First, watch this video from Scott Grove. Learn how to adjust your trussrod, change your strings and clean your guitar in less than 20 min.
Now that you’ve seen the video (You watched it, right?), let’s talk guitar myths. I covered this once in my “Tonal Mysteries” post, but I’m going to focus on a few things this time around. Specifically, I’m going to talk necks and fretboards.
Myth #1: Your fretboard (finger board) affects your tone.
No it doesn’t. Your fretboard is maybe 3 mm thick. It’s basically a veneer going atop your neck so there’s a place to hold your frets. Other than decoration, that’s the only function it has. It’s too thin to be any factor on your tone.
Another thing: your frets affect your tone, and guess what they’re made of? Metal. Guess what your strings are made of? Metal. Guess what your saddles are made of, if you play an electric? Yep, metal. Metal affects your tone more than a slim piece of wood glued to your neck
Myth #2: You can feel the difference between maple, rosewood, ebony, etc. fretboards.
Not a bit. First, your strings don’t touch your fretboard. They touch your frets. There’s a tiny, less than 1mm space between the string and the fretboard. If you press the string into the board, it will go sharp. When you bend a string, it slides up the fret.
If you want to improve how your fretboard feels, then replace your frets. Traditional fretwire wears out after a few years of heavy use, while stainless steel frets cost more but last longer.
Myth #3: Your neck wood affects tone.
Not really. Neck woods are chosen for sturdiness and budget reasons, and that’s it. People have come to rely and expect guitar makers to use certain woods, so that’s what manufacturers employ. They’re driven by demand, not tone. Kramer started out making aluminum necks, and now those guitars are going up in price because people finally realized what a great idea it was to have a light, strong, and warp-proof neck material. It’s why Modulus does well in the bass market through using graphite necks, because wooden bass necks are very prone to warping. Rainsong has carved a niche out by building wholly carbon fiber and graphite guitars – and they still get high marks for tone.
Since so little scientific research exists on guitar tone, it’s at best reasonable to conclude material hardness and density play into tone, but there is nothing special about mahogany, maple, rosewood and so on. Any material with similar properties will give you similar tone and just as good (if not better in the case of carbon fiber, graphite and aluminum) durability.
Myth #4: You have to rub lemon oil on your fretboards.
No you don’t. You need to keep your guitars humidifed, so the dead wood doesn’t dry out and rot. Remember the wood is dead. It doesn’t “breathe,” or any of that other tonewood woo. It’s a dead organism and dead things decay. To preserve wood, you must protect it through lacquer, varnish, or at the bare minimum keep it in a humid, warm place with a steady temperature and air pressure. If you don’t do these things, the wood will dry, crack, and rot.
Also remember the lemon oil thing applies mainly to rosewood necks, which are bare when installed on guitars. Maple necks are almost always coated in lacquer. So if you put lemon oil on a maple neck, you are just rubbing oil atop lacquer.
You can clean your fretboard with a simple, clean rag with warm water. Lemon oil is helpful for guitars rarely played, like in a collection, but regular use guitars get plenty of oil on them from you.
Myth #5: Unfinished wood breathes and sounds better.
Nope. Unfinished wood is more likely to suffer damage though. Thin, tung oil or satin finishes let you have closer contact with the wood, but they still provide protection. Shaving your neck or sanding the finish off leaves a comfortable but unprotected contact surface. Fortunately the wood is being treated by your natural finger oils as you play it, but a good lacquer or tung oil would do the job just as well, and provide great comfort.
If you don’t like that tacky feeling of a solid color neck finish, then don’t buy a guitar with one. Also note that nitrocellulose finishes, those ones that supposedly let your dead guitar “breathe,” never cures properly and wears off faster than polyuretheane. Nitro is more likely to feel gummy and oily than poly. It will also crack and wear off faster, leaving your guitar exposed to the elements. Nitrocellulose is actually a terrible finish choice for instruments, and it’s only used today because people will buy ridiculous things at stupid prices thanks to clever marketing. And yes, that includes Eric Johnson and his overpriced signature Strat. I admit I want to buy a guitar that happens to use nitro, but that’s because it comes standard with the guitar and I have no other choice. I could really care less about tone woo respective of nitrocellulose.
Myth #6: Your headstock’s size/thickness/wood affects tone.
Okay, I guess those headless guitars from Steinberger must be utter crap. Oh wait, they’re not, and in fact Steinbergers from the ’80s fetch hefty prices on the used market because of how well they were built, and how few problems they have compared to regular guitars. Also headless guitars are the axes of choice for people like Allan Holdsworth, who even has a signature headless through Carvin. Not to mention Floyd Rose had pegless guitars with Speedloader strings, so you only used the headstock to hold the string, while the tremolo unit had the tuners built in – which is actually a smart thing to do with a Floyd Rose trem. So not only do headstocks contribute little to tone, they are functionally unnecessary for some guitars.
Myth #7: You have to remove your strings one at a time.
Your neck is under tension, but not that much tension. Also you have a trussrod that’s supposed to help with this. Fifteen minutes without strings on so you can clean your guitar isn’t enough for the neck to spring into looking like a drawn longbow. If your neck profile does change while you fit new strings on, then refer to the video up above and readjust it.
Myth #8: Neck-through and set necks have better tone than bolt-ons.
Huh, I guess 60+ years of Fender guitars must be utter shit then? Leo sure pulled a fast one everybody, didn’t he? At this point you have to be either really stubborn or really dumb to believe this.
The Gibson Les Paul has sick sustain because it’s huge and dense. It also uses humbuckers which have greater output and a stronger signal than a single coil. As to why a Fender with humbuckers may sound lighter or not sustain as well, that can be for a number of factors: the pickups’ specifications, the guitar’s density, string thickness, volume, gain setting, compression, EQ, power level, and so on. But having a neck glued on or bolted on can be safely ruled out.
Myth #9: The break angle at the headstock affects tone.
There’s pretty much no way to prove this, so it’s safer to say it’s bullshit rather than true. The only sure thing about headstocks is a flat, Fender style one requires string trees and allows you to do more behind-the-nut bends.
Myth #10: The kind of nut you use affects your tone.
Hey, I think we finally got a plausible one! Your neck is constantly in contact with the nut, so yes it can affect your tone; however, most people settle for pretty cheap, soft material. Since your guitar uses metal saddles, frets and strings, it might be advisable to use a metal nut as well, yes? But bone, plastic, ivory, and TUSQ seem to be the most prominent ones. People like these materials for various reasons, but really if you want some improved sustain and tone, you ought to look at either a brass or metal roller nut. If that does happen to result in spiky treble frequencies, well you do have those tone and volume knobs, the amp volume and of course your amp’s EQ to fix that – which is probably where you should start on your tone search anyway.