I'm considering building my first guitar and have looked into guitar kits from Stewart MacDonald. But being the kind of guy that prefers to do things the hard way, I want to build some of the parts myself - partly to save cost and partly to make it my own.

My question is; Why do guitar necks tend to be made from a single piece of mahogany?

It seems to me that it would be cheaper and less wasteful to glue pieces together. I think it would be just as strong. Am I wrong, or is the one piece method just old school with no other benefit than being traditional?


Doug Collins

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Hello Doug,
Many of the old guitars had pegheads joined to the neckshafts. Traditional Spanish construction often uses "stacked" heels as well.
Personally I like the modified bridle joint that the old Martin's used, and which Frank shows on his website. It makes a strong, neat joint.
Hi Clay,

Thanks for your reply. I see that the Spanish Classical guitars do use multiple piece neck construction, but I also note that these guitars have nylon strings. Nylon strings don't pull as strong as steel strings, so my assumption was that the neck didn't have to be as strong.

Now I'm making a lot of assumptions here, but my conclusion was that multiple piece necks were not as strong. I think they should be. What do you think?


Doug Collins
If you use the right glue, a spliced headstock is plenty strong. Taylor Guitars NT design used a finger joint, now a scarf joint, for steel-string guitar necks. As mahogany and other hardwoods have gotten more expensive, makers are increasingly concerned with reducing waste. Frankly, I don't know why a spliced neck has been acceptable in classical guitars but only recently been adopted by steel-string builders.
I get the impression that Doug refers not only to having joints between neck/heel and neck/peghead, but also lengthwise throughout the neck.

And it is not uncommon to have necks glued lengthwise, often referred to as 3-piece or 5 piece necks. I cannot honestly state that I have experience of any difference, by my gut feeling as engineer is that this forms just as strong necks, and I would even suggest that it gives better resistance to twisting of the neck.

An example of a 5-piece neck in the link below, showing a neat old Levin/Goya flattop.
Hey Doug-- I understand what you are saying about making things.
I made my first neck out of a 2X4 just to see if I copuld do it, and to kep the cost of the material at a min.
You dont need to use a single piece of material to make a neck, you can glue up 3/4 inch or what ever thickness wood together and go from there.
for instance - glue up 4 pieces of any material that you want at the width you choose ane add the width of the head stock in smaller pieces to get that width...
I hope I am explaining this so you can understane what Im saying.. if not ask again and I will try to explain it differently --ok??
Meanwhile -- fool arroung with cheep material to start with so as to keep the cost down.. good luck and have fun....
I think its just because its what the customer generaly likes.

the 70's les pauls had a headstock made of 5 pieces.
To me, if you're trying to hide it then hide it well because its disapointing to the customer, but if you want to make a feature of it then go for it - laminated necks look cool, and are much stronger if done correctly.

I guess it might be a thing with a scratch built that you are kind of paying for the luxury of not cutting any costs.
Martin X series necks make a fair point of not hiding the laminations!
Of course banjo necks have often been multipiece lengthwise for many years. No reason you can't do the same with guitars.
I want to thank all you guys for your helpful replies - and to Frank too, for setting up what looks to be an excellent resource.

Looking at the picture of the Levin/Goya that Magnus linked, I'm assured that a multiple piece neck is not only functional, it has a unique look.

Steve, you make a good point and I think it's better not to try to hide it, but rather emphasize it for character.

And Donald, I have to ask, did you actually put the 2x4 neck on a guitar? I'm wondering how it would work and sound.

Again, thanks everyone, I think I will go ahead with the laminated neck, unless I can find a local source for a one piece. - That is the real problem at the moment. Stewart MacDonald says they can't ship raw mahogany out of the US. So far to find a big enough piece of mahogany I will have to buy a whole plank - not really practical for my first attempt.

This raises one more question: What is it about mahogany that makes it so popular for acoustic neck?


Doug Collins
Hi Doug,
Mahogany is relatively light weight ,stabile, and easy to carve.
African mahogany and sapele are also widely used and are not restricted materials. I have used them and they work fine.
Thanks Clay, that makes sense. Do you know any supplier of African Mahogany that would a one-off. (Then again, if I build a laminate, I guess I can get that locally - price being a factor.)


Doug Collins
hey Doug-- To answer your question about mounting the neck on a guitar, the answer is ----NO -- I origonaly made the neck to the shape of a fender stratocaster to see if I could get it rite--
It took me 4 trys to get the shape correct but I must admit that it only cost me $3.50 for a 2X4 to do what I wanted to... now I make necks from better material and Im doing much better than when I first started..... The thing that I learned a long time ago and it proved to be true here is .. "practice makes perfect"
go for it Doug, and get into the mix and have fun with it :)

I thank everyone for their replies so far, but I have more questions. (Perhaps this will develop into a tutorial on neck building?)

I have resolved to build a laminated neck, rather than try to obtain a suitable size, solid piece of wood. I even found a pretty good tutorial on-line on building with a scarf joint and built-up heel. (sorry I don't have the URL handy - I'm not at my own computer today) My question is on grain.

I know it is best to use a quarter sawn piece. I have assumed the grain should run vertically from the bottom of the neck heel to the to the toward the fingerboard. Am I correct?

The reason I ask, with my very limited experience in repairing guitars, is because I have already come across two guitars with the neck heel cracked horizontally (if the guitar were laying down). I know I should be able to tell by looking, but I can't tell which way the grain is running. I would think a crack like this is going to occur with the grain. If this is the case, I must be wrong that the grain of the neck should run vertically (perpendicular back to top).

Of course, it is possible that these were by build-up heels and they cracked at or near the joint.

Thanks for any answers to what may be a silly question.

Doug Collins


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