The dimension of the guitar fretboard has been an item of popular discussion among both guitar pickers and luthiers alike. Guitar nut width has almost always been standardized for dreadnought 14 fret acoustic guitar at about 1-11/16″ give or take a whisker, depending on the guitar maker. Since C.F. Martin was the standard for dreadnoughts, that is what most people wanted – to match those incredible pre-war Martin’s. So it seems the most was cast for the gold standard of nut widths with these guitars.
Next along came the dreadnoughts with a 12 fret neck like the D-28VS. Since this guitar was targeted more toward fingerstyle guitar, these pickers wanted a slightly wider nut at about 1-3/4 up to about 1-7/8″.
The Classical Guitars were a bit more standardized too. The typical concert sized classical guitar had a fretboard width of between 2″ and 2-1/8″ at the nut. This is still the norm and you will see different makers zero in on their own preferred standard.
12 String Acoustic Guitars:
With the introduction of the 12 string acoustic guitar, it was determined that keeping the fretboard at standard 6-string spacing did not allow enough room for those extra 6 strings, so the fretboard at the nut was widened out about 1/8″ to keep the center to center spacing of the strings at a comfortable spacing. This amounted to about 1-13/16″
I fall into this category, so don’t take the name as an insult. I would be termed a crossbreed because I started playing on an electric guitar, moved on to a concert classical and ended up with a steel string acoustical. Now how do you make a guy like me happy with fretboard width? You actually stretch the acoustic dimension a bit and shrink the classical a bit and meet somewhere in the middle. So I am happiest playing an Acoustic Guitar with a fretboard nut width of about 1-7/8″. Classical Guitar fretboards at standard width are of course perfectly fine with me.
Acoustic and Electrics only need apply here….We can’t really talk about fretboard width without considering the question of binding on the fretboard. Of course the total fretboard width will included the binding if any. Usually the binding will be designed and the fretboard width will be your total design width – binding width x 2.
Most often, the fretboard binding is installed on the fretboard after the fret slots have been cut, but before the fretboard has been glued down to the neck/guitar body.
String Inset Dimensions:
The last point we need to talk about centers around the proper distance the strings need to be inset from the edge of the fretboard at the nut. By this I’m referring to the 1st and the 6th strings. We have to accommodate players who use pull-offs and we also want to provide some comfort while playing on the these strings without the feeling of having your fingers “fall off” the edge of the fretboard.
Again this is a matter of taste for each individual player, but I believe you can start with about 2.5 mm to 3.0 mm from the Edge of the fretboard. That would be the distance to the center of the strings. Take the remaining dimension and divide by 5 and you will have your exact string center to center spacing.
A Final Word:
Why all this fuss about fretboard width? As a player for more years than I would care to admit, besides tone and action, one of the most important aspects I consider for a fine guitar is the fretboard width at the nut and the saddle. Keep this in mind and the sensitivities of the guitar picker and you will have a happy customer or be very pleased with your very own guitar.