The Difference Between Bolt-On & Set-In Neck?

For the music enthusiast purchasing his first guitar with wild dreams of one day playing along Clapton or other legends, you are usually faced with a daunting question - Set-In neck guitar or Bolt-On neck guitar? Let me answer this question upfront & then elaborate further on. Answer: There is no wrong or right.

The general trend is that a Bolt-On is cheaper & thus perceived to be of a lower standard whereas Set-In is the premium of the two. But truth be told if you were purchasing a R10,000 Set-In neck guitar there is no reason to say that it will be a better guitar then a Bolt-On of the same price. Reason being it is a lot simpler to make a mediocre Set-In neck guitar then it is to make a highly functional Bolt-On. Each will produce its own tone & will also have its own process for maintenance.

It is known that Fender were the first to start producing Bolt-On necks. Prior to that everything for every other guitar manufacturer was Set-In. So Set-In referred to every other guitar except Fender. The debate of which is better or worse was bound to spark eventually but there are only opinions, no wrong or right.

What exactly is a Bolt-On neck versus a Set-In neck guitar?

Good question! As the name suggests a Bolt-On neck guitar physically has (usually) 4 screws that go through the neck & into the body to hold it tight against the body.

A Set-In neck guitar has no screws and instead is physically glued into the body of the guitar with wood glue leaving the back of the guitar flush.

The noticeable benefit of a Bolt-On guitar is the ability to easily remove the neck when need be. Its a simple task of unscrewing the screws whereas as with a Set-In neck you'll need to remove the paintwork, hold a heat gun to the back of the joint & wait for the glue to melt inside the pocket before removing the neck which is seldom a job well done.

It is believed however that a Set-In neck carries a better sustain for the simple reason that it is one with the body. It has the ability to transfer resonance between the body & the neck more freely then does a Bolt-On which usually results in a little more warmth. But in the same breath this results in a more twang for a Bolt-In.

Not all guitarists are after the same tone. Tone is in the ear of the beholder! There is no such thing as a wrong or right tone, there is only a tone that your prefer or dislike. Generally guitarists who use a Bolt-On construction do so because they don't want their guitar to sound like a Set-In does.

There is also a lot more at play to achieving tone to just the neck construction. Other aspects to take into consideration include the headstock, shape of the joint, string gauge, neck angle, shim of the neck etc.

How should this impact your choice of DIY Guitar Kit?

This is an important question to answer before purchasing your DIY Guitar Kit. Here at Blackbeard's Den we offer both Bolt-On guitar kits as well as Set-In neck guitar kits. Currently we have 2 Set-In necks the EG LP 20s & the EG ES 10s, the rest being Bolt-On necks. We are working on more Set-In necks.

Set-In necks are the more difficult of the two to build because of one simple reason. With Set-In necks we do not pre-drill the bridge or tailpiece holes into the body of the guitar because we cannot be sure how the neck will lie in the cavity.

With a Bolt-On, because the neck is being screwed into the existing screw holes we know exactly how the neck will lie and thus can calculate exactly where we need to drill the bridge & tailpiece holes but with a Set-In neck, if the neck is glued even a few mm away from the bottom of the cavity it will impact on the positioning of these holes, so these holes will need to be positioned and drilled after the neck is glued in.

In a nut shell, the additional steps required when building a Set-In neck guitar would be to calculate the exact distance for the bridge & tailpiece holes once the neck is glued in, & then drill them yourself. This is all explained in the assembly guide.

If you're after an easier build go for a Bolt-On. If you're confident in your ability & would like a bit more of a challenge, go for a Set-In neck.

* The product we supply is of an outstanding quality. If you choose to assemble the guitar yourself, we will not be held responsible for poor workmanship as a result of a bad build. We are however here to guide you. It is not a difficult process to do, but does require some TLC. If you require help with any part of the assembly, your local music shop will be willing to help, maybe for a small fee. But its worth it.

Paint. Assemble. Play

Comment on this post (1 comment)

  • Pieter says...

    Please get some Set-in SGs woul like to build one.

    September 30, 2015

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