We all have a pretty good idea of what a guitar is made from. They are two pieces of wood stuck together with some electronics to capture the sound.
But what else can guitars be made from? What about a guitar neck made from metal?
Well, that is the topic of this article: aluminum guitar necks. Let us take a look at where they came from, their pros and cons, and most importantly, what they feel and sound like.
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A Brief History
Despite seeming like a brand-new idea, guitars have been made using metal for almost a hundred years now. The first guitars made using metal date back to the mid-1920s when a man named George Beauchamp was fascinated by how he could make flattop and archtop guitars louder.
He quickly developed a resonator guitar that had an all-metal body. This guitar had small metal resonator discs inside that were connected to the bridge and acted like mechanical loudspeakers.
A few years later, Rickenbacker started making lapsteel guitars from shaped metal. Not long after, a small, new little company known as Gibson released their first guitar that was made using metal.
Jumping a bit further to the ‘50s and ‘60s, the first aluminum neck was made by Antonio Wandre Pioli. This new neck design would eventually inspire Travis Bean to refine the idea of the aluminum neck.
Today, the idea of the aluminum neck is carried on by companies like the Electric Guitar Company who took great inspiration from the design that Travis Bean had created.
Advantages of Aluminum Necks
The biggest advantage of an aluminum neck is going to be its strength and rigidity. An aluminum neck is going to be very durable.
This thing isn’t going to bend and warp very easily. You will also be able to drop this thing, and it isn’t going to crack.
Overall, you will have to do very little maintenance on an aluminum neck to keep it in tip-top shape.
Disadvantages of Aluminum Necks
The obvious disadvantage of having a neck made out of metal is going to be its weight. Metal is a lot denser than even the densest wood.
An aluminum neck isn’t a solid piece of metal, though. It is hollowed out in the middle.
This is mainly to improve resonance but does help to cut down on the weight.
That being said, this is still a piece of metal and is noticeably heavier than a neck made from wood. It isn’t so much that it made playing difficult, but I certainly noticed the difference, and you might run into some balance issues if your guitar’s body doesn’t have enough weight to counter the neck.
Then there is the matter of how the metal reacts to temperature changes. Metal expands and contracts much more than wood.
This is going to cause some serious problems with intonation. And even stage lights are going to be hot enough to expand the aluminum, causing the guitar to go out of tune much faster.
Aluminum is also a very good conductor of heat and cold. You are going to feel temperature changes in the neck while playing.
Surprisingly, the change in sound was a lot less drastic than I was expecting. The aluminum doesn’t have such a big effect on the color or characteristics of the sound.
I was expecting it to be incredibly bright, but it isn’t really any brighter than a maple or rosewood neck. It certainly doesn’t have quite as much snap to it. The sound is quite smooth and rather pleasant, actually.
The sound is also a bit tighter, more controlled than you would find on a wooden neck. It also sounds a bit more substantial, like the tone has a bit more weight behind it.
The feel of the neck is where it differs quite a bit from a wooden neck. While it is a smooth playing experience, it isn’t quite as smooth as a wooden neck.
It is also a bit slippery. I couldn’t seem to find a nice grip at the back and was regularly adjusting my thumb while playing.
There is also a bit of slipping on the frets. It didn’t cause me any real problems, but I definitely realized quickly that I had to be a bit more mindful of how I was fretting.
Where to Buy an Aluminum Neck
There are actually several companies that specialize in both aluminum necks as well as full aluminum guitars.
Aluminati Guitar Co. and Alef Guitars both make beautiful guitars and necks. Baguley Guitars is a great German company with some killer designs. And then there is the Electric Guitar Company, one of the longest-operating makers of aluminum instruments.
While aluminum necks and instruments are a very novel idea, their high price tag and downsides have kept them very niche. Most guitar companies continue to make their instruments from wood for a good reason.
But what do you think? Would you play on an aluminum neck or even an entirely aluminum guitar?