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Radius and Fret Out

Fingerboard radius affects fret out during bends. The lower the action, the flatter the radius must be to accommodate step+ bends of the 1st string above the 12th fret.

Is it only the high E fretting out on 1 step bends above the 12th fret (common observation for round radii)? The problem resulting in high E fret out is that as the bend causes the string to travel across the fingerboard it is reaching the peak of the radius. Often (fallaway and relief problems notwithstanding) the same bends on B and G reach pitch at a point beyond the peak of the radius so the next preceding fret top is falling away from the lie of the string to the bridge. So the solution becomes avoiding the peak of the radius while playing. Bend different strings at different frets and note how the string moves in relation to the next preceding fret.

If the above describes the situation and you don't want to change the neck for a flatter radius, you can either 1) avoid bends on the high E above the 12th fret or 2) try the old school set up where the high E and B strings are set higher from the fret tops than the G and D. The higher the string at the bridge the farther it will be from the next preceding fret top. These tweaks cost nothing.

Otherwise - if you want your action lower than the above tweaks will allow or you want to bend the high E often - you may wish to contemplate having a flatter radius in the higher frets by either leveling judiciously, reradiusing the FB and refretting or using another neck with a flatter radius. These tweaks can be expensive.

Radius is important here and so also is fallaway - a neck needs a little in the right place. If other strings are fretting out, affecting factors include too little clearance, too much relief, not enough fallaway.

If you want low action - as in a .050" distance from the bottom of the high E string to the top of the 12th fret (fret at the 1st to remove the nut from the measurement) and will be bending - I suggest going with at least an 12" radius at the last fret (you can compound from the 1st fret). A 9.5" or 10" radius can still choke out on a high E bend of one step + above the 12th fret. For reference try some Am Std Fenders' 9.5" radius (although sometimes the radius in the fret tops is rounder than the FB due to leveling inaccuracies) or the PRS 10" radius (these are consistent). A .060" high E is usually OK on a 10" radius if the relief and fallaway are correct.

Leveling in the desired relief/fallaway only makes sense if there is enough fret material to spare for your fret preferences. Some folks have opted to not follow a radius across the offending frets but instead to level only the radius peak under the middle strings (essentially where the note dies - I don't care for this approach as it feels uneven to me). If you want to see how much material would be removed to change the existing radius in the frets, take a compass and overlap a 7.25" radius and a 9.5" radius for a 2" span and note the difference at the midpoint. A flatter radius would require even more material removal. A medium fret, the standard vintage RI size is typically .040" tall, sometimes lower due to finish build up, prior leveling or wear.

If you choose the refret/reradius, go with the repairperson you are most comfortable with. The quality of fretwork and how it matches your application and preferences will make or break the guitar for you. You have to be comfortable.

My understanding of radius is that the 7.25" was traditional for Fender and pre Gibson Epiphones and the ~9" radius for older Gibson electrics (Gibsons vary when it comes to radius) and it was thought to be comfortable for the fretting hand as it favors the curve of the fingers (heavy strings and no big bends was the order of the day, although many flattops have flatter radii, 16" Martin etc). Classical guitars have a much flatter radius (20"+ to flat) to favor the picking hand (a flat plane to travel in to help hone picking hand technique).

Personally I prefer a compound 10-12" radius for an electric guitar - I find it to be a nice balance between the two hands and chords/arpeggios vs single note techniques with reasonably low action (1st string .050” bottom of string to top of 12th fret, fretted at 1st fret to remove nut from measurement, with correct relief of .010~.012”).

 

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