Bolt-on versus Neck-through: What do the experts say?
I was reading Bass Gear mag and found the "Luthier's Roundtable" where they discuss bolt-on vs. neck-through. It is a long discussion but I will sum up each luthiers position if they actually nail one down.
1) Sheldon Dingwall: "My preference is bolt-on, for sure."
2) Randall Fullmer: "I only make neck-through...It's a superior design in my mind."
3) Gerald Marleaux: "I build both...In most cases, I prefer bolt-ons."
4) Michael Tobias: Michael won't be pinned down. "Playability can certainly be great on both...I don't think that is a consideration for me."
5) Harry Fleishman: "I also like bolt-ons better, and I was really surprised that some others do, too."
6) Pete Skjold: He tries to agree with Michael but ends up saying: "I prefer the bolt-on method." (where he says he agrees with Gerald and Sheldon.)
7) Kenneth Lawrence: "Of the two, I prefer bolt-ons, but more so, over either of these, I prefer a glue-in with a single cut-element..."
8) Roger Sadowsky: "I am a bolt-on guy."
9) Michael Pedulla: "I do not prefer one over the other."
10) George Furlanetto: [note, I was trying to keep their subjective statements out of this, but George didn't cooperate] "I prefer the wider dynamic range that bolt-on neck construction provides...I find the bolt-on can tackle a wider array of genres..."
11) Mike Kinal: Says it is subjective but adds "The bass building I do these days is mainly with the bolt-on method."
12) Carey Nordstrand: "I generally prefer bolt-on instruments."
13) Joe Zon: Basically just talks about how his composite necks are different and makes a generalization about bolt-on vs. neck-through - so Joe will not be pinned down either.
--- [the article continues onto another topic] ---
Pete Skjold made some interesting points:
"Early on, I was a neck-through snob, believing them to be superior to bolt-ons in every way...
By the time I started building, I made the decision to go bolt-on, exclusively. I treat the neck as a totally seperate item as I build the basses. So I agree with much of what Sheldon has said. I also like having the neck seperate for production reasons. It allows me to do things with the neck through the fretting, carving and truing that would be much more difficult to maintain on a neck-through (for me)."
The generalizations made by almost all in the discussion are that:
1) Neck Through has more fundamental and may record better
2) Bolt on has more punch and sounds better live or in a mix
(If you don't get Bass Gear mag, it is a free app on your iPad - and put out by a TB'er!)
The huge differences in opinions among these luthiers supports my (and many others') feeling that there is very little, if any systematic tonal differences between these two construction methods.
Many (even Luthiers, most of whom have no scientific training) tend to 'hear with their eyes' a bit (like the rest of us), and are also caught in a bit of circularity (I do it the way I do it because that is the way I do it, and therefore that is the best way).
IMO, most of the 'tonal difference' feelings between bolt on necks being more punchy and neck throughs having more sustain come from the old days where many of us either played a bolt-on Fender or a neck through Ric (not many other basses around back then). The large differences in tone and performance between those two classes of instruments was often attributed to the neck design, since that was the most visible construction difference between the two.
This also was a similar case with that tiny increase in tension caused by the very small increase between a 34" and 35" scale length. The first 35" scale bass most of us (back in the day) played was the Modulus basses. Many said 'that 35" B string is amazing':p, not realizing that what they were mostly hearing was 'that ultra stiff composite neck B string is amazing'.
I would not, in any way, base a bass purchase on the method a neck is attached to a body, and if given a choice, would go with the lower cost bolt on, assuming the neck joint and neck/body woods were of good quality and construction.
I have two bold on, two set necks and one neck-thru.
i do not find any diffrence from my two bolt on and set necks. they feel and handle the same.
the thro-neck does have a diffrent feel and i think it sustains longer than the other 4.
all 5 basses are difrent, diffrent in sound and tone and how they feel but i would not pick between a set neck and a bolt on as i find that one is not better than the other.
with the thru-neck i do thing it is better and if i had a choice of a bolt/set neck on the same guitar or a neck-thru then i would take the neck thru ever time.
I have owned several of both over the years and while i used to be a NT snob, i have found my prefernce to be bolt on in most cases. Neck Through tends to have a longer sustain and with a distinct Piano like tone, Bolt on's sounds like... well, a Fender Bass, more thumpy and they seem to react better to harder attack.
I think the preference to bolt on is because it has become "THE SOUND" associated with Electric Bass. While it may not be and sound as refined, its the standard and it sounds great.
I would agree though that many luthiers who go for a more 'piano like tone' tend to use laminates and neck though designs, along with soap bar pickups and preamps:p. The neck design is IMO the tail wagging the dog. This becomes pretty clear if, for example, you've had a chance to play somewhat similarly spec'd Fodera's with neck through and bolt-on designs.
Edit: My primary reason for often posting when this topic comes up every month is to do a little basic 'scientific method' training to those who haven't really had experience with evaluating causal effects. Until you can isolate the many other differences between instruments with bolt-on and neck-through designs, attributing tonal differences to this one, very observable difference results in what is called a 'spurious causal link'. It is often called the 'vividness effect' (attributing differences between two things to the most visually obvious difference between the two, even though there are many other features impacting the perceived performance difference).
In the end, the way a bass neck is constructed, is of little importance. I've owned and loved basses with all 3 types of construction, and currently own both bolt-on and neck-through basses. A good bass is a good bass, regardless of neck type.
Having had a bass with truss rod problems that make it uneconomical to repair and knowing that bolt-on has worked well for so many over the last 62 years, I would say bolt-on is the most practical and Practical was Leo's middle name. With the large numbers who play/like/recommend basses that have a bolt-on neck, it would be foolish to think or say that it's a bad design. With a physical break at the socket, there's a difference in harmonic content and mechanical resonance, but it doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Another thing- glue-in and neck-through is more difficult/expensive to build, so it immediately removes those instruments from consideration by many players, due to the added cost, regardless of whether they sound better.
I'm still waiting for the Virtual Neck! :hiding:
We're all convinced that bolt on is punchier; neck-through has more sustain. We also all believe that neck-through is more expensive to built, and that bolt-on makes life more pleasant when it's time to refret/replace/adjust the neck.
Only way to really know what you like is to rid yourself of all the baggage you've picked up from TB/BG Mag (which to me is married man's porn), BPMag, etc., and, with a pure and uncluttered mind, find what you like.
Of course that's impossible. I recently read "You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself," by David McRaney. Sadly that means I'm stuck being bolt-on boy because I have the illusion that I prefer bolt-ons!
It's preference, take it as that. Either from a player's or a builder's perspective.........
Damn all the so called "upsides and downsides", at the end of the day it's all about what works best for you, the player. Anything less is just philosophy or someone trying to sell you on it.
I like both. 2 bolt ons and 2 neck thrus.
I went bolt on with my Stambaugh because I wanted
a more open sound ( my percieved illusion).
The number of albums Foghat has sold is a fact. Whether or not Foghat should play the Superbowl Halftime Show is a matter of opinion, based on your perceived opinion of them.....
I don't get the talk about "..the NT has more sustain..." - what sustain do you want to have ?? Do you need to play a note that lasts over 5 minutes in a song ???
I have two incredible sounding Fenders that have sustain till tomorrow so Bolt-Ons also can have great sustain.
What I really feel what a NT does not have is real Attack, that griddy and raw funky touch that you can have on Bolt-Ons... hard to explain. But I defentely became a 1000% Bolt-On guy the last years.
I do still have a NT which will be turned into a fretless I guess this year
This is an interesting, although flawed experiment of bolt on vs neck thru theory
It does illustrate the punch vs sustain notion, but these basses are not identical, nor could they be. Interesting none-the-less.
I do not know if intellectual bias can be considered on such a lofty plane when discussing such matters as sustain, tone, etc. If taken to the extreme, one would not be able to judge with any one of their senses while not being heavily affected by all the others. This is, however, true with things like taste and smell and sight... and probably politics - "... oh, I love your mother's meatloaf, dear..." but sound and sight... Anyhow, I did a small, unscientific test on this subject a few years ago. One bolt on, one NT, same strings, both 5-string 35" scale, both actives but different makers. The outcome was much more sustain with the NT than with the BO. Because I have played Fenders in the past (neither of the above were Leo's) and the sustain was not overwhelming, I had to pay serious attention to muting with my technique with the NT. When I mentioned this to two other fellow bassists, they had no clue what I was talking about - both played Fender 4 stringers, in loud cover bands and did not have to worry much about sustain on their instrument in their environment. So I guess what I am saying is it is all relative. In regards to makers opining about which is better, I would not put much worth in their views as they make instruments for profit, for a living. If BOs are easier to make and enjoy a higher margin, then they would be all for it, regardless of the sound quality... similar to going to a Hummer dealer and asking for a small "eco-footprint" vehicle... "Just look at this H3 - and it is Orange, like the sun." Don't mean to piss anyone off, just my opinion, which is usually wrong. :hiding:
I have bolt on, neck through and set neck basses and I don't think the differences in tone are significant enough to bother with. I use whichever I feel like using for a gig, and they all work well. Right now my main bass is a neck through Carvin Icon 6. But I can switch to a bolt on during a gig and no one will notice. I have my sound, and I can get that sound with any of them. Just IMO.
What about glued in necks?
Fodera just recently did something like this...not "similarly" spec'd, but actually identically spec'd basses; only difference was one was neck-through, one was set-neck, and one was bolt-on.
Then they had Matthew Garrison record examples on each, and they posted the files on their website.
Of course, I didn't bother listening to the files, so I have no opinion on how successful their experiment was!
...but unless you've gone to that extent to eliminate lots of other variables (and I'm definitely not suggesting they eliminated all variables) you can't really say what aspect of an instrument's construction is contributing to its sound.
fwiw, I like both neck-through and bolt-on instruments. Right now I own more of the latter. But I would never hesitate to get another neck-through simply because I had some preconceived notion about what a neck-through instrument might sound like.
Actually, I like the way neck-through instruments look and feel, and that would influence my decision as much as their sound.
(...unless they sounded like crap.)
I'm glad that you are finding this issue helpful. Hats off to all of those excellent luthiers for being so willing to share their time and their thoughts. I am so grateful for their input in this on-going column.
If you are interested in this topic, be sure to read the review of the two Marleaux's (one neck-through, one bolt-on), the subjective comparison of the bolt-on vs neck-through, and the technical comparison of the bolt-on vs neck-through also in issue #9.
Doing this sort of test with a 'sample of two' is not going to answer the question totally. They key is, to not overweight the impact of any single dimension on an organic product like a bass. Put another way, if you had a dozen instruments spec'd as close as you can get them other than neck attachment design and compared 'on average', if there was any difference, it would most likely be trivial, and most likely not even in the expected direction of 'punchy versus sustain', etc.
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