Quartersawn Necks and Stiff Action: A Case of Misleading Vividness

You see claims regarding quarter-sawn necks resulting in stiff action. The Eric Johnson signature Strat is often used as an example to support the claim for a relationship between stiffness of playability and the effect of quartersawn wood. We've tackled that one before.

There is no scientific basis for such a claim regarding the quartersawing of maple and resulting stiffness of action which leaves only the beliefs and stories of people making claims on message boards or individuals (random) empirical evidence -- all of which fall well below the threshold of scientific rigor and is insufficient for generalizations.

Keep in mind that we all have beliefs about our gear, and that's perfectly fine, beliefs don't always have to conform to science (for example, I know that my PRS sounds better than your Gibson but I cannot prove it) but when a person generalizes from empirical trial and error or comes to general conclusions from the anecdotes of others, they are running into a logical buzz saw.

As it turns out, I plowed through quite a few threads at an online guitar forum, yeah, that one, and the people complaining about stiff EJ Strats were those who had maple fretboard models whereas the vast majority of EJ Strat owners who claimed their guitars were easy to play owned the rosewood fretboard models. Both models have quartersawn necks so the quarter or flat sawing of the neck wood is not the culprit.

The way people gather 'data' and generalize is really problematic.

Some Guy finds that when he swaps out one neck for another that there is a difference in the action; one neck was quarter sawn and the other was flat sawn. Okay, differences make a difference. But to do this a couple of times and generalize that quartersawn maple results in a stiff action compared to flat sawn necks is a case of what is called "Misleading Vividness." How in the world can Some Guy claim to swap out a whole new neck and state that "nothing changed" but the grain orientation? Hip me to that voodoo, brother! In reality, the whole neck, all its variables, changed. Anyway, on to misleading vividness:

"Misleading vividness (also known as anecdotal fallacy) is anecdotal evidence describing an occurrence with sufficient detail to permit hasty generalizations about the occurrence. It may be used, for example, to convince someone that the occurrence is a widespread problem. Although misleading vividness does little to support an argument logically, it can have a very strong psychological effect because of a cognitive heuristic called the availability heuristic".

Anyways, a guitar may have a stiff action but it is not due to how the wood was cut in the neck. What contributes to a stiff action? All of the following can contribute to stiffness of playability of a Strat but not wood grain orientation:

Neck geometry including radius
Height of strings above the frets
Scale length
String gauge, string material, string condition
Fret size and material
String run behind the nut and saddles (also bore depth in the sustain block).... this probably makes no difference at all. I can find no physics to back this claim
String trees or no string trees
Finish on the neck or absence thereof
Number of 'trem' springs
And the thing nobody wants to think about: player technique

The thing that makes the EJ tough to play is the combination of low frets and fretboard finish on the maple model.