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Thread: Radius Vs Compound Radius

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    MAS and Scroll Envy are beginning to be a problem so I'm planning my next purchase. My Old Wave is a 12" radius and I've become curious about a radius in the 71/2" range or a compound radius. I'd like to hear the pros and cons.

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    Yeah, let's have a real good conversation about radius. #Personally, I'm not that big a fan of the radiused fingerboard. #I understand the rationale for a fiddle, but for a mandolin, seems like it's just the opposite (since a pick is used rather than a bow).

    Now to the compound radius - this starts to make a bit more sense. #Radius gets progressively flatter as you go to the bridge (just like James Brown). #I have a Lawrence Smart mando with a pretty gentle compound radius - starts at 14" and goes almost totally flat at the bridge. 7 1/2" radius, man that's radical to me...

    I guess it's more about the feel and that's just a matter of whatever floats your boat.



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    I have an early '80's Bruce Taggart with a very narrow neck and a very pronounced radius; might be 7-1/2". Takes a dainty hand to play, but it's quite fast and unusually comfy. #Which is interesting because he is also a violin builder and the neck is very violin-ish. I don't think I'd special order one that way, but at the same time I can't bear to part with it.
    The body is very thin, not deep, yet the tone is throaty and quite beautiful. #
    Not sure if I ever ran up against a compound radius. #I was originally a violin player. I played mandolin for a very short time before buying a used Newson with a radius. To me, a flat board seems concave.



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    LOL! ("Take me to the bridge!")
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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    I bought a Stiver mandolin from an auction house last year. It had a flat fingerboard, as did all my other mandolins. When I returned it to Mr. Stiver for a refret, I thought to myself, "why not just get it radiused"? So, I asked Mr. Stiver to do just that. Well then the questions began, "how much radius, etc."? I decided to go with 7-1/2 inches at the nut and 14 inches at the bridge and I love it! No, it doesn't seem too radical, it really seems somewhat subtile, actually. But if I were doing a refret as long as the board was naked, I would do it again (actually I have done it again). So far, I have also had my Flatiron A5-1 and most recently even a two-point Alvarez converted to a radius board (same spec.)

    try it - you'll like it.

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    Mark Jones Flowerpot's Avatar
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    How much radius is entirely up to how it feels to your left hand. If you go compound, you can get by with a flatter, or perfectly flat, bridge, which is easier (to me) to pick. Non-compound, you will need some radius to the bridge to keep consistent action, and some find it harder for the right hand. But a compound radius won't feel like much of a radius way up the neck.

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    I really like the compound radius on my Rigel. 9 1/2" at the nut, about 16" at the end of the fretboard and probably about 20" or 22" at the bridge. It is the easiest playing mando I have ever played. I think the compound is the way to go, but it's all in what you get used to.

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    A 12-inch radius FB on a mandolin I find makes a noticeable difference in comfort and playability, but the the arch is still really pretty mild. Think about how much curvature there is over the width of 4 strings on a steel-string guitar (usually ~12" radius at the nut), and that would be similar to what you'd have across a mando fingerboard. The "string rolloff" effect has more to do with where the strings are cut relative to the edge of the fingerboard. I had more problems with pushing the G-strings off the FB on a Flatiron with flat fingerboard, than any other mando I've tried. I also play flat fingerboards and don't mind them, but I think the radius I'd prefer would be ~10", maybe tapering off higher up.
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    Luigi Embergher, who made some very highly regarded bowlbacks from about 1890 until the 1940s, used to have a bit of radius on his boards, but he did something else as well, which I wonder what you all would think of: he cut the fingerboards so that they were about 1-2mm thicker on the bass side than the treble side (and of course raised the bass side of the bridge accordingly). The rationale was to make it easier to reach the bass strings without straining the wrist.

    It seems to me that this could easily be adapted to a regular mandolin, but I don't know if anyone has tried it. It seems to make sense to me, what do you folks think?

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    Makes a lot of sense to me. Not only do you have to reach further, you then need to put out the greatest effort to fret those thick strings. Raising the bass side would improve the physics.

    On the other hand, would it work for struming a mandolin that is hanging from a strap, or would the pick skip over the lower (er, higher? Higher register at least) courses?
    "...while a great mandolin is a wonderful treat, I would venture to say that there is always more each of us can do with the tools we have available at hand. The biggest limiting factors belong to us not the instruments." Paul Glasse

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    Yeah, sounds like a human-factors, ergonomic approach to me! #I have noticed this phenomenon on the string bass as well.

    That's what puzzles me a bit about the radius thing. #Most people say that it's more comfortable. #But when I think about it, it seems to put the stings on the outside, especially the G, farther away. #In that sense I find it exactly the opposite.

    I think we should really consult Bill Monroe on this one!





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    Uke guy- neal's Avatar
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    Let's give credit for the compound radius to Milwaukee's own Denny Rauen Was anyone doing it before?

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    I have a feeling that if you played my Flatiron or my Stiver the first thing you would notice was the tone and then maybe you'd notice the fretboard. It's just not that dramatic - it's nice but just not that immediatly apparent (IMHO). That said, I'd do it again.

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    Quote Originally Posted by
    That's what puzzles me a bit about the radius thing. #Most people say that it's more comfortable. #But when I think about it, it seems to put the stings on the outside, especially the G, farther away. #In that sense I find it exactly the opposite.
    Farther away? I'm not understanding the meaning. From your fretting hand, from the fingerboard, or from the pick? It's clearly a matter of preference, and you might not care for a radius overall, but it sounds like maybe you haven't actually a nice radiused FB hands-on. As Fatt-dad says, there is a difference, but it is fairly subtle (at least on a 12" - 14" radius). I personally think it makes the most difference in chording, especially chords using a partial bar. No strings are farther away from your hand (?) or from the FB due to a radius, unless that's the way you want it set up. The nut and bridge are radiused too, to match the FB radius. I think some players detect and are bothered by in the picking part, because the strings are not quite on the same plane. But this is the same as for modern steel string guitars; almost no one anymore except for classical players uses a flat guitar fingerboard. A radius is just a later-arriving (ie, non traditional) feature on mandolins, like big frets. Some like them, some don't. We don't have to ask Bill Monroe anything to decide what we like.
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    Quote Originally Posted by (acousticphd @ April 08 2005, 12:28)
    Farther away? #I'm not understanding the meaning. #From your fretting hand, from the fingerboard, or from the pick? #
    Farther away from the fretting hand. #In other words, the G-sting (oh how I love getting away with saying that in public) on a flat fingerboard would actually be closer in that the finger would not have move as far to reach it.

    Anyway, like we've all said, it's just a matter of taste. #Interesting to note that this notion of radiused fingerboards for guitars and mandolins is a somewhat recent innovation.

    Now I've always thought that in order to get the final word on any mandolin subject we should consult Mr. Bill, don't you?



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    Quote Originally Posted by
    Farther away from the fretting hand. #In other words, the G-sting (oh how I love getting away with saying that in public) on a flat fingerboard would actually be closer in that the finger would not have move as far to reach it.
    OK, I see your meaing. But this sort of imagines that the left hand is looking over a far-distant horizon at the edge of the world falling, falling away, rather than being centered over a 1-1/4" wide fb. Think of it this way - the E and G strings are exactly the same distance, but the D and A strings are actually closer!

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    Quote Originally Posted by (acousticphd @ April 08 2005, 13:09)
    But this sort of imagines that the left hand is looking over a far-distant horizon at the edge of the world falling, falling away, rather than being centered over a 1-1/4" wide fb
    Although disputed by some quantum physicists, the concept of cause and effect is at the core of "our description of the world and ourselves within it" and it is crucial for survival of our species as well as (I suspect) of other species (even low level organisms). As a concept, it is inseparably linked in our minds with the concept of time. It also gives sense to a number of other, time related concepts: the cycle, the rhythm, the second law of thermodynamics... It could be summarised as a (fulfilled) expectation - cause - that initiates another (possibly fulfilled) expectation - effect. In a chain, these expectations may grow so strong that even faintest confirmations can sustain them.
    Nowadays, the causality is at the core of the prevailing (closed) picture of the probabilistic/deterministic universe - with little, if any, evidence of the strength of cause-effect chains. Even in the most strictly controlled environments we are not able to predict an outcome with 100% accuracy. This should give us a pause - how much our concept of causality, especially in its "pure" form, corresponds to what is really "out there"?
    Carl Gustav Jung established another concept - synchronicity, i.e. similar phenomena occurring with little, if any, separation in time and notable separation in space. The notion of synchronizing is also at the core of complexity theory. And indeed - wherever we look - synchronization occurs. In living forms and inanimate matter alike. Two old fashioned clocks (with pendulum) hanging on the same wall that transmits their ticks will silence each other or start to tick in unison. Schools of fish, flocks of birds or fireflies pulsing in unison are only well known examples. Our concept of causality could also be expressed as similar phenomena occurring with little, if any, separation in space and notable separation in time.
    Considering possible space/time combinations, I would suggest an alternative to our (closed) picture of the probabilistic/deterministic universe in which similar phenomena occur: #
    With little, if any, separation in space and with notable separation in time - causality.
    With notable separation in space and with little, if any, separation in time - synchronicity.
    With notable separation in space and with notable separation in time - we do not have an established concept for this combination.
    With little, if any, separation in space and with little, if any, separation in time - continuity - this combination seems to be the most intriguing. It may indicate how we can stay ourselves during our lives while the matter, our bodies are based on, is continuously replaced.
    Behind all this combinations seems to be a single phenomenon - a kind of tuning across space and/or time that we interpret as causality, synchronicity or continuity. This "tuning factor" seems to be increasing as a distance in space and/or time decreases and vice versa. It is also interesting to note that an increase in space/time distance also leads to an increase of uncertainty - giving us an answer why we are not able to predict anything with 100% accuracy.
    Units of space and time of our perception cannot be divided into smaller and smaller parts ad infinitum. Neither can they be multiplied into larger and larger parts ad infinitum. Although these concepts might be suitable within our domain, we should start to think about their constraints and try to adjust them accordingly.
    This "tuning factor" might be emerging in the chaotic arena of quantum physics as non-local wave aspects localise particle aspects of each other (the "collapse of the wave function") in a kind of spatial/temporal symmetry. In this, the Planck's constant could be viewed as (a result of) a restraining factor that does not allow for infinite number of possible particle positions within space/time. (Our concept of a continuum is obviously discontinued at this level.) The increase in the "volume" of interplays with little, if any, separation in space and/or time might also lead towards the emergence of the phenomenon we call gravity.
    As we climb the ladder from the chaotic arena of quantum physics, the "tuning factor" seems to be increasing while uncertainty seems to be decreasing - however, this might be deceiving as we witness the return of uncertainty by moving along space/time scale. This indicates a possible equivalent to Plank's constant at our "level" also and behind both a link to a unifying theory - a dream of many.






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    I think some people have entirely too much time on their hands.

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    Quote Originally Posted by
    This "tuning factor" might be emerging in the chaotic arena of quantum physics as non-local wave aspects localise particle aspects of each other (the "collapse of the wave function") in a kind of spatial/temporal symmetry.


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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    Yeah, I think that's what Bill had in mind.
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