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Thread: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

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    Default Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Do you know of any fan fret tenor guitars, and do you think they have significant advantages for a tenor over conventional fretboards?

    I know there's an old thread here on this, just wondering if there are more recent developments.

    Max

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    There have been a few featured on this thread but they would of been one off custom builds.
    They do look amazingly cool but, the very fact there are so few around must mean something?

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Perhaps someone could explain why a tenor guitar might need/benefit from fan fretting?

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Quote Originally Posted by fox View Post
    There have been a few featured on this thread but they would of been one off custom builds.
    They do look amazingly cool but, the very fact there are so few around must mean something?
    I suspect it means that the straight fret tenor guitar is in itself rare enough, but the subset of tenor guitarists interested in messing with the instrument is even rarer. You have the same thing with extended range guitars and violin family, say 5 string violas. I think, though, that tenor may be one of those instruments for which fan fretting may be practically useful. Fifths tuned instruments have a wide pitch range for the number of strings (or pairs of unison strings), which means that particularly for plucked rather than bowed instruments, the lowest string may work better on a longer scale length than the highest - and the highest string breaking point and playing convenience may be the determining factor in the scale length of straight fret instruments. For 6 string 25.4" scale guitar, my limited experience of 'new standard' tuning suggest that in practise it results from compromising a top string that won't break too often with a lowest string that doesn't sound too muddy - even on a super jumbo sized body. That's my understanding of why the 1st string in New Standard is less than a 5th above the 2nd. For 4 string GDAE tenor, a scale length of about 23" appears to enable most folks to play fiddle and mandolin style tunes without too much stretching, but I suspect that a longer low G might enable a deeper bass sound.

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    I make fan fretted tenor banjos, so I got a custom built fan fretted tenor guitar in carbon fibre. The scale lengths are 23” (E) to 24” (G). The ergonomics are such that it has a comparable stretch to a 23” straight fretted tenor. The 24” (G) definitely has more power & in my opinion better tone. Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	204053 I’m trying to get the tenor guitar photo onto the thread but it doesn’t seem to want to work.

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    A local fellow was experimenting with them. I met him through the Cafe and got a chance to check out one of his fanned-fret tenors.

    It was nice but I found the fanned-frets worked against most chord and scale fingerings. Being tuned in 5ths means the intervals are wider than 4ths to begin with, so adding extra length just felt awkward. I found many chord shapes pretty difficult to finger.

    Fanned frets may work for some instruments but I didn't like it on a tenor, and I thought I would going in.
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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Quote Originally Posted by Verne Andru View Post
    A local fellow was experimenting with them. I met him through the Cafe and got a chance to check out one of his fanned-fret tenors.

    It was nice but I found the fanned-frets worked against most chord and scale fingerings. Being tuned in 5ths means the intervals are wider than 4ths to begin with, so adding extra length just felt awkward. I found many chord shapes pretty difficult to finger.

    Fanned frets may work for some instruments but I didn't like it on a tenor, and I thought I would going in.
    Yes I can understand how that can happen. It is important to get the angle of the frets right to match the ergonomics of the way the player's wrist moves up & down the fretboard. This is particularly important for the shorter scale length of a tenor guitar/banjo & like you say when it is tuned in fifths. As you can see from the photo I keep a modest angle at the nut end & keep the scale length differential to no more than 1”. I have found this to be very comfortable for chording & for playing ‘powerful’ reels in Irish trad sessions.

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    I have even angled the bridge on my tenor violin to enrich the tone on its bottom ‘G’ string. I suppose that makes it a multi-scale instrument even though it is only by about a 10mm differential. Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Quote Originally Posted by Harley Marty View Post
    I have even angled the bridge on my tenor violin to enrich the tone on its bottom ‘G’ string. I suppose that makes it a multi-scale instrument even though it is only by about a 10mm differential. Click image for larger version. 

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    Interesting- is your 'tenor' violin tuned -8va GDAE? I have a 'chin cello' 5 string 16" viola tuned -8va CGDAE. The C string is a bit 'choked' sounding and hard to get working with the bow (it's OK at normal viola C pitch), so maybe this is worth trying. Does that angle on the bridge require noticeable finger compensation to play in tune, and is the bridge made 'twisted as it looks, with the feet still at right angles to the fiddle centreline?

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    There was a long history of trial & error plus thousands of euro to get a working tenor violin. I ended up getting this one off 18” built to viola proportions. It has a 405mm stop & uses standard cello strings. I fitted a set of Wittner planetary geared tuners. It is a beautiful instrument & has its own distinct tenor violin tone which everyone likes. I also have a 1/2 size cello strung to GDAE which does sound better but is impossible for me to hear in any pub session here in Ireland. The bridge does have a twist in it which gives it the best compromise of getting the extra scale length to the ‘G’ & keeping it from straying too far back along the bass bar, so the top of the bridge is about 10mm back from square & the base is only about 5mm back. This puts its centre-line only 2.5mm out which doesn’t hurt the sound at all. The fingering compensation is unnoticeable even to players transitioning from fiddle for the first time. A lot of that is due to the nut being square which getting back to fan fretted tenor guitars it is important to get the angle of the nut right to make them ‘easier’ to play. GDAE tuning on a 16” is in my opinion going to fall short of the mark. Even Stradivarius built his tenor violins at 20” & he was the master of getting smaller size violins to sound great! But he didn’t have the strings that we have today. My next one will have a 410mm stop length specified, I think that that’s the sweet spot lies.

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Oh yes, I forgot to mention that I use a baroque style cello bow.

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    What techniques do you use to play such a big fiddle? There's an interesting article here:

    https://taborviolas.com/baroque-viola/a-short-history-of-baroque-violas/


    ...that suggests original tenor violins may have often been played 'on the arm' rather than under the chin, especially as some had very deep ribs, like a small cello. The 16" one I have is sort of playable acoustically, but it's much better amplified than acoustic because, as you suggest, the body is too small to resonate at cello frequencies.

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    maybe to master a 5 string range?
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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    I don’t think that I have any different a technique than usual. I obviously play Irish trad on it with a strong trad style. I took lessons from a well respected fiddle teacher from a Gaelic speaking area, so I change bow direction every string change, draw the bow at the start of the phrase & push the bow to finish. I also play the open strings. I’m 6’ tall which helps & my treble fiddle (standard GDAE) is a 16.5” with the viola strings shifted down one place & a 10 gauge savareze guitar string for the ‘E’. I find regular violins to be too cramped for obvious reasons (same with mandolins from playing tenor guitar).

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    maybe to master a 5 string range?
    I think that might be a right arm adjustment, to cover a greater radius of bowing than on a 4 string. Most 5 string bowed instruments I've seen come fitted with a bowable with 5 strings (never mind 6 or 7), you'll have to lift your right arm higher than normal to bow the bottom string, unless you hold the fiddle so the bow's almost vertical when playing the top string. However I was asking HM about left arm reach.

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    I think for left arm reach it’s all about discipline, keeping the left arm tucked well under the fiddle. Lots of trad players seem to lack some of those points & still play great music but I still think it’s a limiting factor especially if you want to stray into other genres.

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Quote Originally Posted by Harley Marty View Post
    I think for left arm reach it’s all about discipline, keeping the left arm tucked well under the fiddle. Lots of trad players seem to lack some of those points & still play great music but I still think it’s a limiting factor especially if you want to stray into other genres.
    I suspect it may be harder to play a big fiddle style instrument if the palm of the left hand touches the neck, although there are some great fiddlers who play that way. I use pretty standard classical stance, but I've never got on that well with big instruments despite being 6' tall. A female friend the same height used to play a big 17 1/2" viola, but she has very long fingers and her tip joints hinge at right angles like hammer heads. Mine don't...

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Getting back to theoriginal topic of fanned frets...

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    ...(D)o you think they (fanned frets) have significant advantages for a tenor over conventional fretboards.
    Having played and knowing other players of long scale-length instruments (bass, bouzouki, long-neck tenor banjo, upright bass, cello, etc.) over many years, I do have some thoughts/obsevations about ergonomics.

    I used to think of the hand in relation to fingerboard position as the hand being at the end of, say, a windshield wiper, with the pivot/anchor/elbow of the swing being a few inches off the plane of the fingerboard's surface. Looked at in that way, the fingers will benefit from the frets fanning .

    I've since come to visualize the elbow as not being fixed in space, and definitely not being in the same plane as the fingerboard surface. Instead, the neck is a little more vertically oriented, like a double bass, a cello or a classical guitar. The elbow and forearm move in concert, to sweep the hand from the top to the bottom of the fretboard.

    Imagining these motions with a broomstick or mop handle makes it clear that keeping the forefinger of the fretting hand perpendicular to the neck/broomhandle orientation is actually pretty easy.

    Going further, as the neck/broomhandle tilts to the side further and further from vertical, it requires more and more wrist strain to twist the forefinger outward at the high (pegboard) end of the neck. In fact, at the almost horizontal position favored by most guitarists, fanned frets put the wrist into a position of strain which is used by martial artists to then throw their wrist-twisted opponents to the ground.

    Having coached players with wrist problems, I always advise having the instrument lower, with neck higher, and not to do anything which adds unnecessary strain. I play an 8-string extended-range guitar with a 28.625" scale length, with no hand strain. I also occasionally play a six-course tuned in full fifths with a 25.5" scale length. I'm 5' 10" with average-sized hands.

    I don't have any issues playing (in my case) my Republic Route 49 GDAE-tuned tenor resonator, which I think has a 22.5" scale length.

    I suggest that people who are interested in fanned frets actually do test fittings of instruments with comparable scale lengths or even longer, experimenting with instrument positions and orientations, to see if fanned frets make sense with their particular body ergonomics. It's easy to listen to someone else making an argument in words, but if one is looking to spend money, it's better to actually try things out before sinking funds into one path or another.

    Whatever the path eventually chosen, good luck!
    ----

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Quote Originally Posted by Explorer View Post
    Getting back to theoriginal topic of fanned frets...



    Having played and knowing other players of long scale-length instruments (bass, bouzouki, long-neck tenor banjo, upright bass, cello, etc.) over many years, I do have some thoughts/obsevations about ergonomics.

    I used to think of the hand in relation to fingerboard position as the hand being at the end of, say, a windshield wiper, with the pivot/anchor/elbow of the swing being a few inches off the plane of the fingerboard's surface. Looked at in that way, the fingers will benefit from the frets fanning .

    I've since come to visualize the elbow as not being fixed in space, and definitely not being in the same plane as the fingerboard surface. Instead, the neck is a little more vertically oriented, like a double bass, a cello or a classical guitar. The elbow and forearm move in concert, to sweep the hand from the top to the bottom of the fretboard.

    Imagining these motions with a broomstick or mop handle makes it clear that keeping the forefinger of the fretting hand perpendicular to the neck/broomhandle orientation is actually pretty easy.

    Going further, as the neck/broomhandle tilts to the side further and further from vertical, it requires more and more wrist strain to twist the forefinger outward at the high (pegboard) end of the neck. In fact, at the almost horizontal position favored by most guitarists, fanned frets put the wrist into a position of strain which is used by martial artists to then throw their wrist-twisted opponents to the ground.

    Having coached players with wrist problems, I always advise having the instrument lower, with neck higher, and not to do anything which adds unnecessary strain. I play an 8-string extended-range guitar with a 28.625" scale length, with no hand strain. I also occasionally play a six-course tuned in full fifths with a 25.5" scale length. I'm 5' 10" with average-sized hands.

    I don't have any issues playing (in my case) my Republic Route 49 GDAE-tuned tenor resonator, which I think has a 22.5" scale length.

    I suggest that people who are interested in fanned frets actually do test fittings of instruments with comparable scale lengths or even longer, experimenting with instrument positions and orientations, to see if fanned frets make sense with their particular body ergonomics. It's easy to listen to someone else making an argument in words, but if one is looking to spend money, it's better to actually try things out before sinking funds into one path or another.

    Whatever the path eventually chosen, good luck!
    I’m not an expert by any means. All the instruments that I’ve made in the last 3 years have had fan frets. There’s a batch of 8 fan fretted banjos coming through the workshop now. What I can say for sure is if you take an inch off the top string & do it mostly at the bridge end, it becomes significantly easier to play with very little sacrifice to the sound. Obviously there’s no difference to the sound of the bottom string. Everybody that plays the tenor banjo’s that I’ve built play Irish trad tunes exclusively on them and they prefer to add the inch to the bottom string to give more power to the bottom end & it seems that these banjos aren’t any harder to play than a standard length banjo. I however also sing so I commissioned a fan fretted tenor guitar with the extra inch to the bottom end ‘G’ string for accompaniment & I love it!
    Another thing I can say for sure is that fan fretted banjos are a ‘lot’ harder to make (but well worth it).

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    One forum which has an active membership set of fanned-fret enthusiasts can be found at sevenstring.org, which is centered on guitars of seven, eight, nine strings and beyond. At extreme string quantities and scale lengths, all kinds of issues become more obvious.

    When I was more active, it was always interesting to deal with people who would argue that wound strings would have the same stiffness and therefore inharmonicity issues as a plain wire string. "A plain iron bar of .090" diameter will be more flexible and will sound better than a wound string of the same diameter!" They would take something they had read somewhere and would run with it.

    Anyway, I just got in the habit of suggesting simple real-world experiments people could try to see how different ergonomic propositions felt on their own body. Custom instruments are expensive, so having an idea of what works for yourself is a good idea before spending one's hard earned cash.

    Inre-reading my suggestion to use a broomhandle, I realize I'm out of practice. It's better to use a yardstick, so one can have a flat surface to better visualize the position, angle and strain of one's fingers and hand in relation to the fingerboard.

    Everyone's body and ergonomics are slightly different, so it's better to treat it like trying on shoes, instead of relying on someone else's opinion about whether it fits, right?

    And who knows? Someone might find an approach that fits them perfectly!

    Whatever path any particular person chooses, good luck, and happy exploring!
    ----

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    Default Re: Fan fret tenor guitars (2022 thread)

    Quote Originally Posted by Explorer View Post
    One forum which has an active membership set of fanned-fret enthusiasts can be found at sevenstring.org, which is centered on guitars of seven, eight, nine strings and beyond. At extreme string quantities and scale lengths, all kinds of issues become more obvious.

    When I was more active, it was always interesting to deal with people who would argue that wound strings would have the same stiffness and therefore inharmonicity issues as a plain wire string. "A plain iron bar of .090" diameter will be more flexible and will sound better than a wound string of the same diameter!" They would take something they had read somewhere and would run with it.

    Anyway, I just got in the habit of suggesting simple real-world experiments people could try to see how different ergonomic propositions felt on their own body. Custom instruments are expensive, so having an idea of what works for yourself is a good idea before spending one's hard earned cash.

    Inre-reading my suggestion to use a broomhandle, I realize I'm out of practice. It's better to use a yardstick, so one can have a flat surface to better visualize the position, angle and strain of one's fingers and hand in relation to the fingerboard.

    Everyone's body and ergonomics are slightly different, so it's better to treat it like trying on shoes, instead of relying on someone else's opinion about whether it fits, right?

    And who knows? Someone might find an approach that fits them perfectly!

    Whatever path any particular person chooses, good luck, and happy exploring!
    I’ve put some thought into what you’ve said. In the next batch of fanned frets that l make I will have two with the nut in the ‘square’ position & an angled bridge. This should facilitate those people you suggest that find bar chording a strain up close to the nut. It will only have approximately a 20mm scale difference between top & bottom strings. One will have a 23” bottom string shortening to the top string, & one will have a 23” top string lengthening to the bottom string. It’ll be interesting to see how they will be received.

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