Benefits of different guitar construction methods
If you've spent much time browsing our website or scrolling our socials, you’ve probably seen the phrases “set neck”, “Bolt on” and “through neck” pop up occasionally. You’ve also probably thought “what on earth does any of that mean?”. Those phrases refer to some differing guitar construction methods, none of which are superior but they are useful to keep in mind as it may influence what you end up deciding to play.
We’re going to dig in, and break down what each construction method is about, some pros some cons of each and some examples.
Bolt-on constructions are the most common, especially for electric guitars and basses. Bolt on construction was an innovation Fender made during the 50’s that allowed them to produce guitars very quickly and a little more affordably at the time.
Essentially, the guitar is made from two separate pieces that are bolted together, hence the name. This method of construction means there is often a miniscule gap between to the neck and the body which can generally dampen the tone and sustain of your guitar. Bolt ons are often touted to have a twangier attack and with a bit of punch in the mid tones, something a lot of fender guitars are well known for. Another feature of bolt on construction is repairability and modularity, they're very easy to service and replace as a bolt on guitar is two separate pieces.
- Twangier sound
- Easy to repair or replace
- Cheap to manufacture
- Less sustain
- Less stable
- Sometimes chunky, restricting access to high notes
Set necks are fairly similar to bolt ons in that they are both constructed as two separate pieces, however they are secured differently and have differing characteristics. Setnecks used to be the standard until bolt on was introduced, however these days both options cost a similar amount to produce thanks to CNC machining making production much easier so cost is no longer as much of a factor.
A set neck is glued into place, eliminating most of the dampening from the joint and increasing sustain and resonance, they are however much harder to repair and near impossible to replace or swap. As they are glued together, the vibrations from the strings resonate through the neck and body much better, this will often give a much warmer, fuller tone than a bolt on. Another feature of set necks is that the high end of the fretboard is often easier to reach as they can be shaped a bit more freely and ergonomically, this will of course vary from guitar to guitar.
- Better sustain and resonance
- Full warm sound
- Quite stiff and stable
- More potential for comfortable shaping
- Difficult to repair and replace
- If done badly can be prone to snapping
- Slightly longer production time than bolt on
Through neck guitars are a fairly different concept to set and bolt on. Rather than being made as a body and a neck, Neck throughs are made as one long neck, with wings mounted either side to make the body. The bodies of Neck Throughs are often made up of multiple laminated pieces and can look quite striking if they don't have an opaque finish. The bridge, tuners and pickups are mounted straight to the neck making them optimal for increased sustain and tone.
Through necks often resonate a LOT. they tend to have a very full warm tone and sustain for a long time as the strings resonate with the entire piece of wood uninterrupted. Theyre also often made as multiple pieces of wood laminated together, which helps for longevity and stiffness as the different woods will warp in different ways over time and oddly counter each other.
- Lots of sustain
- Very warm resonant tone
- Stiffer durable necks
- More ease for ergonomic shaping so superior upper fretboard access
- Sleeker more pleasing look
- Impossible to replace and difficult to repair
- Complex laminated bodies can lose a lot of resonance, negating the benefit of the through neck
- Expensive to manufacture
So there you have it! We hope this helped increase your understanding of construction methods, even just a little bit. Unfortunately we can’t help you decide what’s best, that’s something you’ll have to figure out yourself. We recommend trying out a variety of guitars made differently and by different manufacturers to get a feel for what you like, every guitar will have its own personality and idiosyncrasies and theres only so much you can learn from reading!