Neck joints

Stringed instruments have two main parts, a short fat body, and a long thin neck.  Spanish guitar makers build the two as one piece, without a joint, but this cannot anticipate inevitable variations in construction, and is not adjustable at a later date. It works well enough with Nylon strings, but does not allow the accuracy needed to get the low playing action essential to a steel string player. If the neck angle is wrong, the only solution is to adjust the bridge and saddle height  to compensate,  and that is a massive challenge to the sound of the guitar. Violin makers do not attempt to make the two components as one, and use a very simple, shallow, tapered tenon, which Stradivari sometimes held together with a nail, so it is clear that the two main "traditions" of instrument making do not agree on one basic principle.

Neither of those joints is accurate or strong enough for a modern steel string guitar. For many years, a tapered dovetail joint has been used, but  has many of the same problems and has been replaced more and more by other arrangements, sometimes a loose mortice and tenon , and increasingly a simple bolted joint that allows infinite adjustments during manufacture and easy removal for future repairs.

From a tonal point of view, there will be continual arguments over the advantage or disadvantage of any form of neck joint. I do love working on dovetails, but my own experience and investigation tells me that, if there is any difference at all, a joint that is tightly connected with maximum wood to wood contact is likely to give the best results in terms of strength, longevity and tone transfer. Most dovetails offer very little wood to wood contact in the areas that are important, (my own estimate is 13% of the joint area, but you would need to sketch it out accurately to understand). With a bolt on neck, wood contact can be 100%, plus all the other advantages of accuracy during manufacture and possible future repairs.  

To maintain playability, it is inevitable that a guitar bridge and saddle will need to be adjusted many times in its lifetime, and eventually, every guitar neck will need to be set to a new angle.  There are no exceptions, wood is a natural substance, it is “plastic”, it moves under stress, along with all the wooden components  connected to it.  There is no design of wooden guitar, neck, or neck joint, that will never require a neck reset. The joint of the neck to the body is the only area that can be dismantled and reset to take account of soundboard movement or neck distortion.

I didn’t  believe this when I was told it by older maker in the 1970’s. The perceived wisdom then was that resets typically became necessary after about twenty years. We are sometimes resetting  guitar from those times- forty years ago, so I’m quite pleased.

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