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Thread: Flat vs Radius Fretboard revisited

  1. #1

    Default Flat vs Radius Fretboard revisited

    I know there has been some discussion about flat vs radiused fretboards before (though that discussion seemed a bit inconclusive).

    Some makers, especially the high-end ones seem to market the radiused fretboard as a feature, that makes playing the ukulele easier for the fretting hand.

    However, this video has me questioning the concept of radiused fretboards altogether:


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6phVl9PTMMc

    Basically he says:

    -Radiused fretboards are better for chording, as it accomodates more naturally to the form of the chording hand, but HARDER for intricate fingerpicking, as the strings are also arched.

    BUT

    -Flat fretboards are better for the fingerpicking hand, as it gives a more uniform height to the strings. Also better for bends higher up the fretboard as a radius can cause the treble string to "choke" or feel higher action.



    Lately, going back and forth my various stringed instruments (ukuleles, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, classical guitars), I have been finding this to be somewhat true!

    I always wondered why it was so much easier to play fingerstyle on my flat fretted instruments, whereas radiused instruments feel better flat-picked with a plectrum. The vice versa also seems to be true... playing a flat fretboard using a pick seems to feel "strange" compared to using a pick on a radiused fretboard.

    Afterall, the intense radius on violins, cello, etc are there to allow for the string angles needed for bowing. Perhaps the radius on guitars helps the person use a plectrum more effectively. Nylon-strung ukuleles being primary finger-picked instruments much like the classical guitars - a flat fretboard makes more sense.


    This leads me to question the rationale behind radiused fretboards on some high-end ukes.
    Are they just easier for chords + strumming, but a hindrance to fingerpicking?

    Or are the effects not significant enough to make a noticeable difference?


    An ukulele with a radiused fretboard would also have to have an arched formation in the nut and saddle - so it would affect the positioned heights of the strings relative to a flat fretboard... right?



    Given these factors, it leads me to actually prefer a flat fretboard on an ukulele over radiused... !!
    Last edited by kissing; 04-04-2016 at 03:19 AM.

  2. #2
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    Default

    Interesting thoughts. Perhaps a compound radius that becomes flatter towards the bridge would combine "best of both worlds" (I believe John Kinnard applies a compound radius on his ukes)? To me, a radius doesn't make much of a difference with picking. Definitely not something I'm worried about. I wonder if the problem you're describing might be bigger with strumming? On the other hand, I notice that a radius helps to equal out the boominess of the bass string in linear tuning, as you can hit it slightly softer than the other strings.

  3. #3
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    radius is easier to barre chord.
    But that's a hand thing, not a strum thing.
    If you're arpegiating (real word?) your left hand is holding chord shapes, even if your right hand is picking instead of strumming. So that would be more finger style while still benefitting from the radius.

    But some things.. where you have 2 strings down on the left hand, but it's mid neck and the other strings are open, that gets exaggerated in radius. And when you strum it there's a significant height difference, which makes the strum a little awkward because the high strings end up sounding louder while the low strings dont get hit as much. You can compensate by strumming closer to the bridge where the height difference isn't as pronounced, but then you get a different tone.

  4. #4

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    Thanks for sharing these insightful observations spookelele - I have not thought about it into that much detail before.

    On the other hand, I notice that a radius helps to equal out the boominess of the bass string in linear tuning, as you can hit it slightly softer than the other strings.
    But don't we want the 4th string on linear tuning to be boomier?

    At least when I setup my ukes, I intentionally have the action on the low-G (or D) string higher, to allow for it to have some extra oomph and tension to allow for that bass to ring through, while having the trebles set lower to allow for faster low action and bending.

    This appears to be the case on classical guitars, which commonly feature a slanted height saddle, with the bass strings much higher than the treble strings.


    I guess it is also a LOT to do with personal preference!!



    Following on from this logic, radius makes more sense (for ukuleles) on re-entrant tuning, so the high-G has an action that is balanced with respect to its pitch and string-thickness...

  5. #5
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    I don't have much to add, but this was a fascinating video and a convincing argument to me. Thanks for sharing!

  6. #6
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    Lets look at this from a slightly different angle. If we us a 12" radius there is not much drop from the high point in the middle to the low points on the end of a 1-3/8" ukulele nut. But it would be very significant on a classical guitar with a 2" wide nut. I could see how that would be a big hindrance to clean technique.

    Most ukes seem to come with 16" radius which is barely noticable. I am a radius fan because it allows me the barr chords easier, I have a left hand issue. I have ukes with 12", 14" and 16" radius and on the 1-3/8" wide neck I can't tell the difference.
    Last edited by DownUpDave; 04-04-2016 at 03:53 AM.
    Currently enjoying these ukuleles : *LdfM tenor, *LfdM 19" super tenor. *LfdM baritone, *I'iwi tenor , *Koolau tenor, *Webber tenor, *Kimo tenor, *Kimo super concert, *Mya Moe baritone, *Kamaka baritone, *Gianinni baritone, *Fred Shields super soprano, *Kala super soprano, *Loprinzi super soprano, *Black bear ULO concert , *Enya X1 concert, *Enya X1 pineapple soprano, *Enya Nova *Gretsch tenor, *Korala plastic concert

  7. #7
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    Interesting thought but I'm not sure about the radius being an issue for the right hand. I would think that just the familiarity with the instrument allows for an unconscious adapting to it, especially right hand picking of strings.

    While a completely unfair assessment... ask Mark Knopfler about the right hand difficulties playing a radius fretboard.

    John

  8. #8
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    I find I hit the C & E strings too hard when strumming a radiused fretboard. The G string ends up getting buried as a result.

    Originally Posted by ukemunga:
    "Best is a very personal thing. You gotta play it to love it. And you'll always think there's one better. And there is."

  9. #9
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    This is a very contentious issue, even in the guitar world. Both sides have their own logical sounding arguments - but it all really boils down to personal preference as well as the type of guitar you learned on.

    Personally, I prefer a fretboard with a radius. A compound radius is better - not for my comfort or playability, but because the notes won't choke out when I bend the strings.

    As for fingerpicking or playing at high speeds, the radius does not affect me at all. (And, not that it really matters, but I can play at very high BPM.)

    A perfect example of two exceedingly fast players playing on two different finger boards (one flat, one radiused) is Mediterranean Sundance. Paco played on a flat boarded flamenco guitar - Al played on a radiused steel string.



    Interesting note... Al tends to play a nylon string guitar now - with a flat fretboard - but my guess is it's the sound not the fretboard radius that drives him to do so.
    Last edited by Wicked; 04-04-2016 at 06:49 AM.
    Thou Shalt Not.

  10. #10
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    I just acquired my first radiused ukulele and except for the violin family, it's my first experience with this idea. I had read that the radius helps prevent hyperextension of the fingers when playing barre chords, so it was something I wanted to try on my aging fingers. Also, I enjoy the internet phenomonon of searching for greener grass, so it's just enjoyable to try something new.

    The radius on the Mya Moe Concert is slight, and, honestly, after a week, I can't tell if there's much of a difference. The problem for me (in this case ) is I've been doing this for many decades and my body just takes out the difference between one instrument versus another. This is in sharp contrast to my early days on guitar when I couldn't play any guitar but my own.

    Having said all that, I can lend a single data point to the discussion: The Flamenco guitar is pretty specialized with a very wide and very flat fretboard, similar to a classical guitar. It's so wide and flat that most country / western / folk / rock guitar players can't play on it the first time they try. Anyway, Flamenco features a right hand technique, the Rasgueado, where the right hand fingers sort of flick out, one after another in rapid succession resembling a drum roll. THIS technique is practically impossible on a radiused set of strings. That was a lot of words for just one little data point, but perhaps still worth noting.

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