Grateful Dead Music Forum

A place to talk about the music of the Grateful Dead 

 #137708  by James-T
 Thu Mar 20, 2014 8:46 am
Building on the Alligator debate which focused on the pros and cons of the Stratocaster I'm poising an interesting question which can be more easily discussed around custom builds with bolt on necks, AKA the strat - like recreating an Alligator "model".

So we all know that the bridge, nut and even fretboard effect the tone, and I had an interesting conversation with Vancouver's local stratocaster guru - a brass nut effects the tone of all the notes, not just the open strings - in his opinion - he experimented with this. I tend to believe him. Biut what about the neck versus the body?

The one thing with stratocaster's is that Fender necks go for a premium (compared to after market necks), and no two necks are the same. Some are thing some are fat, some are bird's eye, some are quarter sawn some are flat grain, some have a compound radis and so on…..

Body's on the other had tend to have less variation. It seems the biggest variation lays in the tree species, finish (nitro versus ploy) and weight. Not so much contouring (unlike the contours of a neck). No doubt age plays a factor as well in both the neck and body's sonic properties.

But here's the question - what percentage of the tone do you think can be attributed to a guitar's neck versus its body all other factors being equal. For example if you have a winner stratocatser neck and swap out bodies will the tone be effected as much as swapping out necks?

What I personably look for in a guitar are notes on the high E string that sound full and bloom rather than thin. I've got about 6 guitars and each achieves this property to greater or lesser extents. I used to think simply swapping out pick-ups could improve the sonic properties of a guitar above the 12th register but I'm now thinking its really about the wood, finish, weight and neck and not so much (as Paul Reed Smith likes to call pick-ups) the "microphones". And the easiest cure I all find to thin sounding notes is to add gain to the equation. Its the crystalline clears that I'm looking to bloom and sparkle - the tone that happens through a twin on 3 or 4 - no effects.

So if one has a great guitar that's just seeming like it could be a bit better what would yield the better results? Swapping the neck or swapping the body? And I know what necks out their that would be an upgrade (higher end in most cases) - and guaranteed to sound better than an American USA Strat - for example Vintage, or AVRI for sure.

Peace, :smile:

 #137709  by mgbills
 Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:40 am
This is a huge topic...

I'm a production manager in a specialty wood fabrication company. Mostly fancy tables & wall cladding but it does allow me to spend and apply a fair amount of my time doing cross-over wood research for my personal guitars, and for building.

There are no absolutes in wood, be it for furniture or instruments. Individual trees can change density dramatically based on climate, availability of water, and mineral resourses. Janka hardness ratings are only statistical and can vary by 35% or more. Here is an example. My son builds acoustics, and hopes to be a pro in the next couple of years. We built a fancy jig to measure & aggregate the modulus of elasticity for Sitka Spruce tops. So in the Pacific Coast NW between N. California & Alaska, Sitka can be harvested at sea-level to elevations to nearly 10K feet. So the density of growth rings can change dramatically. So we measure the grain lines per inch, and then measure the elasticity at varius top thicknesses with the jig and a mounted dial indicator. The idea is that through statistics we will be able to maximize the movement of an acoustic top without compromising strength. And also we can reject unsuitable tops before the entire structure is married.

I have read 100's of articles on Strats. Where are you BTW? Vancouver, WA? Vancouver, BC? Vancouver Other? I love talking with Strat guys. You can learn a whole lot shootin' the breeze with guys who know specific guitars. I'm humble. I've only been at this 10 years. And ...I feel there is a million things I don't know. Back on topic...

Every master builder will tell you their preference for how they build necks. Quartersawn. Riftsawn. Flatsawn. Figured/Birdseye/Flame/Quilted. What I know from my work is that figured wood gives up moisture much slower than straigt grain wood. So ...what needs to be tested scientifically is this...Does sound vibration/wave function travel better through straight grain better when the waveform is perpendicular to the modulus, or parallel. Does the water retention in figured wood add to this resonance, or does it detract. Does any of it matter?

I have devised (in SketchUp) a simple machine to move a plectrum with a reproducable force using pneumatics. (I wish I didn't have a job. It always interferes with my guitar facinations!) One of these days I'm going to spend an afternoon with Pat Hickman, and learn how to use the oscilloscope I obtained at a WA State surplus auction. (Who knows...maybe the scope is the wrong gizmo, but I"m betting it'll come down to the sending unit.) Then it's a simple matter of stringing a neck through a standard body reference, and measuring the tranferance at the heel.

Then...perhaps...we can start testing some of these experiencial assumptions. I don't want to take anything away from anyone who has done this stuff for years. I just want to measure it.

Sorry for the misspellings. My Mac fixes them. My useless work PC does nothing well.
Great topic. Can't wait to see the answers!!!!!!!!!

:smile: :smile: :smile:
 #137713  by James-T
 Thu Mar 20, 2014 3:49 pm
Hey Marty,

Thanks for the reply. Wow great thoughts. Yes growth rings must play a huge factor. Even what elevation the tree grendas and where it was located ( dryer or wetter micro climate). I also work extensively with wood in my day job. I'm an architect who specializes in higher end contemporary wood frame homes, and wood plays a big part in my craft.

I'm in Vancouver BC, actually outside of the city holed up on a small Island of 2500 or so inhabitants with an unusual amount of artists, musicians and actors. I do like Vancouver WA. I lived in Eugene during grad school.

The Stratocaster guru I refer to is none other than our very on Dave Vidal, who plays a mean blues and is the go to guy for fender amps. He also rewinds pick-ups. He's been on the scene since the beginning on time or at least since the Grateful Dead played Vancouver in 66 before they had a record deal.

You know those days of the Vancouveer be-ins.

I'm interested in who's willing to take a shot at this question but you've given folks lots to think about.

So a vintage 57 strat need on a el cheapo MIM body versus a custom shop flamed top 2k body sourced from a special groove of swamp ash with a MIM neck. What's gonna be sweeter sounding all else being equal.


 #137714  by waldo041
 Thu Mar 20, 2014 4:16 pm
I would say that they both matter equally which does not help with your question, but will say that on a Strat the point at which they meet is a very important element to getting both to sound their best. I go so far as to use a better, bigger, threaded wood screw to ensure I get the tightest fit. If that fit is not right it can make a good guitar bad or a once bad sounding guitar good.

 #137715  by mgbills
 Thu Mar 20, 2014 4:30 pm
It just so happens I was strolling around Granville about 3 weeks ago...that's why I ask.

I agree with everything being said. Also, I recently read (maybe it was here)that some Strat/Tele builders put a dab of nitrocellulose lacquer in the neck joint to mimick the Great Old Strats. Apparently 50's Strats had evidence of seepage into the pocket. Supposedly it helps with sustain through the organism. I have my necks with a precise joint & brass barrel nuts.

I love Strats. I love the utilitarian aspects. Love the tone. Great tool really.
 #137717  by tatittle
 Thu Mar 20, 2014 4:31 pm
I concur with the notion that the variations can be extreme with wood because of its organic nature. Where was it grown, what was the climate like, how old is it, grain, genes, etc. This probably means trying out guitars at every possible opp'ty pays off, since one cannot predict the tone based merely on specs. That said there are generalities like Ash having more pop, Maple being brighter than Rosewood, etc. Different woods, profiles, frets etc. can also affect tone ergonomically, by changing the way our fingers attack the strings.
I also have not had good experiences with multiple piece Strat bodies (4-5 pieces glued together), which are usually cheaper models.
 #137725  by James-T
 Fri Mar 21, 2014 12:25 am

Used to be only a few years ago you could take a water taxi from Granville Island to our Island. In fact a band mate just played a gig there on Monday. Small world as always!

I agree in the idea of picking up as many guitars as possible. I travel quite a bit and will spend down time in guitar stores, more often than not playing Strats. For a massed produced object I have yet to find two that sound/ play the same.

So far we have 50/50 neck and body being equal parts to the equation. The weak link theory is a good one. So is the neck joint discussion. in fact it's really pretty interesting that the next obvious step in a stratocaster's evolution would be a set neck. Or at least for that sleepy ole alligator it seemed to be a prototype which evolved into the Wolf with its thru neck design. But then it's not really a Stratocaster is it, with it's signature clean tone.

Jerry never could recreate those tones on the E72 China Rider once he moved to the Wolf with stock fender single coils.


 #137730  by mgbills
 Fri Mar 21, 2014 9:30 am
I'm sure I'll blather on more about this…

But here is a decidedly unscientific aspect.

I often find "familiar" guitars sound better than "unfamiliar" guitars. Once in a blue moon I pick up a guitar and it immediately resonates with me. My son has an LKSM 12-String that I loved at first touch. I played an R. Taylor Style 2 at the former R. Taylor build facility that I loved at first touch. A new Madagascar Rosewood Martin D-28 rang in my head. But I've played 1000's of others, and they seem like …"Meh." I played a Walker Special at Sylvan in Santa Cruz that was awesome.

There is an aspect to this which builders note. Some sophisticated acoustic guys put new guitars in a room with music playing for weeks or months. The idea is that the sound waves blend the instrument, and turn it from various blocks of this & that…into an instrument which plays more like a whole being rather than the sum of its parts. I think that very few guitars "Marry" early in their lives. We complete them through repeated play. I think that's why we have favorites, and we play them until the bridge is corroded beyond serviceability. And often these instruments sound the best to us.

Getting waaaaay out there on this one.
 #137731  by milobender
 Fri Mar 21, 2014 10:46 am
I don't think that's "way out there" at all...

In my experiences, I've found it's astoundingly true, even with a solid body guitar on a new build, very evident, in-your-face. My first two builds scared the shit out of me... when first played, sounded totally dead, and I thought I must have blown it somehow... but after even a half hour of playing, they start to come 'alive', very obviously, and just keep getting better for some time... I think their embodied resonance fuses all the various parts into a whole 'living' being... :D :smile: :D

As to Waldo's comment about beefier screws and a good mating surface, I completely agree... no spacers for me... and I use the beefier screws too. :cool:
 #137732  by Trecia
 Fri Mar 21, 2014 12:41 pm
My first strat (mim) sounded so dead to me when I first got it. It made me give up on them for a while. Thin and dead. I think I left it in a case for about a year... Then took it out one day... Feeling particularly inspired, and I was prob. a better player at that point, but even given those disclaimers it was undeniably a different instrument. So that idea of a gelling period makes a lot of sense to me.
 #137737  by James-T
 Fri Mar 21, 2014 2:07 pm
I agree on the beaking in period. A few of my guitars just felt right on the first strum but they all felt good. After a few months of solid playing they all seem to breath like good wine and the musical aspects open up. And a few I have a love hate relationship with where in some recordings they sound flat but on a few they are majic. I love the idea of putting them in a room surrounded by good music. If I was a guitar I'd want to be played all day long. I suspect alligator was loved to death literally.

Jerry was a funny player. Loyal to just one instrument at a time up until near the end of his career. You ho in Clapton blogs and hear about him taking 4 or 5 strats on the road at any given time and then look at Townsend and Hendrix. Nothing was sacred to those guys.


 #137744  by tatittle
 Sat Mar 22, 2014 6:22 am
Old musicians have told me things like the lacquer becomes 1 with the wood over the years, contributing to an improving tone. Wood is organic and unstable so it constantly shifts, expands etc. with pressure, humidity etc.

Picking up a special pre-war Martin is true bliss. Something about a special acoustic guitar played in a good room that reverberates that cant be beat. That scenario never fails to bring me into the zone where I can just live in the moment without struggling or overthinking. Electrics don't make sound in the same way really so I doubt they are as susceptible to the same degree.
 #137749  by mgbills
 Sat Mar 22, 2014 9:10 am
I have terrible luck with Martins! I played a pre-war in this awesome acoustic music store in Ashland, OR. They have a vault in the basement. The owner played it and it sounded "good." I played it. Meh. He went on and on.

I saved my money. I'd love to have that experience, but it eludes me.