Volume 30 - Resetting a Neck

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice



                       Stay in Tune                     vol#30

                                                                            By Luthier Patrick Podpadec

I don’t know why, but I seemed to have found myself in a slight slump last week. It certainly is not from the lack of work or lack of projects that I have in mind for future instruments. It just seemed that I was having a hard time focusing on the job at hand. I don’t like when that happens because I don’t feel that I’m putting 100% and more into my work. . So, when that happens, I always seem to look around my shop and see things that I would like to have a little different. Bam! It’s remodel time!  The next thing you know, I have everything torn apart and am building new shelves, rearranging benches, moving computers, painting floors and organizing parts and revamping a few tools. That always seems to get me back on track so that I can focus more clearly on my work at hand. I always feel better in a clean and organized shop. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a ton of things to do, but at least I’m heading in the right direction. So after about two or three days of cleaning and painting I have got back to repairing some interesting guitars. One that is in the forefront is a 1938 Recording King made by Gibson. I had to reset the neck on it because unfortunately after 70 yrs it has decided to lift its neck so that the playability is unbearable. This repair is the kind that takes all of my concentration and should only be performed by a skilled craftsmen. It takes patience and an in depth knowledge of the proper neck angle in proportion to the body. There are books and even in depth videos on the subject, but the process still takes practice and a good eye to get it right. No matter how many times I a steam off a neck from a guitar (maybe 30 or 40) it still feels a little unsettling. You can never be completely confident on how the instrument’s neck will release itself from the body, especially after 70 yrs. But thankfully this one came off without a hitch. There was a small splinter of spruce that tore away from the top under the tongue of the fingerboard, but that is a fairly common problem that is easily remedied. The thing I was most surprised with was how roughly cut the dovetail joint was on the body and on the neck. Usually these joints are cut with a lot of precision to insure a tight fit so that it holds its shape forever. Perhaps this is why the joint failed and allowed the neck to pull up and cause it to play so badly. With that in mind, I set out to recut the body dovetail joint much more precisely. It seemed that it was not cut “squarely” to the body and had an exceptionally large amount of play between the body dovetail (female joint) and the neck (male joint) dovetail. It also required me to add some wood to the sides of the neck dovetail and refit the whole joint so that there was no play in it. After that procedure has been successfully accomplished it is time to start removing small amounts of wood from the heel and “cheek” side of the neck where it meets the body. This removal of wood allows the neck to set back on the shoulders of the guitar allowing the neck angle to lower, making the string action closer to the fingerboard for ease of play. This is the most exacting procedure during a neck reset and should be done with extreme caution. It may take several attempts of wood removal along with constant checking of the neck angle. You must be careful to take off the same amount of wood from each side of the cheeks so that you maintain the proper “side to side” angle looking down the center line of the guitar. If this is not performed with extreme precision, when you go to string up the guitar you will find that the strings do not run perpendicular to the finger board and will not play very well at all .Not to mention that it will look like sh*#%!.  It will also cause the neck joint where the cheeks meet the body to look very bad. This joint should look like the neck “grew” out of the body, no play or gaps anywhere. I have to admit, the first couple that I did were a little sketchy, but I was thankful that I tried them out on some inexpensive guitars (my own) before I felt confident enough to try it on a customer’s guitar. I now have total confidence, but it still requires my utmost attention when performing this delicate operation. This repair usually costs between 225 and 300 dollars but is well worth it for the higher end guitars, it can make a good guitar that is hard to play into one that you’ll never want to put down. If you have one of those good ole guitars that you know you can’t replace for $300.00 it is well worth the trouble. Next issue I will try to explain how exactly I go about this repair.  Until then, please “Stay in Tune”
                                                         Thank Again!
                                                          Patrick from Wood-n-Strings