PHOTO: Terrifying death-metal luthiers Ola Strandberg and Your Editor demonstrate aggressive stage posturing. Art is usually about sex or death, with the latter often strongly provoking a fight or flight instinct. Which is it, this time?
My friend Ola Strandberg visited us this weekend. He survived his flight from Sweden, despite changing planes in Copenhagen due to failed scheduled maintenance on his aircraft. Apparently, service technicians were on strike and the original plane missed needed engine repairs. Of course, this was announced only after the captives — passengers — had boarded.
We fed him Mexican at Cocina Del Sol in Frenchtown, because he loves spicy food (notoriously difficult to obtain in Scandinavia). It is good to celebrate being alive!
So, you're wondering, how is this is relevant to you? Relevant because I talked Ola into bringing with him one of his carbon-fiber-tube reinforced neck guitars.
For several years the online lutherie community has been aggressively debating the merits of neck construction techniques, including: unsupported necks, truss rods, solid neck reinforcement, hollow neck reinforcement, adjustable hollow neck reinforcement.
At our fingertips, we had an array of builds from which to choose. For the purposes of our subjective evaluation, we played electric guitars unamplified — because although pickups strongly influence the sound of an instrument, they can only amplify the pre-existing sound of the platform. The tonality of your guitar or bass is initially and primarily determined by the vibrating wood, metal or composite material.
We are both experienced enough builders to listen through the differences between woods, scale lengths, body types and hardware materials. The goal of this session was to determine the effect of neck construction on subjective tone.
Differences are substantial.
Unfortunately Ola had to catch another flight before he was able to hear the conventional truss rod neck and unsupported wood neck instruments as part of the evaluation. I have included them in our findings according to my own perceptions. Impressions are relative between categories:
Hollow Neck — Very fast initial attack. Bright and thin sound. Very responsive to pick technique and noise. Acoustically loud. Strong tactile feedback (vibration) transmitted to the hand. Quick decay. Oscillating (wavering) note volumes during decay period, growing more pronounced late in the cycle, likely as standing waves form between strings and the hollow structure. Carbon fiber is slightly warmer sounding than titanium.
Conventional Adjustable Truss Rod Neck — Slower initial attack. Slightly dull "thick" sound. Less responsive to pick technique and noise. Acoustically quiet. Moderate tactile feedback for the hand. Medium decay. Slower but clearly audible note volume oscillations during decay period, less than hollow necks, likely due to the moderating influence of the metal rod in the channel.
Solid Neck — NOTE: This category included both unsupported wood and aircraft grade aluminum embedded within a wood neck. Unlike both categories above, the neck forms one continuous structure, without air gaps. Fast initial attack, with wood leading combined wood/metal. Balanced warm fat sound, with combined wood/metal transmitting additional low mid and bass frequencies. Responsive to pick technique, but with suppressed pick noise, compared to hollow necks. Greatly reduced note volume oscillations during decay period, with combined wood/metal exhibiting very smooth note trail off. Unsupported wood sustained longest of our test instruments.