1 a guidepost resembling a hand with a pointing index finger [syn: fingerpost]
3 a narrow strip of wood on the neck of some stringed instruments (violin or cello or guitar etc) where the strings are held against the wood with the fingers
- The Oxford English Dictionary
The fingerboard (also known as a fretboard on fretted instruments) is a part of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of wood that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument and above which the strings run. In the playing of such an instrument, a musician presses the strings down towards it in order to change their vibrating lengths, causing changes in pitch. This is called "stopping" the strings.
The word "fingerboard" in other languages sometimes occurs in musical directions. In Italian it is called either manico or tasto, the latter especially in the phrase sul tasto, a direction for bowed string instruments to play with the bow above the fingerboard.
A fingerboard may be fretted, having raised strips of hard material perpendicular to the strings against which the strings are stopped. Frets easily and consistently allow a musician to stop the string in the same place, and they allow for less damping of the vibrations than fingers alone. Frets may be fixed, as on a guitar or mandolin, or movable, as on a lute. Fingerboards may also be unfretted, as they usually are on bowed instruments, where damping is generally not a problem due to the prolonged stimulation of the strings. Unfretted fingerboards allow a musician more control over subtle changes in pitch than fretted boards, but are generally considered harder to master where intonation is concerned. Fingerboards may also be, though uncommon, a hybrid of these two. Such a construction is seen on the sitar, where arched frets attach at the edges of the fingerboard; unfretted strings run below the frets, while fretted ones run above. The frets are sufficiently high that pressing strings against the fingerboard is unnecessary for the frets to stop their vibrations so that the lower strings' sympathetic vibrations are uninterrupted.
Steel-string and electric guitars may have the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th or 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 19th and 21st frets marked by inlays, normally small dots but occasionally trapeziums or other shapes. These are normally repeated on the side of the neck where the player can more easily see them. The 12th fret, and 24th fret if present, are normally marked differently (e.g. two dots) to indicate the octave. Classical guitars do not have inlays or fret markers, but some players, especially beginners, like to add self-adhesive fret markers on the side of the neck.
On bowed string instruments, (such as violin, viola, cello, and double bass), the fingerboard is usually made of ebony, rosewood or some other hardwood. On some guitars a maple neck and fingerboard are made from one piece of wood. A few modern innovative luthiers have used lightweight, non-wood materials such as carbon-fiber in their fingerboards.
Typically, the fingerboard is a long plank with a rectangular profile. On a guitar, mandolin, ukulele, or similar plucked instrument, the fingerboard appears flat and wide, but may be slightly curved to form a cylindrical or conical surface of relatively large radius compared to the fingerboard width. The radius quoted in the specification of a string instrument is the radius of curvature of the fingerboard at the head nut.
Many bowed string instruments use a visibly curved fingerboard, nut and bridge in order to gain bow clearance on each individual string.
Most fingerboards can be fully described by the following parameters:
- w1 — width at nut (close to headstock);
- w2 — width at half of scale length (if fretted, usually the 12th fret);
- h1 — profile height (thickness) at nut;
- h2 — profile height (thickness) at half of scale length;
- r — radius (may be non-constant);
Depending on values of radius r and their transition over the length of the fingerboard, all fingerboards usually fit into one of the following four categories:
Classical guitars, some 12-string guitars and a few other steel stringed acoustic guitars have flat fingerboards. Almost all other guitars have at least some curvature. However some recent five and six string electric basses have flat fingerboards.
For guitars, smaller radii (9-10") are said to be more comfortable for chord and rhythm playing, while larger radii (12"-16" and up to infinite radius) are more appealing to fast soloing. Conical and compound radius fingerboards try to merge both of these features. The nut end of the fingerboard has a smaller radius towards the nut to ease in forming chords. The bridge end of the fingerboard has a larger radius to make soloing more comfortable and prevent "fretting out" (having the string press against a higher fret during a bend).
Bowed string instruments tend to have curved fingerboards, to allow double stopping of adjacent strings. Those of the modern violin family and the double bass are strongly curved. However those of some archaic bowed instruments are flat.
Examples of some instruments' fingerboard parameters:
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