Volume 32 - Resetting a Neck 3

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice




                                 Stay in Tune                                                    vol#32

                                                                              By Luthier Patrick Podpadec


 Boy does time fly! Kids are back to school and signs of fall are right around the corner. Although I have to admit that September has to be one of my favorite months. The days are usually in the 70’s and the nights are generally cool enough to sleep comfortably. The humidity seems to lighten up a bit too, which is good for the stringed instrument world. Well enough about our weather. 
  In the last article I was talking about resetting necks on acoustic guitars and I don’t want to leave my faithful readers hanging in the middle of a project. I left off with drilling a small hole in the 15th fret and removing the tongue of the fingerboard from the top. It’s now time for the scary stuff. This is where you must have a few specialized tools and jigs to be able to insure that the job does not get out of hand. I use a small espresso /cappuccino  machine that I have modified slightly to direct a pressurized stream of steam into the small hole that we have drilled into the 15th fret. I have attached a 5ft hose (make sure that the hose is pressure and heat rated like a radiator hose or something like it) at the business end I have a glorified air needle,( Stewart Macdonald carries a product that is designed specifically for this job) like you would use to pump up your basketball. You may also use an old horse syringe or anything that will fit into the 3/32 hole and be able to push steam through it. It’s important to make sure that your connections at the steamer and the tip are very secure. I have had them blow off under pressure before and it is like pure pandemonium. I have  attached a block of wood around the tip of the hose because it can get extremely hot. I guess you could wear gloves, but they seem a bit clumsy to me. 
 I stabilize the neck into a vise or a jig which will hold the guitar by it’s neck only and leave the body free. I tilt the guitar towards the headstock so that any water/steam will tend to drip out of the bottom of the heel on the neck rather than dripping back into the neck block or into the inside of the guitar where it can  cause more potential  damage to the instrument. I one time had the sides of the guitar let loose from the neck block and it sprung wide open . Believe me , you DO NOT want this to happen to you!
Once the machine is hot enough to produce a steady stream of pressurized steam you carefully place the needle into the hole and let it work in there for about 2 minutes. Make sure you are monitoring it the   whole time. This is not the time to walk away and go answer the phone or something. You might find that the steam will cloud up the finish around the neck or top similar to the water ring that you would get from setting a glass of water on a nicely finished wood table. Do not attempt to wipe it off at this time. You can damage the finish badly if you touch it while it is soft and hot from the steam. There is another way to deal with this problem after the finish has cooled and rehardened  itself. You simply wipe a damp rag with denatured  alcohol  with a very light feather type motion and the cloud just magically disappears. Be careful, because too much alcohol will attack the lacquer finish and can cause more damage. The way that it works is that the alcohol evaporates so quickly that it draws the water (steam cloud) out with it. You must be careful not to “douse” the area with alcohol. Just lightly wipe it.
Back to the removing the neck. You will notice after a minute or two that the body will be able to move a little. Keep trying to move the body while applying the steam and you will soon find that the neck/body joint has broken loose. At this point you want to stop applying steam. You remove the guitar from the  vise or jig and try rocking the neck back and forth till you feel the joint come apart. Please practice patience here, because it is possible that you will have to add more steam to the joint if you don’t feel the glue release.  If you have gotten the neck off the guitar without  anything else coming with it ,besides a splinter of wood or two, it is time to clean off all of the residual glue and stuff (melted finish, and other dirt and debris), It is much easier to do this now when the glue is soft and gooie from the steam. Be careful to save or retrieve any wood splinters or wood chunks so that you can reglue them back into their proper places  after you have thoroughly cleaned the male and female end of the dovetail joint and the tongue of the fingerboard and top of the guitar body.  After this is done it is time to sit back and relax (have a beer, whatever ) and feel good about what you have accomplished. This is not any easy task and please don’t try it if your not set up to do so. You will only cause yourself more problems. If there is anyone out there (in the sound of my typewriter) that has tried this before , or thinking about trying to perform this procedure, or any other instrument project, I welcome you to discuss it further by phone or by email. I can be reached at (440) 474-2141 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  You can also visit me at my new website at www.wood-n-strings .net  . So until next time please try to “Stay in Tune” 

                                  Thanks Again!
     Patrick from Wood-Strings