While cruising the internet and making pit stops at some of my favorite guitar sites and blogs I came across a really cool post by JP over at the Stratoblogster. His post was about some Masterbuilt Custom Shop Fender Stratocaster’s that have necks without truss rods. I have been down this road and thought I’d post the results I had from my experiences.
First of all the necks with and without truss rods are very different. Even though you think there would be only a subtle difference or two there are bunch of differences that affect the overall sound, playability and stability of the guitar. We all grew up playing guitars with adjustable truss rods so we are very used to them and know what to expect. Take away the rod and it is a completely different guitar..!
My experiments were with a few Telecaster style guitars. I have to say that I am a borderline Tele nut so it makes sense that my curiosity would be piqued with the original Fender neck design without a truss rod. The original Esquires (with pine bodies) and some early Broadcasters came with necks that had no truss rod. Good old Uncle Leo thought that flat sawn rock maple would be strong and stable enough and the design did not need a truss rod. I think legend has it that the Fender sales reps argued that their biggest competitor (Gibson) as well as other brands at the time were producing guitars with truss rods so to even the playing field on a sales level the Fender brand should have truss rods in their necks. Somehow the reps won….thank God…!!!
Anyway what I found in my experiments with rod-less necks is that the guitar has a more “woody” and open sound. There is a bit more organic quality to the tone and seems a bit warmer with subdued midrange. The feel of the guitar is very different as well because it seems that the notes and chords you play sort of sink into the guitar rather than bounce from it. This is subtle and a bit hard to explain. I found that you had to play much lighter or the tone would be squashed….similar to a compressor effect. The change of seasons did affect the bow/underbow as did humid, damp rainy periods vs dry spells in the weather. A guitar neck without a truss rod weighs less so the overall weight of the guitar is less and because the neck is lighter the guitar can feel more balanced.
I noticed what you lose is some definition and snap from the sound, some solid midrange fundamental and a bit of sustain. With that you also lose a little “bounce” in the feel of the guitar which can make you think that the guitar is a bit on the dead side. It’s not really dead it’s just that the string energy is sinking into the guitar and not bouncing back from the guitar. You also lose the ability to adjust the neck with the change of the seasons which can be a deal breaker if you are going on the road.
I got a couple necks for my experiments from Musikraft right here in New Jersey. Both were solid maple one-piece vintage construction. They were both about 1″ thick from the first fret to the heel….baseball bats actually. I tried the necks on a couple ash bodies and a pine body. The ash body with no-rod neck sounded and felt better than the pine body to me. I also swapped pickups, bridgeplates and saddle materials. All of the changes did make a difference….some subtle some more evident. In the end I prefer a neck with a truss rod. I just feel that there are some elements lacking for my taste. A no-rod guitar would probably make a wonderful recording tool for certain things…especially for rhythm guitar tracks.
These are just my results and your mileage may vary because of the different cuts of wood for bodies and necks as well as your personal preference. I always encourage players to experiment and if you try a no-rod neck or have tried one post your comments here. I’d love to hear what you thought about your no-rod neck experience.