A Better Neck Joint – The Bill Kirchen Neck Mod

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For about as long as there have been electric guitars, there have been two primary methods to attach the instrument’s neck to its body.  Leaving aside “neck through” construction which involves making the guitar one continuous piece from headstock to bridge, those two types are “set neck” as used by Gibson and others and “bolt-on” as used by Fender and almost every other manufacturer in business.

Turning our attention to the latter type, we find that although it can be produced more cost effectively the “bolt-on”has a host of inherent problems.  It can be successfully argued that the bolt neck requires more labor and better skills to assemble a tight, toneful result.  These types of guitars can be fat, loud acoustically and very stable.  When they have less than perfect neck joints they can have tone and tuning issues to spare.

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Above we see a typical Fender-style neck heel.  Notice the ordinary wood screw (four in this case) which hold the neck to the body.  The heel inserts into a corresponding neck pocket in the body.  The heel and pocket must marry together snugly (but not TOO snugly) and accurately.  Part of the beauty of the bolt is that the neck can be removed over and over again during the life of the guitar for repairs and resetting.  The only limit to all that removing is the holes in the neck heel and how soon they will wear out.  A great potential concern about the bolt is that the neck joint itself is a likely thief of tone and sustain.  The sloppier and less precise the neck joint, the more likely it will be that the instrument will lose tone transfer between neck and body.  This, my friends, is a bad thing

Enter our good friend, Mr Bill Kirchen The Titan Of The Telecaster.  Bill was born June 29, 1948 in Bridgeport Connecticut.  During his time at the University of Michigan he planted the seeds for the band, Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen who had a hit with the song “Hot Rod Lincoln” in 1972.  At some point in his busy playing career he was making frequent trips abroad and removing the neck from his Fender Telecaster and tucking it inside his suitcase for easy air travel.  But the holes in the neck heel started to wear out and were too far gone for easy repair.  You could simply fill the holes with hard wood dowel and redrill the holes into fresh wood.  But eventually with continued removal the new wood would also wear out.  So, a better solution was employed.  He installed brass inserts in the neck heel and used steel machine bolts for the neck attachment.  With this arrangement you could conceivably never wear out the neck mounting holes.  An interesting additional benefit it that this also produces a very tight, solid neck joint that sounds and feels better.

I’ve been using this method of neck mounting on Granville Guitars instruments almost from the beginning and modding my customer’s guitars for as long.  It really IS a better mousetrap.

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Here is a neck on my drill press awaiting the enlargement of its screw holes to accept the brass inserts.  Note the depth stop on the drill bit to avoid drilling too deep.  The drill press is absolutely essential here in order to ensure nice, straight mounting holes.

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This is a different neck to illustrate the process.  This particular neck belongs to a Michael Kelly guitar owned by our good friend, Mr Robin Sibucao.  Notice that it has one hole on the treble side of the neck offset to allow better access to the high frets.  This is the neck as it came off the body.  It has the standard holes drilled into the wood.  Let’s see how we can improve this.

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In this second photo we can see that the holes have been enlarged to accept the brass inserts.

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In this photo, I have beveled the top of each hole with a tapered stone chucked into the drill press.  I prefer this to a tapered drill bit because it cauterizes and smooths the bevel helping it to seal with the installation of the brass inserts.

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In this last photo we see the brass inserts screwed in flush.  I also mix up some epoxy and put a small amount in the hole to ensure that the inserts will stay put and to minimize any air space which can interrupt good tone transfer.  Great care must be taken to avoid getting epoxy anywhere in the inserts that might interfere with the mounting screws.  Also I like to wait until the next day to make certain that no epoxy leaks out and holds the neck on permanently.  This would be no bueno, indeed!

I love this modification and I have used it on every single one of my own bolt-on neck guitars.  If you are looking for more from your guitar, give it a try…

 

 

 

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