"What's the Best Neck Joint for Bass-Guitar?"

by Dave Gagnon

To start, I'd like to point out that the most common type of neck joint for an electric bass is a Bolt-On style. That doesn't mean that this is the best neck joint or worst, for whatever reason, but there are many valid considerations in favor of this construction method. The bolt-on style neck makes a lot of sense from a production point of view as well as from a "sound production" standpoint. With that said, I'm not here to sell you on one kind of bass or another.

Personally, I like to have a variety of tones in my arsenal. I will try to illustrate, to the best of my ability, some of the different sounds I have heard with my own two ears. Later on, you will also get a chance to hear for yourself, while listening to the sound samples provided below.


Neck Joint Construction:

Bolt-On

  • A Neck Pocket is made in the Body of the bass to accept the Neck
  • The Body and Neck are connected with either Screws or Bolts

Neck-Through

  • The Neck runs through the entire length of the Body
  • The Body Wings are glued directly to the side of the Neck Billet

Set-Neck (Dovetail)

  • A pocket is routed into the Body; similar to the Bolt-On style
  • The Neck is glued into this special neck pocket
  • This construction method is also called a Dovetail Joint


Sound / Tone Qualities:

Bolt-On

  • "Thinner" overall sound (helps "blend" with other instruments)
  • Good Articulation / Attack
  • Midrange Punch; tends to work well with a band and "sit in the mix"

Neck-Through

  • "Balanced" overall sound ("Piano-Like")
  • Smoother Attack
  • Strong Fundamental Tone (Low-End)

Set-Neck (Dovetail)

  • "Thicker" overall sound
  • Smoother Attack
  • Less "definition" between the notes


Feel / Ease of Use:

Bolt-on

Some guitar companies make the upper-register more difficult to get to than others. Sometimes getting past the 19th fret can be a real struggle. This may have more to do with an insufficient cutaway in most cases, although a big "square-like" heel can also get in your way if it is not contoured.

Neck-Through

"Heel-less" construction combined with a decent cutaway usually results in an unrestricted upper-register.

Set-Neck (Dovetail)

Similar to the feel of a "Neck-Through" bass. The Heel is usually a bit thicker than a neck-through but definitely thinner than a bolt-on bass.


Uses / Versatility:

Bolt-On

  • More Traditional Voice ("Tried-and-True")
  • Versatile Sound for a variety of Bands and Studios
  • "Slap Grooves Galore!"

Neck-Through

  • More Modern Voice
  • Great for Solo Bass Playing and Extended Range Endeavors!
  • Anthony Wellington plays a few Fodera Neck-Through basses!

Set-Neck (Dovetail)

  • More Modern Voice
  • There is more "Thud" to the sound which could become too muddy in certain situations for some players (might also sound "fat" and "warm" in the right context)
  • "Victor Wooten Style Slap Solo!"



In my experience, the traditional sounding bolt-on style basses (Jazz Bass, P-Bass) are requested most by Producers and Engineers. When I play in a band, I also use an outboard pre-amp such as an Aguilar Tone Hammer EQ Pedal. This helps me to get that "Produced" sound that I am looking for. More often than not, I am also running an onboard pre-amp to help adjust the sound of my bass on the fly! With that said, bolt-on style basses coupled with transparent sounding pickups (single coil), tend to leave more room for everyone to do their own unique brand of EQ manipulation and sound processing.

I have also been experimenting with neck-through basses and I really like the way they sound as well. When I use a pre-amp with a neck-through bass, I tend to be more subtle with the EQ; a little bit goes a long way!


Sound Comparison:

Although these two basses, below, are very different in many other ways, one instrument has a Bolt-On style Neck and the other has a Set-Neck.

Keep in mind that the amps, rooms, and recording distances are different in these clips as well. It's not exactly the same as comparing "Apples to Apples."

"Cantaloupe" (Fodera NYC 5-String)

  • 34" Scale Length
  • Bolt-on Neck
  • Ash Body
  • Maple Fingerboard
  • Single Coil Pickups

"Red Clay" (Fodera Emperor 5-String)

  • 35" Scale Length
  • Set-Neck (Dovetail)
  • Walnut Body
  • Kingwood Fingerboard
  • Dual Coil Pickups


Is it just the neck-joint that makes these two basses sound completely different? In this case it is just as much a function of different pickups and wood combinations as it is the neck joint.

(The "thinness" of the Bolt-On / Single Coil sound in "Cantaloupe" has caused me to use an outboard pre-amp almost exclusively since this clip. Stay tuned for "thicker" sounding bass solos in the future...)



Here are some great sound samples from Fodera Basses! Below, are audio examples of the three different types of neck joints. All of the other construction details are exactly the same! Take some time to study and listen to all of the clips below.


(Be sure to look into Fodera when you are considering a Custom/Handmade Bass!)

Fodera Monarch (Triplets)

  • 34" Scale Length
  • Bolt-On, Set-Neck (Dovetail), Neck-Through
  • Mahogany Body
  • Brazilian Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Dual Coil Pickups


Sustainability?

Up until this point, I have refrained from commenting on the obligatory topic of "which neck-joint sustains the best." In my experience, sustain is most obvious at the end of a song when everyone holds a long note. With that said, I have rarely been hired, as a bass player, to sustain a pitch much longer than a whole-note. In my opinion, it is just as important to study the Attack and immediate Decay of a note and how these elements will affect the Tone, Pitch, and Feel of your bass playing.

Maybe someday a bass guitar will sustain like the sound of a piano with a sustain pedal. Until then, I think it is more important for you to listen to the needs of the music you are playing while continually making progress toward "finding your tone!"


Best Neck Joint for Your Style?

I'm not sure if there is a "best neck joint" out there or if one style of construction is better than another. In the end, it's all in the hands of the player. Some musicians feel at home with a "Fender Style" bass while others dream up an almost "Stradivarius-like" Bass Guitar!

Until next time, stay on your game and keep practicing!


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