Set neck vs. Neck Through

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by AGuyWithAName, Oct 1, 2020.

  1. AGuyWithAName


    Sep 8, 2019
    I'm making some good headway on my first bass, but I'm now contemplating a change from a set neck to a neck through construction. This idea of mine comes from the idea that centering the pickups and bridge would be easier because I'm not quite comfortable with a router just yet. The plan would be to get the wings and neck of the bass 70%-80% finished before gluing them together. Would this make more sense for a first bass?
  2. Slidlow

    Slidlow The Human CNC Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Oshawa, Canada
  3. abarson


    Nov 6, 2003
    Santa Cruz
    I also thought that a neck through would be an easier first build. Here are my thoughts:
    • A set neck is probably the most difficult neck join to master. I think you are right in not pursuing it for a first build. Note: set neck means the neck is glued into the body, not bolted.
    • A bolt-on neck is still the easiest join and most forgiving.
    • You need to get proficient with your tools somehow. Routers are great tools, but what makes them greater are using a good template. You need templates for routing the pickup cavities as well.
    • If you do go with neck-through, you need to account for bridge height and fingerboard height in your design. I didn't and ended up having to route out material under the bridge to get the action right. Very unsatisfactory. Melvin Hiscock's book "Make Your Own Electric Guitar" addresses this, and even though I read it numerous times, I was obstinate in my approach.
    • I think it is harder to correct mistakes in a neck through build. Working on just the body and just the neck is simpler.
  4. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT



    (Buy cheap "scrap" if you need to, but practice, and not on your instrument, until you can use the tools and get results you like.)

    Another possibility (personal experience) - if you are not comfortable with your router because it's a self-adjusting, vibrating, piece of excrement: upgrade. I spent the better part of a couple of decades avoiding routers like the plague because of the router my dad had. It was horrid and wanted to kill. When I finally got a decent router, it was mind-blowing. So was realizing all the stuff I could have done better/cheaper/in less space if I'd actually learned to use a router decades before. It's a planer, it's a jointer, it's all sorts of useful tools with the right jigs (see the router jigs thread...)

    A good one will still happily cut you if you are stupid ("anything that cuts wood cuts flesh" - I should rout a sign like that for the door to the shop, but I don't really need to since it runs in my head automatically at this point) but is otherwise quite well behaved.
    parttime and GMC like this.
  5. AGuyWithAName


    Sep 8, 2019
    Is your neck tapered all the way through or does it straighten out once it joins at the body?
  6. Slidlow

    Slidlow The Human CNC Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Oshawa, Canada
    Tapered all the way through. It's the way I started building my neck through basses in 1985. The neck is also angled slightly for the bridge height.
  7. I prefer bolt on necks. If a problem ever occurs with the neck, unbolt it and repair it, or bolt on a new neck, if it's beyond repair.

    With a through-neck design, you're stuck with whatever it is.
    Beej likes this.
  8. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    Every time a thread comes up talking about which neck style is easier I get a little stumped trying to answer the question for myself.

    Honestly, you have to solve the same problems with any of the styles. The bridge height and neck angle/height need to be correct. Everything needs to be centered and aligned side to side. And everything needs to fit well. And so on. The only real difference is when and how you can solve each of the problems. So - for example - I think there's a danger in assuming that a bolt on neck means you get "flexibility." A neckthrough may not be "adjustable" in the sense of shimming it like you can do with a bolt on, but if you take a few minutes to draw everything out on a piece of paper ahead of time and make sure things line up, you won't need to shim it, regardless of the neck joint, because everything will line up!

    The use of templates and jigs can't be emphasized enough. It's a lot easier (and less painful) to re-do a pickup template that's not quite right than it is to re-do a pickup cavity in a nearly finished bass. Think of template making as practice. In fact, once you have a template, make another one using the template you have! Then you'll have a spare if you ding one with the router, and the act of using the template to make another template is good practice. You can practice lining things up, securing a template, and so on.

    One final thought - starting with a good book for reference - like Melvyn Hiscock's book - will be a huge help and will take the mystery out of trying to figure this all out on your own. Melvyn's book is very practical and geared towards people who are just starting. And also, starting with a design that's similar to instruments you already own or have access to is always helpful. Even after having built many instruments, and having plans, templates, and so on ready to go, I still find myself walking out to my music room on a regular basis to measure some component or check some spec on a finished bass.
  9. All these things are true, but I was looking more towards problems that can crop up later in the life of the instrument, like a twisted, warped, or broken neck, damaged truss rod, worn finger board, etc.

    All of these issues would be easier to deal with, using a bolt on neck.
  10. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    Simple enough to get the same serviceability - if your neck-through neck ever fails, saw it off and route a pocket THEN.

    Insert maniacal laughter (hey, it's October.) I feel like we've seen some "Fender bolt-on on a Rick body" jobs, but those might have been from scratch rather than repairs, I don't recall. @mapleglo 's Fenderbacker was a from-the-ground-up build, just looking.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2020
  11. parttime


    Apr 23, 2020
    man...i'm with you. to say i'm scared of the router (even though i have used them many times before) would be an undertatement. i could/should be routing a neck cavity, but i have fear paralysis and am using waiting on parts as an excuse. also, this talk of aligning neck and bridge heights is also what i am avoiding. beej's suggestion of drawing them out is what i need to do to set my mind at ease and get going again.
    anyway, i just posted to say, i'm with you! and go with your gut. and post some pics... :)
  12. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    Honestly, I think that's easier than it sounds. And most bridges have enough adjustability that you have a fairly big margin of error. Some people angle their necks - personally, I build flat, since then it just makes the math dirt simple. I get my bridge and measure the height of the saddle when it's at it's lowest position. Then, I add up the thickness of my fretboard and frets and subtract. I make the "step" for the fretboard (it's height above the body) equal to that. Doing this means that with no relief in the neck, the strings will be laying on the frets with the saddles at their lowest height. That puts you right in the sweet spot for height adjustment.

    For a practical example, most fender style bridges bottom out around .4" high. If you use a typical quarter inch fretboard and typical .05 fretwire, your "stack" is .3" tall. So you need the bottom of your fretboard to be a tenth of an inch above the face of the body.

    All that said, in practice, unless I'm using a weird bridge, I pretty much just aim for the step to be 1/8" (.125") and it works.

    The process is the same to determine orientation/height regardless of the neck join. If I'm making a neckthrough, I plane my neck blank's top flat, then cut the "body" portion lower by the determined amount. That leaves a step up for the fretboard along the neck itself. If I'm making a bolt on or set neck, I cut my neck blank to the desired thickness, then determine the pocket depth based on getting the top of the blank that high above the fretboard (i.e. for a 3/4" thick neck heel, the pocket is 5/8" deep which leaves 1/8" of neck above the body).
    AGuyWithAName and parttime like this.
  13. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    I have to admit. I don’t “get” the point behind set neck. It has neither of the advantages of bolt on or neck through, relying entirely on the strength of the glue joint at the neck pocket. If you have a two pup bass, the neck pup invariably eats into the space for a neck tenon. Meh. Do one or the other. I don’t think neck through has any tonal advantage, But it does allow some heel carving if you like high fret access. One piece of advice on neck through: Taper the Neck Beam! If you want to see what a PITA it is if you DONT taper, check out the shenanigans I had to get through on my Ric clone build: Painful!
    The Hossenfeffer Bass Build
    ctmullins likes this.
  14. AGuyWithAName


    Sep 8, 2019
    Thank you all for the current, and future, responses! I'm currently working on the new templates for making the bass a neck through. Pictures will be added to keep you all up to date on what is happening.
    dwizum, Matt Liebenau and Slidlow like this.
  15. AGuyWithAName


    Sep 8, 2019
    An Update!
    It took a while, but I finally got a chance to work on the bass again! The first image is the CAD drawing of the neck template, which I painstakingly cut out. After that I re-cut the body template to create the wings. The final image is a mockup of the templates to give you an idea of what it'll look like. This isn't going to be a headless, but I think I will be going through a redesign on the headstock.
    Neck template.jpg Bass wings.jpg Rough body.jpg
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2020
    Gilmourisgod likes this.

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