Okay - just got out of a successful planning meeting; back to the important stuff.
**- the neck and its role
- the pickups and what I am hoping for**
Okay, so I am trying to build a Fender that can sound like a Gibson, to quote the annoyingly concise An Arky.
There is, however, one aspect of the Fender design that I do want to change in my quest to make Gibson tones possible: the neck scale. As I have mentioned in earlier geeky posts, Gibsons have a fingerboard scale that is ~3/4" shorter. This matters because if you take two strings tuned to the same pitch, where one is on a shorter fingerboard and one is on a longer one:
The strings will sound different - the long-scale string will be tightened to a somewhat higher tension to achieve the same tone (think about a piano - the bass strings inside are longer - if you wanted those strings to sound higher, you’d have to tighten them). A tighter string vibrates differently - period. So a Gibson-scaled neck is more likely to impart Gibson-y vibrations to the strings. Now, I have no idea why, but one characteristic of a great Gibson tone - especially a Les Paul through a Marshall - is tight lows. You can crank the volume and have a ton of gain, but lows don’t “flub out” - where they sound big and messy (like the riff from Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum; you know the song - it sounds cool but the tone is shapeless) - but instead sound crisp and punchy, like, well, pretty much any big guitar-driven classic rock tune…
The strings will feel different - so on a Gibson string tuned to the correct pitch it will be at lower tension vs. the Fender scale - so the strings will be easier to bend. In guitar lingo that’s a “slinkier feel.”
Well - I want to skew in the Gibson tone direction and I would love to see if the shorter scale helps impart tighter lows. I prefer a slinkier feel, and even though I have big, ham-fisted hands, actually like the shorter scale for easier chording down at the end of the neck.
But I am building a Fender design - what to do?
Sure enough - there’s a solution: use a Conversion Neck (link to Warmoth Guitars’ web page covering this). Basically it is a Gibson-scaled neck that you can use in Fender designs with no other alterations needed - just bolt it on and go. Pretty cool, eh?
After making that choice, I decided to go with a Compound Radius(another Warmoth link) - the fretboard radius is the curve of the surface you are fretting against; a flat surface is easy to bend against; a surface that has more of an upward arc in the middle is more comfortable to wrap your thumb over and made chords with. This CR neck starts out rounded and they use a computer to do the math so by the time you are up past the 12th fret it has a much flatter radius - which is where you are doing most of your bends anyway. Pretty cool - eh? And I have **Crotalus ** to thank for it - in our back-channel geeking exchanges, he pointed it out as something he wanted to check out; I just jumped on the bandwagon…
I am also getting a Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard. Maple, on my current project guitar is bright in tone and hard/stiff in feel - and it is lacquered. I don’t want lacquer (I have a maple neck and want variety) but want to retain the bright tone - but ebony is a bit too rigid. Brazilian Rosewood (“Braz” to the doctors and lawyers who pay a several-thousand-dollar premium when Gibson produces a limited run of Historic Re-issues with “Braz” boards) is in that magic intersection - harder than (typical) Indian Rosewood, but with a bit more give than ebony or lacquered maple. It is an indulgence, but I have had guitars with BR fingerboards and have been able to tell the difference, and the upcharge was, like $30 or so, so I decided to go for it. Also, BR is likely to have blonde, red or purpose stripes in it vs. Indian’s more deep browns and blacks - so it could have a cool look to it…
Back to work…