Guitar Neck Fretboard Radius
Fretboards are curved across their width to accommodate the natural shape of fingers in playing position. Some are curved a great deal, while others feel almost flat. The amount of a fretboard's curvature is referred to as its radius. Fretboards with a small radius are more curved, while those with a large radius are more flat. The measurement is arrived at by extending the arc of the fretboard to form an imaginary circle around the neck. The radius of this circle is the fretboard's radius.
Straight Radius vs Compound Radius
Straight radius necks use a single radius down the entire length of the fretboard. They have been the industry standard since the inception of guitars, and are still in wide use today.
The compound radius fretboard is an innovation Warmoth pioneered almost 30 years ago, in which the fretboard gradually changes from a rounder radius at the nut end to a flatter radius at the heel end.
Choosing a Fretboard Radius
When considering fretboard radius it is important select something that is both comfortable in your hand and conducive to your playing style. In general, smaller radius fretboards are associated with vintage electric guitars, while larger radii are associated with modern ones. Certain nuts are also manufactured at a particular radius. Examples include:
- Vintage Fender: 7-1/4"
- Modern Fender: 9-1/2"
- PRS, Gibson: 10"
- Ibanez: 12"
- Jackson: 16"
- Floyd Rose locking nut: 10"
- LSR Roller nut: 9-1/2" - 10"
Small radius fretboards are wonderful for rhythm work and chording, but to bend strings without "fret-out" the action must be uncomfortably high. Large radius fretboards make clean string bends with low action possible, but rhythm playing is no longer as comfortable. For most players, the best compromise of comfort, low action, and clean string bending on a straight-radius fretboard falls somewhere in the middle range, between 10" and 12". Warmoth's custom radiusing machine is adjustable to any straight radius between 9" and 16", in half inch increments. If you prefer a vintage feel, a 7-1/4" radius is available on our Total Vintage necks.
Rather than compromising, compound radius necks take a best-of-both-worlds approach. They start with a smaller radius in the lower frets, and transition gradually to a flatter radius in the higher frets. This unique conical shape provides maximum hand comfort in the chording area, while allowing greater speed and cleaner string bending as the player moves up the neck.
The Warmoth Compound Radius fretboard has proven so popular that we have incorporated it into all our neck offerings. After considerable research we chose to transition from 10" at the nut to 16" at the heel. This allows fantastic rhythm comfort, compatibility with popular mechanical nuts like the Floyd Rose and LSR Roller nut, and very fast lead playing with clean bends and extremely low action.
The change in radius as you move up the neck is barely perceptible, but it will make a genuine, noticeable difference in your playing. There is also no practical difference in accomplishing a fret level, nut cut, set-up or any other adjustment to a compound radius neck. They are as easy to work on as any other neck.