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Different bracing for bolt on neck?
Woody O'Keefe

Total Topics: 31
Total Posts: 103
Hi Guys,

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving Day.

I noticed this post by John Hall on the UMGF forum,

"you will hear a difference from a Martin not because of the neck joint but because the dovetail guitars are braced differently than the mortise and tenon ( bolt on ) so what you are hearing is a difference in bracing , not a neck joint"

I am thinking of going to bolt on for my next kit. Is the bracing lighter because of the extra weight of the bolt on neck? Or is the bracing Pattern different?


Nov 28, 09 | 8:05 am
Ken Cierp

Total Topics: 58
Total Posts: 2262
There are a myriad of top brace configurations with bolt-on and dovetail neck joints. Heck you can move the X forward, leave off the 1x1/8 Popsicle brace, cut through this brace to accommodate some styles of truss rods, leave off some of the finger braces and it goes on. There will be listeners of any or all of these guitars --- each will hear some different tonal quality and each listener will have an opinion of which one sounds best --- not to mention the basic fact that the skill of the player is what really makes the most difference.

So when this subject comes up I like to have people read Frank Ford’s take on Bolt-on vs. Dovetail neck joints.


Kenneth Michael Guitars est. 1978

OK, so which is better, a traditional glued dovetail like a Martin, or a bolted neck like a Taylor?

I’m amazed that any builder, whether an individual or a large factory, would make flat top guitars without considering the eventuality of needing or desiring to remove the neck. It’s a little like the cigarette industry and cancer. How much evidence do we need before everyone admits it?
I hope by now it’s obvious that virtually all steel string guitars (including lightly built archtops, too) undergo a body shape change that results in a neck angle problem. These days, we correct the neck angle by removing the neck and resetting it to approximate the original angle with respect to the top and the bridge. How many solid top imported guitars will be thrown away because the necks cannot be removed? How many “high end” guitars will need really serious and expensive modification because they were made with a Spanish heel, epoxied dovetail, or other nonremovable system.
A glued dovetail neck is a removable neck, as long as the glue can be softened reasonably easily. But, in what way is it superior to a bolted mortise? It is traditional, to be sure, and I do respect tradition. In fact, I really like tradition. So, how long did those old time builders think we’d try to keep their instruments “on the road?” Especially for the early builders and gut stringing, how significant was “low action” up the neck?

Today’s players are far more sophisticated in their needs for good playability and intonation, and we need to take that into account. When I first started in lutherie, more than 30 years ago, it was commonly held that necks needed to be reset only on really old instruments and/or poorly built ones. Now, we accept that it’s only a matter of time before any flat top guitar will need the operation, and many of them will need that job repeated at regular intervals. With that in mind, why not simply go with the flow? Why not make a guitar with a neck that can come off with minimal damage to the finish or structure of the instrument?

If there’s one piece of “reasoning” I don’t trust it’s that bit about the neck joint contributing to the tone. Particularly on Internet forums, I've heard any number of folks state that the neck joint is the logical reason that Taylor guitars sound bright, and Martins tend to be more full in their bass response. That's a real case of comparing apples and oranges. In the dreadnought size, for example, Taylor instruments have different, and heavier top bracing, which clearly makes for a stiffer top, emphasizing treble response, while Martins have lighter bracing, and similar thickness tops and backs, so they are more flexible, allowing for a fuller bass.

As a further illustration, I offer this little scene:
Not long ago I was visiting a guitar factory, where thousands of guitars have been made over the last few decades. One member of our little tour group asked the guide a question.
“As we went through the factory, I noticed that some of the workers were out to lunch and I didn't see how you attach the neck to the body. What kind of joint do you use?” We've always used a glued tapered dovetail joint because it’s important for our special tone. Other kinds of joints would not transmit vibrations as well.” Another member of the group asked, “Have you ever tried another kind of joint, even as an experiment?”


What I heard was a defense of the “way we do things” rather than even a tiny bit of reasoning on the subject. Meanwhile, others build guitars that consistently sound GREAT using a joint that this sort of fellow disparages as “not transmitting vibrations.”

From time to time, I've been called upon to convert a guitar from a solid, nonremovable neck to a bolted construction. In no case have either I or the owner of the guitar experienced a loss of tone.
Now, it seems that classical and flamenco builders often aim for a rather low bridge and saddle height. It’s a matter of tone, and that’s all well and good. BUT, wouldn't we have a much easier time if those guys also made their instruments with removable necks? I've met a number of really angry owners of high end Spanish classical guitars who were disappointed by the fact that their necks couldn't be removed and reset like many steel string guitar necks.

As a guitar mechanic, I've gotten good at disassembling Martin and other dovetail neck joints. The process involves steam, and some risk, especially to the finish. Personally, I have enough work to keep me really busy, so I wouldn't mind a bit if Martin would switch to a bolted mortise. My customers would like it, too, because neck resetting would cost less. With Bob Taylor’s help, the “stigma” of a bolt-on neck is now pretty much a thing of the past, so, why not let the dovetail be a thing of the past, too? FF, 2/11/01

Nov 28, 09 | 11:01 am

Total Topics: 4
Total Posts: 74
hummm...I still wonder...easy to fix the guitar or hard to build the speacial ones? Not all guitars need neck resets..I have yet to be impressed by a Taylor? That I am sure will be met if I could find some more to try. The wood is different every time even from the same chunk..
To say that a bolt on neck has the same contact with the body as to a glued dovetail joint does not sit right with me.. I can not help to think the whole of the guitar is the end result of it's sound. The That being said I have been impressed by bolt on neck guitars.... just think i hear somthing different with glued on??

regards Ian

Nov 28, 09 | 6:56 pm
Ken Cierp

Total Topics: 58
Total Posts: 2262

I believe that the work has been done, I've did some Internets searches -- indications are that there are far more perfect mating MT neck joints than DT necks, it the nature of the beast due to the vast number of contacting surfaces on the DT and the fact that a tiny error on any one surface throws off the others. Just because it looks good along the heel cheeks does not mean the DT has solid perfect fit.

Also the Internet search will reveal that many big time boutique builders now use and prefer the bolt on systems. I think, like Frank Ford indicates the "ear to ear" comparisons cannot detect any sound quality differences.

Note that Martin changed all the brace patterns for its bolt-on neck models. Just my opinion, but I believe, Martin marketing knows full well if compared the MT and DT versions no matter what brace pattern would sound the same -- so how could the myth (extra $$$$$) continue?

That said -- fitting a DT in a very cool puzzle for the wood worker, I have some gadgets designed that make the job easier --- hopefully I can get those off the back burner and available to the public.


Kenneth Michael Guitars est. 1978

Nov 29, 09 | 4:19 am
Bill Cory

Total Topics: 158
Total Posts: 3584
I'm of the opinion that a perfectly made Dovetail can sound as good as a well made Mortise & Tenon. But with the difficulty of making all those angles fit tightly, it's less likely that a dovetail can be made perfectly. On the other hand, an M&T neck joint can be well made by a beginner.

I believe the neck joint is -- must be -- an inert, solid part of the guitar. The very goal of a dovetail joint is to make it so solid and perfectly mated that it could be used on the guitar without any glue. Frank Ford has said that elsewhere in his writings. Also Dan Erlewine. If a joint is that solid, it might be transmitting some sound, but it would probably be from the body to the neck, not the other way 'round (since it is the body that creates the sound). But the point is, the neck joint's purpose is not to be an active part of the guitar's sonic system, but to be an immovable structural element, as solid as possible, like the neck itself. If the neck and the joint aren't solid, they will deaden sound transmission, and there are probably more solid MT joints around than dovetail, if you don't count the epoxied jobs some builders to which some builders have to resort.

So, if a builder can make a more solid neck joint by using a bolt-on system, he should do so, imho. If he can make a perfectly fitting joint with a dovetail, then that's great for him -- but how many of us can do it? And then, there's that pesky neck resetting that requires that the neck joint be completely redone if it's a dovetail, but only a little trimming of the cheeks if it's a bolt-on. And if the fretboard extension is also bolted, not glued, then the whole reset operation can be very easy.

All just my personal opinions, naturally!


Nov 29, 09 | 4:59 am
Woody O'Keefe

Total Topics: 31
Total Posts: 102
OK Guys,

Please read my post. I am not looking for a debate on dovetail vs. Bolt on.

Is it necessary to change the bracing because of the weight of the bolts? Or is it just a builders choice? I'm just a rookie and gathering information.
Personally I do not believe a dovetail is the best choice for a first time kit builder.

Thank you all

Nov 29, 09 | 7:13 am
Ken Cierp

Total Topics: 58
Total Posts: 2262

Most/many of the drawings out there today render a guitar that has the option of either a DT or MT neck joint. The bolts don't add to the mass of the sound board but rather the neck/rim assmebly -- so yes it is bulder's choice. Like I mentioned earlier the truss rod configuration can make it necessary to alter the braces at the neck joint.

Also, what I was getting at is that there is almost limitless room for variation in the construction of a guitar as long as the design is a proven formula and you don't "over build" all will be fine --- plus for the most part your ears will never be able to detect any differences. What ends up being related, especially on the Internet, are preferences -- not necessarily science.


Nov 29, 09 | 7:41 am
Woody O'Keefe

Total Topics: 31
Total Posts: 102
Thanks Ken,

That is basically what I thought, but it is nice to have confirmation. I did have to drill a hole thought the UTB for my truss rod on this one, I am making a slope dread with Martin bracing, and I planed to change the bracing for the next one with a bolt on neck.

Thanks again,


Nov 29, 09 | 7:50 am
Bill Cory

Total Topics: 158
Total Posts: 3584
"Is the bracing lighter because of the extra weight of the bolt on neck?"
Not because of the extra weight, but it can be lighter.

"Or is the bracing Pattern different?"
Not necessarily, but it can be.

Here's a graphic of Martin's four main bracing patterns, from the Martin website.

Of the four Martin kits I've built, I've not encountered the bottom one.

Nov 29, 09 | 9:03 am
blues creek guitars Authorized Martin Repair Ctr

Total Topics: 52
Total Posts: 1011
martin does the mortise and tenon on A framed bracing except for the CEO model. The reason is that it an easier joint to fit on the production line. I can tell you that the integrity of the joint is more important than the joint used. That us the reason on a martin that you will hear a difference , it is the bracing not the neck joint
I do Dovetails as that is my personal taste. I have done M&T on a few. If the bracing is done as the true X bracing I doubt you can hear a difference by the joint itself. I even went so far as to build 2 sistered guitars, one dovetail and M&T. I used the same bracing pattern in both and hid the bolt with a veneer over the neck block.
john hall
blues creek guitars inc
Authorized CF Martin Repair center

Nov 29, 09 | 3:26 pm
Woody O'Keefe

Total Topics: 31
Total Posts: 102
I'm learning every day! Thanks again for all of your responses.


Nov 30, 09 | 6:33 am

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