Neck through construction means that the neck is built with laminations of different woods and extends throughout the entire length of the body to become the central part of it.

If you're thinking about building a neck through bass you are probably after great definition and sustain so you've already operate a big choice in terms of tone. These are in fact the main characteristics that distinguish this type of construction from the more diffused bolt on neck.

Neck through bass building image
Frudua Slave Pentabass.

The result of matching different woods is to move the instrument's resonant peak over the one of the strings and therefore produce a better and purest string vibration.

String vibration on a neck through instrument develops over a sandwich of woods composing the neck, starting from the nut down to the bridge without any interruption. This sandwich of woods is made of very stiff woods, glued together on their length and it's often also reinforced with carbon or graphite reinforcing bars as, a neck through neck is not replaceable and must therefore be the most reliable possible.

All of this increase neck's stiffness, note definition and sustain.

Gluing a neck through maple and purple heart neck

The most used woods for laminated neck through construction are hard rock maple and Wenge.

Wenge is slightly denser than maple and a little less stiff, meaning that all the rest being the same, wenge neck will deliver a brighter tone and also be slightly less stable than a maple neck (*) for this reason we may decide to reinforce a wenge made neck for the reasons explained before.

Under a sustain and string's vibration point of view, wenge will result to be very similar to maple. Wenge flexes more than maple but compensates with a higher density meaning that sustain and string's vibration are comparable with maple.

Anyway hard rock maple is always the best choice for necks offering the best compromise between tone and stability.

These two main woods are most of the times alternated with laminations mahogany, paduak or purple heart which purpose is to stiffen the neck even more and favour tone transmission.

A small veneer of wenge or ebony between wenge and purple heart delivers a precious contrast.

Each wood has its own resonant peak and matching different woods results in increasing the whole resonant peak of the instrument, placing it far from the one of the strings vibration the result of which will be that the wood will not interfere with the string's vibration which finally translates in a better tone.

My suggestion is over maple (or wenge) and purple hearth for neck laminations. The more the laminations the more the stability and stiffness rate the better the strings vibration. Of course look considerations have to be considered. Too many laminations may bring to a ugly look while too few could result in a weaker and poor sounding neck.

On the Frudua Slave Pentabass neck through series I normally use 7 lamination (+ wenge layers) for the 5 strings basses and 9 (+ wenge layers) for the 6 strings basses. Wenge veneers are glued between maple and purple heart to behave as a binding. On wenge /purple heart neck these are normally maple veneers.

Laminated necks will end up sounding similar one to each others due to the sum of the mix of woods with the result of a more "leveled" and neutral tone. This allows the chance to fine tune the instrument sound using different woods for the body. On a neck through bass the neck extend into the center of the body and the rest of the body is made up by two pieces of wood glued aside which we call "wings". These two wings can be made of just one kind of wood or can be laminated as well. Once more laminating them means that the tone can be tailored to the musician's needs.

Softer woods will deliver a warmer tone while denser wood will deliver more definition and brightness (on all strings including the B one).

Based on what we learnt until now we will carefully cut in measure and stock all the boards that will compose the body. The core in mahogany, alder or basswood and the plates in different exotic woods.

At first let's define the sound we are after.

On a neck through bass we have mainly two big choices:

- going for well defined tone for which we will select a mahogany core and for the top plates very hard woods like ebony, wenge, purple heart and also bubinga and other very hard and dense similar woods (this is a must if you want the B string to sound deep and full).

- or we can go for a more mellower tone, like for example for a fretless bass or a very rocky one, with more punch on the lows but less definition and sustain by using softer woods like Alder, Ash, some species of mahogany, basswood but would I never suggest to go under the density of mahogany, alder and maple

Same very thin 0,7 mm wenge veneer is glued between the neck
and the body to achieve a nice binding effect (pictured Frudua Slave Pentabass

Let's start with the core the central part of the body wings. We have different choices here:

  • basswood: this is rarely used (too soft) but you can use basswood if you need a very punchier tone, a light instrument and you do not care that much about note definition on the lows (for example on a 4 strings bass).
  • mahogany is the best choice. Mahogany tone is neutral and is a perfect starting point for building any kind of tone. Mahogany tone is well balanced in depth, brightness and definition.
  • Alder is a good choice too. Lighter than mahogany, alder is another neutral sounding wood delivering a slightly fatter tone, halfway between the previous two.

  • These 3 woods will all deliver a good "base" and balanced tone and could also be enough on their own (without any further lamination) to achieve a professional instrument.

    Now that we have fixed our basic sound we can go over the laminations matter to fine tune it to our tastes.

    First let's NOT reduce the thickness of the neck too much. This not only would weaken it and make it less stable but would also weaken the tone and sustain. We suggest not to go under 23mm at nut ad 26mm at 12th fret. Let's also reinforce the headstock under the nut and make sure that the neck to body joint feature some mass of wood.

    Let's now check the "top plates" wood.

    A reinforced headstock on a Ken Smith bass stiffens the neck
    and provides better tone and sustain.

    To better understand the role of top plates in tone try to figure you have the chance to naturally equalize the tone of an instrument by adding or cutting "depth" and "fullness" on the lower but also on the higher strings, meaning that a G string also will sound fatter or brighter not only an E or a B.

    Generally we will tend to use hardwoods from the hardness of maple on till ebony.

    We will use the Frudua tapping technique to discover which wood delivers the deeper tone if we are looking for punch and fullness while we will go for a brighter "bell's" like tone if we are looking for definition on the fundamental and a sharper attack on the lower strings including the low B.

    A thin veneer in contrast with the core and top plate colour will introduce a nice binding effect.

    Here are some examples of how different top plates sounds at tapping:
  • this is the average tone you may expect by a nice birdseye maple top plate (upper wing). Remember that birdseye maple belongs to rock maple family and is therefore a very hard wood. European flame maple is softer and will deliver a sweeter and lower tone. Listen
  • This is the typical tone of a bubinga top plate (upper wing). Note the slightly higher pitch and deeper sustain. Listen
  • Just for you to know the difference here is a spruce top plate (for the Frudua Real Bass top), the most resonant wood ever. Listen

  • For more info on matching woods please read "the sound of wood", "matching woods" and "the tapping technique".

    Here are some of the mix of woods for neck through bass that has proved to be the best sounding along the years as the best compromise among vibration, sustain, note definition and depth:

  • purple heart/maple neck with alder core, 1 wenge (11mm) and 2 front and rear (11mm) goncalo alves top plates.
  • purple heart/maple neck, core mahogany, bubinga back and top plate.
  • purple heart/maple neck, alder core, wenge and zebrano top plate.
  • purple heart/wenge neck, mahogany core, cocobolo top plate, zebrano back plate.
  • purple heart/wenge neck, lacewood core, 1 wenge (11mm), 2 (11mm) lacewood top plate.
  • purple heart/wenge neck, mahogany core, 1 wenge (12mm), 2 zebrano (8mm) top plates. Same back plate on the rear but reverse.

  • Left a mahogany core, flame maple top and back plate is cut.
    Note the wenge contrast veneer. Right various neck through
    basses in the finishing process.

    (*) Please allow me to repeat that every piece of wood even cut from the same board will sound and behave differently.
    When gluing a neck through lamination we will have to make the two outer pieces are glued reversed. This will dramatically increase the neck stability (please see picture below).

    Reverse gluing of neck through laminations

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