Set neck = better sustain. Myth?

There are three ways of attaching the neck to the body of an electric guitar: set necks where the neck is glued to the body with a tenon joint (most Gibson guitars), through necks where the neck & body are made from the same piece of wood and bolt-on necks (most Fender guitars). It is almost a given amongst guitar players, that through necks sustain better than set-necks and bolt-on necks have the worst sustain.

Luthier and scientist R.M. Mottola decided to test this received wisdom, and he published his surprising results in the American Lutherie journal. He made three instruments that differed only in their neck joint construction (through, set or bolt-on). He then carried out power analysis, spectrographic analysis, and listening evaluation on these instruments.The power analysis results suggest that the relationship between sustain and neck joint type was the oppositive of the received wisdom on neck joints. Bolt-on necks had the longest sustain and neck through designs had the shortest sustain. The study also included listening evaluations, where people listened to recordings of single notes and tried to pick out the longest sustaining note. They could not detect any difference in sustain between the different neck designs.

People may have played a set-neck Les Paul and found it to sustain better than a Fender strat and then jumped to the conclusion that set necks sustain better. What they should have done is compared a set neck Les Paul with a bolt-on Les Paul before reaching their conclusion.

Reference Mottola, R.M. “Sustain and Electric Guitar Neck Joint Type” American Lutherie #91, 2007, p. 52.

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22 Comments

Guitar sustain

Actually, sustain is more a function of string attachment to the body and to the neck.

Cheers

Guitar neck joint comparison

String attachment to the guitar body is solid and has little effect on tone. However the string nut is not truly solid and causes the neck to vibrate unpredictable. All wood is different and it is impossible to make any two guitars the same. Wood has voids, poor granular structure and dead spots. Tone is all in the neck since the neck vibrates and not the body. The study is a joke!
Another factor that greatly effects sustain of a bass is a quality bolt on neck, bolt on really is in reference to screws. Basses with bolt on necks have longer string sustain because the neck fits securely into the cavity. Normally the fit is so tight that the screws can be removed and the string less bass will stay firmly together when held up by just the neck. This is due to the neck to cavity contact area of the bolt on design. More wood contact area produces more friction creating a very solid joint. This is due to the craftsmanship involved to match the cavity dimensions to the neck heel. The bolt on design provides an excellent and unique tonal capability.
Some basses today use up to six screws for extremely superior performance such as Fender and G&L.
The outdated 1950’s glue on neck (referred to as a set neck) was never a good design. The neck fit is usually sloppy to make room for the isolative mortise or tenon glue which reduces string sustain and glue does not transfer tone well. The less expensive and common set necks also break frequently.
The direct wood to wood contact of the bolt on neck has proven superior to the glue on neck, but this fact has been debated for 60 years primarily due to the popularity of the Gibson, Hammer, Epiphone, Guild and several other guitars. If millions of guitars are built this way then it must be correct, right?
Also a bolt on necks can be removed and the heel shimmed if necessary for a player customized setup. Everyone plays the bass slightly different. More available neck adjustments (such as neck shimming) can help provide the desired action and comfort for the individual player. Another advantage is the ability to replace a neck or install an after market neck design.

Several modern neck to body designs have improved the neck attachment, but these designs were not available or to expensive to manufacture in the 1960’s. The technology of computer design and improved manufacturing processes can provide a high standard of neck joint, but just as yesterday the new process is expensive. Of course sloppy work will not compensate for any design no matter how technically correct the design is.

"What is it that you all'd like to hear?"

Are we attaching excess importance to the type of neck connection? 

The vibrational frequencies incident at the guitar's pickups are a product of many factors. The most important of which would be the string's length, tension, construction, material (eg. metal, plastic, gut, etc), followed by the resonant frequencies (ie. vibration and damping) occurring at both points of attachment.

An in depth discussion of the factors affecting each component would require hundreds of pages. However, a basic overview of some of the factors involved might grant us new insight. To understand these factors more clearly, let's break them down individually:

String Properties: These include:

  1. String construction - eg wound, solid, coated, etc.
  2. Material - eg. steel, nylon, gut
  3. Length & Tension - self explanatory.
  4. Mass - the ratio of the mass of the string to the mass of objects that it's attached to.

Frets: the mass, dimensions, properties and material used at this point of contact all affect the string's freedom to vibrate, as well as it's ability to sustain said vibration. eg. harder materials are less likely to absorb vibrational energy, and are therefore less likely to damp the string. ie. hard metal (or granite) frets would allow for greater sustain than rubber frets.

 

Additionally, fret dimensions play a role too. Fret height affects the string's angle of incident upon the fret (which affects the quality of contact and resultant vibration), as well as the finger strength necessary to adequately hold the string against the fingerboard. As far as fret width goes? Suffice it to say that "it is a factor".

 

Before we move on, it's important to remember that it's not only about pitch, volume and sustain. It's also about timbre. The interaction between the string and the fret influences more than pitch and volume. It affects the quality/color of the sound produced. eg. There are many different shades of blue (they're all blue, but they're all different)

 

Wood Properties: The physical properties of the fingerboard material along with the physical properties of the neck and the individual's finger (soft, callused, strong, weak) holding the string down all play a role in damping the string and affect it's ability to sustain at the point of contact (ie. fret).

 

Physical Connections: Quality and type of physical connections at points of contact all play a role in the. Below are a some of the physical connections affecting the sounds that reach our ears from a guitar. All of which are influenced by many outside factors, which I have no intention of addressing here.

 

  1. String to fret
  2. Fret to fingerboard
  3. Fingerboard to neck
  4. Neck to body
  5. String to Bridge
  6. Bridge to body
  7. String to nut
  8. Nut to body
  9. String to tuning machine
  10. Tuning machine to head

Neck - wood species, shape, mass, and connection to the body all play a role, BUT.... Ask yourself this. How much does a tuning fork vibrate after you grab the vibrating part with your hand? For that matter, how much does a drum cymbal vibrate after you grab it with your hand? Hmm? How much does a guitar neck vibrate after you grab it with your hand. Perhaps the fret material and quality of it's points of physical contact have more to do with tone and sustain than we realize.

 

In closing?  It's all about individual preference and personal tastes.  

 

"What is it that you all'd like to hear?"

 

~ from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "One More From the Road" (introduction to "Freebird" 

 

 

Neck Sustain

As a long time guitarist/composer and studio musician I figure I'd offer up my opinion related to tone preferences on my preferred guitars. Well, the first thing is, it's a PLUCKED instrument. Not a violin, cello, saxaphone...etc. I mean, it's the overtones in the attack that matter 99% of the time, as long as the sustain isn't just awful I couldn't care less how long the note holds because I'm not capable of dynamically amplifying that note once the initial attack is released (without some sort of effects chain of course), if I need to hole the note I can apply varying pressure amounts on my finger along with fingertip vibrato to get that extra second or so. In fact, the guitar with the most sustain I've actually noticed was a freaking Samick "Greg Bennett" semi-hollow bolt-on archtop I picked up for 80 bucks because I didn't have an archtop at the time. I mean, it sounds like ass, but that note just holds on forever.

 

TL:DR: The harmonic overtones in the attack of a plucked instrument are far more important than the sustain of a plucked instrument.

Tension free necks do what to this theory?

http://www.bunkerguitars.com/bunker-sustainum

Dave Bunker studied Boeing wings with an engineer and designed the tension free neck that is made tension free via a cold rolled steel bar. He claims it has more sustain and having tried one, I would agree. But, this is an engineering question and Bunker, usning the engineers input, proactively designed his neck to prevent dampening of tone from neck tension, transferring the tension to a much harder cold rolled bar (much harder than any current truss rod)...

Okay, so I know I don't know much, but I do know that nothing written above or below seems to understand the engineering very well ...  Help?

Bunker Guitar tension free neck design

I totally understand Mike M's description about the neck.  Dave Bunker is my 1st cousin once removed (My dad's first cousin) and I've played one of Dave's guitars and it had the best action on the neck I've ever experienced when playing guitar.

Guitar comparison study is a joke

Guitar comparison study is a joke!

String attachment to the guitar body is solid and has little effect on tone. However the string nut is not truly solid and causes the neck to vibrate unpredictable. All wood is different and it is impossible to make any two guitars the same. Wood has voids, poor granular structure and dead spots. Tone is all in the neck since the neck vibrates and not the body. The study is a joke!
Another factor that greatly effects sustain of a bass is a quality bolt on neck, bolt on really is in reference to screws. Basses with bolt on necks have longer string sustain because the neck fits securely into the cavity. Normally the fit is so tight that the screws can be removed and the string less bass will stay firmly together when held up by just the neck. This is due to the neck to cavity contact area of the bolt on design. More wood contact area produces more friction creating a very solid joint. This is due to the craftsmanship involved to match the cavity dimensions to the neck heel. The bolt on design provides an excellent and unique tonal capability.
Some basses today use up to six screws for extremely superior performance such as Fender and G&L.
The outdated 1950’s glue on neck (referred to as a set neck) was never a good design. The neck fit is usually sloppy to make room for the isolative mortise or tenon glue which reduces string sustain and glue does not transfer tone well. The less expensive and common set necks also break frequently.
The direct wood to wood contact of the bolt on neck has proven superior to the glue on neck, but this fact has been debated for 60 years primarily due to the popularity of the Gibson, Hammer, Epiphone, Guild and several other guitars. If millions of guitars are built this way then it must be correct, right?
Also a bolt on necks can be removed and the heel shimmed if necessary for a player customized setup. Everyone plays the bass slightly different. More available neck adjustments (such as neck shimming) can help provide the desired action and comfort for the individual player. Another advantage is the ability to replace a neck or install an after market neck design.

Several modern neck to body designs have improved the neck attachment, but these designs were not available or to expensive to manufacture in the 1960’s. The technology of computer design and improved manufacturing processes can provide a high standard of neck joint, but just as yesterday the new process is expensive. Of course sloppy work will not compensate for any design no matter how technically correct the design is.

Guitar Comparison Is A Joke: Spot On, Brother!

The myth is indeed a fallacy. The neck pocket and the neck itself plays the most significant role in the guitar's sustain. I'd like to mention the Hahn T-style guitar as an example. The neck-to-pocket joint is extremely tight. And he works the pocket and neck until the two pieces mate absolutely flat against one another. As a result, the sustain is unbelievable. I'd never heard a telecaster sound like that before. Hahn said, "It just made sense." Yes, it does make good sense.... but it takes a bit of time to do and would be cost-prohibitive for mass production. Therein lies the problem. 

Neck Sustain

Interesting.  I have always believed sustain was down to guitar technique, pickup choice and getting the right amp, guitar and effect pedal setup.  Although your strings do also play a part too.

Here is a setup for lead and rythm guitar.

http://www.playingrockguitar.com/soundcheck-for-rock-guitar-playing

<a href="http://www.playingrockguitar.com/soundcheck-for-rock-guitar-playing">Rock guitar sound</a>

 

 

 

 

Which is better?

Im no expert but logicaly if a tight neck joint=better sustain, wouldn't no neck joint (a neck through guitar) give the best sutain.

sustain

Yes! You hit the nail on the head. An instrument made from one piece of wood will of course resonate much better than one with a bolt on neck etc;

The end result of a guitar

The end result of a guitar seldom makes much sense. Look at old Fenders. The Blackgaurd Teles 1940 - 1954 are considered the classics and very expensive collectables. The neck pocket of those guitars is extremly sloppy. Same with the 54 Strat. Were talking gaps so big you can store pics in them. All those old Teles have a large shelf to on the treble side of about 1/8th where the nelc is smaller than the heel so you have that shelf of heel under it any naked eye can see. Some of these Teles are magic.

So what does that do for your theory? I'm afraid of all the so called expert makers out there none actually know. They simply try. The skilled ones end up with nice guitars because of all the effort and materials. But I dont think the fit of the neck pocket could possibly the winning formula or people wouldnt pay 50,000 for a tele thats so sloppy. They are all sloppy as can be in that era. Never say a real one with a good fit let alone perfect.

well guess what

you could strap two emg's to a pizza box, wire and string it up, and jimmy page would still sound like jimmy page

Well said. It truly is in the

Well said. It truly is in the hands. However you might be on to something with the pizza box guitar. I wonder if a domino's model would sound better than a little ceasers model. You know since one uses better ingredients

physics and guitar sustain

 

Mottola's study is quite valuable and was well conducted. Over the years many luthiers have bought into the various mythologies related to wood work and instrument construction. Others, some quite successfully, have adopted a marketer's imagination to the exaggerated claims they make in an effort to stand out from the pack. Relatively few apply true analytic rigor to their efforts. Remember, Mottola wasn't trying to develop data for the general player. He was delving into scientific lutherie and a rather small audience.

 

One commenter in the list did pick up on an issue that is key: what kind of guitar are we talking about? What kind of sustain are we talking about. And how desirable is it. In the 80's, hair bands were crazy about endless sustain. Some people even had one-piece marble guitars made. Hard to say why since most solid body electrics at the time had more sustain than was musically practical. I mean, what do you do with a note that rings for longer than a minute? Everyone else has already left the room and gone home. That kind of phenomenon is not generally interesting after taking notice of it the first time unless one suffers from "Spinal Tap" syndrome.

 

Motolla, and most who have joined this thread, are thinking about solid body electric guitars. Mottola was not trying to evaluate the impact of an effects chain, high output pickups, E-bows, or megawatt plexi amplifiers on electric "guitar sustain." His experiment was also narrowed to investigate specifically the effect of neck joints on that open string's vibration. As someone pointed out, the string anchor points are crucial. In physics they are referred to as the end nodes of the string. For an electric solid body guitar, those nodes are the saddles and the nut for an open string, and a nickel or stainless steel fret if the string is fingered. In either case, vibration or so-called resonance from the body or neck is in fact interference. Interference does in fact tend to abbreviate the duration of string vibration at a specific pitch rather than prolong it. After all, this was one of the great advantages of having a solid bodied guitar in the first place - less vibration from the supporting instrument. Consider these: instrument resonance, node imperfection as stops, finger interaction with the string, string design and condition. Insofar as all or any of these factors enter into the vibrating dynamics of a single string, there is interference. The listener will perceive this as coloration. And that is quality that people value most depending on its timbral musicality. It appears that the neck joint does affect coloration more than it does sustain. That's a good thing. From the guitarist’s viewpoint, the upshot of Mottola's study is simple. Use the guitars that sound best to you. Let your ears do the reasoning. At the end of the day, that's what a successful luthier must do too.

neck joints and sustain

So much said on sustain! Everything on a guitar affects everything, having said that, I am rather amazed so many experts on the subject failed to mention pickups! Height, magnet strength... Passive versus Active, magnet material..... Wow!!! ALL OF WHICH affect not just tone but sustain! Many players I have found, especially those using hotter pickups, complained of a lack of expected sustain out of their chosen axes.... Man were they amazed at the difference in their guitar (and tone as well) which simply lowering the Pickups slightly, thereby decreasing string pull, and increasing sustain, made in their instrument! Come on gang, if we are going to ramble on and on over this subject.... Lets at least cover ALL the factors involved.... Hell, even pooe quality tuners have an effect in their own right... Not to mention... Just how in the hell long do you need to hang a note before it becomes just showboating instead of an accomplished musician showcasing his considerable skills in an impressive, eNjoyable way?

set neck vs bolt on

all things being equal in a blind test hardly anyone will be able to hear the difference in sound between a set neck or bolt on .on either of these types of guitars, there is  a neck pocket.. on a set neck style guitar those tolarences tend to be tighter. just about all guitars made today are done with CNC machinery, so the human error is taken out of the equation. on a bolt on neck if the pockcet and neck don't match perfectly, they make up the differences using shims.and having the neck plate and bolts making up the differences, which you'll find on most Aisian made guitars. on a set neck that fit must be a lot tighter for the glue to do it's job. there are benefits to having a bolt on neck, one being it's easier to reach the upper frets, and not being hindered by the heel on a set neck. another is the ease of being able to change the neck, if you should ever have to. so anyone just starting out on the guitar don't be fooled into a bolt on neck is a cheap guitar. currently the Fender Stratocaster (bolt on) is the longest running modern electric guitar made 58yrs straight yrs and counting.the Gibson Les Paul (set neck) 48yrs and counting.also the Fender Strat is with out a doubt the most copied body style ever, with 99% of them being bolt on necks. another thing to look at is if you think a bolt on neck is cheap, why would so many great players use them? Hendrix,Clapton,Townshend,Gilmour, Richards....... the list goes on and on. so when starting out with the guitar DON'T worry about tone, cause honestly you don't have a tone yet, tone will come once you learn how to play and figure out who you are on a guitar. instead concern your self with wich guitar fits and feels good in your hands. just because your guitar hero plays a certain brand or style of guitar,dosen't mean it's the right one for you. if the guitar doesn't feel right, you'll end up getting discouraged and quite.

Neck through vs. bolt-on guitars

Just came across this interesting discussion. I have a solid proof that how neck attaches to body has little or no effect to sustain.

Here it goes: I am a happy owner of ESP LTD KH-602, which has Floyd Rose tremolo, neck through and EMG 81/60 active pickups.

My friend always liked my guitar but tought it was a bit too expensive so he bought a ESP LTD KH-202, which looks identical and the

only differences are EMG Hz pickups (which are passive) and his guitar is a bolt-on. When we first compared the two guitars we came

to realise that my guitar sounded superior in every aspect, so my buddy decided to change the whole system to active EMG 81/60.

What we ended up is two guitars that only had a difference in how the neck is attached. Much to our surprise, now days both guitars

sound 100% identical and have 100% the same lenght of sustain. After that I need no theories - my ears don't lie to me :) Cheers.

Sustain.

This agrument is flawed only to the extent of the desired result.  The "Sustain" issue is only one piece in a much larger puzzle.  During my own experiements in a similar vein, I found several more valuable Advantage, Feature, Benefits to this configuration of the Anchor/Screw Design.  String Tension , Harmonic Resonance and most importantly,  the Stabilization of dis-similar wood.materials and the opposing forces placed upon them when 720lbs or more  of downward pressure is excerted when up to concert pitch.  So, in closing..  the Sustain argument becomes a rather bothersome side-effect to the true effectiveness of a Congruous Neck Joint and Effective Transfer of Vibration.

Bolt-on vs Set necks

Just came across this, so:

I have a modded 65 Fender Tele, which has quite good sustain, but that's not its mission. Recently, I bought a Samick Artist Les Paul (c. 1990) ´cos I missed my old Gibson Les Paul (1968, and brilliant before and after changing the pups to DiMarzio p90s). Anyway, this Samick has a bolt-on neck, which in theory would make me cringe, thinking of 1960/70 LP copies, and it has (proper) Seymore Duncan pups on it.

I was shocked, and still am. The tone and sustain are just like my old Gibson, and the playability is pretty damn good, after a bit of tweaking. Now I'm going to replace the plastic nut and probably the bridge, which has some really deep grooves in it for the bare strings. I hope I don't lose the tone!

All in all, I now think it's just being snobbish to look down on a bolt-on neck. I imagine that some daft bugger will see the neck-plate and think I'm a po-boy, but ask me if I care!

BTW, I bought a Samick Strat and it's crap. ;)

guitar sustain

I recommend reading what the builder of Parker electric guitars says about guitars and sustain. What he has said regarding sustain characteristics of solid body guitars is that the neck of a guitar is not supposed to vibrate with the string, it should resist vibration which will keep the energy in the string, giving the string more sustain. It is string sustain we want if we want the guitar notes to sustain, not neck sustain. If the neck  vibrates, some of the energy which was put into the string when it was first plucked will be used up in neck vibration rather than string vibration. This idea is consistent with Leo Fender's experimentation with the shape and length of the peghead of his first bass guitars as be was building them. He found that whenever a specific note resonated with the neck, that note was a dead note - the string's vibration ended quickly, and the volume of that note was also lower. This practical finding was a result of testing his ideas with real-life experimentation. Leo Fender "tuned" the peghead of his bass guitar necks by changing the length of the peghead slightly in order to to reduce the likelihood that a dead note would occur on a note that most bass players were likely to play. It would seem to me, if Parker is right, that all the efforts to make a guitar neck that will "resonate" with the string are trying to do the wrong thing. However, this does not mean that all their efforts may not actually help sustain. I suspect that some efforts to "free" the neck up and allow it to "resonate" may actually help the string to sustain in the end by helping the neck structure as a whole resist vibration - to reflect energy back into the string as Parker says. ... for example, the very stiff and sturdy cold-rolled steel bar in a Bunker (PBC) guitar may actually improve sustain because his steel bar is better than the standard truss rod at helping the neck resist vibration, not by helping the neck to vibrate with the string (or "resonating" with the string). Parker contrasts acoustic guitars with solid body ones and points out that the top of an acoustic guitar is designed to vibrate with the string because that is how an acoustic guitar works. But he also notes that the neck of an acoustic guitar is not designed to resonate or vibrate with the string.

   I have noticed that solid body guitars that sound midrangey and have soft note attack also  have better sustain than bright sounding guitars with snappy note attack.