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Set Neck Vs. Neck Through


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I've made a few guitars now and all but one are neck through construction. The reasons I decided to make neck throughs were the standard arguments - better sustain, little or no heel and the classic 'the best guitars are neck through' idea that had been beat into my head by friends, magazines and websites.

Until I made my set neck walnut LP, which was made purely to use up some offcuts, I believed that the extra effort of a neck through was worth it for the reasons above. Now I'm not so sure. I have noticed no difference in sustain, the set neck rings just as long as the others. As an experiment, I decided to make the guitar as comfortable as possible and sculpt the heel until I liked how it felt, not caring how much wood I removed - it feels great and shows no signs of being unstable even though most of us would have thought the joint would have failed because I took so much wood away.

The common argument you hear regarding sustain is that 'the machine heads and the bridge are mounted to a single piece of wood with no glue joints so sustain is increased' or something very similar. This sounds fine in theory, however, most neck throughs are laminated for stability and aesthetics. My necks have all been five piece necks, so there are 4 glue lines running the length of the neck. Why should these glue joints be considered different to the glue joint in the neck pocket?

So how valid are the arguments that we use to justify the extra effort?

If anyone can provide any solid reasons why a neck through is any better than a set neck, I'd love to hear them.



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Having owned and built several of both,I think now that the sustain argument is bogus.Honestly,all of the touted benefits of neck through over set neck are bogus IMO.

These days everyone knows you can sculpt a set neck heel to feel just like a neck through,and as long as you plan properly,it will be just as stable.

These days I also ignore the glue joint voodoo as well.Glue doesn't make bad tone...poor wood choice,bad craftsmanship,and bad hardware/electronics make bad tone

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i think it depends on the style of guitar - as an example, i would never make a les paul junior style guitar as a through neck.

there is something about the tone of a full width long tenon that suits les paul juniors and i would even swear sometime i could hear it vibrating from the neck join in an amazingly pleasing way- but i dont think it will ever be the best or only way to build a guitar because i dont ever want everything to sound like a les paul junior

horses for courses and all that

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I think that when most people build guitars and relie on the neck attachement technique they completely forget the other ingredients which make for the final instrument...

The sustain argument is a residue left in our head after years of big companies marketing manipulation attempts and there is a natural reaction from the humans to this that scientifics name ''the first impression opinion'' which is exactly what these marketing guys are using to convince the big blind mass...

Then comes the guitar makers who have actually built enough guitars in their life (not only 20 - 30) to actually say that all of this argument is non sens BUT they choose to use a specific technique for attaching the neck because they enjoy it based on their own experiences and have practical reasons for using it.

I have built 60 neck through, 60 set necks (which does not mean anything really unless we specifically talk about the way Gibson attaches necks? Because there are several ways to set in a neck as we all know - hopefully) and after that I decided to exclusively switch to bolt-on because I found exactly what I wanted in that technique for my personal tastes and it also matches my philosophy and I am now at 280 guitars....

There is no bad ways to attach a neck, some companies use techniques to speed up CNC processes, this is why you dont always see a nice heel carve on most cheap ass 600$ neck through guitars BUT as small makers, we have the advantage to choose whichever techniques we wish and we perfect it.

Now comparing a set in Vs neck through factory guitars and a set in Vs neck through handmade guitar MAKES EXTREME NON SENS....

That's just my 2 cents..... :D

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Thanks for the replies, guys.

It was actually that little side conversation in you mini LP thread that got me thinking, Wes.

Great points, Huf. You're right, there's a lot more to a quality guitar than the neck join, but that's really the only aspect I was considering in this little discussion.

I believe that I will be switching to mainly set neck guitars. I found that I spent more time building and less time thinking on the set neck than I ever did on a neck through, allowing me to finish the guitar much quicker.

I still have all my templates and know how if I want to build a neck through, so no harm done, really.



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One of my first builds was a neck through.

one piece Teak.

Done a small batch of bolt-ons and set-necks since then.

To me - its about the type of bridge being used. I like neck through for floyd rose tremolo set-ups or a good hard-tail bridge. ( no neck angle needed )

For a TOM bridge I like the set-neck over the neck thru. or a bolt-on neck. More due to the ease of angling a neck pocket Vs. angling a neck-thru blank.

Now, none of this means anything as far as sustain/tone goes, just ease of building ( to me at least ).

So, in my opinion, set Vs. thru is up in the air , more dictated by the type of hardware I'm going to use.

I've seen no 'proof' that one was better than the other so far.

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Direct comparisons of otherwise identical (for the most part, let's not split hairs) instruments with different neck joins reveal differences, definitely. I recall a bass test on YT which did this very thing, and you can "hear" the differences between the neck types and yes, with a little experience you can tell which is which. Obviously not the be-all-and-end-all answer, as exceptions exist of course (Brian May's Red Special is a bolt on, literally).

Discounting this endless debate, here are opinions outside of that for the OP's original question:

- neck through allows more flexibility in heel shaving and reduction

- set neck allows for smaller stock to be used, especially with larger body angles

- set neck allows grain to run parallel to the body/neck same as it does in scarfed headstocks

- set neck makes body binding easier whilst the pocket is clear plus....

- ...you can drill wiring holes through the pickup routs from the pocket

Sometimes neck through can sound *too* thick and resonant in my opinion. From a recording standpoint that can be a bad thing, although not the end of the world. Neck through basses are a treat. Huf hit the nail on the head IMO. Sustain doesn't matter unless you don't use amps and want an 18s note rather than a 17s note for whatever reason. Whether the effort is worth it is if you see results from it. If you don't, then it's not. Sorry to be captain obvious ;-)

I don't think anybody will prove anything either way, ever. You just have to go with your gut and what feels and sounds best to yourself and hopefully not fall prey to the marketing brainworm shysters who'll have you GASing for whatever buzzconcept that purportedly gives you that nebulous "thing" you are apparently searching for. Both are relevant construction methods, and arguments for or against each one TONALLY are not really that relevant. Neither is gardening or tea.

Sorry, must sleep. Rambling.

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Glue doesn't make bad tone...poor wood choice,bad craftsmanship,and bad hardware/electronics make bad tone

+1 Wes - point well spoken.

+1 Huf - I have played all types of small/boutique builders guitars and they are almost always better than a production guitar.

+1/-1 Prostheta... you made it complicated. :D

Thanks guys... It is good to hear voices of reason after spending too much time talking to customers about this.

I build set necks because I like them.

I don't build neck-through or bolt-on guitars much anymore for reasons that are based on opinion:

- If I want a maple neck I end up with big chunks of maple in the middle of my guitar. Not a fan.

- With a set neck I can use my wood more efficiently... I don't need really long pieces.

- With a set neck I have more control over the body wood (same with bolt ons)

- I hate extra metal parts so with a set neck I can eliminate some screws and stuff

- I can make the heal look like a bolt-on or a neck-thru

- I never seem to plan my neck-thru guitars well enough... (guess I haven't built enough of them)

Still all of this doesn't mean much if the craftsmanship sucks.

Buter you have my permission to call Voodoo anytime anyone talks about how to attach a neck. Though not as far along as Huf I am getting close to the 100 guitar mark and I can say "Whatever" when people talk to me about that stuff.

Wow that felt rant-like... maybe I will leave work early and go build something!


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All great stuff.

I'm really just trying to figure out whether the extra effort of a neck through is justified. I hate to say it, but I think that I had more fun building the set neck than I did the other neck throughs. From my experience so far, the set neck is sounding the best (granted, the set neck is the last one I built and I'm assuming that I've got a bit better at building the things).

What I'm trying to avoid is building any particular style of guitar simply because they are supposed to be better.

I really enjoy building and, like quite a few on here, I'd like to make it a profitable venture at some point. This is why I'm doing loads of builds and trying different ideas out now so that I know what works, what doesn't and what doesn't matter. My workshop is littered with guitars that went wrong either by design or building technique.

you have my permission to call Voodoo anytime anyone talks about how to attach a neck

It ain't about how to attach the neck. I'm just trying to see if the reasons we use to decide what kind of neck attachment we use are valid or if we are just trying to convince ourselves that our chosen method is the best.

I would never do a bolt on neck. But look at Huf's guitars, they are pretty much without fault - stunning instruments. I'm assuming that they sound good or he wouldn't have been able to have carried on for 15 years making guitars that people want to buy. He has tried other methods and settled on bolt ons for reasons that suit him.

I'm just thinking out loud now, so I'll stop.



PS - I'm down next to the lake, Huf. Heavy snowfall forecast overnight so I might be enjoying your country for a few days. Where are you in relation to Geneva?

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I would never do a bolt on neck. But look at Huf's guitars, they are pretty much without fault - stunning instruments. I'm assuming that they sound good or he wouldn't have been able to have carried on for 15 years making guitars that people want to buy. He has tried other methods and settled on bolt ons for reasons that suit him.

PS - I'm down next to the lake, Huf. Heavy snowfall forecast overnight so I might be enjoying your country for a few days. Where are you in relation to Geneva?

Thanks for your kind words :P

Most makers get to bolt-on when they start to sell guitars arround the world and realise that one of their customers had a problem in the airport with the baguages... Its reversible and you can repair B)

I also enjoy the guys who come to my front door crying when they have similar problem with a neck through or set neck...

This also happened on 3 of my instruments in the past years so I switched to bolt-on B)

Also you can really control the action settings and neck angle, to me it all makes perfect sens and I enjoy that technique because of these reasons...

Another reason is wood, very hard to find properly well seasoned wood for a maker like me who takes pride building one piece necks, imagine the resource I need for that....

Set in necks is cool until the drama happens, then its not cool anymore... :D

Also bolt-on really show wood craft, a proper neck joint requires experience, you cant hide a poor joint with glue and wood dust :D

Here are pics of one of my joints:



I live here (next to montreux) in the french region:


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I've built a few of each, and my favourite joint in terms of aesthetics, practicality and sound - for most guitars - remains a set neck. It lets me sculpt, it lets me be picky about neck stock, it lets me shape the neck and body separately and fine-tune the joint, and it somehow sounds a little less 'smooth', bit more character than a neck through. The fact I mostly build chambered instruments plays into this to some degree as well. Honestly, with a good flight case (==$$) I don't think the travel thing is an issue, certainly not for most guitar players. Not all of us tour with plane travel needed, and those of us who do should be able to afford flight cases.

Neck throughs are easier to build than set necks, IMO, because you only need to make two flat joints, really. But I still prefer glued set necks. Except for acoustics, where it's bolt-on every time.

Honestly, in terms of sustain, it's a wash. The only experiment I've ever seen done that measured sustain between a bolted and glued neck showed the bolt-on neck to have a little more sustain than the set neck.

Edited by Mattia
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I wouldn't call poop on bolt-ons, not by a long way. They're eminently serviceable, amongst many other positives. Things are good at what they're good at. If you're hell bent and hypnotised onto the positive aspects of sets and throughs, you easily miss what the positives of bolt-ons are.

Right tool for the job. Same applies to instruments as to building them. ;-)

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Its actually impossible to compare set neck, neck through and bolt-on really when it comes to sound and sustain blablablablba

Brain washing and marketing however seams to work very well :D

Why? very simple:

are all 3 instrument built with exactly the same wood, from the same board and have the exact same density? Do all 3 instrument share exactly the same specifications, settings, string guages etc?

The reply is NO its impossible....

If you want to compare you would have to do something which does not yet exist, this would be to actually clone a tree 3 times and use exactly 3 times the exact pieces of wood which will be cut exactly the same on all 3 guitars, same applies to the fingerboard etc...

Then and only then will you be able to give a real judgement....

Also, how do we define sustain? I have never seen a rule telling that sustain MUST be more then 15 seconds!?!?!?

This is all marketing poo poo... :D

The thing to do is to use what you like and what suits your building style and philosophy and perfect it.... That's really it B)

BTW historically bolt-on is by far the oldest way of attaching a neck on a musical instrument, stradivarius was using 3 nails to attach the necks on his violons in the baroque period B) Most lute makers use a big screw to attach the necks....


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Yeah I listen to such slow music that BPM are measured in geological timeframes, Patrick. Continental Driftcore.

I hope my sarcasm isn't missed, or in fact dulled by this sentence drawing attention to it.

Good wood, playing style and build technique. The rest is in your pocket which is connected to the brainbone I think.

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