According to Steve Constantelos, one of Ampeg's design engineers, the guitar necks for the Dan Armstrong instruments were made right in the Ampeg factory under the supervision of Pete 'Buddy' Tuscano - who was a wood specialist as well as Manager of the Instrument Division at Ampeg. He involved himself in everything from the grade of wood coming into the factory to the final finishing touches before the instrument left the factory.

Once in the assembly area, each Dan Armstrong instrument was fitted with a neck that is as innovative as the body, and were built from quarter-sawn northern maple.

Matt Umanov relates the story, stating "when building the prototypes for Dan, I recommended the use of quarter-sawn maple. Dan didn't really have much knowledge about such things as wood grain and how it affects structure, strength, and tone. But he took my advice unquestioningly after I gave him a brief explanation and demonstration."

The existance of quarter-sawn over plain-sawn maple is just one small example of the high quality materials used on these instruments and a testament to the high quality standards that Matt used on the prototypes and that Dan insisted on throughout the entire production run. When it comes to guitar necks quarter-sawn wood is what 'separates the men from the boys' for it provides improved stability, with much, much less shrinkage, warping & twisting than plain-sawn wood, and northern maple provides for maximum sustain when bolted to the acrylic body.

A unique effect of quarter-sawn wood is that it can sometimes present us with a dramatic appearance. The grain on the face of quarter-sawn wood has tight, straight, parallel lines running the length of the board and if the tree rings happened to be very close to 90° perpendicular to the face of the wood then the effect of the ring can be seen when turned to a light source.

In the case of Oak the effect is referred to as 'Quartered Oak'. When it comes to maple it is often referred to as 'Flame-Maple'.

On Gibson's Les Paul® sunburst guitars the effect can often be seen on their maple tops creating the look that somewhat resembles the backside of a violin or cello. On certain models the effect is very dramatic and when turned toward a light source a certain way the flame is so vibrant that it takes on the look of a tiger's pelt, and is often referred to as a 'flame-top' or 'tiger-stripe'.

The existance of flame-maple necks on Dan Armstrong instruments were sporadic at best, for the quarter-sawn maple was used for it's stability over appearance. While flame-maple is no less, or more stable than non-flame, it is nevertheless a treat to discover it, and to know that it can only come from quarter-sawn lumber.

  
Earlier models have thicker necks on them, similar to a Les Paul Standard® while later models have necks that are thinner, more like a Les Paul Deluxe®. The neck on the left has a serial number of A204D making it a very early 1969 model, while the number on the right has a serial number of A2357D R which dates it around a later 1970 model. One can clearly see the thickness of the neck on the earlier model. When asked, Dan replied "I just felt that the necks were a bit too big, and so we changed over to a thinner neck." When the change occurred is unknown, but the best guess, based on serial numbers, is that it was the early part of 1970.

Ampeg literature states that the thickness of the neck is the same at the 24th fret as it is at the first fret. To test this I unbolted these two necks from their bodies and one by one I inserted the squared base end of the neck into my shop vise to hold the neck in place while I took some measurements.




Upper left - taking multiple measurements of the first fret on the 1969 model neck with the serial number A204D yielded a thickness of 0.915" or 23.26mm. The width of the neck measured in at 1.774" or 45.08mm. But by the 12th fret, as can be seen in the upper right, the measurement had moved down to 0.907" or 23.05mm. The width measured in at 2.045" or 51.96mm.


Upper left - by the 23rd fret it snuck down to 0.891 or 22.63mm. Measurements at the 24th fret were not possible to retrieve as it was too close to the shop vise. Moreover, the neck at the 24th fret area was just starting to give up it's nicely rounded shape in preparation of the change from the curved back to the squared base of the neck that inserts and bolts to the acrylic body. The width of the neck was now 22.18" or 56.35mm. On the 24th fret the width measured in at 2.234" or 56.74mm.

As to whether the Ampeg literature was correct or not is debatable. Technically speaking, the caliper proves that the neck is not quite "the same thickness at the 24th fret as it is at the first fret." Instead, it would seem that the neck is the thickest at the first fret, and narrows down as one goes up the neck. But on the other account it is worth mentioning that the variances that were measured are so minimal that short of using a caliper and taking measurements one would never notice the difference nor would they consider such minor changes a 'difference' to speak of if they had known. For all intents and purposes, it could be argued that the literature is correct, and that the neck is roughly the same throughout.

Next, I wanted to compare a newer neck to the older one. As can be seen upper right, I placed the neck from my 1970 Dan Armstrong with the serial number A2357D R into my shop vise and placed the caliper on the first fret. What I discovered proved to be most interesting. Again taking multiple measurements, the neck measured in at 0.802" or 20.37mm. Considerably thinner than the 69 neck which came in at 0.915" or 23.26mm. The width of the neck came in at 1.641" or 41.69mm.


At the 12th fret, as seen upper left - things got interesting. I had expected the neck to be like the 69 neck - thinner by a small amount over the first fret. Instead, the neck got thicker and I had to move my caliper out to slide it on. Hardly believing my eyes, I took several more measurements, as the neck measured in at 0.856" or 21.74mm. The neck width at the 12th fret was 2.010" or 51.07mm.

By the time I got to the 23rd fret, upper right - I once again had to take several more measurements than what I had been taking prior as the neck at this point came in at 0.892" or 22.68mm. Even thicker yet, over the 12th fret. The width of the neck at the 23rd fret was 2.220" or 56.40mm. and 2.232" or 56.71mm at the 24th fret.

I immediately began to wonder if the changing thickness of this neck was the reason that it was stamped as a reject when in fact it plays so well, so I decided to measure another newer neck. This time I measured the neck on my 1971 Dan Armstrong guitar with the serial number A2678D which exhibited the same results. While it is true that Dan had "changed over to a thinner neck" it is also apparently true that the necks were given a completely new profile over the older necks. While the old necks remained fairly constant, the newer necks began thin and got thicker as one went up the neck.

In my interview with Matt Umanov, he stated "I intentionally made the prototype guitar neck wider at the nut, and therefore at the 24th fret too (as well as string spacing at the bridge), than any standard electric guitar of the day, and probably a bit wider than standard steel-string acoustics of the day as well. The depth, or thickness from fingerboard surface to back of neck, was pretty much left alone, thereby giving more of a 'flat-oval' feel to the neck. This, from my recollection, of Danny's usual reply of "do what you think is best" when I asked him what he wanted for neck dimensions and string spacing on the prototype."

As a point of reference, I took width measurements off the neck of my Gibson® 1957 Goldtop Les Paul® reissue guitar. The differences are as follows:

1969 Dan Armstrong

  1st Fret: 1.774" or 45.08mm
12th Fret: 2.045" or 51.96mm
23rd Fret: 2.218" or 56.35mm
1957 Les Paul Standard RI

  1st Fret: 1.709" or 43.41mm
12th Fret: 2.042" or 51.88mm
22nd Fret: 2.223" or 56.47mm
1970 Dan Armstrong

  1st Fret: 1.641" or 41.69mm
12th Fret: 2.010" or 51.07mm
23rd Fret: 2.220" or 56.40mm

Given these readings, it would appear that Ampeg's 1969 production neck was a bit wider than a Les Paul neck until the last couple of frets, when the Les Paul neck got a touch wider. By 1970 the width on the necks of the Dan Armstrong guitars had slimmed to the point that the Les Paul was wider throughout and would remain that way throughout the rest of the production run.

It's worth mentioning, at this point, that Gibson like most every other manufacturer, has also made changes to their Les Paul guitar necks, and the measurements from the 1957 reissue is only to serve as a reference.

continue

menu


Names and images are TMand Dan Armstrong / Ampeg. All rights reserved.
All other names and images are TMand of their respective owners. All rights reserved.