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Neck Angle

This 64 ES-335 shows about an equal amount of neck under the fingerboard as there is fingerboard. Maybe a little more. This is a pretty typical neck angle for a post 1960 ES-335.

This 64 ES-335 shows a bit more than an equal amount of neck under the fingerboard as there is fingerboard. This is a pretty typical neck angle for a post 1960 ES-335.

Here's an early 59 ES-345 that shows a lot less wood under the binding meaning the neck angle is shallower. Some 58's show no neck at all under the fingerboard. This angle affects how low the bridge needs to be for the guitar to set up properly and comfortably.

Here’s an early 59 ES-345 that shows a lot less wood under the binding meaning the neck angle is shallower. Some 58’s show no neck at all under the fingerboard. This angle affects how low the bridge needs to be for the guitar to set up properly and comfortably.

This is a difficult subject because the effects of various neck angles are impossible to quantify. By neck angle, we’re talking about the angle at which the neck meets the body of the guitar. The easiest way to see this is to look at how much neck is showing under the fingerboard at the area where the neck overlaps the guitars top. A shallow neck angle would mean there is very little neck showing and the most visible result of a shallow angle is that the bridge sits very low on the guitar. A steeper neck angle (raked toward the back of the guitar) will result in the bridge that sits higher off the guitar body. But there’s more to it than that. A shallow neck has a larger area of contact with the body than a deeper angle. Not by much but there are plenty of folks who believe the guitars with the shallow angle sound better. But, again, that’s not the whole story. Let’s look at the most notoriously shallow angle on a 335-the 1958. The neck angle on many (and most) 58’s was so shallow that they needed a thinner bridge to allow a decent string height (action). Those bridges quickly collapsed and Gibson started shaving full size bridges to accommodate that angle. But a bridge that is set as low as it can go actually sits on the guitar top so there is more area of contact than there would be if it was sitting only on the bridge posts. Does that make a difference in tone? Beats me, but it certainly will translate more vibration to the top of the guitar because there is more metal in contact with the top. It’s like when you are sitting in a chair playing (without the amp) and the guitar makes contact with the arm of the chair and all of a sudden, your guitar gets louder because the chair starts vibrating along with the guitar. The question is whether this actually translates into a better sounding guitar. I really like most 58’s. But I really like most 64’s too. They don’t sound the same but I can’t say the shallow neck angle on a 58 makes the difference. It could be the bigger neck on a 58 or the PAFs or the thinner top. There are just too many variables to make some kind of general statement. You can certainly make the argument that more wood equals more vibration equals more tone. That would suggest that big necks might sound better than small ones. Experience doesn’t bear this out with any degree of certainty. I’ve had thin neck 62’s that sound as good as any 59. Similarly, I’ve had just OK sounding early 60’s with a steeper neck angle, a fat neck and PAFs. Throw in variables like poorly cut nut slots, over notched bridge saddles and poorly adjusted truss rods and any 335 can sound worse than it should. These guitars are, quite simply, the sum of their parts. If, at some point, I get two totally well set up, similarly equipped. same size neck 335’s -one with a steep angle and the other with a shallow angle, I can do some kind of side by side. But for now, I will go with my gut and say that the difference is real but it is probably overshadowed by all the other parameters.

This is the bridge on my 59 Epi Sheraton which follows the same rules as a 3x5. It has an extremely shallow angle and the bridge sits as low as I can get it, touching the top of the guitar. This could be a good thing.

This is the bridge on my 59 Epi Sheraton which follows the same rules as a 3×5. It has an extremely shallow angle and the bridge sits as low as I can get it, touching the top of the guitar. This could be a good thing.

6 Responses to “Neck Angle”

  1. Rod says:

    Always preferred the low angle, don’t really know why. I can’t discern any tonal difference between the different neck pitches, like you I think there are so many other (more significant?) differences that can affect sound. Also have to say that despite what others say, I can’t hear or feel any difference with different heights of the stop bar. At least we seem to have got over the fad of putting the strings OVER the stop bar which was all the rage two or three years ago! Never saw the point of that.

  2. RAB says:

    Charlie, thanks for this posting…I had always assumed Gibson used some sort of template or jig to provide the luthier guidance in setting the neck angle but maybe not! One would have thought that, after the need to fit low-profile or shaved ABR-1 bridges on ’58 ES models and the hybrid-cutdown bridges circa 1962 Gibson might have gotten a clue that such a jig was necessary? And did many players complain back to the factory when they found they couldn’t adjust their bridge downward due to it resting on the guitar top? Who knows?! I suppose folks weren’t as vocal back in those days or letter-writing didn’t make enough of a commotion!…Today the issue might go “viral” on the guitar forums!

  3. roy says:

    Thanks for all the info on gibson semi,s My taste is low angle neck joints with the bridge way down to the body , Better tone as for adjusting the bridge down file a bit off the bottom where it fits on the wheel, If you like me a bit of tinkering till your happy;

  4. Randy Dueck says:

    I recently bought a used Gibson ES 335… it’s a 59 Reissue, made in 1999…

    String were buzzing on the frets so I took in to a local guitar shop for a setup or whatever it was going to take to fix the problem. They had to raise the bridge super high to attempt to fix the problem but frets are still buzzing. I’m 99% sure the root problem is that the neck angle is too steep – if the neck to body angle were less, the bridge could be adjusted to stop the buzzing.

    I am not sure there is a luthier I’d trust to remove the neck and lower the angle where I live in Western Canada. Could I put a different bridge on it – an after market one that could cope better with the high neck angle?

    Thnx

  5. okguitars says:

    Have you adjusted the truss rod? That might help.
    A different bridge won’t help if the neck angle is too steep.
    Are the frets completely level?
    I’m not a luthier, but 335’s generally don’t have neck angle problems.
    A neck reset is not an inexpensive procedure.

  6. Randy Dueck says:

    I’ve googled this a bit and have not seen one reference of anyone ungluing a neck on a ES 335 to adjust the angle so I’m sure you’re right. A CNC machine cuts the socket for the neck – Gibson should have that down pat you’d think.

    If the bridge could be raised more, that would probably stop the buzzing… the action is low which is good for me but I don’t see how it could be raised since the bridge adjustment upwards has been maxed out.

    I think the neck is too straight – my next plan is to get the specified amount of neck relief by adjusting the truss rod. I’ve seen luthiers slightly sand down the frets from the body to the twelve fret creating ‘fall away’ – slope essentially. I am pretty sure it’s the last fret(s) on the guitar that’s buzzing on the high E string when it’s plucked hard while fretting in the 5 to 7 fret range (mid neck).

    I live in a small city in Canada – not sure there is a guitar tech or luthier who can do the the ‘fall away’ work.

    Maybe I could find a machinist to make longer bridge posts that would allow the bridge to go up even more… they would have to be stiffer than the standard parts to keep the bridge from bending over on the narrow threaded supports.

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