In the old days the materials of choice were often subject to the local availability. Now thanks to global trading, shipping, rail, air, and of course trucking, we have a huge selection to choose from. But with all of these choices where does a person start?
Qtr? Quartered? 4 Qtr? Riff? really? yes really. Terms like this are used all of the time.
Well lets just now go over the basic terms. The only way people understand each other is when they can access the same language. Now lets start with the fun stuff.
When we talk about neck blanks we can go by the imperial measurements (inches, feet, etc), or by the metric system (cm, mm, etc). and we say Height x Width x Length. so a neck might be 1" x 6" x 28".
But the thickness might be spoken about alone and using more traditional lumber terms. These are measured in how many quarter inches there are. So if you have a piece of wood that is 1.25" thick we would say 5 Qtr.
Some people just say guitar size (meaning about 27" to 30") or bass size (meaning 36" to 40"). But usually after they start looking they will then switch to inches.
Grade has always been a touchy subject. it can sometimes deteriorate into a very subjective viewpoint. But on the average it goes like this. A-grade (top). B-grade (middle) C-grade (entry level). 3a (top) 2a (middle) 1a (entry level) could also go Master-grade (top) Production (middle) Factory/Paint (entry)
Acoustic vs. Electric:
This is a big spillover as well. Most Acoustic neck blocks will work on electric, but the reverse is rarely okay.
Acoustic blocks are 3" x 2.5" x 27" would be the min going up to 4.25" x 4.25" x 36" as a max.
Often times builders will buy acoustic blocks so they can saw 2 ro 4 necks out of the same block.
This is when the little grain-bow (what I call the little arch of the grain) is going across the horizon. The flat face will be shown more than the side. Perfect for Birdseye Maple and some figured woods.
Quarter Sawn or Quartered:
Not to be confused with how many quarters is the wood. (see I told you it gets weird) this has to do with the grain orientation. It is the exact opposite of Flat Sawn. if you looked on the end of the block the grain-bows are all going up and down. This is normally the strongest arrangement for the wood and thus will allow you to shave more of the wood away for a thinner neck while maintain tune.
This is where the grain is going up or down diagonally. Not really sought after as it doesn't really do anything exceptional. However price point will allow some people to get into higher quality woods without the higher prices.
Now lets talk about the wood.
For a lot of the reasons why people shy away from Maple for a body wood, is the very reasons they come to Maple for a neck wood. On the average Maple is pound for pound.. well more pounds. Being denser has it's advantages when it comes to strength. Don't believe me. think of a nerf dart, and a wooden arrow, Then a metal arrow. Density = Rigidity. And if you want a guitar to have a playable thin neck then you want it to be stiff and rigid. Combined with a truss rod and even a few graphite rods, Maple keeps people playing thin necks and smiling.
The other big draw is the figure. In another article I wrote that Maple is the swiss army knife of wood. Seems like it does everything with figure. Flame, Quilt, Angle-step, Rotini, Birdseye, Quiddle, Heart stain, spalted. It is really amazing. Although I myself wouldn't want a spalted neck I do love looking down while I am playing and seeing that intense flames underneath my palm.
I know a lot of builders who only use Mahogany. On the Denser side like Maple it really lets people make good playable necks. The darker color also pushes the limits to what we can do with colors and inlays. The also thing people have with Mahogany is the name. I heard one builder say "I decided to class it up with a mahogany neck". I didn't want to tell him but our genuine mahogany comes out of central America on the backs of buroes. I don't know how classy that is but I got what he meant.
on a personal note about 75% of the guitars I personally own are Mahogany. And yes I also have the "gotta buy them all" illness that inflects so many musicians.
In the end you will have more questions, and that is why we are here. Send them to me and I will find you the answers.