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The Acoustic Guitar - Anatomy Of A Fretboard

By: Al Wielder

The acoustic guitar is an amazing instrument. It provides mankind with color and harmony in the hands of a qualified musician. This article will discuss an interesting part of the acoustic guitar known as the fretboard.


The fretboard of a guitar is often called the fingerboard. The fretboard is a thin piece of wood fixed to the front of the guitar neck. Most quality acoustic guitars will have a fretboard that is made of ebony or rosewood.


To understand the physical anatomy of the fretboard, one must begin by looking at the neck. The neck of an acoustic guitar is joined to the body of the guitar in a flush manner. The fretboard is then "over laid" on the neck. The fretboard runs along the neck and extends onto the body of the guitar. On most steel string guitars, the fretboard joins the body near the 12th or the 14th fret. There are usually 4 to 6 frets beyond the location where the neck and the body of the guitar are joined. On classical guitars the neck is shorter. The fretboard of the classical guitar joins the body of the guitar at the 12th fret. The fret located where the neck joins the body of the guitar is commonly called the "body-fret".


The fretboard contains horizontal steel wire at specific intervals. This wire is known as "fret-wire". The "fret-wire" is created in the shape of a "T". The top of the "fret-wire" is rounded which permits the strings and fingers to slide across without harm. The "stem" of the "fret-wire" has a serrated edge which holds it in place within the channeled grooves of the fretboard. The strings of a guitar are depressed at a given fret location on the fretboard. The frets control the length of the string and therefore the pitch of the note.


The fretboard is usually marked with "fret-markers" at specific locations. The usual locations for these markings are at frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15 and 17. The "fret-markers" serve as visual aids for the musician. The "fret-markers" can be simple dots or elaborate inlays. The elaborate inlay patterns and markers are made of various materials. A common material is Abalone, otherwise known as "mother-of-pearl". Intricate inlay work at the "fret-markers" on the fretboard will dramatically affect the cost and value of an acoustic guitar.


The fretboard playing surface can be flat or curved. The classical guitar and the "Flamenco" style guitar have a flat fretboard. The steel string guitar usually has a slightly contoured playing surface on the fretboard. The contour of the fretboard on a steel string guitar will be a convex shape.


The width of the fretboard is narrow at the nut (near the headstock) and slightly wider at the body (near the sound hole). There is no standard width for a guitar fretboard. As a result, fretboard widths will vary on different guitars. The fretboard width plays an important part in the selection of a guitar by the musician.


There are two main factors that experienced guitar players will consider when selecting a guitar. The two factors are the feel of the fretboard and the sound of the guitar. It is very difficult to say which of the two factors are considered most important. The answer will depend on who you ask. Some guitarists will sacrifice some of the tonal quality of a guitar to get the perfect feel from the neck and the fretboard. Other guitarists will not compromise the sound of the instrument they purchase even if it means the feel of the fretboard is not ideal. It is clear that the best case scenario is to shop until you get the best of both the sound and the feel of the fretboard.


In closing, I would like to mention two phrases that are often used to define the characteristics of the guitar fretboard. These phrases are "Action" and "Playability". The "Action" is the measured height of the strings above the fretboard. The "Action" can be adjusted to the preferences of the owner. The "Action" should be set to place the strings as close to the fretboard as possible. If the strings "buzz" on any fret when depressed, the "Action" is set too low. The "Action" on an acoustic guitar should be adjusted by a professional. The "Playability" refers to the overall feel and comfort of the neck and fretboard in the hands of the musician.


Top quality acoustic guitars will offer superior playing characteristics and sound. If you are in the market for an acoustic guitar, take the time to research and "test-drive" many models. The time you invest in selecting the right acoustic guitar will be time well spent.

Al Wielder is a host and instructor at Riff TV. Contact Al Wielder at Riff TV.com, your source for guitar tab, guitar lessons and free video guitar training.

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