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extension bolt

Bolt-on neck

Bolt-on neck is a method of guitar (or similar stringed instrument) construction that involves joining a guitar neck and body using screws as opposed to glue as with set-in neck joints. The term is a misnomer, introduced mostly by Fender whose guitars traditionally had "bolt-on necks". Real bolted joints (i.e. using bolt coupled with a nut) are uncommon in guitar production. However, at least one aftermarket manufacturer offers a replacement for Fender neckplates and screws which uses captive nuts — embedded in the guitar body by means of an external self-tapping thread — and M4 bolts. This is claimed to permit a higher fastening torque than ordinary woodscrews, and hence a better coupling between neck and body.

This method is used frequently on solid body electric guitars and on acoustic flattop guitars. In the typical electric guitar bolt-on neck joint, the body and neck cross in horizontal plane, the neck is inserted in a pre-routed "pocket" in the body, and they are joined using 4 (rarely 6) screws. As screw heads damage the wood and could put extra stress on it, typically a rectangular metal plate or a pair of metal plates are used to secure the joint and re-distribute the screw pressure evenly. Such a plate is usually criticized for making playing on top frets uncomfortable, so, manufacturers sometimes employ some kind of more intricate method to hide a metal plate, smooth the angles and make access to top frets easier. However, a visible metal plate is usually considered as a part of "vintage" style and they are a popular place to emboss manufacturer's logos, stamp out serial numbers and put other artwork.

The typical acoustic guitar bolt-on neck as popularized by Taylor guitars includes threaded inserts in the heel of the neck. Bolts inserted through the neck block of the body from inside the instrument attach the neck to the body.

Luthiers and guitar players cite both advantages and disadvantages of bolt-on neck construction. Note that most of these views are highly subjective and relative. It is not easy to measure most of the claims objectively or even compare objective factors, as guitars differ considerably.

Bolt-in neck

Some sources differentiate bolt-on and bolt-in neck construction.

The difference is that bolt-on neck involves constructing a protruding flange that fits inside a routed pocket in guitar body. Then neck is secured inside this pocket using screws that run perpendicular (at right angles) to the surface of guitar. A bolt-in neck doesn't need to have such a flange inside guitar body, and screws or bolts run parallel to the surface of guitar, entering the back of the heel.

Usually (but not always), in bolt-in variant, a neck pickup is mounted directly on the extended neck wood underneath it, not on the guitar body. This has been referred to as "direct coupling", because the pickup is mounted on the neck and not the body, in other words, directly coupled to the neck, and is considered superior by some in terms of tone.

Bolt-in neck is used in acoustic guitars on regular basis, but on electric guitars it is somewhat rare, harder to produce, but it is considered superior by some in terms of sound and playability. However, given a relative uncommonness of bolt-in necks in electric guitars, most luthiers call both neck joints "bolt-on".

Advantages

Typically cited advantages of bolt-on neck include:

  • Easier and cheaper to mass produce and repair if damaged. Necks that allow Fender "standard" 4-screw joint are frequently interchangeable provided they are intended for the same style of guitar (e.g. Stratocaster or Telecaster): for example, one can order custom neck (with personal profile or radius) and change one by just removing one neck and attaching the other. A Stratocaster neck can also be fitted to a Telecaster body, although the reverse is untrue unless some minor modifications are made. Less traditional versions exist, such as 3-screw plate (with easier micro-tilt adjustment) or even 6-screw plate bolt-on joint, but they may differ widely in the shapes, sizes and position of screws. Which one is better is debatable, but budget guitar manufacturers often choose 3-screw joints for its minimal cost, notwithstanding the quality.
  • Easy to control: sometimes bolt-on neck includes some sort of adjustment screw that can control neck-to-body angle, such as the Fender Deluxe American Stratocaster's "Micro-Tilt" adjustment.
  • More resonance due to wood-to-wood contact in high quality bolt-ons, no glue allows better coupling. However, since most necks already have a large glue joint between the fingerboard and the neck, any tonal effect from a neck/body glue joint is subject to debate.
  • More attack and "snap", slightly brighter tone, but this advantage is frequently debated.

Disadvantages

Typically cited disadvantages of bolt-on neck include:

  • For solid body electric guitars, harder access to top frets, especially if screw plate is used and visible. Slick heel with hidden plate (such as depicted one) makes playing the top frets more comfortable and special neck joint techniques, such as the Ibanez AANJ, Music Man Silhouette and Stephen's Extended Cutaway mitigate this problem.
  • Less sustain, due to the bridge and nut being on two different pieces of wood, but this disadvantage is subjective, frequently debated, and not supported by formal research.
  • Sloppy construction or assembly of a bolt-on guitar exacerbates any of its inherent disadvantages.

Manufacturers

Notable manufacturers of guitars with bolt-on necks include:

  • Fender, a company known for its dedication to bolt-on neck construction.
  • Music Man.
  • Taylor Guitars is known as a manufacturer of acoustic guitars, though they use special patented bolt-in construction process with 3 bolts. Two steel bolts pass horizontally through the body and into the neck, and a third bolt passes vertically into the fingerboard extension.

References

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