Tradition and Evolution

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments

Tradition and Evolution

Post by wianno » Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:38 am

Why do steel string, so called folk, guitars have cambered (radiused) fret boards? Why is the nut width of steel string guitars typically narrower than the 51-52mm standard for classical guitars?

Is the design of the folk guitar the product of evolution to a more efficient mechanism?, or is it because influential builders like C.F. Martin, a cabinet maker, learn much of his guitar building from Johann Stauffer, a person known as a violin and cello maker?

Does anyone know when these innovations (including the common use of steel strings) caused a branching of guitar design and construction, or of sources that may provide the answers to these questions?

And, would anyone care to argue the merits of one design versus the other?



Post by WellRounded » Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:56 am

I can’t say about when the divergence occurred, but the extreme in narrow necks seems to happen with electric rock guitars, I assume for speed. This narrow neck then comes back into acoustics influenced by rock players who want an acoustic sound. Maybe it has always been present but it feels like there is a trend toward the fingerstyle width (1 7/8”) in acoustics. With the narrower steel strings, I find it very easy to move from this fretboard to a standard classical or a modestly radiused classical guitar.

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Post by Michael.N. » Mon Jun 18, 2007 12:22 pm

One should be very careful about making assumptions about guitar design with respect to steel and nylon (gut) strings. The two types of string have co-existed for centuries and certainly can be traced back into the renaissance. It should also be noted that cambered fingerboards also existed both on gut as well as steel strung instruments, that particular fingerboard design certainly was not exclusive to steel strung instruments and certainly pre-dated Staufer.
Narrow Nut width is not exclusive to the steel strung instrument. Certain Romantic guitars (Fabricatore?) had very narrow nut widths that would be more in-keeping with modern steel strung guitars. I also think that early instruments made by Martin were originally intended for gut strings.
I think the delineation of the two types of instrument applies more to the 20th century than the 19th. Makers were incorporating ideas from many sources and the notion that the Classical instrument follows a rigid set of design rules is just pure nonsense.


Post by jfdana » Mon Jun 18, 2007 4:21 pm

My guess is that the steel string guitar evolved with narrower necks and radiused fretboards in response to (1) the increased string tension and corresponding demands on the left hand and (2) the dominance of pick style playing. Older Martins, through at least the early transition to 14 fret necks had wider fingerboards.

Some classical makers are using a slight radius.

The wider neck makes note articulation much easier, while barring the lesser tension strings can be achieved with proper arm movement and gravity. On a steel string, the narrower neck lets one use the innner part of the thumb and index finger to squeeze the barre.

Should you be interested, there are plenty of books and articles detailing Martin design changes.

Fo my money, wider necks work very well with nylon strings and 1 3/4 (which is considered wide) with the wider spacing at the saddle, works well for fingerstyle steel string.

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