Big Neck=Big Tone?


Tone Monster number one. Big neck? check. PAFs? check. Stoptail? nope.


Tone Monster number 2. Big neck? Check, PAFs? nope. Stoptail? check.

Yes, this is a refinished 62 and is Tone Monster number 3. Big neck? nope. PAFs? check. Stoptail? Check. Again 2 outta 3.

In the last post I discussed how the tone of your guitar can be adversely affected by something as mundane as saddles that are too deep and worn. This post will take on what has almost been elevated to urban myth status. It seems there are an awful lot of people who equate big tone with big necks. It makes sense, after all. It is pretty well established that the “legendary” tone monsters are mostly 59s and 59s have big necks. But is the tail wagging the dog or are the “experts” wagging their tongues. Well, to be sure, there are plenty of wannabes out there who will jump on any bandwagon in sight. It’s human nature to want to sound knowledgable and be part of an elite group-that group being 59 Les Paul owners, I suppose. Or maybe even 59 ES-335 owners. In any case, is there any truth to the big neck equals big tone legend? Much as I love to debunk urban myth, there may actually be something to this. The best four guitars I’ve ever owned are a 59, a 59, a 64 and a 62. Three of the four have  big necks. All four have been unusually resonant unplugged and all four have had that sweet singing tone and wonderful sustain that we all equate with Golden Era Gibsons. Without getting into physics and the properties of old wood that I know very little about, it’ll be hard to convince anyone of anything. Simple physics-sound travels better through solids than it does through air. More wood=more solids. Does that equal more tone? Beats me but it sure seems that way. Most of you know how much I like 64s. They don’t have PAFs but they do have big necks and they are consistently great. I’ve had loads of them and never had a dog in the bunch. But what about that great refinished 62 dot neck that sounded so great? The neck wasn’t particularly small but it wasn’t all that big either. That one was resonant too which leads me to believe there are other factors besides size in this fight (sound familiar?).  The two 59s had big but not huge necks and were extremely resonant but also had great long magnet PAFs and shallow neck angles. The neck angle on the 62 and 64 were much steeper. Then, to complicate matters, three of the four were stoptails and one is a Bigsby. It’s pretty well accepted that a stoptail is a big factor in great tone (and sustain).  So, what is it? Luck? The wood itself? I think it’s more likely the confluence of a number of factors where the “right” combination (and the right setup) brings them all together. Will a fat neck increase your chances of getting great tone? I think it will but it’s only one of a few factors. It is no accident that 1959 is considered the pinnacle of the Golden Era and the neck is a big part of that. Of course, the market says a 59 is worth twice what a 64 is worth and that means that either the 64s are underpriced or the 59s are overpriced.  And, yes, there are twice as many 64 335s out there than there are 59s but neither guitar is particularly rare.  Also, just to throw a monkey wrench into the conclusion, one the top four tone monsters in my ES hall of fame is a 59 345 with a Varitone. In red. In fact all four are red. Does that mean red ES’s sound better than sunbursts? Of course it does. We all know that.

This is Tone Monster number 4. It has all the elements. Big neck, PAFs and a stop. But it also has that well known tone sucker-the Varitone. This guitar has the best neck pickup ever and tone to die for. The only rule is that there aren't any rules.

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