Understanding neck joints on an electric guitar

What is a neck joint?

The neck joint is the point on a guitar where the neck meets the body. The neck and the body on a solidbody electric guitar can be joined in a number of different ways, each making for different tonal and playing characteristics.

Set Neck

The first solid body electric guitars featured set necks. These are necks that are glued to the body, in a way not too dissimilar to the neck joint on an acoustic guitar. A set neck offers a fairly smooth heel, with good access to the upper frets. Set neck guitars come in “short tenon” and “long tenon” varieties, which refers to how deeply into the body the neck is attached. Longer tenon guitars are said to have more sustain.

Popular Set Neck guitars include the Gibson Les Paul and the PRS Standard.

Bolt-on necks


Not long after Gibson started commercial production of solid body electric guitars, Leo Fender came up with his own take on the instrument. His guitars joined the neck to the body using screws and a screw plate. These guitars are much easier to make, and thus much cheaper to manufacture. It also makes for easier repair: when a bolt-on neck gets damaged, it can be easily removed entirely, and replaced with another one.

A bolt-on neck has more attack and snap, and is often said to have a slightly brighter tone. Popular bolt-on guitars include the Fender Stratocaster and the Jackson Dinky.

Through Necks

This type of neck joint is much rarer than the other two, and is typically only found on high end instruments. A “neck through body” guitar involves a neck that runs the entire length of the guitar, with the neck essentially forming the core of the body. Two “wings” are then attached to either side of the neck. This leaves no need for a heel, allowing superb access to the upper frets, and excellent stability and reaction to playing dynamics.

Some of the more common Through Neck guitars include the Jackson Soloist and certain models of the Ibanez RG.

Please be aware that the type of neck joint is only part of what gives an electric guitar it’s own particular Attack, Sustain and Decay characteristics. The scale length makes an even more important difference.. longer scale lengths give more sustain, as well as more “snap” and bite, while shorter scale lengths make for a smoother tone. The type of wood will make a difference, as will the density of the particular piece of wood, and the sheer amount of it that is used. Two bits of wood from different parts of the same tree can sound different, even if they’ve been cut to exactly the same shape. The material that the nut and the bridge are made of will make a difference to the attack characteristics as well, as will the type of frets and the sort of pick you use.

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