A neck for my guitar.

The body of a guitar is only half the equation: you need a neck too. The guitar I’m building is a stratocaster style, so has a bolt-on neck. The alternative is a glue-on neck, which is on some types of guitar like the Les Paul. The type of neck boils down to the guitar style, being either Fender-style (bolt-on, strat & tele) or Gibson-style (glue-on, Les Paul).

A bolt on style neck.

There’s lot of arguing about which is better, but it’s irrelevant here: the guitar I’m building has a bolt-on style neck.

I decided I wanted to do as little woodwork as possible, so buying a finished neck was the option I wanted to go for. Unfortunately, doing this is harder than it sounds.


CITES protected wood

Guitar necks for electric guitars are usually two parts: a fretted fingerboard, and a neck “back”. The backs are usually maple, but the fingerboard wood varies. The back wood must be straight and strong, maintaining it’s shape despite the tension of the strings. Electric guitars also have a metal truss rod that runs down the length of the neck and essentially controls how it bends. The truss rod can be adjusted to ensure the notes can be cleanly played, and in tune. Classical/acoustic instruments do not have a truss rod; they rely on the neck being thick/strong enough to withstand the tension of the strings.

On the fingerboard the most common sort of wood is rosewood, which unfortunately for us guitarists is an endangered species of wood. CITES — Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species — recently declared all species of rosewood protected. Brazilian rosewood has been protected for some time, but Indian and African species are now protected too. This “protected status” means that rosewood cannot be shipped over borders (but within is fine) without export licenses. It does not matter whether it is raw wood, or part of an instrument… it will need a licence either way.

Existing instruments need documentation that proves they were purchased before the regulations came into effect. New instruments must be sold with accompanying licenses.

Part of the problem is that the part of the wood that is used on instruments is in the middle: a large tree only delivers a small amount of wood for use. The process of obtaining the wood for use on an instrument (or high-end furniture) is therefore incredibly wasteful.

Rosewood

Although I am not disputing this protected status, it has unfortunate ramifications for my guitar build. Necks are already difficult to purchase by themselves, because they are often on an instrument for life (if treated well) so there is little need for replacements. Also, NZ is small enough that no one holds stock of necks, you either buy a fully made instrument, or you import the neck in from overseas.

I would feel terrible ripping a perfectly good instrument apart for its neck, and the new CITES regulations and their export orders means that it is extremely difficult to get a rosewood neck into the country. It’s quite the dilemma.

The solution, of course, is to import a neck that doesn’t have a rosewood fingerboard. This leaves you with two choices: ebony (a black wood) and maple (a light coloured wood). Necks with ebony fingerboards are about as rare as hens teeth and twice as expensive, so maple is the sensible option. I personally don’t like the feel of maple, but most neck backs (not fingerboards) are made from maple anyway, so it’ll at least look nice.


So in the end I ordered this: a single piece construction (i.e. one bit of wood made the fingerboard AND back) maple neck. Now I just have to wait for it to arrive!

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