Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gibson Long Neck Tenon - Here comes trouble!

Okay folks, to be more precise I am going to talk guitar necks and their tenon construction let’s stick to long neck tenon vs. short neck. Guitars with long neck tenons originally were constructed in the Kalamazoo Michigan facility. Instruments made during the 1950’s to 1960 have had long neck tenons as part of the original design. However, if you are familiar with Gibson guitars, they decided to move the facility to Nashville Tennessee as the company was sold to Norlin who in my opinion proceeded to screw up the company. Like many companies in the United States, profit is paramount while quality is job # 100000000. Take my word, I ran a quality assurance program for a large semiconductor company and when they needed to save a penny, it was the quality department that was terminated to free up cash reserves. Forgive the rant. So Gibson in their infinite wisdom decided to shorten the neck tenon and some players started noticing lack of sustain, less brilliance in tone, muddy sounding, and a less resonant instrument. Most of these issues would never be noticed by the audience or listeners but the player would notice this phenomenon.

At some point someone got smart and wanted to know why the old Gold Tops, 1958 and 1959 Les Paul’s had such clarity and sustain. Basic autopsies revealed the neck tenon to be the greatest dissimilarity between the old guitars and new guitars. Anyone with a basic understanding of construction should be able to visualize and conceptualize the difference between the long neck and short neck tenon. The basic disparity is that amount of mass between the old and new with the old having greater mass in the joint area of the guitar while the new had less mass. I could at this point compare apples to oranges and bring up the Fender Stratocaster but lets save that for another time and place. Back on topic; the idea that the deeper neck joint and increased mass gives improved sustain to me has proven to be true, yielding superior sustain and bright sounding individual notes.

I conducted most of my testing in a small sound proof room approximately 12x12 feet sq. I tested without any amplification and with amplification. The non amplified testing seemed to produce the best results in terms of definition and comparison. Still, variables are numerous so my conclusions are not wholly scientific as god only knows where and which tree, which glues, what day, blood alcohol content of the builder, truly affected the build of a given instrument. I tried my best to do a blind fold test and actually feel the resonance. Give me a break; I didn’t get naked with the guitar! Simply stated; the guitar with the long neck tenon felt more resonate than that without the long tenon. Utilizing a guitar amp seemed to be a bit inconclusive test because the amount of contribution from a guitar tone is negligible compared to the tone shaping uniqueness of a given guitar amplifier.

Okay man, should you go out and buy a long neck tenon guitar? Hell ya if you got the cash! If you are in a band and ya’ll are on a budget then I speculate that any Les Paul will suit you fine. I don’t think the median player will see a substantial gain in their tone based on the neck they choose. I do think the long tenon is exclusive but not enough to warrant paying an extra 1500.00 for a VOS guitar. However, effective 2008, Gibson really increased the engineering and quality of their neck selection and fretting quality by adding the keyed neck joint and employing PLEK tool fret leveling machining as standard neck production process. The new keyed tenon which is something I am surprised they hadn’t done sooner but I am sure it was a matter of money and retooling. Plus, unfortunately, larger companies are not known for technical innovation and in fact they fight against it (another subject).


Ben Castellana said...

I agree that the longer tenon is a superior construction method. I was shocked at the cross section of the Gibson USA neck joint, specifically the curvi-linear profile of the bottom of the tenon. Who the hell thought that would be acceptable. One cannot possibly build a strong joint with that configuration, regardless of what kind of glue/epoxy used to make the joint.

I disagree with you on the reason for the superiority of the longer tenon. It's not about mass, but the rigidness and structural integrity of the joint. The mechanical purpose of the neck and body is primarily to hold the two terminal nodes of the string (nut and bridge) as firmly as possible in three-dimensional space. Any movement with respect to these points will result in slight changes in pitch, which result in negative interference.

The mass of the guitar colors the string vibration by preferentially removing vibrational energy according to the resonant frequency spectrum of the material and shape. The denser the material, the more efficient that drain is.

In an ideal world, the best sustain would come from a guitar built from materials with the highest strength-to-weight ratio, with great attention to well-constructed joints.

Just my opinion.

Ben Castellana, Burbank, CA

Anonymous said...

Does it really matter anymore with all the stomp boxes sustain pedals overdrive effects and more for electric guitars?

Anonymous said...

Regardless of neck tenon whether long or short, les pauls have that unique sound that one either loves or hates. If you love LPs and notice every little detail, of course you will notice slight differences in sustain or tone. If you buy an electric guitar you will probably use an amp and depending on the style, tube or solid state, the tone and sound are then dependent on your end output. I am a strat player and can tell all the little nuances regarding tone, wood, pick guard, etc.. and how they all change the tone. The same goes for LPs, the '90s have been (in many players opinions) a better decade for quality in wood, electronics, and craftsmanship. These seem to go with the economy. I would take say a '91 strat over a '01 anyday. I even recently turned away a great price on a custom shop relic because the tone couldn't compare to my '94 40th anniversary strat.

I recently bought my son one of the modern ere, new LP traditionals with the plek'd system. Looks great, sounds great, plays great, but doesn't touch my '91 LP prehistoric which has the short neck tenon. When you play they them side by side, the traditional feels a little "cheap" (for lack of a better term). Even my father who had in his lifetime a: '52, '56, '58, '69, '77, and a '96 les paul, says my '91 plays like his old '56 and '58s. I have to take his word since I have never played those specific years. I do agree that nobody in the crowd will notice whether you have a LP std, custom, or even studio, just that you have a LP and it looks sharp and if guys are rockin'!

I always love to read how opinions change and begin to influence the market now. Thanks for all your research and time tracking this down. Take care!

adrian armstead said...

Quite frankly people do know if your'e play'in a les paul studio or epi as they sound muddy (in most cases) as hell compared to the higher end Gibsons. I first heard a Les Paul being played by the late great Paul Kossoff 3metres behind him at a free concert and his guitar was not of this earth!!!!! I was 14 and in heaven for 2 1/2 hrs.
Never with a cheap guitar could you do that.I then really took an interest in the Les Paul to this day.

Scott said...

@Adrian Armstead - The sound you experienced was fantastic and your ability to discern the difference is acute. My point, however, is that "most," people will not hear the difference. Obviously, you are NOT 'most people.' I never saw Paul Kossoff - Very Cool indeed! Thanks for the comment! All the best!!

cantframe said...

about studios being muddy , I have an 02 lp studio and it sounds a good as ay lp I have owned. I use a marshal 2205 head and Marshall 4x12 and can get any tone I like.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but I have a 1994 Studio that appears to have a long tenon - at least when I changed pickups I noticed that the tenon protruded about 1/4 into the pickup cavity. Was Gibson experimenting with construction during this period. Next time I change strings maybe I should pop out the neck pickup and send you a picture to verify what it is, but I seem to remember it looking a lot like the Custom shop picture.

Anonymous said...

Electric guitars are based on electromagnetic induction,
which doesn't have anything to do with acoustic resonance, the basis of how an acoustic guitars works.

An electromagnetic pickup is basically a filter with a resonance frequency and a frequency range. It is only interested in the vibations of the strings, but it doesn't notice anything of the vibrating wood. In this regard, the term "tone wood" is really misleading, because the wood doesn't generate any tone, it just dampens the string vibrations.

Another fact is that electric guitars are always part of a long
signal chain (guitar, cable, amp, effects, mic, mic position, recording room, mixer) in which the pure guitar signal is strongly altered. Furthermore, guitar amplifiers have extremely nonlinear behaviour and therefore alter or colourize the pure signal by design, they are not HIFI. All this is not my personal opinion, it's basic electrical engineering.

Scott said...

I agree. I should not have listed the word "resonance." I do believe that the method of coupling the guitar and neck is important. Between the different Les Paul's designs; I prefer longer tange neck design. Conversely, I have bolt on guitar necks that work very well.

However, you mention that wood dampens tone, right? Then guitar materials preferentially dampens at a different rate depending on the materials composition, density etc? Summing it up to Faraday alone is a little too simple. In physics there is a term called coupling.

Anonymous said...

Basic electrical engineering is only part of the equation. You are correct when you state that the pickup is only interested in string vibration, not the type of wood per se. However, the string itself IS interested in the type of wood that the guitar is made of, because the materials and construction of the guitar affect the sustain of the string, the speed at which the string will begin it's vibration, and the manner in which the string will slowly cease to vibrate, and the volumes of each "node" along the string and how long it takes them to cease vibrating.

It's also true that a magnetic guitar pickup is also a speaker (hold a portable music player up to your pickup and you'll hear it thru your amp). To say that the "acoustic properties" of an electric guitar are irrelevant is very shortsighted. The difference between amazing tone and good tone is usually the result of several factors, each of which may seem too small to be relevant on it's own. Plug an electric guitar into an amp, stand in front of it, and record the amp. Now go into another room with the guitar so you can't hear he amp, record it again. It will sound different - specifically because some of the acoustic properties of the instrument have been negated....including how the vibration of the guitar wood is affecting the string vibration, how the sound waves from the amp are vibrating the guitar, how the pickups are reacting to the sound in the air, etc.

Have Eddie Van Halen stand in front of his marshall playing his bastardized Charvel with the pickup mounted in the pickguard. Then have him do the same with the pickup mounted directly into the wood. It will sound different, and respond different - which was the whole reason he screwed the pickup directly into the wood in the first place.

Take two strings of equal length and gauge strung to the exact same tension over the exact same nut and bridge material and put the exact same pickup under them the same height from the string One nut/bridge pair is on a les paul. The other is on a solid block of concrete. plug it into an amp. put a mic in front of it. pluck the string. record both. listen back. they will not sound the same.

Anonymous said...

As an experienced electrical engineer, I can say that the primary sound generation you hear is the string vibration detected by the pickup - but the harmonics and subtleties (i.e. tone) introduced by the rest of this highly-coupled system including resonance, stiffness, acoustic feedback from the amplified sound into the body, mass of the bridge, stiffness of the bridge mount, thickness of the neck et cetera, all influence the resulting sound quality. Every combination is different, slightly, so it is overly simplistic to make any claim about what does and does not impact the tone. My experience is that a crisp structure to give the strings sustain, coupled to a resonant structure (i.e. body) to colour and conduct fed back amplifier sound, excited by a powerful enough transducer (pick and amp turned up) to make the subtleties come alive, are what we all crave to generate the warmest and richest tone from our guitars.

Unknown said...

The attack, decay, sustain and release of the string/s is what the pickup picks up. The attack of the string is affected by the wood it is attached too, as is the Decay sustain and release, this is all before it hits the pickup, therefore the pickup only picks up the end result of a vibration, therefore, it picks up the past, not our present. The woods and build of the guitar is everything to its sweetness and tone.

Scott said...

How is the string affected by the wood? The pickup picks up the past and not our present?? Prove this with evidence because apparently you have invented a time machine. I'll agree with one of your statements - The build is an influence.

Anonymous said...

The entire system of string, nut (or fret), bridge, woods, glue, metal parts etc all contribute to a degree of resonance. In this context, resonance is primarily about which of the harmonics in the string vibration or damped or reinforced. A well constructed instrument has little that "wastes" energy by vibrating and therefore the widest dynamic and harmonic range within the string vibration is available to be picked up by the pickup.
Vibrato systems in general resonate which removes energy from the string (compensated a little on a strat by higher string tension) as do free moving tops such as a Gibson 330. The centre bloc on a 335 stops the top from vibrating therfore retaining more energy in the string - hence better sustain and tone (if you like that tone of course).

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