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Noyce Guitars
Mount Clear
Ballarat, Victoria
Australia, 3350
+61 3 5330 2244

Choosing a guitar (4)

How to find the right guitar Pt 4. Ian Noyce 1997

Solid Body Electric Guitars.
As I suggested back at the start of this series of articles, solid body electric guitars can be divided firstly into bolt on necks or fixed neck and plank neck designs:

Solid Body "bolt-on" neck
The vast majority of electric's in all shapes and sizes. Best known (and most copied) being the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, first produced in the fifties.

Solid Body "set-neck" and Plank neck(neck through body) guitars. Best known of these would be the Gibson Les Paul and Gibson Firebird models respectively
The major difference in these two types is that the bolt on neck type resonates differently to the set neck. The bolt on type tends to impede the flow of vibrations and resonances through the whole guitar in comparison with the set neck. This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing- just different!

As any synthesiser player will tell you, if you take the first few milliseconds off a note played on a number of different instruments, they will all sound remarkably similar; this is because much of the information in a note which distinguishes one sound from another is contained in that first few milliseconds.
So, the big difference in sound between set-necks and bolt-ons is in their transient response:

  1. The set-neck has a faster response time, generally fuller sounding, with a more gradual decay rate.
  2. The bolt-on response takes a little longer to get going, then bang! out it comes, then falls off more rapidly.

Already, we have two very different sound images, and that's before getting into the hardware and wood differences! Actually, the more you look at it, the more you see these two types of guitars as two distinct species, with different attributes all the way down the line.

The set-necked and plank necked guitars combine their acoustic behaviour with typically an angled headstock, twin-coil (humbucker) pick-ups, a two post bridge and tailpiece and traditional tone-woods. All these things add up to a sound at the full, big, fat and chunky end of the spectrum, whilst the bolt on type has a level headstock with usually single coil pick-ups and either a tremolo bridge (built-in spring reverb!) or a fixed bridge with strings retained through the back of the guitar all adding up to a much sparser, more sparkly sound best put into words as "the Fender sound!"

There are some pretty good examples about of music being to some extent developing along the lines of a particular guitar design: many fast country pickers use the Fender Telecaster; fast clean distinct notes that don't get in the way of each other, with a very distinct sound. Try the same stuff on a Strat and both the more resonant sculptured body and the "spring reverb wang bar" will slow you down and make the notes sound less distinct. Try it on a Gibson SG or even a Les Paul and it might play quick enough but the sound will be much fuller and fatter- and it just aint right! The Teles' bolt-on neck, simple slab body with narrow single coil pick-ups and strings through body bridge is just the right formula for that distinctive country sound.

To Wang or not to Wang? No advice here- I reckon it's a personal matter of style, taste and musical interests. If you're a beginner, but play a Strat type guitar, consider pulling the bridge hard down and not using the arm for a while - you still get that spring sound, but don't have the tuning hassles of a floating trem unit.

Like most guitar considerations, It always gets down to trying 'em out and trusting your feelings. A great way of hearing the natural acoustic sound of the guitar is to put an ear to the horn or upper bout of the guitar and play it. This can help you appreciate what the pickups do to the sound (or movement of the strings).

There are a number of guitars that are hybrids of the two above types, such as the Paul Reed Smith set neck guitars with tremelo bridges. As everyone knows, these are fine guitars, so it goes to show that you can cross-breed Fender and Gibson formats, however one should select crossbreed guitars carefully if they're to satisfy your needs and if you're building your first guitar as a school project one should be extra careful about building a hybrid guitar. Scale, number of frets, neck angle, bridge geometry and pickup layout all fit together in a complimentary manner and deviating from them always have pros and cons.

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