A reader asks about Martin’s High Performance Neck.
Can you provide a simple explanation of the High Performance Neck found on some but not all Martin Guitars?
I appreciate your time and effort,
Gail from Kansas
A timely question, as a variety of people have the same query, made fresh by the release of all the new 2016 Martins, almost all of them having the High Performance Neck.
The term “High Performance Neck” refers to ANY Martin guitar that was made with the High Performance Taper (originally called the Performing Artist Taper.)
The taper refers ONLY to the fingerboard width, which starts with a 1-3/4” width at nut, but has a 2-1/8” width at the 12th fret.
But, starting in 2016, Martin’s use of the term High Performance neck also includes a Modified Low Oval neck profile, except for instruments made for the Performing Artist Series, which is being phased out. The PA Series necks have the PA profile, which feels a bit flatter to my hand, and more like an electric guitar than the Modified Low Oval shape.
Before the introduction of the High Performance Taper with its 2-1/8″ width at the 12th fret, Martins had a 2-1/4″ measurement at the 12th fret, on their traditional 1-3/4” Martin necks, found on many Vintage, GE, Marquis, and Authentic Series guitars, as well as the OM-42 and 000-42, the last hold-outs of the old Standard Series 1-3/4″ neck.
At Martin, the older taper is referred to as the “Standard Taper.”
The result of the new taper is a sleeker feel as the fretting hand moves up toward the body. Basically, Martin wanted to introduce guitars with a similar neck profile and string spacing used by many other modern guitarmakers, most notably Collings, Taylor, Huss & Dalton, and many electric guitars. It makes Martins directly comparable and competitive, while still offering other Martin models with the Standard Taper.
To my way of thinking this is really Martin’s old 1-11/6″ neck (which is 2-1/8″ at the 12th fret) that has been cheated out a little bit near the headstock, where one’s wrist must bend at the most extreme angles. So there is a little more room down there. But otherwise the overall feeling is of a narrower neck than old Martin OMs, 12-fret 000s, Eric Clapton models, et al.
The string spacing for the High Performance Neck is 2-5/32″. This was changed in 2016 from 2-3/16″ because some people were saying the high E string was too easy to pull off the end of the frets up near the body.
The difference at the 12th fret is literally the width of the high E string. So it is not a major change. But I did notice how much easier it is to waggle that string around up near the neck joint without feeling like it would come off the frets.
For comparison, Collings and Taylor default spacing is 2-3/16″ while Huss and Dalton uses 2-7/32″.
Anyway, all Martin guitars with this modern taper have a High Performance Neck, no matter what “profile” the neck has.
As such, it is correct to say a GPCPA1 has a High Performance neck and so too does an OMC-15E guitar, even though they have a different profile or “shape” to the wood behind the fingerboard.
“High Performance Neck” is a descriptive marketing term and does not appear as a technical “spec.” This is because the spec sheet shows the nut width, 12th fret width, and string spacing as separate specs.
And to make sure I was accurate in this assessment, I wrote to Tim Teel, Director of Instrument Design at C. F. Martin & Co. Here is what he had to say:
In a nutshell you have a pretty good handle on it. Here is how I would explain it.
Martin guitar has a registered trademark on the term ‘High Performance Neck’.
It was first used in connection with the Performing Artist Series of guitars.
In today’s world we use the term ‘High Performance Neck’ to describe PA guitars, 15 Series and 17 Series guitars, the new Standard Series guitars with this neck, Retro Series guitars, DJr… and so on.
Keep in mind that this term may or may not appear regularly in literature, and you are correct that in the world of specs it is broken down into the sub comment parts.
One correction – not all 15’s have the HPN. Some older models still have the standard taper.
Hope this helps!
And I hope that clears things up in general.
Thanks for the great question!