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How To Set a Guitar Neck?

Neck setup refers to the method of aligning the neck and the body of a guitar. The ideal neck setup is when the neck is parallel with the strings and centered. The angle of the neck with respect to the body is also set to compensate the height of the bridge and the design of the guitar. However, the fact remains that eventually, this proper setup will lose its stability and alignment.

Preventing Premature Neck Damage

The biggest factors that contribute to neck problems are heat and incorrect humidity level. I have listed few ways to prevent premature damage on your guitar neck – it is by no means complete, but the others are merely common sense.

  • Do not expose your guitar under direct sunlight or leave it inside your car. Heat from the sun and heat inside your car (think of it as an oven) will melt the glued parts in your guitar. The parts will creep in whatever direction they desire and settle there once it cools down.
  • Do not leave your guitar in the kitchen. Constant heat and steam coming from the stove will cause the glue on the guitar to break.
  • Store your guitar in a room with a relative humidity of about 45 – 55% (especially for acoustic guitar). Low humidity – especially during winter – will lead to cracks and shrinking of various wooden parts of your guitar. On the other hand, very high humidity will lead to swelling, corrosion of metal parts as well as delaminating glued parts.
  • Do not get your guitar wet or rained down. If you cannot avoid this – especially during outdoor gigs – wipe your guitar as soon as possible and let it dry (do not use hairdryer). In addition, do not leave it inside a wet case because it will bloat – you may see molds later also.
  • Loosen the strings if you don’t intend to use it for a long time. Loosen the strings to prevent warping of the neck. However, I recommend that you only loosen the strings enough to relieve the tension but do not loosen too much. The tension of a tuned string is heavy for the neck but no tension at all is likewise bad.

Acoustic guitars suffer from neck angle problems more than electric guitars do. In most cases, acoustic guitar necks are glued to the body making it difficult to reset. Taylor Guitars responded with this problem by offering bolt-on necks in their acoustics. There are also electric guitars that use “set-neck” or glued necks – see Gibson Les Paul for example. Removing the neck of a set-neck guitar is a lot of work and there is always a potential for disaster – retouching the finish on the neck, heel or body is nothing compared to wrecking everything apart. So, I would strongly recommend that you seek help from a qualified luthier if you have a set-neck guitar.

Bolt-on guitars (whether electric or acoustic) are more forgiving when it comes to resetting the neck – therefore, this is what I’m going to discuss.

Materials List:

  • Ruler with 1/64 inch marking
  • Straightedge or long ruler
  • Screwdrivers
  • Astro Pneumatic 1600 16-Piece Punch and Chisel Set
  • Sandpaper
  • All Parts EP 0066-000 Electric Guitar Part

*There are 2 great Guitar Tool kits called “GIGmate PRO Guitar Tool Kit” & ”Deluxe Guitar Tool” which contain a lot of the tools you will need to work on your guitar.

*different guitars are built differently and when it comes to working tools such as Screwdrivers, Allen wrenches etc. checking what you need before buying will save you a lot of time and money.

Steps in Setting or Resetting a Bolt-on Guitar Neck

I. Adjusting the Angle of the Neck and the Body.

A. Neck with Positive Angle

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A guitar neck with positive angle will have a very high action because the bridge can no longer be adjusted down. This problem is more common because the tension from the strings pulls the neck forward.

  • Measure the gap between the strings and the top of the last fret using a small ruler with 1/64in. graduation. Take note of your measurement.

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  • With the ruler still on, press one finger on the string and look at your projected string action. Take note of the measurement.

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  • Subtract your first measurement with your second measurement and take note of that measurement too.
    Note: The measurement is just a starting point for the thickness of the shim.
  • Find a shim that matches your measurement.
    Note: You can also build a shim yourself using wood, aluminum, plastic or paper.
  • Remove the neck from the body by unscrewing the bolts using a correct screwdriver.
  • Sandwich the shim between the body and the neck. Adjust the thickness of the shim when necessary.
    Note: You can also remove material from the neck pocket with a chisel or a router.

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  • Align the neck. (See alignment procedure below)
  • Tighten the screw to the neck snugly.
  • Restring, retune and adjust your action.

B. Neck with Negative Angle

The strings on a guitar with negative angle can be so close to the last fret—or even sit on all the frets. If the bridge has already achieved maximum adjustment height, resetting the neck is the only solution.
Note: The Gibson Les Paul and few others are designed with an angled neck because the bridge sits high on the arch of the body.

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  • Remove the neck from the guitar using a screwdriver.
  • Estimate the thickness of the shim to be inserted at the front side of the neck pocket.
    Note: After you have found the correct thickness of the shim, use that measurement as a starting point when removing material (wood) from the neck pocket.
  • Place the shim and reinstall the neck.

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  • Use a sharp chisel or router to remove material from the neck pocket.
    Caution: You should be comfortable in using either a chisel or a router. Always use safety precautions when dealing with sharp tools.
  • Use the thickness of the shim you installed earlier as a reference of the depth of material to be removed. Gradually remove material only on the back side of the neck pocket.

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  • Always check your progress by reinstalling the neck.
    Tip: You can temporarily clamp the neck to the body.

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  • Place a straightedge or a long ruler on top of the bridge saddle and neck to see if you are near or already at your desired depth.
  • When you are satisfied with the result, sand the neck pocket with a 320 grit sandpaper to smoothen rough spots.
    Caution: Do not overdo the sanding procedure – just apply slight pressure and let the sandpaper do the work.
  • Align the neck. (See alignment procedure below)
  • Tighten the screw to the neck snugly.
  • Restring, retune and adjust your action.

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II. Adjusting the Alignment of the Neck and the Body

A misaligned neck has strings that fall off the edge of the fingerboard.

  1. Loosen the strings but do not remove.
  2. Loosen the bolts on the neck slightly (not too loose).
    – If the neck was previously removed:
  • Screw the bolts on the neck and tighten it slightly.
  • Install the strings just until the slack is gone.
  • Look at the two E strings (first and sixth) and adjust the neck until both strings run parallel with the edges of the finger board.
    Tip: You don’t need to measure – doing it by eye is faster and accurate too.
  • When the alignment is already acceptable, tighten the bolts on the neck snugly.
    Note: Be careful not to disturb the alignment when tightening the bolts.

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Now that you know how to reset or setup your guitar neck, I would still recommend that you do it first on a cheap guitar.

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