Travis Bean and the Aluminum Neck Guitar


Bryan Hillebrandt
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Joined: 03/13/09
Posts: 23
Bryan Hillebrandt
Registered User
Joined: 03/13/09
Posts: 23
10/15/2010 12:00 am


Steve Albini’s Travis Bean (and his knees)


In the infinite quest for sustain, players and guitar builders have tried a lot of different things: denser woods, neck-through-body construction, and so on. Then we have Travis Bean an American gearhead who saw this problem and flashed on the perfect solution: aluminum.

Bean came up with this idea after watching a friend of his work on guitars. His friend would keep tweaking with the necks, adjusting truss rods and such. His simple solution to this was to make a neck out of aluminum so it wouldn’t warp. He also used neck-through-body construction, so that the neck actually runs through the length of the guitar with koa wood slabs on either side. This solid piece of aluminum provided rigidity, as well as another added benefit which was a significant amount of sustain.

It’s a very simple idea: the denser the material you make a guitar out of, the longer the note will sustain. Softer, lighter (and cheaper) woods absorb more of the vibration of the string, meaning the note fades faster. Of course, if you want more sustain, you can get harder, heavier wood. But if that solid slab of mahogany still isn’t enough, you have to take it to another level.

The genius of the Travis Bean guitar is that neck-through-body construction. Having the strings attached to a solid piece of metal guarantees that the strings will vibrate much longer. It also ensures that the neck--not to mention the whole guitar--will be pretty much indestructible. If you watch the trailer for the upcoming movie about Travis Bean guitars, appropriately named “Sustain,” there’s a great quote from avid Bean enthusiast Steve Albini from Shellac and Big Black (he’s also the guy who produced a little album called Nevermind by Nirvana). He claims to have once broke his TB500, but only because “I was just acting like an asshole.”

The durability, the tone, and of course, the cache of playing a solid slab of metal has ensured that these guitars have become the stuff of legends while also ensuring that their prices continue to steadily go up.

Interestingly, Travis Bean’s aren’t the only guitars with aluminum necks. Bean’s former partner, Gary Kramer, split off onto his own and started producing guitars under his name (yeah, he’s the guy who started Kramer guitars). The early Kramers all had aluminum necks with two wood inlays going up the back of the neck. Personally, I like this design. A friend had one of these Kramers and something about having the wood on the neck made it feel a little less foreign than holding a cold piece of metal.

Kramer made a lot of nice guitars and basses, but they are generally not held in as high regard as the Travis Beans, consequently, they are a lot cheaper on the market these days. So if you’re looking to try out one of these beasts, you might be luckier with the Kramers. (I’ve had my eye on one of the basses for a while.)

Of course most guitarists still prefer wooden neck guitars (except for those carbon fiber folks) but it’s inspiring to consider how the Travis Bean guitar came to be. If you need more sustain, this is the way to go. Plus, it’s made of METAL!!!
# 1
dpcrock
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Joined: 10/27/07
Posts: 11
dpcrock
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Joined: 10/27/07
Posts: 11
10/16/2010 2:22 am
I have an acoustic by Applause that has a aluminum fret board attached to a wood neck and some kind of plastic rounded body with a wood top. The guitar has an awesome tone and rarely goes out of tune. Cool Ax!!!
# 2
BillieWayne
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Joined: 09/15/10
Posts: 1
BillieWayne
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Joined: 09/15/10
Posts: 1
10/16/2010 12:11 pm
I have a 1950 National archtop that has an aluminum neck
# 3

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