The History of Fan Frets


Ralph Novak

The History of the fan frets and Ralph Novak

In the mid 80’s
Ralph was looking to combine the best features of a Les Paul and a Strat. Previously to that time people had tried to put a humbucker pickup in a Strat and single coils in a Les Paul and they just sounded like a single coil in a Les Paul. No one had really experimented with the scale lengths other than Paul Reed Smith with a mono scale length at twenty-five inches. Ralph took it a step further and was going to have two sets of frets, one at a Les Paul size and one at a Strat scale length on the bass side which would sweeten up the treble strings like on a Les Paul and maintain the snappy quality bass strings like on a Strat. The best of both worlds. Before he did this, he realised that he wouldn’t be able to bend his strings across the frets so he thought he would just use one fret slanted and the notes between the high and low E strings would be what they would be. As he told the story to me, he expected this to be a complete failure but wanted to try it anyway. He was shocked and amazed when he played the prototype for the first time that everything played in tune and it achieved his goal to have sweeter treble Les Paul-like high strings and snappier Strat-like lower strings. He had no prior knowledge of fan frets being used in the Renaissance period, so he went out and obtained a patent for Fan Frets.

 It’s my belief…
that without him bringing this fretting system back to life in the 80’s we would not have the multi scale instruments we have today. So, I consider him to be the father of modern multi scale instruments today.

Where we got involved…
was back in 1992. I was looking to improve the B string on 5 string basses. I was approaching it from the piano point of view where by scale length controls the harmonic content of the string and is very influential on the tone of the piano. When I saw the first photo of a Novak guitar in guitar player magazine I was blown away and realised this was the perfect application for a 5-string bass to achieve the balance of harmonics on every string and an even tension on every string. Within two months of that I ran into Ralph at a luthier’s convention in South Dakota. We became quick friends and decided on the spot that I would pursue the bass end of things and he would pursue the guitar end of things. And on a handshake, we went about our ways. I went home and developed the original Voodoo bass and took the first sample to NAMM in 1993. From that point on we went into production and have been building fan fret bass guitars ever since. 


                                                                                                                                        - Sheldon Dingwall


Visit Ralph Novak's website for more information -