Novax Guitars
The Fanned-Fret® Originators
Ralph Novak, luthier


Guitars and guitar making have been a passion for Ralph Novak since his early teens, when he received a birthday gift of a guitar at age 14.

Intrigued by “how it worked” (as well as the process of learning to play the guitar), he soon began a primitive attempt at “modifying” the Stella acoustic. Soon after, a Zim-Gar electric guitar was acquired and subsequently “modified”…

Those first guitars inspired a lifelong love of the guitar as both a musical instrument and an engineering marvel.

Ongoing exploration of guitar design and aesthetics over Ralph’s five decade career led to innovations along the way as well as maintaining Ralph’s enthusiasm for the art and craft of guitarmaking.

Novax Guitars: Slimline Jazz 6-string, Multi-Scale, Fanned Fret®

Novax Guitars® was officially founded in 1989 when Ralph Novak was awarded U.S. Patent #4,852,450 for the “Multiple Scale Fretboard”. While the date is based on the issuance of the patent, the seeds for this disruptive technology and the Fanned-Fret® concept were sown many years earlier.

In the early 1970’s, Ralph Novak was repairing and customizing (they weren’t called “guitar techs” then…) guitars and basses, working through LoBue/Guitar Lab, We Buy Guitars, and Alex Music, all located in the W. 48th Street musical instrument nexus of downtown Manhattan.

New York City was a “hub” for the many professional artists who would pass through on tour — it was a period of “enlightenment” for Novak. Working with discerning and knowledgeable professional musicians made it clear to Novak that there were shortcomings to traditional guitar design.

After a move to California in 1978, Novak worked through Subway Guitars in Berkeley for several years before opening his own shop in Emeryville, and later, San Leandro. It was here that the multiple-scale concept was conceived, developed, and patented.

The concept arose from the observation that although instruments with different body styles and pickups would display obvious differences in tone, there was a consistency in the string response of the various instruments.

Shorter-scale instruments (many Gibson solid body guitars and short-scale Fenders) had a “warm” tone with a “muddy” bass response. Longer-scale instruments (like many Fender guitars and the longer-scale Gibson arch tops) had a brighter tone and the basses were more “piano-like”. In addition, when compared to the older Kay guitars with an even longer 26.25" scale length, the difference in the tone of the strings resulting from the string length was striking.

Novak sought a way to combine the warm, sweet trebles of shorter-scale instruments with the rich, piano-like basses of the long-scale instruments. This was the genesis of Fanned-Frets.

One surprising effect of the Fanned-Fret concept was how “in-tune” the prototype instruments were. Further refinement and development over the next ten years, with a focus on accurate intonation and input from many players, led to the current embodiment that has made Novax Guitars popular world-wide. Artists with discriminating taste and demanding musical styles have naturally gravitated to the Fanned-Fret concept for the easy playability, accurate intonation, and expanded tuning range that Fanned-Frets offer.

With decades of experience in stringed-instrument repair and customization, and an Industrial Design Excellence Award, Novax Guitars has been at the forefront of guitar innovation and evolution.

At the “designed-in level”, Novax instruments incorporate “invisible” features such as super-accurate intonation and easy playability along with more obvious design refinements like single-string bridges that minimize string-to-string crosstalk.

Custom-voiced pickups, unique and versatile circuits, and stunning woods are all combined to deliver a unique and inspiring playing experience.

Other companies copy our designs and attempt to execute the Fanned-Fret concept - they may look the same on the surface, but there’s a tangible difference. No one has more experience with multi-scale instruments than Novax, the Fanned-Fret originators.

Ralph Novak has recently retired from actively building custom instruments due to deteriorating eyesight. He is offering his design and consultation services to other companies interested in producing Fanned-Fret instruments.

Since the patent has passed into the public domain, the multi-scale concept has been co-opted by several large companies. Those “copy” instruments don’t display the accurate intonation and playability that come with over 25 years of working with the multi-scale concept.

To be certain that you get all of the benefits of this exciting technology, look for the Registered Trademark symbol (®) accompanying the Fanned-Fret trademark. Beware of companies that offer “Fanned-Fret” instruments that don’t include the “registered” symbol!