Posted by: kubiakl | June 1, 2010

My Mind’s Been Going Through Them Changes

Whew.  Just took a big step in my relationship.  You know how people always say “I just knew the time was right?”  Well, I just knew the time was right.  It was time to stop going back and forth and finally commit, to make things better for both of us.  It had been a little stale lately and we both knew why, so tonight I laid my money down and bought it.

A custom-made Warmoth neck for my Strat.

I don’t have any pictures, since it hasn’t been built, so I’ll give you gear monkeys some details.  But first (because I’m the one writing) I’ll explain why I felt the need to buy this neck when most people keep their Strat necks for life.

When I first bought my Strat I knew very little about guitars.  I wasn’t one of those kids who started out on a crappy guitar in middle school and graduated toward bigger and better things as they headed towards adulthood – I was a sophomore in college with enough cash to buy a good guitar.  But alls I knew was that I wanted a Fender Stratocaster.  At the (now closed) Mars Music in Austin I found a maple neck American Standard in sunburst.  Like this one:

It looked similar to the one I had seen Eric Johnson play, which was enough for me.

That was ten years ago.  In the intervening time I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire a few more guitars but the Strat has always been my baby.  Unfortunately, as you guitar players know, frets wear down over time.  They develop dents and uneven spots where you play heavily.  Mine is long overdue for some fret work.

So now we (finally) get to the reason for my purchase:  I didn’t like my neck enough to spend $150+ on a fret job.

There’s nothing WRONG with it, just a few things that aren’t ideal for me.  Now that I know a little more about tone and action and have played on many other guitars, I realized a different neck would give me more satisfaction than fixing my current one.

After much research (also known as reading through poorly spelled forum posts) it looked like Warmoth could help me get what I need.  They have an online custom neck builder where you choose all of your options.  Which ended up being these:

WARNING: GEAR DETAILS AHEAD

Rosewood fingerboard – I like the warmer tone and the unfinished feel of a rosewood board better than maple.  The neck wood is still maple (like most Fender necks), and I went with Indian rosewood for the board.  Like this:

SRV back contour – I wanted a larger profile that fit my hand a little more comfortably.  The ’52 Tele U-shaped necks were too large, the standard Fender shape was too thin, while the SRV contour was in the middle.  Plus it has a nice asymmetrical shape that slopes toward the bass side.  Sure, a thicker neck might slow my playing down a little… but I was never going to shred like Van Halen anyway.  Might as well be comfortable.  (Yes, I know that the large necks didn’t stop Stevie Ray from playing at mach 5, but I do not have his hands… or his talent… or his rakish hat.)

Mother Of Pearl face dots – because they look neat.  (Hey, I have a right to be a little superficial here.)

6105 frets – tall and narrow, which will fit my ham-fisted playing style well.

10″ – 16″ compound radius – instead of the 9.5″ straight radius that Fender uses in most of its necks, this one starts off rounder and gradually becomes flatter as you move down the neck.  The result is that the chords at the neck are still easy to play but high bends don’t fret out down the neck.

“Vintage Modern” construction – single truss rod (I read that the double truss rod in the Warmoth Pro construction added a metallic tone for some users), adjusts at the headstock (no need to take off the neck to adjust at the heel).

GraphTech TUSQ nut – I love the TUSQ bridge pins I bought for my acoustic and didn’t want to try to cut my own bone nut.  They offered one installed and slotted for a little extra.

And finally, an option I might regret: no finish.  I’ve talked before about satin vs. gloss finishes and why satin gets my vote, but unfinished necks feel even better.  The old Ernie Ball Music Mans had it, as does John Petrucci’s signature model.  So why would I regret it?  Well, unfinished necks have a higher susceptibility to environmental changes and moisture.  They can warp, and the oil and dirt from your hands will get into the pores quickly.  Ever seen an old maple neck Fender?  The fretboard has brown spots where the finish has worn off.

But (again, after reading many, many, grammatically incorrect forum posts), I learned that there are oils that can be used to protect the wood without sacrificing that slick, raw, unfinished feel.  The fact that finishing would have taken five extra weeks may have also influenced my decision… but only a bit.

I’ll try to post at every stage of this process.  Hopefully, if you’re in the same boat as me, my experiences will help you with your decision.

Because God help you if you have to wade through all the misinformation and tardspeak I did just to find a simple answer.

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