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Neck Options


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With so many options available with necks I was wondering how each one affects playing styles. Which fret heights are better for bending, which for a lot of sliding, which for speed, which for cords? What affect does the fret widths have? And then the same questions for the radius. Does the scale length make it easier to play certain styles, if not what purpose does the different lengths serve other than sustain? I know the shape and thickness of the back of the neck is just personal preference. With so many choices for all of the neck parts and design it gets confusing very quickly.

I want to build a neck that I will enjoy and be able to play well on, but have no idea where to begin on my design of it other than I know how wide to make it, the materials I want to use, the shape of the peghead and that it will be a bolt on.

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I would suggest your best starting point is to spend the next three months playing as many different guitars as possible to find which ones suit you best, and work out why you like them more - something only you will be able to answer. Then you will have a great idea of exactly which neck you will want to build.

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The answer is....*drumroll*...depends on your personal preferences and playing style.

Some people swear by thin 'fast' necks, but I can't stand them. Really don't like them. Relatively, taller frets make vibrato a bit easier, bending and tapping a bit easier, generally fretting the note a bit easier, but whether its' significant, and whether the risk of pulling a note out of tune by pushing too hard on tall frets is worth the trade-off, that's up to the player.

As for radius: the rounder, the more comfortable most people find it for chording. On a vintage fender radius, you can also quite easily fret out/choke notes up when bending. Ergo the flatter radii on shred guitars where you want to be able to bend all the way across the fretboard and keep your low low action. If you want to keep the 'cowboy chord' positions relatively more comfortable, and get the action as low as possible, a compound radius (ie, conical: the fretboard arch follows the path of the strings, essentially, which describes a cone, not a fixed radius cylinder) will give you the best options.

Most of this stuff is firmly in the realm of personal preference, though.

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Thanks for the help. I knew a certain portion was personal preference, but at a certain point there are just standards that every one finds. For example the tighter radius being easier to chord. I would imagine that a narrow extra high fret is going to be hard to slide notes on no matter who the player is. It looks like it's jsut going to be a whole bunch of guitars on my wall if I want to set each one up for a specific purpose. Hey wait, that sounds like a great idea. Now has anyone actually gotten their wife to believe this reasoning?

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I have friends come over and pick up a guitar then find they can't play it. At least 2 guitars will be in some open/alternate tuning. :D I have one set up for slide playing. Thats extremely high action, a fretted note will actually sound sharp. My favorite guitar is one I made for myself, narrow neck, 12 in. fb radius, and I purposely carved the back of the neck into a slightly lopsided "C" profile. Thats what works for me. :D

Where it comes to frets I'm medium all the way, thats height and width. I don't mind wider frets but am not fond of high frets. High frets are great for the light touch players and getting one-note vibrato effect. I tend to press a little harder and light gauge strings go sharp on me.

As far as shaping the back of your neck goes, just keep sanding until it feels good. B)

Edited by Southpa
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As far as shaping the back of your neck goes, just keep sanding until it feels good. :D

Might want to go a little bit more with a bass- those thick strings add an considerable amount of perceived depth. I figured this out the hard way (not being a bass player). Frets seem to make a bit of difference too.

I have an electric I built with a neck that's a tad on the thin side, but not super thin by any means - (too thin and my hand cramps.) and the fretboard is almost wide enough to be a straight taper. No one else can play it, they hate it. For me it's perfect. (I play wierd chords and have big fingers, it's so much easier to not flub a note this way.)

If you're like me, and have really only played one guitar for years and years, (in my case, a cheap Epiphone SG) it's tempting to just model the neck after what you're used to. I'd really suggest trying all your friends guitars and going to the guitar shop and playing everything they'll let you, and when to try and look at your guitar objectively - if you have a hard time playing a certain chord or riff, figure out if there's something (besides practice!) that's making it harder on you. Turns out the neck I had was no where near the neck I wanted. In my case, I haven't seen an electric with the type of neck that worked best for me, so building a guitar was the chance to make a neck that felt better (to me) than anything I could buy in the shop.

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It looks like it's jsut going to be a whole bunch of guitars on my wall if I want to set each one up for a specific purpose. Hey wait, that sounds like a great idea. Now has anyone actually gotten their wife to believe this reasoning?

It takes years of explaining....but eventualy she will understand (or give up :D )

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Well, personally I really like the way my 2 guitar's necks are: round, thin but not too much (between a gibson and an ibanez) with low frets.

Only problem, my brand new one came with smaller strings so I tend to get it sharp when I play...

Also, I think it's a pitty they don't make SS low-wide frets... Low frets that don't need to be changed! lol

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Which fret heights are better for bending, which for a lot of sliding, which for speed, which for cords? What affect does the fret widths have?

High frets are easier to bend on but low frets are popular for sliding and speed licks. I guess that's why medium fretwire is so popular. I don't think the width makes as much difference but a wider fret won't need dressing as often.

And then the same questions for the radius.

A low radius (more arched) fretboard like a 7.25" vintage Fender is easier to play barre chords on. Back in the 50s when Fenders came out the guitarists played a lot more rhythm so that's what they wanted. Remember, Leo Fender put what the pro guitarists he consulted with into his guitars. That's why they're still so popular.

It's harder to bend on a highly arched instrument, though, unless you raise the action. It'll choke the string as you bend up more. The 16" Martin radius is good but I prefer the 12" Gibson radius for electrics.

Does the scale length make it easier to play certain styles, if not what purpose does the different lengths serve other than sustain?

Absolutely. It's the biggest difference between a Fender and a Gibson, and I've done the research to back that statement up. That's the opinion of top pro luthiers (Roger Sadowsky for one), not amateurs. It's why Fenders are so popular for rhythm and Gibsons for single note stuff. The longer scale makes the pick bounce more when you're strumming and that's what you want for rhythm. It's easier to bend strings on a short scale guitar too.

It's the biggest factor in the differences in tone between a Fender and Gibson too. I've tried the set neck Fender things with a mahogany body and humbuckers and they don't really sound like a Gibson. The chords blend together nicely with the short scale but the long scale gives you a lot more prescence.

Soundwise it depends how you want to use it ... in the 70s guitar bands (1 or 2 guitars and rhythm section) Gibsons were everywhere. In the 80s all of a sudden the bands had 1 or 2 synth players and the guitars were all maple neck Fenders because they had a lot of other noise to cut through. In a live situation a Fender will cut through the room better than a Gibson even if the Gibson has a more powerful amp.

I know the shape and thickness of the back of the neck is just personal preference.

Sort of ... it depends on your hands. The palms of my hands are fairly big and a lot of those skinny electric necks aren't comfortable for me. If you have small hands they're great but if the neck doesn't fill your hand it'll get cramped up. If someone you know has a neck that feels great to you do go to www.stewmac.com in the free info section and do the neck tracing trick.

One great trick to make a neck feel great is to round the edges of the fingerboard a little. If you've ever picked up a $750 Tele and then a $1500 one, that's the reason the neck on the expensive one feels so good.

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