Fingerboard radius: why?
I've heard a radiused fingerboard is more comfortable, but in what way? The only well-explained reason I've read for radiusing an electric bass fingerboard is that it is just a vestige of the upright bass viol's radiused fingerboard (which was that way to match the bridge radius so that the instrument could facilitate bowing), and yet with the way most pickups are done it would be better to have a flat(ish) fingerboard. So what gives--why do builders still radius fingerboards? Because Leo did?
I didn't like the few instruments I've ever played with flat fingerboards. Somehow it felt to my fingers like it was actually concave. It might be the case that a little radius tricks the brain and fingers because it keeps the middle strings from feeling (but not actually beinng) closer to the edge, as the fingers come from the edge and up over the top. Thus if the middle strings are a wee bit higher they will fall a wee bit closer to the fingers as the curve back down onto the board. I fret with the tips of my second, third and fourth fingers on the A, D, and G, but then the E falls away more but I fret that one with a straight index finger on the side of the tip, not the end like the others, ergonomically it seems to work well with some curve.
In the end, who can say for sure, but that is how my hand feels it.
Edit: find an old Stella or Harmony plywood acoustic, they have flat fingerboards (really just a flat top on the neck, no separate fingerboard) and play it back to back with a standard acoustic, it will not feel as nice.
It's all in the feel for the player. For me, it's not just the radius of the fingerboard as a thing onto itself... but it's a combination of the radius as well as the shape of the neck... width, thickness, shape, yada, yada. It all works together.
The G side of the board is lower and the reach to the E isn't impeded by the G edge.
A radius is imperative if you're bowing...
In the context of guitar and bass guitar, a radius feels more comfortable in the lower registers because the strings are very close together and the radius fits the shape of the hand & the curvature of the fingers, especially when playing chords. As the fingerboard gets wider and the strings get further apart the radius becomes less beneficial, even detrimental, ergonomically speaking. This is why classical stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass, etc.) have a conical radius (often incorrectly called a compound radius) so that the fingerboard radius flattens out in the upper register. Think cross section of a traffic cone.
For us electric bass players the radius is more a function of tradition than practicality. Players like Anthony Jackson advocate a totally flat fingerboard since efficiency of bass guitar technique is not served by a curvature in the fingerboard.
Classical guitar is almost flat and to me it works better than a Strat with the little radius and strings way to close to each other.
as for basses ... the more strings you add to the bass, the radius will be high and thus flat.
To me, the players preference in fingerboard radius has more to do with right hand (plucking hand) technique. Flatter radius fingerboards are usually preferred by players who have the action set low and pluck with a very light touch. Rounder radiuses are preferred by players who dig in and pluck hard, with more of an upright bass like technique.
The basses I build are made to be plucked hard, and I've experimented with small (round) fingerboard radiuses. Some of my models use a small as a 4" radius (on a 4-string bass). That seems to be the practical limit for a horizontal bass. Most customers who have tried one of my 4" radius basses are comfortable with it right away, and don't even realize it's that round at first. But it depends on their playing style.
I've noticed that the customers who don't like the rounder fingerboards mostly are fumbling with their right hand. They have trouble reaching down to the outboard strings. It really depends on how you position your hand over the strings.
I'm not judging which is right or wrong. There are different ways to play the bass, and we build different types of basses to fit what players do.
From what I've seen, players aren't as sensitive to the fingerboard radius with the left hand, the fingering hand. On a 4-string, most players will find a neck with some radius more comfortable. Players who mostly plant their thumb on the back will prefer flatter, like 12". Players who tend to wrap their hand around will like it rounder, like 7 1/4". As you go wider and add more strings, flatter will feel more comfortable, because you have to plant your thumb. Again, your preference will mostly depend on how you position your hand on the neck.
Manufacturers tend to like flatter radiuses, because they are easier to build. Fewer issues with the pickups, hardware, and neck machining. A 12" radius seems to have the industry standard for 4 and 5 strings. It's a compromise, please the most people kind of thing.
So what gives--why do builders still radius fingerboards?
Because flat fingerboards suck.
I had one that was made by an
instrument builder. It had an
absolutely flat fretboard.
I took off the frets and put a
little radius on it myself.
[QUOTE/]:This is why classical stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass, etc.) have a conical radius (often incorrectly called a compound radius) .[/quote]
Wrong. Lets not muddy the waters with erroneous information. By definition a cone is compound radius along the tangent. The radius constantly changes along it and is therefore compound. They are one and the same.
http://i.word.com/idictionary/compound%20curve the distinction is that a compound curve dies not have to be conical but a conical surface is definitely compound.
not a lot of point in comparing two completely different instruments that only have two things in common, the number of strings, and default tuning thereof...other than that its apples and cheese..
Here is a photo of a totally flat neck.
It is wider than a P bass neck.... It is
1.82 inches, or 1 and 13/16th inches
at the nut.
I never played it much with a flat neck
because it had a bad ski ramp and I
ended up making it fretless and putting
a little radius on it by eyeballing.
I just love playing this bass. It has tons
As you can see, a 4" radius fingerboard isn't as radical as it sounds. For the right hand, the two center strings are raised up about 1/8". It's more comfortable if you are plucking hard, rolling the sides of your fingers off of the strings.
Out on the neck, it feels comfortable. I personally prefer the 4" radius over 7 1/4". AUB-2 #060 above has been my own main gigging bass since 2007. But then, I'm playing bluegrass and similar acoustic-type music, in an upright-like style.
Over the years, maybe 200 bassists have tried out #060 here at my shop or at gigs. Out of them, only a few have said that it was too round and they didn't like it. Most didn't even notice the 4" radius until I pointed it out.
Personal preference for best playability. I dont like flat fretboards and prefer 12" radius. Compound radius like jacksons use being my fave.
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