Multiscale guitars and basses have become increasingly popular over the last few years, especially among progressive rock and metal players. Learn more about what these interesting guitars and basses entail, along with their pros and cons, so you can decide if these instruments, which fascinate many people, are right for you.
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What Is a Fanned Fret or Multiscale Instrument?
Have you ever seen a guitar with frets at different angles before? This unique instrument is called a fanned fret or multiscale guitar, and they make them for bass too.
These fanned frets are angled to accommodate the varying scale lengths that each of the strings has, hence how these guitars and basses got their names.
Depending on the individual, these instruments can either look really cool or kind of funny, but they do serve a purpose, which is what you’ll learn about as you continue to read on about their pros and cons.
- Mono-Rail Bridge: The innovative Ibanez Mono-Rail bridge minimizes cross-talk between strings.
- Fretboard: Macassar Ebony produces tight lows and mid range along with strong attack in the highs and quick response with rich sustain.
- Humbucker Pickups: Humbucker pickups provide an aggressive tone without excess noise.
- Walnut Neck: Nitro Wizard 5-piece Panga Panga/Walnut neck substantially increases sustain.
- S-Lock Strap: Indestructible Schaller S-Locks don’t fail, even under the toughest conditions on stage.
What Are the Pros of Multiscale Guitars & Basses?
There are some notable benefits to using multi-scale or fanned fret guitars. The primary purpose of the fanned frets involves having different string tension.
The main benefits primarily have to do with the lower strings on your instrument. Because the scale length is longer on this side of the fingerboard, and there is a more considerable distance between the nut and the bridge, there will be a longer string length and more string tension.
On these low strings specifically, when the string is tighter due to more tension, this can have a positive effect on sound and playability. Here are some examples:
Firstly, lower strings with more string tension from the increased scale length will have more clarity and produce a tighter, punchier, and more focused sound. This contrasts with the wobbly, flabby, and unclear tone when you have loose string tension.
This benefit is pretty crucial for guitarists who like to play in really low tunings like drop-A on a 7-string or drop G# on 8-string guitars. Since the pitch is so deep, you want more string tension, so your notes can be heard and don’t sound like a mess.
Also, this is precisely why bass guitars have a longer scale length than guitars – if they had the same scale length as a guitar, it would feel impossible to play and sound terrible. For reference, most bass guitars tend to range from 33″ to 35″ scale lengths.
Nonetheless, on fanned fret instruments, these benefits of string tension on your low strings are all done without increasing the pressure on your higher strings. A good chunk of multiscale 7-string guitars will have a 25.5″-27″ scale length, and the majority of ordinary 6-string guitars, like Strats, out there will have a straight 25.5″ scale length. Multiscale 5-string bass guitars will often be around 34″-37″ scale length. I know that a lot of Dingwall basses use this measurement, and those are super popular.
Of course, there can be variations between instruments, and not all of them will have the same exact measurements, so you’ll want to check first before buying any. Some have a smaller or larger discrepancy than others, and this can make a huge difference in how the guitar feels and sounds.
That being said, you probably won’t hear or feel much difference with the higher strings on a multi-scale instrument because it usually has about the same scale length as a typical guitar, so you can still easily bend the notes or add vibrato. So instead, the most noticeable change will lie with the lowest strings, which is what this section illustrated.
A lot of people find fanned fret and multiscale guitars and basses to feel more comfortable and ergonomic than regular instruments with perpendicular frets and uniform scale lengths.
The fanned frets allow you to maintain your hand in a more relaxed and natural position since your fretting hand has a slight curve or angle to it.
Additionally, the fanned fret design makes accessing the higher frets on these instruments easier. This happens because each string’s scale length decreases as you go up the fingerboard since the frets are at an angle. As a result, your hand won’t have to stretch as much to reach those upper notes.
Another thing worth mentioning is that multiscale instruments often have smaller nut widths. A narrower nut width can make it easier and more comfortable for some people (especially those with smaller hands) to form chords near the headstock. If you’re a bassist who likes to play chords, a 6-string bass with fanned frets will be a match made in heaven.
However, if you’re interested in a regular 6-string bass with a thinner neck that’s more affordable than a multiscale guitar, I’ve selected some great choices here that you should look at.
Tuning Stability & Intonation
Since fanned fret guitars and basses have different scale lengths for each string, this can help with tuning stability and intonation.
The idea is that since the low strings have more tension, they will be less likely to go out of tune. In addition, the increased tension on these strings also means that the intonation will be more accurate in general. This is because when a string has more tightness, the pitch will be better defined and won’t waver as much.
Try this out if you haven’t already – detune your lowest guitar string and pick a note as you normally would. In addition to the string wobbling around, your pick attack probably made the pitch sharp because the reduced tension allowed it to move around more.
Of course, these benefits are not exclusive to fanned fret or multiscale instruments – you can achieve similar results by changing your string gauges or adjusting the truss rod on a regular guitar. However, fanned frets make getting these benefits much easier without much extra effort.
- 8-string Multi-scale Solidbody Electric Guitar with Mahogany Body
- 2 Humbucking Pickups – Gloss Black
- Laurel Fingerboard
- Maple Neck
What Are the Cons of Multiscale Guitars & Basses?
While fanned fret and multiscale guitars and basses offer some great benefits, they have some potential drawbacks worth mentioning. Here are a few of the main ones you may or may not encounter.
For starters, multi-scale instruments often come at a higher cost than regular guitars or basses. This is because they require more engineering and craftsmanship to build since the frets must be installed at an angle, which isn’t as straightforward as installing them perpendicular to the neck.
As a result, fanned fret and multiscale instruments can often be found at a higher price point, sometimes around a few hundred dollars more expensive than their regular counterparts. You can also often see similar things with neck-through-body guitars since that’s also a specialty feature. Now, if you see a neck-through model that’s also multiscale, you’re looking at a pretty expensive instrument.
Nonetheless, the pricing all depends on the make and model of the instrument as well as where you purchase it. There are certainly some affordable multiscale guitars and basses out there.
Another potential downside of fanned fret and multiscale instruments is that they can be more prone to string and fret buzz.
This buzzing happens because the fanned frets can cause the strings to sit at a different angle than on a traditional instrument. As a result, the strings might buzz against the frets when you play certain notes.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, and it depends on your particular instrument and how you set it up. But it’s something to keep in mind if you’re considering buying a fanned fret guitar or bass.
Set-Up & Maintenance
Speaking of guitar setups mentioned in the previous section, fanned fret or multiscale guitars can be more difficult to set up than your standard guitar because of the fanned frets.
Not only do you have to worry about the action and intonation, but you also have to be mindful
of the string tension since it’s not uniform across all the strings. As a result, fanned fret and multiscale instruments often require more time and effort to set up correctly.
If you don’t know how to set up your guitar or bass yourself, taking it to a professional can be a costly but necessary step because multiscale guitars and basses can take more time and effort to work on, just like how many techs will charge more to work on guitars with Floyd Roses than a fixed bridge.
Similarly, these instruments can be a bit more challenging to maintain because of the fanned frets. For example, re-stringing these instruments can be somewhat tedious since you have to account for the different string gauges and scale lengths.
Usually, standard sets of strings will suffice for multi-scale guitars or basses, but many people find that ordering a custom set of strings with the specific string gauges they want will be optimal for getting the desired results out of their instrument.
If this sounds like something you’d like to do, be prepared to do some research to figure out the best string gauges for your multiscale guitar or bass.
- 6-string Multi-scale Electric Bass Guitar with Okoume Body
- 2 Humbucking Pickups – Black Stained Burst Low Gloss
- Rosewood Fingerboard
- Jatoba/Walnut Neck
Lastly, one potential drawback is that fanned frets can make it harder to learn where your fingers should go when playing one of these instruments for the first time. This is because the fretboard will look a bit wonky at first glance, and it can be confusing to try and find the right frets.
However, this is more of an issue for beginners, and it’s something that you’ll quickly get used to once you start. More experienced players often find that the learning curve to playing fanned fret or multiscale instruments is pretty inconsequential or non-existent. Honestly, in my opinion, they look more intimidating or bizarre than they actually are.
They’re just a special feature on a lot of guitars these days that can offer some very specific benefits, kind of like compound radius fretboards.
Multiscale or fanned fret guitars and basses offer many benefits over their regular counterparts. They can provide better sound, more comfort, and increased playability. However, the instruments can also come at a higher cost, may be more prone to string buzzing, and could take a short while to get used to when you first play one.
Despite the challenges, fanned fret guitars offer a unique playing experience that can be well worth the investment for the right person, especially to those who like extended range guitars already.
Ultimately, whether or not a fanned fret or multiscale instrument is ideal for you comes down to personal preference. Try out some different models and see which one feels best to you. You might be surprised at how much you like these distinct-looking instruments.