If you’ve never played a multiscale guitar before you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Do you really need a guitar with funny frets that fan out in opposite directions in either way? What are the benefits? Is it hard to adapt to? Perry Ormsby is Australia’s reigning king of multiscale guitar designs, a true innovator of the art, and one wonders if the recent increase in production multis from American and Japanese brands has been a direct result of said companies lurking on Ormsby’s Instagram and thinking “We’d better get in on that.” The eyes of the guitar world are currently on Ormsby’s Custom and GTR SX, Hype and TX instruments, with the new Goliath headless and GTR basses on the way.
“Back in the day I used to play guitar, frantically, and I would always have problems with my forearm getting really, really sore. Basically I could play for ten or fifteen minutes before my hand would cramp up with pain. Went to some doctors and they said there was nothing I could do other than just exercising it. But that’s what playing guitar is anyway! I spoke to my guitar teacher. He had an operation for the same thing and he said I didn’t want to do that. So I just accepted it. I used to bathe my arm in hot water before playing and that helped out, I could play for maybe half an hour then. But it was always in the back of my mind that I would never be able to play a gig.
A few years go by and I had a guy that wanted a baritone guitar, so I built that and it was my first experience of really hearing a baritone, and it was just killer. He just tuned to normal tuning but it sounded like a much bigger instrument and that got me thinking that was the way to go with the scale length. Gibson’s short, Fender is longer, PRS is in the middle but if you go a bit longer you can get a nicer-sounding guitar, at least to my ears.
So I thought about my arm and I thought about slanting the frets. I mocked one up and I sat there with it at lunch one day and played for half an hour and didn’t get any pains. My wrist wasn’t bent in the normal way. So I decided to actually make a guitar like that. I looked into it and Novak was making fanned-fret guitars, but his system was a lot different to what I was proposing. He went with a straight bridge with an angled nut, and the straight fret as you would call it would be the bridge. He was doing retro-fit necks for Strat and his was called Fanned Fret but mine was about multiple scales. It just went from there.
We built the first one and it was a monster. The next order came about nine months after that, then the next order was three months after that, and now it’s most of what we do. I worked out why it wasn’t causing problems with my RSI in my forearm: it’s because instead of my wrist being bent to its full extension, it’s more relaxed and I’m not using those tendons in my forearm that I was using before. Or if I am, I can’t feel it. But if I pick up a regular guitar again and play for ten minutes, my arm seizes up. I have to be lazy and not fret properly. But with a multiscale I can play for an hour.
Adjusting To Multiscale
The best thing to do when you first pick one up is, if you can play without looking at the fretboard, do that! Because if you look down at the fret it could throw you off. I’ve given guitars to two guys now who had had zero practice time who used them on stage. One of them was a singer/guitarist and knowing I’d forgot to bring his guitar to the gig and I’d brought mine instead, I handed my guitar to him back-first so he couldn’t see the front, hoping he wasn’t going to see the frets because I knew he was already onstage and he was f**ked if he looked at it because it would throw him off.
He sang and shredded away and at the end of the gig I asked him if it felt uncomfortable and that’s when he freaked out because he didn’t realise he was playing a multiscale! He became a fan straight away. So it doesn’t take much adjustment at all. For 99 percent of people who pick it up they say it feels totally natural. Literally you’ve learned to play guitar the hard way with a normal guitar. With a multiscale you just have to relax your wrist and pivot your forearm and that’s it. And the feedback I get, people feel it’s easier to play and they’re more inspired to play. And if you’re more inspired to play you move on to the next level.”
We all know that shorter scale instruments could do with a shorter string. So you’ve got two things going against you: a thicker string and a shorter scale length, and the intonation is horrendous around that third fret. I challenge anyone: take a short-scale guitar, tune the open strings perfectly with a tuner, play and open D chord and only one of those four notes will be in tune and it’s the open string. The longer scales, 25.5”, are not as bad, as a natural occurrence. With a multiscale we don’t have to put frets in the standard position as per the formula that everyone uses. We can go “Y’know what? Third and fifth are always out on regular guitars. Let’s move them a tiny little bit.”
I know that PRS, for example, have done something about this as well and they cut their fretboards short by about 1.3mm so the nut is a little closer to the first fret. We do that as well, adjust the frets a little bit and it’s done. We do cut all of the slots for our frets on a CNC so we can repeat that time and time again.
For more information about Ormsby Guitars head to ormsbyguitars.com.