi-ta, lục huyền cầm, or ghi-ta phím lõm ).The Japanese multi-instrumentalist and experimental musical instrument builder Yuichi Onoue made a deeply scalloped electric guitar for Vietnamese microtonal playing techniques. [7]

Scalloping can be: [8]

Note that filing away wood to scallop a fingerboard also touches inlays—so ornately inlaid fingerboards are not usually good candidates for scalloping. Simple dot or block markers survive the procedure well.

Advantages and disadvantages

The "scooped out" nature of scalloped fingerboards creates a number of changes in the way the guitar plays. Most obvious, is that the fingertip only contacts the string, not the fingerboard itself, creating less friction for bends and vibratos, which results in more overall control while playing.

However, that is also one of the main disadvantages. Many players, especially new players, may find a scalloped fingerboard too different to play easily, especially if the strings are light for the player or the player tends to press too hard. It takes practice to play in tune on a scalloped fingerboard. The player must first become accustomed to not actually touching the fingerboard. Playing a scalloped fingerboard requires a careful application of pressure: too much sharps the fretted note, as during a bend, and too little pressure causes fret buzz. As a result, most guitar players use a traditional fingerboard on their instruments. [11]

Scoop of fretless bowed-string fingerboards

Fretless bowed-string fingerboards are usually scooped lengthwise in a smooth curve, so that if a straight edge is held next to the board parallel to a string, some daylight shows between them, towards the centre of the board. Usually the scoop is slightly greater on the bass side, less on the treble side of the fingerboard. Different string materials or different styles of playing may call for differing amounts of scoop. Nylon or gut strings require the most, and solid steel-core strings the least. A typical full-size (4/4) violin with synthetic-core G, D, and A strings shows 0.75 mm of scoop under the G string, and between 0.5 mm and zero scoop under the E, which is usually a solid steel core on modern instruments.

Dip of guitar fretboards

On guitars, specifically steel-string and electric guitars, the relief (or "dip") is adjustable by altering the tension on the steel truss rod inside the neck. Relaxing the truss rod allows the pull of the strings to increase the dip, and vice versa. Classical guitars do not need truss rods due to the lower tension of nylon strings, but should still exhibit some degree of dip.

See also


  1. Deane L. Root (ed.). "Sul tasto". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online . Oxford University Press.(subscription required)
  2. Fret Leveling article at the Guitar Repair Bench Luthier Website
  3. Luthier David Rivinus' site explanation of why he doesn't use ebony fingerboards
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Guitar neck radius article at Warmoth
  5. Mottola, R. (2014). Guitar Fretboard Camber and Action in the Context of String Bending. Savart Journal, 1(4)
  6. PRS Guitars FAQ: What are the differences between necks you offer?
  7. Yuichi Onoue on Archived November 8, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  8. Scalloped Guitar Necks article at Warmoth
  9. Archived October 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  10. Axe-Wielding Maniac interview in Australian Guitar Magazine
  11. Ross, Michael (1998). Getting Great Guitar Sounds: A Non-technical Approach to Shaping Your Personal Sound. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 15. ISBN   978-0-7935-9140-4.

Related Research Articles

Electric guitar electrified guitar; fretted stringed instrument with a neck and body that uses a pickup to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals

An electric guitar is a guitar that uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals. The vibration occurs when a guitar player strums, plucks, fingerpicks, slaps or taps the strings. The pickup generally uses electromagnetic induction to create this signal, which being relatively weak is fed into a guitar amplifier before being sent to the speaker(s), which converts it into audible sound.

String instrument musical instrument that generates tones by one or more strings stretched between two points

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when the performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

A pull-off is a stringed instrument plucking technique performed by "pulling" the finger off a string off the fingerboard of either a fretted or unfretted instrument.

Appalachian dulcimer fretted string instrument of the zither family

The Appalachian dulcimer is a fretted string instrument of the zither family, typically with three or four strings, originally played in the Appalachian region of the United States. The body extends the length of the fingerboard, and its fretting is generally diatonic.

A multi-scale fingerboard is an instrument fretboard which incorporates multiple scale lengths. The scale length is the vibrating length of the strings.

Russian guitar musical instrument

The Russian guitar (sometimes referred to as a "Gypsy guitar") is an acoustic seven-string guitar that was developed in Russia toward the end of the 18th century: it shares most of its organological features with the Spanish guitar, although some historians insist on English guitar ascendancy. It is known in Russian as the semistrunnaya gitara (семиструнная гитара), or affectionately as the semistrunka (семиструнка), which translates to "seven-stringer". These guitars are most commonly tuned to an open G chord as follows: D2 G2 B2 D3 G3 B3 D4. In classical literature, the lowest string (D) occasionally is tuned down to the C.

Nut (string instrument) part of a stringed instrument

A nut, on a stringed musical instrument, is a small piece of hard material that supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock or scroll. The nut marks one end of the vibrating length of each open string, sets the spacing of the strings across the neck, and usually holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard. Along with the bridge, the nut defines the vibrating lengths of the open strings.

Outline of guitars Overview of and topical guide to guitars

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:

The truss rod is part of a guitar or other fretted, stringed-instruments that stabilizes the lengthwise forward curvature, of the neck. Usually it is a steel bar or rod that runs inside the neck, beneath the fingerboard. Some are non-adjustable, but most modern truss rods have a nut at one or both ends that adjusts its tension. The first truss rod patent was applied for by Thaddeus McHugh, an employee of the Gibson company, in 1921, though the idea of a "truss rod" appears in patents as early as 1908.

Finger vibrato is vibrato produced on a string instrument by cyclic hand movements. Despite the name, normally the entire hand moves, and sometimes the entire upper arm. It can also refer to vibrato on some woodwind instruments, achieved by lowering one or more fingers over one of the uncovered holes in a trill-like manner. This flattens the note periodically creating the vibrato.

A solid-body musical instrument is a string instrument such as a guitar, bass or violin built without its normal sound box and relying on an electromagnetic pickup system to directly receive the vibrations of the strings.

The action of a string instrument that is plucked, strummed, or bowed by hand is the distance between the fingerboard and the string. In keyboard instruments, the action is the mechanism that translates the motion of the keys into the creation of sound.

Zero fret fret placed at the headstock end of the neck of a string instrument

A zero fret is a fret placed at the headstock end of the neck of a banjo, guitar, mandolin, or bass guitar. It serves one of the functions of a nut: holding the strings the correct distance above the other frets on the instrument's fretboard. A separate nut is still required to establish the correct string spacing when a zero fret is used.

Guitar phím lõm

The đàn lục huyền cầm, or colloquially đàn ghi-ta phím lõm, is a scalloped Vietnamese adaptation of the French guitar.

Gibson Victory

The Gibson Victory was an electric guitar produced by Gibson Guitars from 1981 until 1983. In the late 1970s, a band named Stillwater came out with a song named -Mindbender "My Daddy was a Gibson. My Mama was a Fender That's why they call me Mindbender" about a guitar that could talk. This song may have started the SuperStrat battle, but in the early 1980s, when musicians watched Eddie Van Halen play his Frankenstrat they questioned and rethought everything about their instruments and the SuperStrat war began. Guitar buyers insisted on engineering advances allowing more speed and playability of skyscraping leads, dive bombing, and rock crushing shred. The master luthiers in Kalamazoo responded to these demanding guitarists by designing the Victory. The Victory, a superstrat, was a departure from Gibson's image as an old-fashioned guitar maker. MV stood for Multi-Voice, and X stood for ten. They were created by the Gibson research and development team in Kalamazoo, MI, with the sturdy body and neck work by Chuck Burge, and the "multi-voice" pickups and electronics by Tim Shaw.