What Is Fretboard Radius?

Posted on by Peter

The 12″ radius of a Gibson Les Paul Traditional.

Go into a guitar store and pick up a few random guitars of different designs and brands. Ever wonder why some guitars just feel ‘right’ while others feel just plain weird? Often it’s at least partially down to the radius of the fretboard. This refers to how flat or curved the fretboard the frets are. Different roundnesses provide different playing feels, and some are better suited to particular styles than others are. But there really isn’t such a thing as a ‘bad’ radius, just ‘the right radius for you.’ With that in mind, let’s look at what each popular radius actually is, and what each is best suited for.

When you see the radius mentioned on a spec sheet, it’s usually written in inches – although you may see in expressed in millimetres instead. Smaller numbers indicate rounder radii, while higher ones indicate flatter fretboards. For example, original Stratocasters have a 7.25″ radius (184.15mm), which is very curvy. It makes chording easier (especially barre chords), but if your string height is low there’s a risk of notes ‘choking out’ on higher frets if you bend them too far.

Conversely, a flatter radius like 18″ is much easier to bend with, and many players feel that a flatter fretboard is far better suited to advanced techniques like string skipping, sweep picking and general all-round shredding. That doesn’t mean you can’t shred on a Strat, of course, but the feel is definitely different.

There are two ways of reaching a compromise between a more bend-friendly flat radius and a chord-happy one. The first is to simply use a mid point. Some guitars have a 9.5″ radius, which is noticeably flatter than 7.25″ but still a little curvy. Others, such as the majority of Gibsons, have a 12″ radius, which is flatter again, but not as plank-like as an 18″ one. This strikes the perfect balance between easy string bendability and comfortable chording: chord techniques tend to favor rounder radii, while flatter fretboards are known for being shred machines. And rounder radii can choke up during string bends on guitars with lower action. So a 12″ radius strikes and ideal middle ground.

The other option is a compound radius fretboard, as found on the 2012 Les Paul Standard. This is a neck where the radius is nice and flat at the higher frets, but becomes progressively curved as you make your way towards the nut. It offers the absolute best of both worlds: a flat enough surface for crazy wide bends at the widdly end of the neck, and a curvy one for comfortable chording down at the other end. In the case of the Standard, the fretboard starts at a curvy 10″ at the nut end for easier chording, progressing gradually to a shred-friendly 16″ at the other end.

Of course, a scalloped fretboard is something different entirely, and can have any kind of radius in addition to the scooped-out fretboard surface between each fret. Read more about scalloped fretboards here.

What radius do you prefer?

The 7.25″ radius of a Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster Reissue.

Written on February 20, 2017, by Peter

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  • Terryare

    My Gretsch 6120SSL TM Setzer has a 9.45″ radius and I love it, but stupidly, Gretsch ships these with a 12″ radius bridge, so the first thing you do if you get one of these is find a properly radiused bridge replacement or take it to a luthier and have the saddles filed to proper radius, then it plays great. I have a Les Paul and a couple of PRS guitars, they are 12″ radius. I have 2 660 Rics & they are 10″. I have a Strat @7.25″. My acoustics (Guild Martin, Dobro & Taylor) are all 12″.
    Each one is different but all of them play great. I find the Gretsch most comfortable on the electrics, but all the guitars have different tones and each has its place in a diverse repetoire.

    • David Gaskin

      Do you think Gretsch might be doing that intentionally, to make the string radius a little flatter over the pickups, for those who prefer a flat string surface for picking/chording?

      • They are doing it intentionally, but not for those reasons. If that’s your logic then don’t buy a Setzer… I can’t say why they’re doing it but I can say it is a big mistake, easily corrected with new saddles cut properly. As for radius over the PUPs, what do you think those screws are for anyhow? if you want a faltter surface, buy another model,,, most all other modern Gretsch have a 12″ radius fretboard and so, a matching radius bridge… Go see for yourself: http://www.gretschguitars.com/

  • 9.5″ on my Strats and my Tele. Taller frets will help the choking out, my main Strat has 6105’s on it.

  • How does this relate to basses? Does a bass feel similar to a guitar with a slightly lower radius, or is it the same?

    • franks

      Feels similar, though it’s less significant for basses because of larger spacing between the strings. Flatter radius = easier bending, round radius = easier chording.

  • My Strats have around a 9.45″. With slight height adjustment at the bridge, most bendy notes will work. But then again, I like my strings to fight me back a little, so this may not be suitable for everyone.

  • compound radii are no new thing. Jackson and Charvel have done it since the 80s. They may not have been the first but they are the most known

    • capitan teleblaster

      ummm the 1980’s are fairly recent.

      • William Lockhart

        Charvel started in 78. Jackson in 82. That’s 32 and 36 years respectively. Considering the Strat was conceptualized in 54 it was less than 30 years old before the compound radius came along, so they aren’t too recent. hell I was born in 84 and I’m certainly not recent lol

  • Alex Flores

    What specifically is meant by choking out? Is that more of a lack of sustain or an inability to get certain notes? Thanks

    • itstwueitstwue

      The notes cut off prematurely, like a singer running out of breath.

    • ctgblue

      As you bend, the smaller, more rounded radius causes the note to hit one of the upper frets and kills it. I had that happen with a couple of strats

  • 12″ Gibson radius

  • Petre Sandulescu III

    7,25

  • Jim Swanson

    How can you measure a fretboard radius (or tell what it is) without using documentation from the guitar. Please don’t tell me I have to use Pi. 🙂

    • Pete

      The easiest way is to use a radius gauge. You can either buy a metal set from someone like StewMac, or use a paper cutout one. I think you can find one pretty easily.

    • sgb guitars

      Get a fingerboard radius guage … No joke they exist… Try http://www.stewmac.com

    • franks

      Just get a set of radius gauges, or make your own (with compasses + a piece of cardboard).

  • JoJo

    That’s why I like my Jackson Soloist neck so much. It has a 12″ to 16″ compound radius

  • Steve Gillette

    What radius works best for slide?

    • Jim Regenold

      You dont want the strings to close to the fret board when using a slide

    • Well, logically you’d think the flatter the better, like a 12″ Gibson Allman Bro’s thing… and George Thorogood, Johnny Winter, Derek Trucks,etc… but that aside, many great electric slide players play strats.that are always rounder, mostly 9.45″ ~ Bonnie Raitt, Sonny Landreth, Buddy Guy, Ry Cooder, and Dave Hole to name a few…

  • David Morris

    As you said, Peter, 12″ is the ideal middle ground, and is my personal preference.

  • Joe

    The 16″ on my Fernandes Revolver Elite is perfect for me

  • David Gaskin

    There’s a reason the compound radius is often called a Warmoth Radius…probably the best place on the planet to get EXACTLY the neck you want; I’ve got two Warmoth compound radius necks, and while I love my SG Custom, these are without a doubt the easiest playing necks I’ve ever seen. There’s always that fine line, too, if you’re techie, to try to get the strings as flat as practical over the pickups for chording and balance when picking versus matching the curvature of the neck for playabiity–by bridge saddle height adjustment on Fender-style bridges, or on acoustic saddles–and the Warmoth radius pretty much requires using a fairly flat bridge curvature–perfect for big chords, or if you’re into Green Day and the Ramones.

    That’s an interesting point about the differing radii on the Gretsch neck and bridge; I’ve run across that mismatch in repairing acoustics, but I’d much rather work on an acoustic bridge saddle than the saddles on an electric bridge–I rebuilt a Pan Strat in high school, used Fender saddles and nut while not realizing the difference in scale length and nut width, and wound up spending a lot of time with a couple of really good triangular files my dad fortunately had on hand; I wouldn’t recommend that process.

    • Jack_Smith

      Warmoth is great until you have to send something back to them. Horrid customer support and they will try everything in their power up to borderline lawyer intervention level to keep you from claiming a warranty on something.

      • David Gaskin

        Haven’t had the problem, but I’ll keep that in mind.

    • Yep, Once I got my bridge saddles at the right radius, I had me me one fine damn axe… FYI I replaced the one that came on it with a nice Callaham steel one and had a real good luthier cut the saddles to correct radius for the neck… Yes he agreed with everything I said a bout it.

  • Jeff Clegg

    I’m a power chord freak but I’ll take flat for high shredability factor. Ironically, Yngwie uses scalloped.

  • Jeff Webb

    9.5″ is as “round” as I prefer and is found on all my current Strats. Personally love the 10″-16″ compound radius found on my EVH Striped.

  • Streaker

    I have an early 80’s B.C. Rich Eagle. I believe that it has a radius of around 8. I love it and most other guitars are uncomfortable for me to play. I find it easier to play fast.

  • Jackson Andrew Lewis

    i love “12-16 radius on jackson guitars.

  • 4suremann

    16 by 20

  • Roland Straylight

    Scalloped is a feature that can be done on any radius. I like a gentle scallop from fret 17 onwards, and my favourite guitars are 16″. I’ve played a scalloped vintage strat and found it a nightmare as bends were so easy, but choked so easy too.

    I’ve just made a strat neck that curves from 10″ to 16″ by careful use of a levelling beam. Just image the neck as a conical section and it’s reasonably easy. I’m undecided as to whether I like it more than a straight 16, the difference is quite subtle. It would be much more noticeable if I started tighter at the nut, but I don’t like that kind of feel.

    I have a few Spanish guitars, they all have flat necks, or necks that were flat, some of the very old ones are a little twisted, but the very flat feels right.

  • franks

    Being a Floyd Rose player, there is only one real option for me – 12″, same as the trem and the nut. I have no use compound 12-16″, since it makes the string height uneven (middle strings raised more in high positions) and feels awful with a fixed-radius trem. It can work on Strats and such where you can adjust the bridge radius to fit, but it’s not an option for a Floyd. Maybe it could work better with Edge (16″) or Gotoh (14″), but I don’t use those.