Ask 100 people about the differences between through-neck and bolt-on guitars and basses, and 99 will tell you mostly the same story: Bolt-on neck designs sound punchier and are less expensive; set or through-neck designs have a warmer, fuller sound, and are more costly. And while these stereotypes often hold true, we like to buck trends here at Ernie Ball Music Man.

Through-neck and bolt-on neck constructions have unique strengths, and each time our design team builds a new electric guitar or bass, they decide which assembly method to use based on the desired personality and functionality of each specific instrument.

Majesty through-neck design
Bolt on
Luke III bolt-on design

A great example is our latest StingRay electric guitar. Although it is a bolt-on design, its tonal characteristics match sought after set-neck designs thanks to how well the combination of physical and electrical design elements interact. Another example is our John Petrucci Majesty electric guitar; the overall design dictated a through-neck element so that John Petrucci could achieve the high-fret access he needed for his playing style.

Finished Majesty

There are other ways we craft our instruments to take advantage of through-neck or bolt-on strengths, and one is the addition of a tone block. This design feature – which Sterling Ball refers to as a “tone wood cocktail” –  allows us to achieve traditional through-neck resonance with a bolt-on neck by inserting an additional piece of wood, usually mahogany, into the body. This piece connects each string contact point from nut to bridge, creating tonal resonance usually associated with through-neck designs. Like every single Ernie Ball Music Man guitar or bass design element, tone blocks are only added if they contribute to the desired output. Some bolt-on instruments, like our new James Valentine or Luke III electric guitars, achieve a fantastic tone without one.

Tone Block
25th Anniversary Guitar w/Tone Block. Photo via Music123.

Our design team has a large variety of design tools to choose from, and bolt-on vs. through-neck is just one decision that ultimately contributes to the personality of each instrument. Each design element, from the pickup types to the body wood to the neck construction, is chosen to ensure you are getting the exact sound and playability our master design team envisioned when creating the electric guitar or bass.

See all of our impeccably designed electric guitars and basses here:

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  1. The EBMM neck profile (as is standard on all of my Silhouettes, Sil Specials and Axis guitars) seems as if it were made for me. The only improvement it could use would be jumbo fretwire or a scalloped fingerboard – so I generally do the latter myself. Right on, whatever. Now, I need to know the following: can I get a Cutlass with a “reverse” headstock / left-handed neck?

  2. Interesting article, thanks for the breakdown. It makes sense for manufacturers to choose one or the other based on what they want the guitar to do. And that Majesty looks great!

  3. Neckthru vs bolt-on: With the neckthru, your neck blank is the length of the instrument. Not often with CNC, but get the fingerboard/neck angle relative to the body wrong, if it’s already received the body wings, you throw the whole thing away instead of only a neck or body.

    People often say neckthru sustains better, not the case necessarily. EBMM spec very tight neck pockets with ‘extra’ bolts relative to the market, so losing sustain to a neck joint is really no consideration. On basses, the difference you can hear is that neckthrus will tend to carry thru the lowest harmonics that are often interrupted by a neck joint. Play a neckthru Stingray 5, a low C or D on the B-string, and listen for a steady, repeating beat inside the note: That’s your second or third harmonic, and IF you hear it, you’ve got a really good example where the woods are really talking to each other. It’s a subtle difference, and you’d do just fine with a bolt-on Stingray, but maybe for recording or if you have a very hi-fi stage rig, the neckthru would be the ticket.

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