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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Many luthiers glue up necks, often with a laminate of a different species of wood. I do believe that the laminated neck is stronger. Check a site such as to see some custom laminated necks.
Hi all, A Nice debate going on here!

I build banjos and therefore Banjo Necks. I use 2 Different methods currently, the first is using a solid neck out of maple, Walnut etc. (The grain should run vertically).
The second is to laminate a neck again with the grain vertical. Using 2 - 1 1/2" thick pieces with an 1/8" or thinner piece down the middle. This is the way several commercial makers have used for a long time. Old Vega necks or typically made this way. It does make a neck stronger as well as add an aesthetic value to the neck. Many old banjos would use Hard maple with a small piece of ebony down the center which looks rather striking when finished.

As far as the cost of it If you have a local hardwoods supplier and are willing to buy in bulk you can get by pretty cheaply on the wood that is 3" (12/4) stock. I often get a 3"x9"x8' board of hardwood for roughly $200, which I can get about 12 banjo necks and plenty of scrap for other small projects.
It generally works out for me to be about $18-$22 for a single necks worth of wood.

If your not interest in that much wood, just ask the dealer they often have a scrap pile that they will often just give you a piece from or charge you very little for. I have made several necks out of my suppliers scrap pile!

Anyway, I hope that was helpful and good luck!
Gee, I didn't intend it to be a debate, but I sure am getting some good information!

Neil, I really like idea of running a center piece down the middle, just for aesthetics, but I'm wondering if there is a technical reason for that too?

Also, is this laminated method essentially the same as carving a one piece, once the laminate is glued up. This as opposed to a built up heel method?


Doug Collins
Guitar necks tend to be made from a single piece of mahogany because factories use CNC cutters to take neck blanks out of big slabs of rough stock. Then imperfections are found and discarded. That's a lot of waste. The hand builder can can save quite a bit of material and improved on the strength of the neck by using a stacked heel and scarf joint. When you use a scarf joint you can keep the grain running the length of the headstock instead of running out the face. The grain of the neck should run the length and be close to quartered, though it doesn't need to be perfectly so. Unfortunately, another other reason most builders use a one piece is that many customers equate this method with "cheap" and don't want it in their hand-built instrument.

If your going to try to build the neck blank, why not use poplar? It's much cheaper, perfectly stable and easy to carve, and can be stained to match mahogany. Plus you can get pretty could examples at your local lumberyard without ordering away.

That said, I would suggest if you're building for the first time to let Stew-Mac or LMI make the neck blank for you (a proper scarf joint is among the more difficult aspects for a beginner), and focus on bending your own sides and cutting and shaping your own braces, blocks, bridge, etc. (in other words, don't let the kit do everything) there's a lot that you can do by yourself and get greater satisfaction from than the neck blank.
Thanks Griff, that's good information and good advice.

I'm wondering why you say a scarf joint is difficult? On paper (or computer screen, as the case may be) it looks pretty straight forward. The only part that looks tricky is the clamping method. What other caveats I should be aware of?


Doug Collins
Hi Doug -- Making a scarf joint is probably the most difficult thing that you could do by hand-- if you take a piece of wood that is about 1 inch thick and bout 4 inches wide you need to cut an 11 to 13 degree cut in the piece of wood to make a proper joint and it needs to be perfict in order for all of your ferther work and componets to work properly..
Again I hope Im describing this rite -- (corrections accepted)

Well, I wasn't going to cut it by hand, I was going to use a saw.

Kidding aside, the method I have been reading about involves gluing on ears on the head stock, so you don't need a 4" wide piece. I think this method makes the joint stronger and hides the joint. Nevertheless, I can see why it might be difficult to cut a 15 degee line, by hand or on a table saw.

However, even if you don't get the cut perfect, can't you correct it later by flipping the end piece over, clamping the two piece on top of one another, with the angled ends lined up flush to be planed level? (see scarfjoint.jpg)

Now you know a lot more about this stuff than I, so I will bow to your expertise, but if you say this is the more difficult way to do it, I'm quite likely to give it a try.

Thanks once again,

Doug Collins
The clamping and glue up procedure is tricky. You've got two different angles coming together which makes for some odd forces at work. Because you're working with an end grain (headstock) you'll want to apply slightly more glue than normal to avoid starving the joint (but not so much you're not getting the cohesive strength), this can make these two pieces shift a bit more than normal. A clamping jig can help mitigate some of these difficulties.

But before you get to the clamping, preparing the two surfaces for jointing is also tricky in that you obviously need dead flat surfaces to marry up while the knife edges and break angles must remain perpendicular. It's best to plane rather than sand the faces because that will give you the strongest gluing surface (though you can sand the surface true if you have to).

Not to say it shouldn't be done. As I said previously, it should be done more. But it can be an exercise in frustration.
Griff, you answered my question before I even posted it!

I have to say, I do have a little bit of experience with a scarf joint on a toy guitar I made, partly for practice and partly for fun. I was working with a small surface, so it was easy to get the surfaces flush and square, but clamping was a real challenge. If I'm going the do this for real, I am going to have to come up with a good jig to hold the pieces in place. Clamping them to the bench just didn't work well for me.


Doug Collins
Hi Doug--- ya kno, you can read all the info and advice that your eyes can handle but an old wood working teacher that I had when I wore a younger mans clothes said,, (and I always remembered) "try your luck on material that you dont need and isnt gonna cost you an arm and a leg first, then after you got it rite then use the good stuff"

I'm on my way to home depot to pick up a spruce 2x4!

I hope I don't get it right the first time now.
Good recall Doug -- give your self a gold star :)


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