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Fanned Fret or Multiscale?

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:40 am
by SilkyHotLicks
Hi Guys,
I bought this guitar a few months ago mainly because it is an all walnut acoustic guitar and I love the tonal response of walnut.

Ibanez AEW40FFCD Multiscale Acoustic - $500.00
This has an acceptable tone but is difficult to play much beyond the 12 fret. I'm going to keep it mainly because it's a walnut guitar and is kind of unique but I would not recommend it for an entry into multiscale guitars.

Last week I bought this.
Novax 'Sweet Annie' Fanned fret - $2700.00
This guitar was designed and hand built by Ralph Novax, the patent holder for 'Fanned Fret' guitars and there are only a couple left available because he has lost much of his vision and is no longer building guitars. This guitar is excellent and it plays like a dream from the first fret to the last. It has a very classic solid body jazz guitar sound.

It appears that "Fanned Fret' and 'Multiscale' are the exact same approaches but with one exception. If you use the term 'Fanned Fret' then you would have to acknowledge Ralph Novax as the creator and patent holder but if you use the term 'Multiscale' no acknowledgement of Ralph Novax is necessary.

I have a Zeus 7 acoustic and a Vader 6 short scale bass in the oven but I want a more modern sounding guitar for contemporary Neo-Soul work and from what I've heard the Lithiums are excellent choices. Tele's have become the goto choice for this sound but I want a Kiesel.

Here's my question. Does anyone here have the same Kiesel guitar but in standard and multiscale versions. And can you tell the difference in tone? Playability?

Re: Fanned Fret or Multiscale?

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:21 am
by spudmunkey
[edit: I'll note that this doesn't answer any of your Kiesel-specific questions, but I did write about why your two instruments feel so different.]

Correct: "Fanned fret" is just a trademarked name for a multiscale instrument. In casual use they can be used interchangeably (and are, even by representatives of other manufactures at NAMM for example...a lot of reps talked about their multiscale instruments, and then said something like, "otherwise known as 'fanned-fret'...". :lol: They never would dare put it in writing, though, while the trademark was valid. :) Dingwall being the exception because they were the only bass company allowed to make multiscale basses while Novak had the patent because Novak wanted to make just guitars. Then after the patent expired, Dingwall were still then the only company allowed to use the trademarked "fanned fret" name (until the trademark expired very recently, from what I understand).

The reason those two multiscale instruments play so differently is because of two decisions the luthiers made:

1: The range of the scales. On that Ibanez acoustic, you've got nearly a 2" range of fan. Once you start getting beyond 1.5" on a 6-string (and even 1.5" is pushing it), it seems that you sacrifice some playability, especially down by the nut. Even Kiesel's 8-string guitars are still only a 1.5" scale range.

2: The neutral/parallel fret location. This goes under the radar in most multiscale conversations, and frustratingly is missing from so many spec sheets on mutliscale instruments...but it seems like it would have an even bigger effect on playability than the scale range itself. Let's say you want to make a 25-26" multiscale. There are a few different ways you can go about it. If you play almost nothing but open chords, you could put the nut as the neutral/parallel location. This means that the nut is straight across just like any other guitar...but then that means that the entire 1" fan has to be taken up at the bridge, making for a pretty extreme angle for the bridge and even the higher frets. But let's say you want to use a bridge like a floyd rose. There's no multiscale Floyd rose, so you could make the bridge the parallel location. However, then that means that your nut will have to take up that whole 1" angle, and you'll have a very sharp angle on the lower frets.

OK, so both of those are the extremes. Most manufacturers put their parallel frets somewhere higher up the fretboard. Many Ibanez electric guitars put it right in the middle at the 12th fret. That means that exactly 1/2 of the fan difference will need to be picked up by the nut, and the other half by the bridge. However, because once you get past the 12th fret, there's only a small amount of fretboard left (yes it's still 12 more frets, but it's 1/2 the length) and most people don't spend all that much time way up there, some companies put their neutral fret lower so that open chords and chords on the lower frets are more comfortable (or at least less uncomfortable).

In short, when designing a multiscale, luthiers would first decide what scale(s) they want their instrument to be for the tone and tension they want to achieve, and then place the neutral fret for optimized playability for their perceived market: Down low or at the nut for easy chording, at the bridge if they have a specific bridge they want to use or for instruments that don't use much in the way of chords, or somewhere near the middle of the fretboard to split the difference.

Now...let's take a look at the instruments you posted.

The Ibanez acoustic, as I mentioned, has a 25-26.8" fan spread. That's pretty darn severe for a 6. Because acoustics are typically played with chords in mind, they made a decision to try to mitigate that extreme fan fret and improve playability down low by putting the parallel fret at the 6th fret. What that does, though, is cause the exact problem you experience: as you go higher, the angle becomes more and more severe; more so than it would be if the neutral was at the 9th, 12th, or the bridge.

The Novax bass: Now...I can't seem to find out what the scale range is, but I can see one thing right away that will be different from the Ibanez: they put their neutral fret at either the 9th or 10th fret. This means that the nut is a liiitle more angled than it would be if it were at the 6th fret, which eases the amount of fan that the bridge needs to take up, which makes the higher frets less angled.

Combine that with the 6-string bass having a wider neck, and that means that even if the fan range were the same 1.8", the bass's actual angle is much less (this is why the Kiesel multiscale 7-string pickups are 13 degree angle while the 8-string are 10 or 11 degrees...the same 1.5" fan is spread across a wider fingerboard eases the actual angle.)

So, the TLDR: the names don't mean anything anymore, and even when they did it was just a trademark (like Velcro and Kleenex). The feel and playability comes down to the individual choices the manufacturer made, based both on what they think the scale lengths the market wants overall on that model, and also what type of playing they want to target with the placement of the neutral fret).

On guitars, Kiesel puts their parallel fret at the 9th fret. I *believe* is the 12th on basses. To many, the place Ibanez uses on their electric guitars (the 12th fret) is too high, and it makes playing down low uncomfortable. Kiesel chose to ease some of that by moving the parallel location down 3 frets to the 9th. The trade off is that means the higher frets are a tiny bit more angled, but that was the trade off they were willing to make. On a bass, since there's typically less chording down low, they could push that neutral fret up to the 12th since it wasn't worth it to them to sacrifice the upper playability.

Re: Fanned Fret or Multiscale?

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 11:26 am
by SilkyHotLicks
Hey Spud,
Thanks for the explanation. It makes sense to me now why Ibanez made their design decisions. But their YouTube video demoing the guitar sure seemed like they were targeting pop, rock or jazz types and not folk or country.

Re: Fanned Fret or Multiscale?

Posted: Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:06 pm
by spudmunkey
Then they done goofed like some say they did on their electrics. :stir: :laughhard:

Re: Fanned Fret or Multiscale?

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2018 12:24 pm
by Treadplatedual
Can confirm. I've played a few Ibanez multiscales, and I like he upper register but chording and scale runs near the nut are pretty painful.

Also, Spud, you called the Novax a bass...isn't it a guitar?

Re: Fanned Fret or Multiscale?

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2018 12:29 pm
by spudmunkey
Treadplatedual wrote:Also, Spud, you called the Novax a bass...isn't it a guitar?

So it is. Holy crap. Something about the image...or perhaps just the body shape...made me just think it was a bass. I wrote that post on my laptop, and the image is so large I couldn't see it all, and the highest strings actually looked wide enough to be bass strings. :laughhard:

:wall: :wall: :wall:

OK, so everything else still holds true, though. :laughhard:

I still can't find anything about what the actual scale range is on that guitar. We know the neutral fret is higher which is helping OP's situation, but I'd also be curious to find out if the fan range is also narrower. :think:

Re: Fanned Fret or Multiscale?

Posted: Fri Jun 15, 2018 1:39 pm
by Treadplatedual
LOL. Maybe it's like those weird Fender basses?