The way a guitar neck is connected to a guitar body plays an important role in tone as well as how the guitar feels to play. There are three ways in which guitars are manufactured or more specifically, there are three main ways the neck and the body are joined. If you would like to level up your knowledge on how guitars are constructed, read further: we shall take a closer look at each type of guitar neck joint and how it impacts the sound and playability.
The three main types of neck joints used on guitar are bolt-on, set neck, and neck-through. Bolt-on necks are attached to the body using screws and often a metal plate; set necks are glued to the guitar body and with the set-through the neck is actually a part of the body of the guitar.
Bolt-On Neck Type
The Bolt-on guitar neck construction consists of the guitar neck and guitar body being manufactured separately and then attached together usually with screws and a metal plate, but the latter is not always present. These necks are by far the most common because this method is a quick, easy, and cheap way of producing durable, good-sounding instruments.
Bolt-on guitar necks are extremely common on electric guitars and the easiest to identify. They can be found also on acoustic guitars, but the bolts are internal, so you may not notice them at all. The way to tell if your acoustic guitar has a bolt-on neck is if you see the screws inside the soundhole looking towards the neck.
Sound wise, bolt-on neck guitars are known for giving a snappier, more twangy tone than the other types. This is because of the transfer of resonance between neck and body. That slight gap between neck and body due to the way they are joined forms a tiny barrier that slows the sustain. On the other hand, it is worth noting that this solution allows you to easily remove and replace the neck in case it breaks or becomes defective. It also makes it easier for luthiers to repair/change frets if they wear out in the long run.
The set-neck construction consists of the guitar neck and guitar body being manufactured separately and then attached together with glue. A dovetail joint is typically used to firmly glue the neck in position. This is the second easiest way to manufacture guitars as they require advanced craftsmanship for the attachment but are not as complex as the through-neck.
The tonal transfer between neck and body is better in a set-neck than a bolt-on, resulting in a warmer and fuller sound. The set neck will gather all of the energy from your guitar strings and distribute it in a way that fattens the body of a note. This is great for a resonant and long-sustaining guitar sound. Due to that, the set-necks are the most popular on acoustic guitars.
Something to keep in mind though is that the set-neck construction is much harder to fix than the bolt-on neck. The glue needs to be loosened to be able to separate the body and neck, and this involves removing frets and drilling some holes. This can only be performed by an experienced luthier, and it’s definitely not something that can be attempted by someone with little experience.
Set-Through Neck Types
The set-through guitar neck is the type of manufacturing that produces the guitar neck and body together in one piece. They are relatively uncommon and only a handful of premium manufacturers produce such. The necks can be one piece or a laminate of three (when two pieces of wood are added to both sides of the neck to form the ‘wings’ of the guitar’s body) or more pieces.
Neck-through constructions are loved for their tonal quality and ease of play. They are recognized for having better sustain and resonance as there is no separation between the neck and body. The major benefit of a neck-thru guitar though is the freedom for the manufacturer to shape and contour the neck in ways that aren’t possible with a bolt-on and set-neck. The smooth contour as the neck reaches the body makes it very easy and enjoyable to play the higher frets.
As with most things, it all comes down to choice and preference. When choosing a guitar, consider what you want to use it for and weigh up what’s more suitable to you and your needs. In general, it’s worth having different guitars in your arsenal, but going into a guitar shop and trying out the different types will give you a good understanding of what is best to invest in.
If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out also these articles here and here. For more guides, tips and tricks we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!
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