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I would like to replace the rosewood neck on my Fender American Stratocaster electric guitar with a maple neck. I have difficulty finding such shops locally, and I may resort to buying one (or even custom made) online. Without being able to try it, I am concern with the quality of neck I could possibly be getting online.

What are the indicators that may help define the quality of a maple neck? Does an aged, old (or vintage neck) usually "sound" better than a new neck? Does the material, origin of the wood piece, or weight plays a roll as well?

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AAre you asking what indicators you can use to help you pick a neck, being confident it is a good one? You could have a terrible neck made from really good quality maple, or a good neck - a lot will depend on the manufacturer, really. I have had good and bad necks and tend to only buy replacement necks that I have tried out in the shop. –  Dr Mayhem Jan 2 '12 at 21:12
    
thanks I have amend my question according to your comment. It is a difficult question because I am not able to try it, but there should be "something" that tells a good neck from a bad one. –  KMC Jan 3 '12 at 6:06

3 Answers 3

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Many factors can affect how a neck feels, and personal preference can be a big decider here. What type of music are you looking to play? People who like playing fast tend to prefer thin necks (measuring from fretboard to the back of the neck), a flat profile on the fretboard, and possibly a wide neck (from one edge of the fretboard to another) to allow for fast moving and sometimes clumsy fingers to operate without hitting other strings. Wider necks also allow for more exaggerated vibrato without colliding with other strings (although as skill improves guitarists learn to work around their other strings).

Bluesier players, especially slide guitarists, tend towards more arch in the fretboard, for better string selection.

Another important indicator is, how consistent is the action (distance between the string and the top of each fret) from the nut to the bridge? Cheap guitars (especially the old Silvertones, Kays, and other Sears-catalog garbage from the '50's) would have super-high action towards the sound-hole, and very low action towards the nut, making playing the upper registers very arduous. A nice neck will have consistent action top to bottom. Lower action tends to allow for faster playing, but too-low action can cause buzzing and sound crappy, as well as detract from the ring of the guitar's sound.

Fatter necks will resonate better, and heavier headstocks will resonate better and have better sustain; Neck-through bodies will have the best resonance, followed by set necks (on quality guitars, anyway) followed by bolt-ons. Wood type will have a great impact on the resonance of a guitar as well, and an extremely high-quality wood will have excellent resonance, and light weight. This comes at a price.

Older guitars are more expensive in part because they are made of high quality woods that have been harvested, in some instances, to extinction. Also, nickel rather than steel parts will also sound better as they have more resonance. Older guitars used more nickel because, back in the day, nickel was cheap to work with. Now it is far more expensive so many guitar companies use steel instead.

The best indicator is feel - I understand bolting various necks onto a guitar and comparing them sounds silly, and it is - but how it feels in your hand is the ultimate decider.

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Many of us could list the characteristics of a good neck.

However, it would remain possible for a vendor to list all those characteristics, without lying, and still supply a dud neck.

Imagine, you buy a neck with the exact measurements you want, maple of exactly the density you wanted, and so on -- and when it comes the frets are uneven.

You should go by the reputation of the manufacturer and the dealer, and you should make sure they have a good returns policy. That way you can try it before committing to it.

I suggest buying from somewhere that's willing to chat in detail about your needs, either on the phone or by email, and who are able to tell you explicitly "If you don't like it, just send it back and we can send you a different one". It's probably worth paying a few more dollars for that flexibility.

It may not be reasonable to fit a neck to a guitar, test the tone, then send it back -- you're bound to leave some marks. But at least you'll get to look at the finish, feel the weight, and so on.

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I think you hit the nail on the head with the return policy; there's really just no way to be sure of something like this, sight unseen. –  Josh Fields Jan 3 '12 at 16:21

First of all, I think you're making a mistake in your question. You probably meant you have a rosewood FINGERBOARD on maple neck and now you want a maple neck with also maple fingerboard. I would say, if you want to replace it because of tone, forget it. Instead, change the material of the nut, type of strings, pickups, bridge sustain block (where the springs attach to the tremolo). A maple fingerboard versus rosewood fingerboard, i think it will change your tone very little, if anything at all.

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