If you want maximum tone out
of an electric guitar, you have to have a big
neck on it, right? That’s certainly what a lot
of guitarists believe, and there would seem
to be some logic to the premise that more
wood means more resonance and better tone.
As with so many fine points of guitar construction,
however, there is likely to be a lot
more to it than that simple layman’s equation.
So let’s canvass the opinions of a couple
of the world’s best-respected guitar makers
to hear what the have to say on the subject.
Scott Lentz, a luthier based in Southern
California, has long used bigger-than-average
necks on his highly respected S- and
T-inspired bolt-necks, and on many of his
original designs, too. Ask him why, though,
and the reasons behind this build choice
might almost be too instinctive to quantify.
“The big neck has a certain vibe to it when
it fills your hand like it does,” says Lentz. “Does
it make a guitar sound better? That’s for the
people who buy the guitars to decide. A lot
of people say big necks sound more ‘woody,’
but, from my perspective, I make a traditional
guitar, and as they used big necks back in the
day, that’s my style of building.”
Lentz’s perspective on the issue raises
another interesting point: How can you
separate sound from feel in a creation that
makes its impression upon a player through
a mystical intertwining of the two? Perhaps,
ultimately, you can’t, but other more tone-focused
assessments are still worth exploring.
“It is not a myth that neck size has an
impact on tone,” remarks Gil Yaron, a guitar
maker based in Israel. “A big neck is really a
big part of the tone, harmonics, and behavior
of the guitar. It’s not the shape or the depth—
it’s the neck mass, and, usually, bigger necks
have more material.”
Of course, it’s all far more complicated
than that. Yaron elaborates that other factors
include the strings’ anchors—the bridge,
nut, headstock, and tuners, as well as the
frets and fretboard as soon as you fret a
string—and the wood mass into which those
anchors are set. Sturdier anchors with great
mass that don’t absorb much string vibration
produce a stronger fundamental in the note.
Lighter anchors, and a lot of string vibration
passing into and through the wood, result in
a higher proportion of harmonic overtones
in the note.
“The bigger neck will give us a stronger
anchor on the neck side, so this will help
getting better string separation with a more
defined center frequency,” says Yaron. “But
the weakest point will determine the fundamental,
so there’s no point in building a big,
heavy body with a light wood for the neck.
You will get a fluffy tone without good string
separation. The relationship between the
body and the neck needs to work in a way
that they sing together. The string will not
produce something that the body doesn’t
have, and the body will not produce something
that the neck doesn’t have. They need
to have something in common.”
Harmonic overtones, on the other hand,
are a big part of any guitar tone, and, without
them, you’ve got a pure fundamental
that sounds more like a tuning fork or a test
frequency than an electric guitar.
“You can go too far the other way,” warns
Yaron. “Construct a big neck and big body
from heavy material, and your fundamental
will be too big, and there will be no harmonics
to add complexity.”
Ultimately, there’s a fine line between that
balance of fundamental to harmonics, and
going too far in either direction yields less-than-optimum results. In the hands of a skilled
and experienced guitar maker, a big neck can
undoubtedly be part of a formula for achieving
big, multi-dimensional tone—as well as
a great playing feel—but as a Band-Aid for a
design that lacks integrity in other departments,
a big neck is definitely no cure all.
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