Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Ergonomics and Posture for Classical Guitarists, Aches and Pains, Injuries, etc...

Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby AsturiasFan » Fri Aug 19, 2011 3:53 am

What are the pros and cons of classical guitars with narrow necks, such as one that is 1&11/16 inches wide rather than the standard 2 inches? Isn't the 2 inch specification used because it's believed that the right hand needs all that spacing? Do you think that is really true?

For average or smaller left hands I will state my case that narrow necks are best because it is better to optimize for the left hand rather than the right hand. What do you agree or disagree with?

  1. The standard left hand position with fingers all in a row uses tightly curled fingers (as shown in almost every method book). On the A-string this form deteriorates significantly and disappears altogether on the low E-string. With a 1&11/16 wide neck, six strings fit into the space of five so that I could play in proper style for five strings with only some deterioration in the sixth. If standard left hand form is really to be taken seriously (for all six strings), a narrow neck is an absolute requirement -- or does it really matter for the bass strings.
  2. Aren't narrower necks considered to be more playable in the acoustic/electric world? Don't they allow for a straighter left wrist?
  3. 1&11/16 is almost exactly 5/6 of standard. Is this really so narrow that the right hand can't easily adjust? As far as the right hand goes, I would think that someone with a small hand could play with a 1&11/16 inch neck just as easily as someone with a large right hand plays a 2 in.
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby hemiphractus » Mon Aug 29, 2011 1:32 am

What you suggest is true, but other hand dimensions come into play as well. I find narrow necks a problem because my fat fingers tend to interfere with adjacent strings, but someone with smaller diameter fingers would have no problem. Many steel string players negotiate narrow necks with no problem at all. One may even question the wisdom of the tightly curled finger position as best - perhaps further study is in order.
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby AsturiasFan » Tue Aug 30, 2011 12:48 am

hemiphractus wrote:What you suggest is true, but other hand dimensions come into play as well. I find narrow necks a problem because my fat fingers tend to interfere with adjacent strings, but someone with smaller diameter fingers would have no problem. Many steel string players negotiate narrow necks with no problem at all. One may even question the wisdom of the tightly curled finger position as best - perhaps further study is in order.


The tight curl is just my discription, I don't know if the Parkening, Duncan and the other famous method authors would describe it that way or not. I feel my left hand is more fluent with the standard curled approach, which is one
reason I was curious about narrower necks -- I would like to have that fluency on the A and low E-strings. Byers opinion below about keeping standard spacing for small hands in anti-intuitive to me.

Delcamp member brooks from another thread posted a quote from Luthier Byers. Byers says that standard string spacing is needed even for small hands. I've got a really cheap guitar that I could have modified to reduce the spacing to 5/6 of normal to determine if Byer's opinion holds for me. At the nut he says the spacing could go down to 37mm which is close to 5/6 of standard, but that the spacing shouldn't change at the saddle.

brooks wrote:I agree, enilorac. Go with what suits you. American Luthier Greg Byers has some pretty strong opinions on this, which make perfect sense to me:

"I build most of my guitars to the standard 650 mm scale length. In addition I build short-scale guitars, typically at 630 mm and 613.5 mm. There is a great range of hand sizes among guitarists. Finger length and width of spread can easily vary 25% between a man with large hands and a woman with smallish hands. Yet the difference between 650 and 613.5 is less than 6%. I commonly encounter the belief that scale-lengths of 645 mm or 640 mm are sufficient to accomidate players struggling with 650. There are surely players for whom these lengths are optimum, but I think the value of even shorter lengths is underrated. Take a guitar of 650 scale and capo at the 1st fret. You now have a scale length of 613.5. If your hands are small and you are having a struggle with 650, try this. In addition, if you can have a local luthier make a new nut for your guitar with closer string spacing, you might find an even better fit. (The normal string spacing at the nut is about 43-44 mm, E to E, center to center. A person with very small hands might benefit with spacing as close as, say, 37 mm. It is usually best to keep string spacing at the saddle unchanged, since no matter how small the hands, free-stroke playing requires about the same amount of space between the strings.)

I have great faith in shorter scale lengths and feel they have been unjustly "belittled" for having reduced power and volume. For people with smaller hands the increased playability could far outweigh any perceived loss of power. This loss can occur, in theory, because of reduced string tension or reduced box dimensions. Yet by using higher tension strings the first objection is overcome, and as for the effects of reduced box size, bigger is not always louder. Every design will have an optimum box size and shape to maximize volume, but a smaller box may actually increase projection or quality of sound. Some of the smaller Torres and Hauser I guitars faired quite well in the concert hall. These sizes are easy to adapt to shorter scale lengths. I reduce the size of the plantilla by only about 3-5 mm around the perimeter for both my 630 and 613.5 scale guitars. The sound can be very lovely and without one of my 650s for direct comparison, diminished volume is not obvious. Beyond compromised enjoyment, discomfort from too big a guitar can be a precursor to a repetitive stress injury. Without wishing to cause undue alarm, I think this possiblilty should not be taken lightly, and may often be obviated by playing a short-scale guitar. End of rant!"

http://www.byersguitars.com/faq.order/faq.order.html
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby paulcroft » Tue Aug 30, 2011 10:08 am

Totally agree with the above. My Philip Woodfield guitars are "made to measure" for my larger hands, with a wider nut and also wider spacing at the saddle.

I've often been surprised to see guitarists with really small hands - predominantly female - playing concert guitars built for players with much greater stretch. Given the quality of amplification nowadays volume is not really an issue and as Greg says, and Phil's smaller guitars demonstrate, the difference is minimal anyway when compared to the rewards in terms of playability.

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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby Les Backshall » Tue Aug 30, 2011 12:01 pm

PercyPenguin wrote:...My Philip Woodfield guitars are "made to measure"...


I think that's the nub of the issue - you can't get 'made to measure' off the peg. Most beginners will naturally buy a cheaper factory instrument, and these come in the manufacturers' standard sizes. I guess we'll never know how many people give up because they start out on a guitar that's unsuited for them (poor set-up is another factor).

A smaller issue is resale. If you decide to sell an instrument that has been customised for your larger, or smaller, hands it's going to limit the market. After all, you can hardly say it doesn't matter, because that's why you had it done in the first place.

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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby Odie » Fri Sep 02, 2011 9:46 pm

Ok, but why aren't the manufacturers producing guitars in more variety - e.g. with narrower necks "oof the peg" more often?
I am sure that there would be customers (even beginners) who would benefit from that...

E.g. in steel string world necks come in several sizes and a person can easier located the guitar with find the geometry that he desires (except maybe for 1 7/8'')

Or maybe the reason is that due to nylon strings' thickness - it is better to have a wider neck which allows for cleaner LH play? And the standard CG nut size or bridge spacing is the result of some experimentation / best practice or evolution ?

E.g. Personally I find it dificult to play narrow spaced strings on classical - for both RH and LF (I have large hands though).-But am not sure now if that is because I got used to "standard" dimensions, or are "standard" dimensions more ergonomic by definition?
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby AsturiasFan » Tue Sep 13, 2011 1:30 am

From further reading it appears to me that for those whose hands are at the small end of average, a 48mm nut and 1&3/4 in neck is about the lowest one would want to go. However, this could be a horrible fit for bigger hands or for those with fat fingers. I do not have fat fingers and I have a large-small hand, i.e., I have a large hand amongst those for whom a 640mm scale is recommended.

I plan on going to try out a Cervantes crossover with narrow neck and 48mm nut. Since the string spacing is reduced by (52-48)/5 = 0.8 mm, I can't fathom that it will be a problem. I calculate that this is about an 8% reduction in string spacing.
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby mk49 » Tue Sep 27, 2011 9:10 pm

The string spacing and the nut width are two different things. I have a guitar with 53mm nut width, and I made a nut with 41.5mm spacing. I have a guitar with 50mm nut width, and it has the same string spacing. They are both 640mm scale. I have a 630mm scale guitar, and the string spacing was 41.5mm. I felt like I didn't have enough room on this shorter scale guitar, so I made a nut with 43mm spacing. The 43mm spacing feels more comfortable on the 630mm scale, but the 41.5mm feels better on two of my 640mm guitar. I use 41.5mm for my 650mm scale, too.

The reasons why electric and acoustic guitars have narrower necks are 1. We use thumb to fret the 6th string. 2. The strings are so much thinner than Classical guitars.
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby Brad Little » Wed Sep 28, 2011 2:15 pm

There are a fair number or nylon string guitars with narrow necks available in many different price points. They are usually referred to as hybrid or crossover guitars and often have 14 frets to the body and a cutaway. They are aimed at steel string players who want to try the sound and feel of a nylon string. No reason why someone with smaller hands can't use one for "pure" classical. I had an inexpensive Fender crossover for a while and kept it at work. I had no problem with the narrow neck, but then I regularly switch between classical and steel string guitars anyhow. A Google search on nylon hybrid guitars should return a fair number of hits.
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby AsturiasFan » Sun Oct 02, 2011 11:47 pm

mk49 wrote:The string spacing and the nut width are two different things.

Brad Little wrote:There are a fair number or nylon string guitars with narrow necks available in many different price points. They are usually referred to as hybrid or crossover guitars and often have 14 frets to the body and a cutaway.

I wasn't fully cognizant that nut size and string spacing were independent, but mk49 knows his stuff. I saw a steel string acoustic with 48mm nut that flared to normal CG spacing for the right hand. I saw an unusual electric that did the same thing. Thanks! You do get a lot more web hits if you also search on hybrid.

I just fiddled around on a Yamaha NTX-700 at Guitar Center, which is a hybrid-cutaway with 14 frets to the body. I don’t consider myself to have a small hand -- just on the small side of average, but the 48mm nut and reduced string spacing are perfect. In addition to the pros for the left hand (first post), there are big ergonomic advantages for right hand: finger movements are smaller; hand curvature more stable; and unexpectedly thumb strums were ridiculously easy and smooth because the thumb hits the next string before it gets a chance to dip into the gap. Days of precision thumb-nail filing and thumb-strumming-practice, just to get by, will instantly end. I have a plucking technique where fingertip goes well below string level, and it's still easy on the NTX. Absolutely no left hand cons: chords are obviously tighter, but fingers do not get into each other’s way over a wide variety of chords.

Now must figure out what hybrid to purchase. Reviews of Yamaha NTXs' sound quality are mixed, with the worst being pretty bad.
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby Sohail288 » Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:51 am

Just want to add my 2 cents...

For two years, I was playing classical repertoire on a standard electric guitar. I thought, wow, the narrowness of the neck is perfect. My right hand eventually caught up and adapted to the string spacing. 2 years later, I hit a road bump. I couldn't accurately play any pieces and barring had started to become difficult. My right hand technique became stagnant and my "i" finger kept on missing notes during fast arpeggios.

I figured I needed a wider neck. Went to guitar center tried all the semi wide necks, ntx700, ovation 1624 (round body is maladaptive to classical playing), and several others. They were fine. And then I picked up a yamaha cg172sf, and man. Pure bliss. It has a 2.01" nut. For some reason, all of the difficult stretches for amazingly simple. The low string height made it facilitated my accuracy and now I'm kicking myself in the butt for not getting it sooner.

The yamaha ntx sounded horrible btw, at least when I tried it unplugged.

My hands are small, but it's amazing how much simpler playing has become with a wider neck guitar. Experiment with a cheap crossover guitar before you take the plunge for that configuration!
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby AsturiasFan » Sun Oct 23, 2011 2:46 am

Sohail288 wrote:Just want to add my 2 cents...

For two years, I was playing classical repertoire on a standard electric guitar. I thought, wow, the narrowness of the neck is perfect. My right hand eventually caught up and adapted to the string spacing. 2 years later, I hit a road bump. I couldn't accurately play any pieces and barring had started to become difficult. My right hand technique became stagnant and my "i" finger kept on missing notes during fast arpeggios.

I figured I needed a wider neck. Went to guitar center tried all the semi wide necks, ntx700, ovation 1624 (round body is maladaptive to classical playing), and several others. They were fine. And then I picked up a yamaha cg172sf, and man. Pure bliss. It has a 2.01" nut. For some reason, all of the difficult stretches for amazingly simple. The low string height made it facilitated my accuracy and now I'm kicking myself in the butt for not getting it sooner.

The yamaha ntx sounded horrible btw, at least when I tried it unplugged.

My hands are small, but it's amazing how much simpler playing has become with a wider neck guitar. Experiment with a cheap crossover guitar before you take the plunge for that configuration!


Thanks for the second opinion on the ntx, which now rules it out. I've read La-Patrie has a good cheap hybrid. Classical hybrids aren't as narrow as pure electrics, but you still bring up a valid point. Going to a narrow neck is risky, and could be a "serious" mistake if one doesn't keep a standard backup on hand.
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby Australopithicus » Thu Dec 08, 2011 9:07 am

Forgive a late comment. For what it is worth I learned CG with a standard 2" nut (50mm) and after a couple of years moved up to a Ramirez 1A which had a 54mm nut. I am 5' 10", slender with average hand span, (with open palm spread, 200mm from tip of thumb to tip of 4th finger).

I found the wider string spacing much better. The standard A at fret 2 is cramped on a 50mm. On the 50mm I use fingers 2,3,4 to play A, instead of the standard 1,2,3. Barre chords where OK and did not require extra strength, but the wider spacing allowed me to shift the barre to overcome the G string which was often not fully depressed. ( Maybe it is my poor technique but I find a 6 string barre often results in the G string not being firmly depressed, partly because it coincides with the position of the joint in my finger on the 50mm neck at positions 1 to 3). With a 54mm nut I could adjust my finger position a little to make a big difference. Regarding considerations of rock, jazz and blues guitars, once you move from CG to Jazz or blues the type of guitar changes to suit a particular playing technique. How many CG players hold down the 6th string with the left hand thumb? So do not let rock, Jazz and Blues instruments effect judgement of CG considerations.

In short I suggest the question of nut width depends upon how slender your fingers are or are not. The question of string length depends upon hand span. Two separate issues which need to be addressed separately. Try this out before buying a narrow neck.
I hope this helps. Good Luck.
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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby Doktat » Thu Dec 08, 2011 2:38 pm

Wouldn't wider strings permit setting the left-hand fingers at a lower angle of attack? ... because there is more space for that finger to avoid deadening the adjacent string? When strings are narrower, the finger placement must come at a higher angle to avoid contact with adjacent strings right? So, isn't it a trade off between what you get with a wider system (lower angle) and a narrower system (higher angle)? Does anyone else see what I'm getting at?

As far as the right hand goes, I play with many different widths and my right hand seems reasonably comfortable switching to a new width and quickly adapts after playing awhile. I wouldn't be comfortable doing this in a gig however.

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Re: Why aren't narrow necks best for average/small hands?

Postby Australopithicus » Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:20 pm

Dear Doktat, I believe I understand what you are getting at but I respectfully suggest you are approaching the matter the wrong way. Irrespective of neck dimensions your fingerboard finger/hand should be set high for the fingers to act as little hammers, using the tip as the point of contact. One should endeavour to use the finger tips to hold strings down for reasons of good tone and to prevent fingers obstructing each other. Lower hand position reduces ability to stretch and reposition fingers and the tendency will be for the more fleshy part of the fingertip to hold down the string. Not good for tone or precision. A couple of millimeters in neck width is easily compensated for with high left wrist. Not so easy with a lower wrist position. Of course high is a relative term and the chord shape or finger spread determines a comfortable hand hight. I notice beginners have an aversion to raising the wrist which limits their ability to reach the 6th string. Such practice will limit playing ability considerably. That said, I am aware that there are some excellent players who have low wrist positions. That fact should not be taken to justify adopting lazy left hand positioning. In the same way I know some very bad car drivers who have luckily had no accidents, that does not justify their bad driving or recommend their standards as a model for others.
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