Photos by PRimaging
Fan frets aren’t a new idea, they first appeared around 1560 on the bandora and orpharion (types of cittern). The current fashion for fan frets started with Ralph Novak in the late 1980s – he wanted to build an electric guitar with the sustain and sweetness of a Les Paul in the trebles but the crunch and definition of a Strat or Tele in the basses.. The idea was soon taken up by acoustic guitar makers and discerning players, who realized the tonal benefits it could bring.
On a fan fretted instrument the nut and bridge are set at an angle to each other, so that the bass strings are longer than the treble strings. This helps to even out the tension across the strings, making the treble stings slightly slacker and the bass strings slightly tighter than on a conventional guitar, which in turn evens out the tone, giving a fatter treble and a stronger, brighter bass. The increased tension on the bass strings also makes fan frets ideal for drop D and DADGAD tunings, with less problems with fret rattle and buzz.
My fan fret
In 2015, after two years of thinking, planning, changing my mind and generally procrastinating, I finally got round to building a fan fret. The end result is even better than I could have hoped for and everyone who has played it has been deeply impressed. Although it looks a little unusual, as soon as it is in your hands you really don’t notice the angled frets at all and it feels totally natural to play, and the richness of tone and clarity really do set it apart from other guitars.
I’m now working on designs for a fan fretted five course mandola/cittern – I’ve always shied away from building five course instruments because I feel the tonal range creates too much of a compromise – either the first course is so tight that it just sounds pingy, or else the fifth course is too slack and flabby. But by using fan frets hopefully I will be able to achieve a good balance, with the added advantage that it will have the close fret spacing and easier fingering of a short scale instrument on the treble strings, but with the grunt of a long scale instrument on the basses.