View Full Version : Radius fretboard
I'm in the process of laying down a new f5 of mostly Oz timbers. Apart from a custom job and a couple of local customer modifications, I usually install flat fretboards.
Because the is is a "spec" instrument, I'm trying to decide if I should go for a flat or radius board. What do others find the general buying public prefers? What inch radius is the most popular with the mandolin playing public?
On my dusty shelf I've got a homemade 7" radius sanding block that I used to shape a custom board about six years ago... haven't needed it since.
As far as popularity, I would look at the offerings on the various online sites where mandolins are sold and see what the ratio is of radiused to non-radiused boards. The retailers are the closest to the market and thier inventories should roughly reflect popularity for new sales. My take is that flat is still somewhat more popular, but the popularity of raduised is on the rise. I think 12" is a pretty popular radius. My guess is that it is the average radius out there, or pretty close to it. The best of course, is the compound radius, like 9" at the nut, tapering to 16" at the octave. That's like the best of both worlds, IMHO.
Go with a radiused board, especially if you're trying to move the instrument. From my personal encounters with other players, radiused boards are more popular. I'd go with anything between 12 and 9.5 if your not sure about it. I'm doing a 9.5r board right now and I like it a lot.
Most players seem to prefer an arched 'board, though some don't even notice it. I use a 7 1/4" radius, and often people play one of my mandos then ask "does this have a radiused fingerboard?".
Mandolin fingerboards are so narrow that a 16" radius is barely detectable, unlike on guitars where 16" is common, so a smaller radius is in order, I think, for mandos.
I'm in a bit of a remote area here, so I can't jog down to the nearest shop and take the "pulse" of the buying public. Thanks for the response. I'll see what various builders and dealers post on their websites.
I made a new fretboard for a old Martin C series archtop several years ago and I gave it a 12" radius. A mandolin job for a local musician needed a 7" radius board and banjo frets. I love the "look" of a radius board, but I must admit that my wife (my instrument "test pilot") and I both prefer flat boards.
Thanks John for the 7.25" suggestion, it would be pretty close to what I've used before on a mandolin. It looked great and the bloke who wanted the job done seems truly satisfied with the results. He recently asked me to do the same thing with the A style Gil that he owns (including installing banjo frets).
Hi Rob. John is pretty close to what I use, 6 1/2" to 7" radius. The past several years I have also used the tight radius at the nut and 16" radius at the other end of the board and a flat saddle on the bridge.
I find dressing frets on a radiused board much easier than on a flat one due to the tendency to file off the ends of the frets before you can get at the middle of the frets. On a radiused baord your file only touches a short area of the fret at any one time. This gives much more control of where you file without endangering the fret ends. A small amount of arc is all that is needed for this. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/coffee.gif
They go back a good deal through history too. Taken from Embergher.com:
"Striking is also that the idea of the slightly curved fingerboard, a typical characteristic of the later Modern Roman mandolin as designed and World patented in the last quarter of the 19th century by Giovanni Battista Maldura (act. ± 1880 up to 1903) was already seen on some of Ferrari's mandolins. Features that were applied by Giovanni De Santis (21-XI-1834 - 24-II-1916) in his plectrum instruments and later also by Embergher and his successors in their instruments of the mandolin family."
I think Bob Givens went almost totally radius about 1980 or so. Several others started a little later. I think I would seriously think about following suit. I play a radius....and would not go back to flat.
I like radius boards, but after a day or so playing a flat board, it isn't a problem either. You'll get use to any style board if you play them a little while.
I often use a compound radius, from about 8" at the nut and 16" at the extension. That feels pretty nice to me, and it lets you keep the bridge pretty flat. To me, that's the main reason for a compound radius on a mandolin.
Gutbucket speaks the truth! #I remember one time when I had a mandolin with a pretty tight radius on the fretboard. #After my fingers got used to it, a flat board would feel almost concave, or sunken in the middle. #A trick of the mind, no doubt...
Funny hearing about all these 7 1/2" to 9 1/2" radiuses. (I know, it should be radii, but that just sounds goofy to me!). #Where was I, oh yeah,... I make quite a few fretboards for people. #I never used to offer a radius option, as the only way I had to do it was with a radiused sanding block, and I couldn't do it any faster than any of my customers, so what was the point? #Then, I got smart (well, maybe a little smarter), and had a knife ground for a 12" radius, set-up a track system, and run the boards through a combination planer/sander/moulder machine I had, but wasn't using much.
Now I can offer a very consistent 12" radius on my boards without having to charge all that much extra for the feature. #Sometimes I still hit the top surface with the radiused sanding block, just to pretty things up a bit. #I guess if a person wanted a different radius, they could use the 12" as a starting place, and block sand from there.
Back to the spray booth, and my little batch of Flatties...
I've mostly used 10-16" compound on radius board mandolins. Folks that want radius seem to like them. I make the bridges flat and that works for most folks. I used to like compound, but personally have switched to flat.
Thanks for the excellent responses. The compound radius sounds like the "ducks guts." I'll have to look around the place for a large enough drum that will give me the curve to make a l6" radius sanding block. I like the idea of a flat saddle.
FWIW, I personally like a 16-14" radius. Essentially something just shy of flat. 7" feels just a little too curved to me, although it's not that big of deal.
On the saddle, I set each string's action where I want it and let the curve fall where it may.
I personally have purchased about five different mandolins this year and radius is all I look for anymore. Once I played one for awhile it would be hard to imagine going back.