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Fingerboards: Where The String Meets The Fret

Sep 15, 2008
My father attempted to teach me to play the guitar when I was about eight years old. I was not very interested, especially when I realized that becoming a skilled musician would require a fair amount of time and effort. However, fortunately for me, I didn't have to get out of it by complaining; I had a legitimate excuse. Try as I might, my hands were just too small to be able to deal with the strings along the fingerboard. The fingerboard (also known as a fretboard) is the long, thin part of the guitar, often referred to as simply the neck. The strings run the entire length of the fingerboard. In order to create different pitches, the guitarist must press the strings down against the fingerboard, thereby changing their vibrating lengths and altering their sounds. At the age of eight, my hands and fingers were neither large nor strong enough to accomplish this. However, an adult musician who can manage this feat is on their way to becoming the guitarist my father wanted me to be.

Fingerboards are not the sole property of guitars. They are a part of most stringed instruments, such as violins, cellos and more exotic instruments like the sitar. However, it is the fingerboards of guitars that will be discussed herein, and these are often fretted. A fret is a raised strip of hard material that runs perpendicular to an instrument's strings. On most guitars, frets span the entire width of the fingerboard. These little raised strips allow the guitarist to easily and consistently depress a string at the same location time after time, thereby allowing for the creation of the desired pitch. The frets on a guitar are fixed, although on other instruments, such as the lute, they may be moveable.

On various instruments played with the bow, such as the viola, the fingerboard is usually a separate piece of wood, usually made of some kind of hardwood, laminated to the neck. On guitars, however, the neck and the fingerboard are actually a single piece of wood, often maple. There are modern luthiers who use innovative non-wood materials like carbon-fiber to make fingerboards, but these are not common. Wood remains the material of choice for most guitar fingerboards.

Most fingerboards are simply a long plank with a rectangular profile. Some guitar fingerboards, however, may be slightly curved, creating a shallow conical surface. Or, to put it another way, the radius of such a fingerboard is very large in comparison to its width. When a radius is quoted in a guitar's specifications, it is this, the fingerboard's radius of curvature, that is being referred to.

Very specialized fingerboards sometimes feature scalloping. This attribute is created when the luthier scoops out the wood of the fingerboard between each fret, creating a shallow U-shape. On scalloped fingerboards, the guitarist's fingers only ever come into contact with the strings, never the fingerboard. This allows the artists to perform very rapid music. Guitars with scalloped fingerboards tend to be very expensive because of the amount of time and effort it takes to create such fingerboards. These guitars are usually favored only by shred guitarists, or artists who focus on fast passages.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for guitars, fingerboards, fretboards, frets, sheet music, guitar tabs, and home theater audio.
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