Why do fretboards narrow at the nut?

jnorris235

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I cant see a physics reason why the fretboard on virtually all stringed instruments (except possibly a classical guitar?) are narrower at the nut.
Practically you need just as much room up there for finger access as you do lower down.
 

sequoia

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I cant see a physics reason why the fretboard on virtually all stringed instruments (except possibly a classical guitar?) are narrower at the nut.
Practically you need just as much room up there for finger access as you do lower down.

That is actually an interesting question. My first guess is that because the fret intervals become narrower at the upper ends, more space is needed to get your fingers to properly fret the notes. You need more room at the upper registers. Question: Do non-freted fingerboards (like a fretless bass) taper also?
 

jnorris235

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I think violins do narrow, and are fretless.
So you think it may be that the square area needed per fingertip may be the equation. Hmmm.
Thinking...
I can see the weight argument, but dont classical guitars narrow far far less - and I presumed this was for uniform access for plucking?
 
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gochugogi

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I own a lot classical guitars and all of them have a wider string spread at the bridge than the nut. For example, my Japanese made Hirade TH8SS is 52mm at the nut and 60mm at the bridge. My Spanish made Ramirez is 54mm at the nut and 64mm at the bridge! Classicals are designed for fingerpicking so you need extra room. On the other hand, instruments designed for flat picking—electric guitar—have a narrower spread at the bridge to facilitate jumping a pick from string to string. I think the other members are right also about players needing more room in the upper positions since the frets are closer together.
 
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jnorris235

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It never occurred that the narrow nuts were designed for use with picks. That explains a lot. In our little town I havent been able to get to see a classical guitar, they just looked parallel sided fretboards. Ive actually been looking at a guitalele and a 45mm nut for 6 strings I find difficult to fingerpick. 52 and 54 sounds huge (from a ukulele players perspective). Thanks for your help.
 

sequoia

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the spacing you need for cleanly fretting is less than the spacing you need for cleanly plucking the strings with the fingers.

I think this is probably the right answer. The weight thing not so much...
 

bazuku

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This is an interesting question.
It is probably an evolutionary thing.
For my age and exposure, I am a very poor guitarist (pathetic really), so I should not be preaching on good technique. However, most seasoned players have very specific likes for nut and fret board width and detest narrow or overly wide ones. Some get quite emotional over 1mm discrepancies. Very accomplished players seem to be able to use just the points of the finger tips regardless of position on the fret board, while others use a greater area of finger pad real estate, especially higher up the board. This requires an increased string spacing as fret spacing decreases in order to avoid the otherwise inevitably muted adjacent strings.
I hope this makes sense.
 

Beau Hannam Ukuleles

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I'm not sure (I mean, I doubt) if weight was the original thought behind the tapering...but maybe it was a consideration.
By original, i mean the Lyre > then oud, > which are the ancestors of the lute > then guitar.

Another more simple and straightforward possibility.
The farther away your hand is from the instrument body (which is usually the center of playing) , the more difficult to do accurate fingering becomes.
Stretch out your arm all the way and air finger chords ...then do it imagining a wide fingerboard at the nut....

Not such a problem on ukes, but it would be on longer instruments, including the violin (which isn't long but how its held dictates a taper is necessary.)
So the tapering necks from the long stringed instruments of 2000-3000 years ago continues.
 

prd

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I always thought that the tapered neck introduced the proper amount of relief to eliminate string buzz.
 

prd

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. I think a straight beam might put the relief higher up the fret board which would be less useful.
 

Michael N.

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. I think a straight beam might put the relief higher up the fret board which would be less useful.

I doubt it's due to relief. I go along with the earlier answer of the ever closer fingering as one advances up the neck. I can't think of one western instrument, bowed or plucked that doesn't have a tapered fingerboard. Lutes are tapered, baroque citterns, viols, renaissance guitars. All the early instruments that have been through my hands such that I can't think of one single example that has not been tapered. Maybe something like the Chinese Erhu but that has only two strings.
 

old and slow

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I doubt it's due to relief. I go along with the earlier answer of the ever closer fingering as one advances up the neck. I can't think of one western instrument, bowed or plucked that doesn't have a tapered fingerboard. Lutes are tapered, baroque citterns, viols, renaissance guitars. All the early instruments that have been through my hands such that I can't think of one single example that has not been tapered. Maybe something like the Chinese Erhu but that has only two strings.

Autoharp? Steel guitar?
 

jcalkin

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A plucked string swings a wider arc at te 12th fret than at the nut, especially nylon strings, but its true of all strings. If all strings were strummed they would need more room up the neck to eliminate clashing with each other. Dulcimer strings are much farther apart at the nut than other instruments and need no extra room, and the same is true of the majority of cigar box instruments (which seldom have a tapered fretboard). Players with huge hands don't seem to need wider necks---I'm thinking of Joe Walsh right now---so I'm not sure about needing more finger room as the frets get closer together, but there were bluegrass mandolin players who pulled out some of the highest frets to make room for their fingers, especially ones not needed for the key of G.
 

Red Cliff

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I always presumed the narrowing of the neck is in order to allow the strings to lay over the nut an angle in order to give room for the tuners. What i mean is that if all the strings were parallel, the head would have to be enormously wide with incredibly long barrels on the tuners. I think it is called a piano. In order to get the strings close enough together for the tuners you have to them angled inwards surely.
 

glennerd

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Another possibility is that it might be harder to hold your fretting hand in position on a straight neck. Imagine a broomstick - you might require more effort to keep your hand from wanting to slide down. Whereas, a stick that flares out requires you to widen your grip to allow your hand to slide down, thus more control. I imagine this might be a big deal on a violin.

But I agree with the narrower spacing for fretting, wider spacing for picking theory.