TMI LL neck

This was the last project I'd set for myself before the end of this year. I made a few prototypes based on this idea back in the very early 2000's around the same time I was still making full aluminium necks.This was the 2nd aluminium neck I made back in 2001.

 

These were sand cast at a foundry I was working at from a pine pattern that I hand made. This is where I also made my vibratos, knobs, neck plates and some pedal enclosures. 

 

This multi laminate idea was inspired by a few Kramer guitars I owned along with all my other aluminium neck guitars. I liked the idea that Kramer was going for but I figured if you're not going to have a full aluminium neck, you may as well put a trussrod in there so you have some adjustment.

It's one of the only things I didn't really like about aluminium necks. After setting up guitars for over 25 years you understand that some people want different things from a neck set up that can only be achieved with a trussrod.

I run all my personal guitars with absolutely flat necks, and very low action. I come from the Mosrite world where low action is a given, and I always found I liked my necks flat. I never understood the having to "fight" an action to play it idea. The Wosrite I made for J Mascis around this time was the first time I'd set up or played one of J's guitars and he just kept saying "can you raise the action a little more?" It was an awakening to me how some people like their action so high.

Anyway, the thing about aluminium necks is they don't twist or bend or move but, you can't adjust that relief and use the gauge of strings you really want. If you want more relief, you put heavier strings on etc. For necks that cost as much as some do I would expect to able to adjust them to suit my playing style. 

I use heavy strings (12-54 in std) on my guitars anyway but then I wanted to adjust the neck back dead straight. This is where this idea came into my head.

I'm not a purest when it comes to aluminium necks. I've owned a lot of different brands and designs over the years and I think they're great for certain reasons, and not for others. They have limitations like relief (and cost) and I liked the Kramer necks but didn't like the tuning fork headstocks. So I made a few necks with different aluminium extrusions running through them based on more conventional timber necks.

I made this in about 2001 from aluminium extrusion and ash/jarrah in a very similar concept but again without a trussrod.

I decided to make it with the limitations of making a neck using no glue at all. Don't ask me why, I just set stupid limitations on myself so I can learn stuff. 

 

The results were .... varied. Some extrusions were too heavy, an issue I'd run into early in my full aluminium neck projects. Some were too hard to incorporate into the timber "shell" and some were just too much trouble. Remember, I do EVERYTHING by hand so all prep and fitting work is done by hand and then the necks were laminated together. Then shaped by hand and finished by me. I ended up abandoning the idea as I couldn't make them affordable. This was at a time when I charged $80 extra for an aluminium neck.

When I started developing the more budget TMI necks for custom guitars next year I thought I'd revisit this idea as I was laminating them from affordable sustainable timber. 

Adhesives and material availability has come a long way in the last 20 years. After some research I realized I could buy everything I needed to make this neck from Bunnings (not sure what the equivalent OS is but it's basically a big hardware chain) except of course the trussrod and frets (which I have plenty of) so I went and had a look around. 

Sure enough I came home with some dressed timber and aluminum extrusion, and glue. 

This neck is ash sold as a generic hardwood and usually lists as either Victorian Ash or Tasmainian oak. I've made necks out of it before and it's very stiff and stable, although can be heavy. You just need to work around the sap lines. In the past I would have used jarrah for the fretboard (also available at Bunnings) but I have heaps of this rosewood left over from the old days so I'm using it. The aluminium extrusion is available in HEAPS of sizes but after some deliberation I went with 25x25x3mm which is cheap, plentiful and strong enough while being easy to work with. 

Because I wanted a trussrod I ran a 12mm piece down the middle between the two extrusions. This gave me room for the rod and adjuster without hitting the aluminium. Then 2 pieces of 12mm laminated together down each side of that giving me a total of 66mm in width. 

 

With the timber and aluminium all laminated like a standard neck I routed the trussrod slot and glued the fretbaord onto the aluminium top. Polyurethane glue (available from Bunnings) will stick almost anything to anything if you prep it right, it's just a little messy to work with, so everything was glued together with this. These could of course be made using something other than timber as it's really just there for a little added strength and shape. I will probably make one with ABS or acrylic layers to see how that works.  

Once I had the "block" with a fretboard and trussrod I just shaped it like I normally would. Most woodworking tools will work with aluminium fairly easily, especially small pieces like this so I just shaped it on my bandsaw and finished it by hand. 

Although I haven't strung this up yet it's pretty obvious it will work just fine. After you've made a couple of hundred necks, of different materials, you get to know what's going to work and what won't. This is VERY stiff compared to the equivalent timber version and I've made a second one using Asian mahogany (from Bunnings) which is lighter and softer, and weakened the vertical rails of the extrusion slightly to make the trussrod more responsive. There's still plenty of strength in them and a little bit of vertical movement is what I'm after and they still have full strength on the horizontal, which will help keep the neck from twisting or moving. I'll post more about that one next year when it's all done and fitted to a guitar.

All in all this worked really well and was no more (or very little) work and cost than a similar timber laminated neck with what appears to be much more strength. Having the extrusion running from the end of the neck to the tip of the headstock might improve sustain and strength so I can't wait to attach it to something. Once I've done more testing I'll let people know through our social media. 

I will be making some of these starting next year as part of my TMI guitars and these can also be made to retrofit into any Fender neck pocket so my tester in the shop might have one of these soon (ish) for people to try. 

Dec 20 2019 Written By: Tim Brennan