Sunday, December 19, 2010

Twisted, Fanned and Slanted

The Twisted

In 1979, Don Lace started an electronics company in the family garage in Huntington Beach, California.

One of Don’s first production jobs was developing a pickup with Fender that had a low rejection rate during production. In the mid 1980's, Don came up with the Lace Sensor. The Sensor was a uniquely designed single-coil pickup that reduced hum. Fender used it on their Lace Sensor Stratocaster and on other well known artist models.

In 1992, Don Sr. passed away, but his two sons Don and Jeff Lace, took control of the family business.  They not only carried on the family tradition, but introduced some wonderful innovations in guitar and bass pickup design.

Don and Jeff’s latest innovation is the Alumitone series of pickups.

We will talk about this new design and Lace pickups some other time. For now, the focus is on a unique guitar that Lace produced in the earlier part of this decade.

In an effort to make an ergonomic guitar, the Lace brothers came up with the idea of twisting the neck slightly to make playing feel more natural and match the position of the wrist and hand. They called this the Lace Cybercaster with the Lace Helix neck.

The Cybercaster's Helix neck features a 10.8º twist on the first frets that straightens out as you go up. The guitar comes with two Lace Hemi Humbuckers.

It bears a slight resemblance to a Fender Jazzmaster that has been run over by a steamroller. The body is ash; the bolt on neck is maple. The bridge pickup has a Tele-style aluminum plate. The input is like that on a Fender Stratocaster. It comes with one volume and one tone potentiometer and a three way throw switch on the lower bout. Gotoh makes the tuners. The truss rod cap is also aluminum. The scale is 25.5” with 21 frets on the natural maple fretboard.

I know that Lace still produces the Cybercaster in several variations, but I am not certain if they have continued with the twisted Helix neck.

The Fanned

Ralph Novaks has been making guitars under the Novax name for sometime now. His specialty is guitars with Fan Frets. Novaks philosophy is that strings should have differing tension and different lengths to optimize tonality and performance.

This allows for ease of playing, since the string tension is reduced. By fanning the frets this creates a more even harmonic response.

Novak compares his method to that of a grand piano or a harp. These instruments not only use strings of different diameters, but also different lengths to achieve their sound. Novak has applied this to the guitar.

He also utilizes the Novax Proprietary Individual Bridge system that he describes,  “Our individual bridge system overcomes this by separating each saddle and “base plate,” taking advantage of the natural acoustical damping properties of wood vs. metal. The signature overtone series of each string in a chord remains intact, making the chord sound more “in-tune” and keeping the harmonic interest of the different voices.”

The fanning of the frets results in changing the scale length for the bass to the treble strings. Not only does this facilitate tonality, but also the guitar is also more ergonomic.

Most Novax guitars come with seven or eight strings. He makes bass guitars as well.  Other manufacturers, such as Jeff Traugott and Eric Schoenberg, use a similar fan fret process .

The Slanted

Rickenbacker came out with slanted frets a long time ago. However this was an original concept. The idea behind this was ergonomics. It made sense to the designer that most folks had to bend the wrist to play a barre chord.

Therefore, by slanting the frets and compensating by changing the angle of the bridge, it would make for ease of fingering.

Klein guitars also tried this method. The concept just did not catch on.

There are a few bass guitar companies produce instruments with slanted frets.One is Moses Graphite necks. This company produces bass guitar necks with slanted frets as replacement necks for Fender style basses.

Dingwall Basses also utilizes the slanted fret concept.


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