Lightweight neck woods

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by ii7-V7, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. ii7-V7


    Aug 4, 2002
    Baltimore, MD
    I'm looking to avoid neck dive on a new bass. What are a few lightweight woods that have suitable strength and tone for a neck?

  2. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    Poor design plays a larger role in neck dive than a couple of weighty neck boards. I recommend you also consider your design as an equal part in the overall balance scheme, and give careful consideration to headstock size, tuner weight, completed body weight, and upper strap location relative to the 12th fret.

    All the best,

  3. ii7-V7


    Aug 4, 2002
    Baltimore, MD

    I understand that design plays a larger part in balance than the actual weight of the neck.

    I guess what I'm really trying to get at is the lightest possible instrument that will still sound good and remain stable.

  4. tjclem

    tjclem Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    Agree with rodent. I do use a lot of Mahogany that is lightweight. I use Bubinga or Wenge stringers to help add stiffness........t
  5. i have recently had some black limba from gallery hardwoods for guitar necks and that feels really light to me. It definately seems strong as well, i had a 3"x8"x1/4" off cut from the headstock that i was trying to snap and no matter which way i forced it, it wasnt going to break. Maybe i am just weak :(
  6. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    I would say that rock maple is one of the best woods if you're looking for something fairly light and suitably strong for a neck. I have a wenge/purpleheart neck I've done and it if probably close to twice as heavy as the maple necks I've built.
  7. Marcus Willett

    Marcus Willett

    Feb 8, 2005
    Palm Bay, FL
    Endorsing Artist: Bag End - Dean Markley - Thunderfunk
    I've got 2 five string necks made of douglas fir. A soft wood, but very stiff and light. Got one married to a 3.4lb swamp ash body I got from Warmoth. Whole bass is just a hair over six pounds. That's the one I am using with Andy right now. I've got another that's slightly heavier, but still under 8; right around 7.5.

    The fir idea came from I guy I used to have doing a lot of work for me before he moved. Tried it as an experiment and it worked really well. You're not gonna be able to get a neck much lighter than that.
  8. Marcus, how beefy is/are your fir necks? Do you need to make them thick for strength? I'm using some clear douglas fir I happened upon as tops for a couple of EUBs I'm plodding away on, so it's very interesting to hear of it as a neck wood.
  9. Phil Mastro

    Phil Mastro

    Nov 18, 2004
    If I can recall correctly, Steve Swallow's bass has a spruce neck,
    with a bunch of graphite in it. That would probably make a really
    light neck.
  10. Marcus Willett

    Marcus Willett

    Feb 8, 2005
    Palm Bay, FL
    Endorsing Artist: Bag End - Dean Markley - Thunderfunk
    I like narrow necks. One fir neck has a nut width of 1.65" (yes, a 5 string), the other 1.7". In both cases, 2.7" at the 22nd fret. 17mm spacing at the bridge.

    Neither neck is very thick. The second one (maple FB) has graphite rods, but the first (rosewood FB) does not. I've had them both about 4 years now, getting play almost every day. Never had any problems.

    Best way I can think to describe the sound is that they have more of an "acoustic-y" elasticity to the sound. Pretty tight and defined, both 34" scale. The rosewood neck is a bit more even sounding, and it also has threaded inserts for bolting on the body. The maple does not. I'm unsure what if any difference that makes tho.
  11. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Nordstrand made one out of spruce...

    If you can live with a rather rectangular neck profile, you can laminate a thin slice (3mm) of glass birch or rock maple on each side of a spruce block, say 10mm thick. Eh, you need to laminate parallel to the fingerboard, obviously. :smug:
    That will give you a neck that is a little bit stiffer than any of the materials, and a lot lighter than the stiff materials.

    But the most important ting to remember, is to balance the instrument, which can easily be done with a heavy neck, as well. Though I recommend a combination... :meh:
  12. parttimeluthier


    May 7, 2005
    Another wood that you may want to consider is Yellow Poplar; sometimes called Tuliptree Poplar. This is the "Poplar" that is usually sold at hardwood lumber stores and places like home Depot etc. There is a softer true Poplar which is a close relative to Aspens and Cottonwoods but most of what is sold today is Yellow Poplar.
    It is Light and easy to work with enough stiffness to use in a neck.
    This wood was used in many Danelectro and Silvertone necks of the late 50's to mid 60's. The recient Danelectro reissue guitars used maple necks but the originals were Poplar.
    I laminated three pieces of poplar into a neck blank and am waiting to use it for a future bass project. I feel using a laminated strip neck it will remain nice and stable while still being really light.
    The advantage of this wood over Conifers like Doug Fir or Spruce is it has a much smoother grain which will make for a fast feeling neck especially if you are using an oil type finish vs. poly or lacquer.
    Well just another option hope it helps.
  13. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    You have to be real careful not to go too far here.

    Do you want to sacrifice stiffness for a few ounces? I don't think you do. If the neck flexes too much, it's not going to play well. Who cares if the neck doesn't dive in that case?

    If you are treating this as an experimental instrument, and you are willing to take that risk, then do add graphite to the neck and consider mahogany, sapele (which is easy to find quartersawn 8/4), and canarywood. Also consider putting wenge or purpleheart stringers, but then you are adding density.

    I would add graphite to anything less stiff than hard maple. Use density as a crude proxy for stiffness. That means limba and certainly poplar. Carvin offers alder necks but their literature indicates that they would not do so without graphite.

    If I might add two more things: (1) What's good for guitar is not necessarily going to cut it for bass. I hope that if Parttimeluthier uses a 3 piece poplar neck he will report back here how it works for bass. Your average piece of poplar is not very strong. I think it's going to flex an awful lot. Among commercially important hardwoods in the US, it ranks in the lower third of the range of the following properties: specific gravity, bending strength, toughness, impact resistance, work to maximum load, crushing strength, fiber stress at proportional limit, shear strength, tensile strength and side hardness.

    (2) There is a difference between bending strength and stiffness. One measures how much force is required to break a beam and one measures how much a beam flexes under a fixed stress level. These differ from species to species. In short, just because a wood does not break under significant stress does not mean that it will not flex a significant amount. In the end, bending under tension is only slightly more desirable than breaking for the purpose of building a bass.
  14. parttimeluthier


    May 7, 2005
    I will stand by Poplar being a usable neck wood because as I mentioned It was sucessfully used by Danelectro, Coral, and Silvertone on their vintage guitars. By saying their "guitars" I am also including their basses. There are many,many, of these Poplar Necked instruments that have been around for forty+ years and are still being played. This clearly says to me that it is a viable neck wood. If you go on the Bass section of the Harmony-central website you can read of owners who have these vintage instruments and like the necks very much.
    If you really think about it, South American Mahogany is really relatively light and of moderate strength for a hardwood. Only marginally harder if any than Yellow Poplar and just slightly stiffer. But there have been thousands of Basses built in the past using it without any these modern additions such as graphite or carbon fiber rods etc. Gibson has made tons of this type of neck.
    Now granted you must take into account that Yellow Poplar would not work for a real narrow, super thin profile neck like a shaved Jazz bass neck or a 5 or six string neck: but for a moderate vintage neck(read slightly chubby) with an adequate truss rod it should be fine. Now please note I'm talking about Yellow Poplar( sp.Liriodendron) here NOT true Poplar(sp.Populus) which is a much softer and weaker wood.
    I think the modern tendency sometimes is to overbuild and overengineer things when its not really needed. Well just my perspective.
  15. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Do not do that!

    Example: some birches are 30% stiffer than ordinary ash, but they are approx 20% less hard and about 25% lighter.
    Correlation : none!

    Please use as true names as possible. If you write 'poplar' we must assume that you mean the poplar speices. If you mean tulipwood, then write tulipwood, even if you bought it under the common name poplar.
    It is important to use as factual input as possible, when giving advise or similar input.
  16. DavidRavenMoon

    DavidRavenMoon Inactive

    Oct 20, 2004
    The main thing to avoid neck dive is to have a long enough upper body horn. It should extend to the 12th fret. But if you are making a body without a long upper horn a light weight neck might help.

    For light weight necks I like Mahogany, White Lima (also known as Korina), and Yellow Poplar. I stiffen them with graphite and Purple Heart stringers. Black limba is probably similar to white limba, but I haven't used it yet.

    Lighter weight neck woods give a nice tone... more acoustic sounding.

    I made a fretless through neck bass out of white limba with a morado top. Used graphite bars in the neck and two truss rods. Made the whole thing a bit thinner than normal. It's a great sounding bass, and isn't very heavy.

    Yellow poplar is very nice for necks, although not the best looking wood. My former building partner made a Les Paul Junior copy with poplar neck, white limba body with a curly oak top. That was a great sounding guitar! Very vocal sounding.

  17. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Correlation 'none' based on one comparison?

    Here is a chart of 30 or so woods commonly used in guitarmaking. Y=density and X=stiffness.

    Still think there is no correlation?

    Listen, you all can use whatever you want for your necks. You can look in as much detail for woods that defy the stiffness versus density relationship as you like. Experiment - that's great. I'm happy to know that there are people who use poplar with good results. Personally, I'm lukewarm on using Danelectro and Gibson as gold standards, but there are good players among them and the bottom line is that you're going to build what you like.

    However, I assume that Chaddukes, who started this thread, wants to build one bass. Hence my advice:

    (1) it's more important that the bass neck does not flex excessively than shaving a few ounces
    (2) if you are building one bass and are not into experimenting, use something that you can be confident in
    (3) if you don't have stiffness numbers, density roughly correlates with stiffness and can be used as a crude proxy
    (4) if there's a chance that when you ask for poplar, you'll get populus, then don't buy it. See #1.
    (5) if you can improve your chances of building a solid instrument by including graphite in the neck, then go ahead and do it.

    For what it's worth, Liriodendron is ~ 1550 (1k psi) on the stiffness scale. About 85% the stiffness of hard maple on average and slightly stiffer than honduras mahogany on average. Density is on the low side. I continue to recommend graphite if you want to try Liriodendron and do make sure that you are in fact getting the Liriodendron as common poplar will probably not be a good performer. You are likely to get blank stares from some lumberyard dudes if you ask for wood by genus, especially when it comes to woods whose name contains the word "poplar".
  18. DavidRavenMoon

    DavidRavenMoon Inactive

    Oct 20, 2004
    Tuliptree is a common name for yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera) because of its flowers. It is part of the magnolia family (Magnoliaceae). Both names are proper.

    It's very common for wood to go by several names... such as white limba, which also goes by the name Korina, Morado is known as Pau Ferro, Bolivian Rosewood and Santos Rosewood. Paduak is also know as Vermillion, etc.

    Tulipwood is something quite different, and is in the rosewood family (Dalbergia variabilis). I have a '73 Rick 4001 with a tulipwood fingerboard. Very pretty orange wood. Speaking of which... Ricks have bubinga fingerboards, but they are called "African Rosewood" ....
  19. pilotjones


    Nov 8, 2001
    I'll have to agree with Sub here. I'm looking at my woods spreadsheet, and I've got a column for stiffness-to-density ratio. And the numbers for different species for which I have data range from (using units of Mpsi/pci) 39 to 109. Not even close to a constant.

    BTW hard maple is 80. The somewhat surprising winners in stiffness-to-density though are Basswood (Tilia americana) at 109 and tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) at 103.

    Not that that one number is a sole criterion for neck use selection obviously. But the poplar does have a MOE (stiffness) of 1.58, which is not far from rock maple's 1.83. So with some carbon composite stiffening, it could be worth a try.
  20. paintandsk8

    paintandsk8 Pushin' my soul through the wire...

    May 12, 2003
    West Lafayette, IN
    I've got some black limba on the way from larry for a neck as well. He reccomended it as a viable neck wood for bass but did suggest that I use a stiffening material. I can't wait to see how it turns out.