If you’ve ever shopped online for a new guitar, you may have come across a piece of information that you didn’t quite understand.
Sites like Sweetwater are great in that they will tell you the exact specifications for any guitar in stock — sometimes down to the exact weight of the guitar in the picture. And buried in the lengthy list of specifications is something called “fingerboard radius,” followed by a measurement of so many inches.
And you might be thinking, “That’s great — but what the heck is this telling me?” Today we’re going to answer that question and look at how important — or not — fingerboard radius really is.
What Is Fingerboard Radius?
A fingerboard’s radius refers to the amount of curvature on the fretboard. In other words, the radius tells you how much higher the middle of the fretboard is than either edge. Common measurements range from 7.25” to 16” inches. But how is this number derived?
Very simply, guitar builders think of the side-to-side curve of the fretboard as an arc from a circle. If you were to take a compass and draw a circle on a piece of paper with a 12” radius, the curve of a 12” radius fretboard would match the curve of that circle.
What that means in practice is the larger the radius is, the flatter the fretboard will be. A 7.25” fingerboard will look and feel much more curved than a 16” one, which will feel almost flat.
Common Fingerboard Radii by Brand
Although not always the case, there are certain generalities when it comes to fingerboard radii among electric-guitar brands. Vintage-style Fenders are usually the smallest (most curved) at 7.25”. Modern Fenders are still quite curved but measure at a slightly larger 9.5”. Gibson prefers to make flatter-feeling fretboards that have a 12” radius. PRS, meanwhile, locates itself in the middle with their standard 10” radius. (PRS does the same thing with their scale length, too, typically splitting the distance between Fender and Gibson.)
Other brands will adopt one of the above or determine their own desired radius. You’ll also sometimes hear of a guitar with a compound radius. While it sounds complicated, all…