Magnatone Giveawya

September 2014

Two Necks Are Better Than One: A Brief History of Multi-Neck Guitars



Carvin #1-MS Professional Double-Neck. Photo courtesy of Dave Isaac/Hollywood Vintage Room.
In their 1959 catalog, the Carvin Guitar company introduced two doubleneck models. The #4-BS Professional Doubleneck featured dual 25-1/8" necks; one a six-string guitar, the other what would amount to be a (very) short-scale bass. The #1-MS was a guitar and mandolin combination with one 25-1/8" scale guitar neck. The body was maple and similar in shape to their other guitars. The electronics on the Carvins were a bit unique. Each unit had two P-90-style pickups on the guitar and a single pickup for the bass and mandolin, respectively. Whereas many other doubleneck models would have had a switch to select which neck you were playing, the Carvin used the pickup selector to do this job. Position 1 of the pickup selector would be the bridge pickup of the guitar. Position 2 would be the guitar’s neck pickup and position 3 would be the single pickup of either the bass or mandolin. Carvin continued to offer the #4-BS and #1-MS throughout 1964 when they redesigned the pair. Carvin offered the doubleneck option throughout the ‘60s, and continued to help players satisfy their doubleneck cravings consistently throughout the years, making them one of the longest-lasting and most prolific producers of doubleneck guitars and basses.

For the 1961 model year, Gretsch introduced one of the more unique multi-neck offerings ever to come from a major manufacturer. The Bikini was actually three units, a guitar (6023), a bass (6024), and a doubleneck bass and guitar (6025). The concept was that you could use one body and slide in either a bass or a guitar neck. To make things slightly more complex, the body also folded down the middle on a piano hinge, becoming known as a “butterfly.” A player also had the option of combining separate butterfly back components to make a doubleneck. The guitar was 25-1/2" scale and the bass was 29-1/4" scale. Electronics, pickups, tone and volume controls were self-contained in each respective neck shaft. The guitar was a good idea in theory but not in practice, and was difficult both to produce and to operate.

Throughout the rest of the 1960s and 1970s, Gibson was the only major manufacturer to consistently offer an electric doubleneck. Mosrite kept the Joe Maphis doubleneck in its catalog up until the latter part of the decade, and Rickenbacker occasionally produced guitar and bass doubleneck combos. Other manufacturers produced doublenecks only as a custom order. By and large, the doubleneck moved into novelty status with only Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin using one to any effect. Rick Nielsen famously paired with Hamer on a number of extreme multi-neckers, and in the 1980s some metal bands made use of the shock factor of the instrument to add to their visual appeal. In the late 1990s and early parts of the 2000s, retro appeal brought back some doublenecks into the realm of “guitar geek” status.

Some of the most enlightening moments in guitar learning have come for me at the Museum of Making Music. Located at NAMM headquarters in Carlsbad, CA, the Museum not only preserves the history of the music instrument industry but teaches the history of music instruments to the public. I was lucky enough to work at the museum doing a number of things, none more gratifying than giving tours to youngsters. Once while giving a tour to a group of Brownies—girls between the ages of seven and nine—I walked up to a case holding an incredibly rare Bigsby doubleneck built for J.B. Thomas. It’s a beautiful piece with a maple top and one regular-scale guitar neck and one mandolin neck. I asked the Brownies the question, “Now why would a guitar have two necks?” The girls were silent until one of them, in a whisper quiet voice, said, “So you can rock and roll?”

A great answer, and probably not too far from the truth.

Make sure to read the companion piece, "Those Daring Young Men and Their Doubleneck Guitars: A Brief History of Multi-Neck Players" in this issue!