1. IT’S MORE THAN A FACTOR OF ECONOMY
The decision to make a guitar with a bolt-on or glued-in neck is one of the basic parameters of a guitar’s design. Great designers chose one over the other as a means to a tonal and structural end—not merely because one is easier or cheaper than the other. Sure, budget guitars are more often made with bolt-on necks, but for anything above the super low-budget level, making a great bolt-on-neck guitar requires just as much skill as making a great set-neck guitar.
Note: Most bolt-on necks are affixed by screws, but we say “bolt” regardless. “Glued neck” and “set neck” are synonymous—though some set-neck guitars are also made with onepiece “through necks.”
2. IT SHAPES THE GUITAR’S TONE AND RESPONSE
Different neck joints transfer string resonance from neck to body and vice-versa differently, and are therefore fundamental in shaping the sonic character of a guitar. The transference—and blending—of resonance from neck and body can enhance a guitar’s overall tone, but it can also cancel certain frequencies (much like the way sound waves coming from the front and back of an open-back speaker cabinet can attenuate some frequencies). As a result, this “blending” factor is more complicated than any mere “better” or “worse” relationship. To be more specific...
3. FOR BRIGHT, SNAPPY, AND PERCUSSIVE TONES, THINK BOLTON NECK
Although an extremely wellcut and fitted screwed-together neck joint can be as tight as a glued-in neck joint, the body and neck are still slightly decoupled from each other. Tonally, this typically results in a snappy, percussive feel—something we often call “jangle” or “twang.”
4. FOR WARM AND THICK TIMBRES, GO FOR A SET-NECK
If the “decoupling” of a boltneck guitar can be heard as a barking attack and enhanced harmonic sparkle, the muting of those characteristics in a good set-neck guitar is often heard as enhanced warmth, thickness, body, and an overall smoothness in tone and dynamics. These are characteristics of the creamy Les Paul lead tone, for example. We also think of set-neck guitars as excelling in the sustain department, but a good Telecaster with a tight neck joint can deliver outstanding acoustic sustain.
5. SEVERAL OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCE A NECK JOINT’S SONIC IMPACT
While set-neck guitars often sound thick and creamy, they frequently employ additional “thick and creamy” ingredients such as mahogany neck and body woods, humbucking pickups, and a 24.75" scale length. Bolt-neck guitars, on the other hand, often have maple necks, single-coil pickups, and a 25.5" scale length—all “bright and twangy” ingredients. In other words, one must be careful about what tonal characteristics are attributed to a guitar’s neck joint alone.