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Tapering necks on string instruments

Richard in Manchester 05 Aug 07 - 12:54 PM
Bert 05 Aug 07 - 01:02 PM
McGrath of Harlow 05 Aug 07 - 01:22 PM
Richard Bridge 05 Aug 07 - 03:39 PM
Richard in Manchester 05 Aug 07 - 04:40 PM
McGrath of Harlow 05 Aug 07 - 04:56 PM
Richard Bridge 05 Aug 07 - 04:57 PM
Peace 05 Aug 07 - 04:58 PM
Richard in Manchester 05 Aug 07 - 07:54 PM
McGrath of Harlow 05 Aug 07 - 08:26 PM
Songster Bob 05 Aug 07 - 09:15 PM
Don Firth 05 Aug 07 - 10:16 PM
GUEST,dave 06 Aug 07 - 06:28 AM
Jack Campin 06 Aug 07 - 06:46 AM
Don Firth 06 Aug 07 - 04:48 PM
Richard Bridge 06 Aug 07 - 04:55 PM
GUEST,redhorse at work 07 Aug 07 - 03:02 AM
Richard Bridge 07 Aug 07 - 03:33 AM
Darowyn 07 Aug 07 - 04:41 AM
GUEST,Guest Strad 07 Aug 07 - 06:15 AM
Tootler 07 Aug 07 - 04:43 PM
Songster Bob 07 Aug 07 - 11:04 PM
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Subject: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Richard in Manchester
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 12:54 PM

Why do the necks on instruments in the guitar and violin families taper?

(No, there isn't a punchline - serious question!)


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Bert
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 01:02 PM

Because they are cantilevers.


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 01:22 PM

I imagine it's a compromise between keeping the weight down at the far end and maintaining strength and rigidity at the body end.

And it's traditional, and for all our flirtations with modernity, tradition is pretty powerful among musicians. It'd probably be quite possible to build quite viable instruments which didn't have this feature, but I rather doubt if too many people would favour them. (Though, of course, if some charasmatic virtuoso adopted such an instrument, it'd probably catch on quickly enough.)


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 03:39 PM

You need room to find the separate strings for picking at the saddle end, and within limits the neck needs to be small enough to wrap your sweaty left hand round at the other.

Compare the shallow Hagstrom neck with the traditional Martin V-neck and test.....


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Richard in Manchester
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 04:40 PM

Thanks M of H: Would a parallel neck make all that much difference to the weight at the head end? And I take your point on musicians and tradition, but tapered necks can't always have been a tradition. Someone somewhere made the first one. A tapered neck would require a lot more skill to make than a parallel one, so it must offer some kind of advantage either in the playability or the tonal qualities of the instrument.

Thanks Richard B: How would that explain mandolins? Mandolin evolution has settled on a size considerably smaller in all respects than guitars, but which still provides sufficient space to pick at the saddle end. A parallel neck would still be narrower at the head end than any guitar neck, and so still small enough to "wrap your sweaty left hand round".

And violins? Leave aside the fact that the strings are arched at the saddle, which if I understand correctly is not for reasons of space but to allow two strings to be bowed at once. Suffice it to say you've got enough space there to play. But the taper on a violin neck, if anything, is even more pronounced than that of a mandolin. Again, a parallel neck would still be narrow enough to play; so why the taper?


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 04:56 PM

Making a neck which is thin at the far end parallel all the way would mean it'd be liable to break at the point where it met the body of the instrument, with traditional materials. Keeping it fat all the way would feel clumsy to anyone used to playing with a tapered thin neck, and while the weight wouldn't be that much, maybe it might feel clumsy as well, being at the far end of the lever.

One stringed instrument where a parallel fretboard is actually customary is the mountain dulcimer.

I'd be surprised if no one has ever tried building other stringed instruments with parallel necks. With modern materials they coudl probably turn out all right.


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 04:57 PM

Well, maybe Richard the Mancunian. Do you play both mandolin and guitar? Can you imagine playing guitar picked pieces (flatpicked or fingerpicked) with a string spacing like a mandolin? Even if you tuned a guitar like a mandolin, could youplay "mandolin-style" on it? I'm sure this is why the 4-string electric mandolins (notably the Mandobird IV and the original Mandocaster are not much used, but the Mandobird VII and the new generation Mandocaster 8s are....

What and how you are picking wil make a difference to your most convenenient string spacing...


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Peace
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 04:58 PM

What would chairs look like if our knees bent the other way?


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Richard in Manchester
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 07:54 PM

Thanks McG of H. "Making a neck which is thin at the far end parallel all the way would mean it'd be liable to break at the point where it met the body of the instrument"
Why would a neck which is the same width along its full length be more liable to break than one which gets thinner? Why would it be more liable than a tapering neck to break (and "...with traditional materials"? Like erm, wood?) at the point where it meets the body?

"Keeping it fat all the way would feel clumsy to anyone used to playing with a tapered thin neck". OK, but at some point in the past, no-one had played with a tapered neck, so a parallel one wouldn't feel clumsy. It would feel normal. So why taper the neck?

Thanks RB. I know none of those instruments. I play the guitar, and I've dabbled with the mandolin in the past. String spacing doesn't answer the question; it doesn't explain why the neck on all instruments in the guitar/mandolin and violin families tapers toward the head. String spacing varies according to the instrument and the uses for which it has been designed. But every single one has a tapered neck. How come?

The mountain dulcimer, McG of H, is a very good point. Like a guitar or mandolin, you can strum it or pick it. You can tune it up to pitch with the same degree of accuracy as a guitar, mandolin or fiddle; you can vary the tuning of the strings just like you can on a guitar or mandolin. It has a fingerboard which, like the guitar, violin or mandolin, is neither too fat nor too thin for the majority of human beings who may wish to play it. But no taper. If the mountain dulcimer doesn't need a tapered neck, why do all those other instruments need tapered necks?


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 08:26 PM

Yup, wood is the traditional material I mean. I am pretty sure that if you took a guitar and cut down the neck, say with a spoke shave, so that it was the same size where it met the body as it was at the nut, it would be very liable to break. That's how wood seems to behave in my experience. And short of breaking I think it'd be liable to be less stable for playing.

With a mountain dulcimer of course the fretboard is fixed to the body all the way along which changes things.

I'm pretty sure it would be quite possible to build an instrument to be played like a guitar or mandolin whuch did have a parallel fretboard. If noone's done it so far it'd be worth doing. Whether it would be worth playing is another matter, but it'd need to be built first.


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Songster Bob
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 09:15 PM

Actually, those necks don't taper -- it's an optical delusion.

The truth is that you want strength at the heel of the neck, you want slimness where your fingers need to go the most, and you don't want a baseball bat for your neck, since you have to hold and play the damn thing. I suspect you could make a graphite neck that was slim all the way up, but then your picking hand would have troubles -- the wider spacing at the bridge would be missing, making you learn totally new string-distances from the traditional spacing.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Don Firth
Date: 05 Aug 07 - 10:16 PM

Then there is the matter of the amplitude of a vibrating string. As you get closer to the 12th fret (midpoint of the string), you need to be sure that the strings are sufficiently far apart that they don't interfere with each other. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons that classic guitars have wider fingerboards than steel string guitars. Not just to annoy people with small hands, but to give nylon strings, which are more flexible, room to maneuver.

Another thing:   some years back I got a very, very "name brand" Spanish hand-made guitar (made for me on order and I had to wait a year and a half for it). Top quality concert instrument. Examining it when I got it, I sighted down the fingerboard and noticed it had a slight curve to it. A very slight bow. I practically panicked! How could this be!?? I asked a friend who knew the guitar maker and had put me in touch with him in the first place, and he explained it to me. "Not to worry," he said, "it's supposed to be that way. That's called 'neck relief.' It gives the string room to vibrate without buzzing against the frets."

I was a member of the Seattle Classic Guitar Society at the time, and a lot of very high-priced wood used to show up at the meetings. I had a chance to examine several guitars made by some of the finest luthiers in the world. And the better guitars all had that same "bow." Very slight, but it allowed you to play fairly vigorously without buzzing and "string slap."

That's also why, in a properly set up guitar, the 6th string is further from the fingerboard than the 1st string. To give the string room to vibrated freely.

By the way, I've had the "name brand" guitar for forty-six years and the neck hasn't moved. It's exactly as it was when I got it. It's one helluva guitar!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: GUEST,dave
Date: 06 Aug 07 - 06:28 AM

You're starting from an erroneous assumption here. Not all string instruments(except dulcimers) have a tapered neck. Many high quality classical guitars do not.


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Jack Campin
Date: 06 Aug 07 - 06:46 AM

If the instrument can be made with a tapered neck, it will give it greater strength when flexed sideays - the bending moment of a stress applied to the neck at the pegbox end will be greatest where it connects with the body.

I know somebody who imports Turkish instruments like sazes and tanburs. They are more prone to breakage in transit than anything else she handles - usually the neck snaps off the body. They have to be that shape because the left hand slides all the way up.   An ud is much tougher - as it's mostly played in first position the hand doesn't need to glide up as freely, and the neck can be both thicker and tapered.

Another one is walking sticks. They always taper towards the bottom. I assume it's partly for balance and partly so if they break it'll be near the tip and you'll still have enough stick in your hand to break your fall.


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Don Firth
Date: 06 Aug 07 - 04:48 PM

Not to sound like HAL 9000, but "Sorry, Dave. . . ."

"Many high quality classical guitars do not."

I've been playing classic guitars since 1955, and, as I said, been a member of the Seattle Classic Guitar Society since it formed in 1958. During that time, I've owned two Martin classics, a Vincente Tatay, two Arcangel Fernandez guitars (a matched pair, one classic and one flamenco), one José Ramirez (model 1-A, the same that Segovia used after he retired his Hauser), two Casa Fernandez guitars (lower priced but quite good "student" guitars made by Arcangel Fernandez's apprentices) that I used as second guitars, and a José Oribé classic. I have also seen and had an opportunity to play a couple of Ignacio Fleta guitars (John Williams plays one), a Marcelo Barbero (one of my teachers had one, and Carlos Montoya played one before he got himself an Arcangel Fernandez), a Manuel Velasquez (owned by the same teacher), and a dozen or so more in the $1,000 to $20,000 range. As I said above, some very high-priced wood!

And I have never—ever—seen a classic or flamenco guitar that did not have a tapered neck.

Sometimes the thickness of the neck was not tapered very much, but tended to get a bit thicker as it approached the heel. But the fingerboard was always tapered.

For the reasons I explained above.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 06 Aug 07 - 04:55 PM

Going back to my first degree...

In a beam freely supported at both ends the maximum bending moment is at the mid-point. In a single ended built-in beam the maximum bending moment is at the point of support. On stringed instruments that is the heel.


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: GUEST,redhorse at work
Date: 07 Aug 07 - 03:02 AM

A tapered neck will ensure more even levels of stress within the neck. A parallel neck will have higher relative stress levels nearer the body than near the nut. Since the relation betweeen stress and strain is constant, a tapered neck will deform more uniformly along its length under the load from the strings; a parallel neck would tend to bend from the heel. So the amount of taper will affect the shape the neck deforms to under the string load.

I knew my 1971 Mech Eng degree would come in useful eventually!

nick


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 07 Aug 07 - 03:33 AM

Ye gods, someone else knows Saint Venant's principle!


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Darowyn
Date: 07 Aug 07 - 04:41 AM

The engineering answers are all correct, but the old time luthiers almost certainly worked their designs from trial and error, and the taper conforms closely to the taper of a tree branch from trunk to tip. Aesthetic judgements are often based on what seems to be natural.
A tapered neck not only works, but looks better.
Once neck taper has been established as part of the visual vocabulary for instruments, a parallel neck would look clumsy and unnatural.
How many of us bought our guitars, fiddles, mandolins etc. because we fell in love with their looks as well as their sound?
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: GUEST,Guest Strad
Date: 07 Aug 07 - 06:15 AM

From a fiddle players point of view, the taper gives the player a chance to play only one string at a time instead of having to play chords. Following the curve of the fingerboard of a fiddle up to the bridge it would be almost impossible to play cleanly if the strings were only 6mm apart at the bridge end.
But then,I don't always miss the next string over, anyway!


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Tootler
Date: 07 Aug 07 - 04:43 PM

The engineering answers are all correct, but the old time luthiers almost certainly worked their designs from trial and error

True, but most of the time, trial and error gave the same answer that a solution from first principles will give. It just took longer to arrive at the optimum solution. Even today, a great deal of engineering involves trial and error.


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Subject: RE: Tapering necks on string instruments
From: Songster Bob
Date: 07 Aug 07 - 11:04 PM

"From a fiddle players point of view, the taper gives the player a chance to play only one string at a time instead of having to play chords."

Actually, someone upthread said that the arch of a fiddle bridge was to allow playing chords. In fact, it's to make playing single notes possible. You have to work to play two strings at once. Bowing a guitar and getting single strings is a hell of a lot harder (and the rosin plays hell with your picking fingers, too).

Bob


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