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Neck and Neck

 

The main reason that the neck profiles are so variable is that they are shaped by hand. As you can see in this photo from the Gibson site, they still are (at least in the Custom shop)

The main reason that the neck profiles are so variable is that they were shaped by hand. As you can see in this photo from the Gibson site, they still are (at least in the Custom shop)

What’s the most often heard request I get?—“I want a 59 (size) neck.” Neck sizes are trendy things. Back in the mid 60’s the trend was for “fast” necks-narrow at the nut  and slim from front to back. You can probably thank Leo Fender for that as Gibson was chasing Leo and followed, when necessary, the leader. The necks at Gibson were still finished by hand so there is bound to be some variation within any given era. That said, we tend to describe ES necks by a year designation. To most of us a 58 neck is big and round from one end to the other, a 59 is also big with a bit more shoulder and widening and deepening going toward the 12th fret. A 60 is wide and flat with almost no taper, as is a 61 and a 62. Most of us perceive a 63 and a 64 as medium chunky with some shoulder and a considerable increase in size going up. That’s a fairly good generalization but it isn’t really all that accurate. It may be accurate for the majority of the ES guitars for those years but it may not be accurate for the one you just bought and that’s the one that counts.

Let’s look at the range for each year as I’ve seen them. 1958: These are pretty big and pretty consistent. I’ve measured perhaps 6 or 7 of them and the measurement at the first fret from the board to the middle of the back is .88″-.90″. By the time you reach the 12th, it’s around .98 which is not much of a taper. 1959: Here’s where it gets really tricky. The range at the first fret in 59 is from around .83″ to over .90″ that’s a big range. Most get pretty big by the 12th fret -a full inch or slightly more. But here’s the problem. They are all over the place. It’s not like you can say that a particular serial number range is going to have a particular neck. It just isn’t so, although the earlier the serial, the more likely you are to get a big neck. Anything in the A28xxx range to A30000 will probably have a big neck but there are no guarantees.  After that, it’s a even more of a crapshoot. For example A30906 (which was my red one) has what I think is a perfect neck. It was, I believe, around .87 at the first and 1.00″ at the 12th. I currently have A31348 with a neck measurement of around .83″ at the first fret and .94″ at the 12th. That’s a nice neck but it isn’t  a size most of us would associate with a 59. I’ve always called that size a “transitional” neck but that one is pretty early-probably early October. I expect that neck in the A31800-A32285 range in 59 and on into 1960 for another 800 or 900 serial numbers. But that’s not consistent either.

1960-1962: It’s a pretty good bet that the neck is going to be pretty flat and stay that way. With the exception of the early 60, you are likely to find some consistency here in that none of them will be particularly large, They will be wide (1 11/16″ more or less) at the nut but the first fret measurement is going to be from .79″ which is blade thin up to around .82″ which is still thin but not glaringly so. I’ve had a number of 61’s that were so thin that there is almost no wood between the truss rod and the back of the neck. You should look out for cracks (and back bows) in these thinnest of necks. The crack is usually from an overtightened truss rod and the back bow is because there just isn’t much wood to counter the string tension and folks keep tightening the truss to compensate until there’s no more range. Then somebody takes the strings off and boinng, you have a back bow. By the time you hit the 12th fret on these, the neck hasn’t gained much heft, Measurements of .87″ are common. As you get into later 62 and into 63, the really thin necks disappear and something like .82″ at the first fret is pretty common.

1963-1964: By mid 63, the necks have gotten pretty big again-even if the first fret  measurements don’t entirely bear this out, there is so much more shoulder in many cases that the neck feels pretty chunky. I’ve played 64’s that measure only .82″ at the first fret that feel huge. That’s the shoulder-a rounder profile as opposed to a flatter one. The range from mid 63 to early 65 seems to be from around .82″ to around .86″ at the first fret which many folks feel is the best of the Gibson neck carves for a 335. I like them myself. And don’t go by the contemporary Gibson “59” and “63” reissue profiles. The 59 has a ton of shoulder- much more than a real 59 and the 63 is more like an early 62-at least that’s how they felt to me last time I played one (2012 or so).

These is pretty general stuff and there are going to be exceptions all over the place. If you are very particular about neck size, ask a lot of questions or better still buy from someone who will take the guitar  back if you don’t bond with the neck. Playing the guitar before you buy it isn’t always possible, so go into your deal with a little knowledge. Most of us are pretty adaptable but if you’re spending the kind of money these guitars go for, shouldn’t you have the neck you really want?

The '59 on top measures .89" at the first fret while the '62 below measures .82" which is actually pretty big for a 62. 7/100 of an inch doesn't sound like a lot but it sure looks like a big difference. And it is.

The ’59 on top measures .89″ at the first fret while the ’62 below measures .82″ which is actually pretty big for a 62. 7/100 of an inch doesn’t sound like a lot but it sure looks like a big difference. And it is.

 

Same two guitars at the 10-12th fret. The 59 measures 1.02" which is a lot of neck. The 62 is only .88" . I find both pretty easy to play and I have small hands. I play equally badly on a 62 and a 59.

Same two guitars at the 10-12th fret. The 59 measures 1.02″ which is a lot of neck. The 62 is only .88″ . I find both pretty easy to play and I have small hands. I play equally badly on a 62 and a 59.

 

 

5 Responses to “Neck and Neck”

  1. Rob says:

    So curiosity got the best of me and I brought my ’62 355 out of its case and measured the nut, 1st and 12th frets using a metal machinist’s ruler since I don’t have calipers. The nut width is about 1.6875″, the neck thickness at the first fret about .84″ and about .875″ at the twelfth fret. It has always felt just about like the neck on the 1969 Les Paul Custom (Black Beauty/Fretless Wonder) I used to have. Really comfortable since I have small hands and short fingers and, thanks to that gorgeous ebony, slicker than I-95 about right now.

  2. stefan says:

    Very useful post. Thanks for that, Charlie.

  3. stefan says:

    Forgot to Ask: are backbows only common with .7x necks or are .81x necks just as prone for backbowes? My personal favourites (Idon’towe one yet) are 62 block necks (preferably with Micke Mouse ears) with a slim neck. Thx. S.

  4. cgelber says:

    Backbows really aren’t that common but they seem to show up more on the thinnest necks. It’s simple physics-less wood equals less structural integrity making the neck more susceptible to movement under stress. Of the 9 or 10 I’ve seen with this type of issue, at least 7 or 8 were thinner necks-so there is definitely a correlation.

  5. Steve Newman says:

    Great information, Charlie, and a pretty accurate appraisal of the general neck shapes/styles that go with each year in the evolution of the early ES 335’s. Your observations mirror what my own personal experience has shown me about the neck profiles; with the exception that ANY of the different variations can have an anomoly with the neck sizes. I have a friend with a ’65 ES 345 with trapeze with a flat/wide neck profile just as thin in depth as most ’61 vintage ES’s. I have also owned (my favorite shape of all) an early block marker ’62 335 with a wide, but not overly thin profile that had a very smooth gradual taper in depth from the 1st fret to neck heel. Also have seen a ’61 345 (usually the thinnest variation of all) with a wide, but medium depth neck that had almost NO taper in depth going up the neck. Just really depends on the particular individual that was shaping/sanding that actual neck.

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