Different guitars have different fingerboard radiuses which affect how they feel to play. Two very common radiuses are 9.5″ and 12″, but which is the right choice for you?
I’ll be addressing the pros and cons of each radius and explaining which kind of players they are suited towards so you can get to grips with the differences.
The Quick Answer
Guitar necks with a 9.5″ fingerboard radius make it easier for most players to hold chords compared to necks with a 12″ radius. However, a 12″ radius will make it easier to bend the strings and means the guitar can have a lower action without causing fret buzz compared to a 9.5″ radius.
Fingerboard Radius Explained
All guitars have a curved fingerboard. The fingerboard, or fretboard radius refers to the amount of curvature it has. A higher fingerboard radius means that it feels flatter, whereas a lower fingerboard radius means that it will have a more dramatic curve.
The relationship between the fingerboard’s curvature and radius measurement can be a little confusing at first.
Check out this diagram to demonstrate.
Think back to your high school years and you’ll remember that the radius of a circle is the length from the center to the perimeter. Now imagine the cross-section of a guitar’s neck.
If you take two necks which have the same fretboard width and try and align the curvature of the fretboard within a circle, you’ll notice that the smaller the circle, the more curved the fretboard needs to be to stay aligned.
Hence, small radius = more curvature.
How Does Radius Affect Feel?
Having a smaller 9.5″ fingerboard radius will make suit players who prefer to curve their fingers more and generally is more suitable for playing barre chords and open chords. Having a larger 12″ radius means the fretboard feels flatter and makes it more suitable for bending the strings.
You’ll often see that lead players like to use a flatter fretboard (larger radius) because it feels better for solos (which often require bending) and moving around the fretboard more quickly. That’s often why shredders guitars have very large fingerboard radiuses, sometimes are large as 16″.
Rhythm players on the other hand tend to go for a slightly smaller fretboard radius which makes chords a little more comfortable for most guitarists.
However, there is no universally perfect radius, it really depends on the player’s personal preference.
It’s a good idea to try guitars with different fretboard radiuses so you can feel which one feels the most suitable for your hand position and style of playing.
Affect on Action
Another thing that the fingerboard radius has an impact on is the “action” range that the guitar can be set up with.
The action of the guitar refers to the distance between the top of the frets and the strings. Having a lower action means the strings are easier to press down. Playing with a higher action requires more effort, but makes it less likely for the strings to buzz or “fret out” when being bent.
If you go for a smaller 9.5″ fretboard radius, then you may need a higher action if you are going to be bending the strings a lot otherwise you can get some fret buzz.
With a 12″ radius you can get away with having a lower action without this issue.
Which Guitars Have a 9.5″ Fingerboard Radius?
- Fender American Professional II Series Guitars
- Fender American Performer
- Fender American Original ’50s and ’60s Series Guitars
- Fender Player Series Guitars
- Fender Vintera Modified Series Guitars
- Squier Guitars
Which Guitars Have a 12″ Fingerboard Radius?
- Gibson Les Paul
- Gibson SG
- Gibson ES-335
- Fender Player Plus
- Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster
Other Factors to Consider
The fingerboard radius is important, but it’s not the only measurement that’s worth considering. You should also take a look at the:
- Profile: these are usually assigned a letter (e.g. “C or “U”) which refers to the shape of the neck as a cross-section. The neck profile is independent of its width or depth.
- Depth: refers to how thick the back of the neck is. Smaller-handed players typically suit necks with a lower depth.
- Width: this is also known as the “nut width”. If you have very small hands, and short fingers then choosing a thinner width may be more suitable.
It is rare that you will find two guitars which have the exact same neck profile, width and depth but a different fretboard radius. This is why you shouldn’t really consider the radius in isolation, but you should consider how the neck feels overall.
I always recommend that players who are unsure of which neck measurements and shapes are most suitable for them, should go and try some guitars in the store.
Ask the store assistant to let you try some extreme radiuses, shapes and thicknesses so you can understand how it affects the feel of the guitar.
In the market for a new guitar? I’ve written a complete buyer’s guide for electric guitars which takes you through all the things you need to consider and a step-by-step method to narrowing down your selection and choosing the best option. Here is a link to the article.