Neck Stability & Lumber Selection

Neck Stability & Lumber Selection

By Chaz Ginest

Arguably the greatest feature of a Ten32 guitar is the portability made possible via the bolt on headstock and backpack case, but this level of portability serves up some issues of its own. If you wanted to take your axe from Denver to Miami, you'll be putting your instrument through some pretty extreme environmental shifts that are likely to affect its playability.

Personally, unless I had a guitar tech to deal with it, I wouldn't be inclined to do this with the majority of guitars out there, for one specific reason - neck stability. Most guitar necks that exist today are made of lumber species with sub-par dimensional stability (sorry Maple). Usually this choice is made for financial reasons, material availability reasons, or just plain dogma. When choosing neck lumber, dimensional stability is the primary factor I consider, followed by sustainability, followed by affordability.

In addition, Ten32 necks include carbon fiber reinforcement flanking the truss rod by default, but titanium reinforcements are also available in place of CF. I also use lightweight stainless truss rods with wood sleeves (plastic sleeves are a tone sucker) from Allied Luthiery and consider them to be the best available.

Its not difficult to find a dimensional stability chart like this one online. Its also not difficult to see that Maple is pretty far down the list, in fact it's well below softwoods like Pine and Fir! Would you want a guitar neck made of a pine 2x4? If not, you probably don't want one made of Maple either. Lets start with the most dimensionally stable and move down: 

Roasted (Torrefied) Maple - I've straight up thrown this stuff in a bucket of water and pulled it out a week later to find virtually no change. Anecdotally, the hype appears to be legit, and while this wasn't always the case, I'm a big fan of roasted maple in 2023, which is why I bumped it to the top of this list. Here's why:


Bill's guitar was delivered in late July. He sent me that message in late September. Oh, by the way, he lives in an area of Hawaii where the average humidity is 78%. I built his guitar in Denver where the average humidity is 37%.

Mesquite - its nearly impossible to find pieces of mesquite that are clear enough (free of knots, cracks, and other natural defects) to build necks with. I got lucky and found some through a friend. So far, only about 25% of the blanks end up suitable for building necks, but I think I can improve on this rate via hand selection and make Mesquite a truly viable option. It looks great, feels great, and some even has bright yellow streaking in it.


Bamboo - Is not wood, its grass. I'll still probably try it someday.

Merbau - Great dimensional stability, but not sustainable. I do happen to have some (and can currently still get more) if you want a neck that looks like mahogany but with superior stability.

Australian Cypress - Generally too knotty for guitar necks. I haven't stumbled onto any miraculously clear sources like the Mesquite above.

Paduak - Not only is Paduak very stable, its also very sustainable and affordable. Barring a cheap source of clear Mesquite, this is the leader in the clubhouse. If you want to knit pick, Paduak has one issue - it doesnt retain it's beautiful orange color very well over time, regardless of the finish used. Obviously this has no effect on its suitability for use as a guitar neck. Paduak sands out extremely well and the neck profile feels amazing in your fretting hand. 

Teak - Too expensive, not sustainable.

Wenge - Expensive, not great on the sustainability scale, but still one of my personal favorites for guitar necks, mostly due to the aesthetics, but also because it doesn't require finishing, if a raw wood neck is interesting to you. 

Purpleheart - Very stable, also very hard. Unfortunately...its purple. I'll gladly build a purpleheart neck if you want one though.

Santos Mahogany - I haven't tried it yet personally, but its sustainable, attainable, and stable enough to be a valid option.

Anything less stable than that, I'm wary of, but there are some other potentially viable alternatives:

Sassafras - Extremely lightweight, but also on the softer side. Becoming common as a body wood since equally lightweight swamp ash is getting expensive. It's interesting because it's exceptionally sustainable, available domestically for great prices, has legit stability numbers, and smells like root beer during machining. I have a half dozen great blanks that I intend to experiment with, and I'm very interested to see how the extreme light weight might affect tone. If you want a super lightweight instrument, consider building the whole thing from sassafras.

Black Locust - Very similar to sassafras, but much heavier. Still very affordable, easily attainable, great stability numbers, and the name is totally metal.

Laminated necks - A proven commodity, but I really don't think there are advantages over a one piece neck made the right way, with the right materials. I also don't love the idea of multiple layers of glue in the neck, and it takes far longer to build a laminated neck blank, so expect to pay considerably more.

For a while I was obsessed with creating the ultimate stable neck, but as with all things, there is a point of diminishing returns. There's really no good reason to scour the world for the perfect piece of Mesquite, then have it torrefied, then cut it up and laminate it with a torrefied purpleheart core, blah blah blah.

Bottom line, if you choose one of the right naturally stable lumber species in the first place and build the neck correctly, all of these neck stability issues become an afterthought.

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