This ancient question is asked occasionally; and the answers vary wildly. Some claim that a bigger/thicker neck correlates to a bigger/stronger sound, while others claim that neck profile doesn’t affect the sound at all.
So, what is the truth?
- Theory one: Neck profile affects the sound, and some people don’t hear it because their ears are not as refined/sensitive (Random supporter)
- Theory two: Neck profile affects the sound “slightly”, some people hear it when playing alone, but it doesn’t matter in a mix (Random supporter)
- Theory three: Different necks affect the sound due to different factors; such as wood density or changed player technique (Random supporter)
- Theory four: Neck profile does not affect the sound, and people who claim otherwise are victims of psychoacoustics or other uncontrollable factors (Random supporter)
I’m a supporter of theory one. On multiple instances; I changed the neck of a P bass with a J neck, and the difference was obvious (both rosewood). The thick P neck emphasized the low-mids a little more, while the J neck made the sound weaker – as if the sound is escaping from the bass before hitting the pickup or something.
Although he doesn’t mention neck “size”, Roger Sadowsky also advocates that neck / wood differences definitely affect the sound.
Being the bass geek that I am, I decided to put my theory to test.
I happened to own an American Original ’60s Precision Bass and an American Original ’60s Jazz Bass simultaneously at that time. Both had rosewood fingerboards.
I recorded a track with the P bass; partially solo, partially with a backing track. Afterwards, I installed the J neck to the P bass and recorded likewise. Then; I have sent those (unnamed) audio files to some of my musician friends, and asked them how the basses sound to them.
A significant percentage said that the bass tracks with the P-Neck sounded fuller. A small percentage said that they don’t hear a difference. No one said that the J-Neck sounds fuller.
I have repeated this test a couple of times with different P / J basses, and the result was always the same.
My small blind test supported my opinion.
Internet research also kind-of supports my opinion as well. There are people claiming that a bigger neck correlates to a bigger sound, and there are people claiming that it does not. But I have never seen a comment indicating that a skinny neck correlates to a bigger sound.
My experiments are limited with a relatively small batch of passive basses. My research group was a limited number of musicians – I didn’t ask the opinion of average listeners. I was the only player recording stuff with the basses.
It is possible that the neck wood stiffness/densities (not profile) were responsible for the sound difference. But personally; I believe that neck width/mass affects the sound as well.
Jim Lill ran a much more comprehensive test on guitars, I recommend watching it.