All that you need to know to find the perfect bass guitar neck for you.
Whether you’re just starting out as a bassist or have been playing for years, you have to respect the neck of the bass guitar. The right bass neck fits you like a glove and is effortless to play, while the wrong one can hamper your playing and potentially damage your body (carpel tunnel syndrome anyone?).
This is especially true if you have small hands or are migrating from playing guitar or mandolin; in comparison the bass guitar neck is larger and more intimidating.
If you’re lucky to get bass lessons from a professional, they may show you how to find the neck that will suit your hands the best. Otherwise, I’ll do my best in the space here to point you in the best
Bass Guitar Neck Size
A brief history lesson: in the beginning there was Leo Fender and he created the first mass-produced electric bass – the Fender Precision bass (or P-bass). A few years later Mr. Fender unleashed the Fender Jazz bass (or J-bass) on the world, the notable differences being two pickups (in place of the single split pickup on the P-bass) and a thinner neck. These two basses by Fender can be traced back as the common ancestor for just about every bass that’s currently on the market.
Since no single neck is perfect for everyone, both thin and thick necks are prevalent on bass guitars today. Some prefer the speed of a thin neck, while others find them too small for their liking. Some feel that a thicker bass guitar neck has a better sound, and that it forces them to slow down and pay more attention to their note choices. Others toggle between both; Jaco Pastorius was known for having a P-bass neck on a J-bass body for his practice bass, then whenever he performed with his J-bass live, he played that much more effortlessly due to the thinner neck.
If that wasn’t enough there are also set neck, bolt on necks and neck through style bass guitars (also known as thru neck bass necks) along with at least a half dozen different bass guitar neck fingerboards to choose from.
Finding the right Bass Guitar Necks
Choosing an electric bass neck comes down to one key concept: play every kind of bass guitar out there and see what feels best to you. It doesn’t matter who your particular bass hero is and what they endorse, your hands are unique and everyone has different tastes. I recommend auditioning any bass, regardless of price and turn off your eyes! Colour, make or model of the bass is unimportant at this stage, it’s all about feel and playability.
A great place to start is with Fender basses, try out Precision bass necks and Jazz bass necks and see which one feels more comfortable to you. Even if a Fender bass neck isn’t your ‘style’, knowing whether you prefer a J-bass neck or a P-bass neck, or somewhere in-between will help you communicate what you’re looking for to others. An understanding of Fender bass necks will give you a frame of reference that a good sales person can understand.
Observe the following during your electric bass neck tests:
- Is the bass comfortable to play in the first position? (1st to 4th fret across all strings).
This is where the ‘money notes’ are for bassists; the lowest notes on the bass guitar are here and chances are that you’ll be playing them often. The frets are furthest apart and the neck is deepest or thickest in the first position, so if it feels uncomfortable – beware!
- Is the neck well balanced or is it prone to neck dive?
If the neck plunges to the floor when you remove your hand from the neck – you’ve got bass guitar neck dive baby. A bass that balances will require less effort to play.
- Does the neck fit or fight your hand?
Muscle fatigue is a sign that you may be ‘fighting’ the neck instead of it fitting you. You may need to adjust your technique or strengthen your hand. If you experience the dreaded ‘pins and needles’ sensation in your fretting hand, wrist or fingers – stop right away, something is seriously wrong!
- Can you easily access the upper frets of the highest string?
Depending on the style of music you play, this may be a completely moot point. However, a well designed/playable bass should allow access to all the frets on the neck – what good is it to have a 24 fret neck with only 21 that can be played?
Adjusting to your Bass Neck
Back when I was in high school, I signed up for the music program already knowing that I wanted to play bass; nobody else competed with me in the class, but I still remember having to show the teacher the size of my hands before I was ‘allowed’ to play the instrument.
As bassists already know, necks for bass guitars are much wider than for guitars. Luckily, I’m tall and have ‘piano fingers’ and got the nod, but I was determined to play the electric bass regardless of whether my teacher offered his consent.
I didn’t have any problems with the bass guitar neck on the first five basses that I owned; most of these were four string basses. However, even my ‘piano fingers’ were tested when I purchased an Ibanez BTB 505 5 string bass. This bass had a wider neck in comparison to my Ibanez Soundgear 1205 (a 5 string thin neck bass). I knew the neck was wider on the BTB, but I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal – I was wrong.
I developed what I believe to be a ‘calcium deposit’ just under the skin at the base of my thumb on my fretting hand; basically it was a large and hard bump that hurt if I pressed on it firmly. I caused this with the tendency to “strangle” the neck of the Ibanez BTB bass while performing, which also caused an ache in my thumb. Stubbornly, I ignored the warning signs and played through it.
It wasn’t until my Ibanez BTB was being repaired that I noticed how much easier the Soundgear neck was to play. Sure enough, without playing the Ibanez BTB for a while, the calcium deposit and the aches went away and my hand is back to normal.
The neck that fits me best seems to be somewhere in between those two necks; the Ibanez Soundgear neck was a little too narrow, and the BTB was a little too wide – my F Bass BN5 neck is perfect.
The moral of the story is this – listen to your body, and adapt the way you play. You don’t have to have small hands to have problems playing the bass, especially if you opt for five or more strings. Just make sure to watch your technique and exercise patience while adapting to a bass guitar necks.
Those of you that are certain that playing bass is for you but are still having difficulties may want to check out some custom builders that specialize in small scale electric basses. These are basses with smaller bodies and shorter necks that still sound like an electric bass guitar should. They may cost a little extra, but you’ll appreciate it every time you reach for a bass that is perfect for you.
Can’t Afford to switch basses?
Some of you may think that trying out various bass necks is great if you’re planning to buy a bass, but what if you can’t afford to? There are some options that can make living with your ‘less than perfect bass neck’ a little easier.
- Get used to the neck
Sometimes throwing money at the problem isn’t the solution (sales people will rarely admit this); you may need to play that neck and just get used to it. While some are easier to play than others, there isn’t a single bass guitar neck that truly plays itself – you have to play what you have and get good with it.
Practice and watch your technique; make sure the wrist on your fretting hand isn’t bent at an extreme angle, and use as light a touch as possible (without fret buzz) to avoid injuries. Keep at it and remember that practice makes perfect.
- Modify the bass neck
An option for reducing the size of a neck that is too thick is to modify your bass guitar by shaving it down. This is tricky work and not an exact science, so don’t attempt to do it yourself. A good tech or local luthier may agree to do this for you; it’ll cost you either a flat fee or an hourly rate depending on how much you want wood you want to remove.
- Bass Neck Replacements
There are some aftermarket parts companies that specialize in replacement bass necks. Allparts and Warmoth are two companies that do make them but most of their stock is for a Fender style replacement bass neck. To get a custom neck built by a luthier or tech may run you from $700 and up – depending on the cost of your bass, you may just want to buy a new one instead; handmade necks for a bass guitar aren’t cheap!
Now you know how to find perfect bass guitar necks for you whether it’s a thru neck bass, or thin neck bass guitar – as long as it doesn’t have bass neck dive you’re good to go. Thanks for visiting Bass Guitar Rocks.com!