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Steel Reinforced Neck

I was recently doing some research online trying to find out the difference between a "Steel Reinforced Neck" (found on a lot of old Harmony and Kay model guitars), and an actual truss rod. Is a steel reinforced neck just a neck with a truss rod that is not adjustable, or is it something different? I like the vibe of some of the old Harmony archtop models like the "Broadway" and "Monterey", and i have been considering purchasing one.

I am a little skeptical of buying anything without a truss rod, and I don't know exactly what the "Steel Reinforced Neck" is. Any insight you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your help.
Brett Strickland

"Steel Reinforced Neck" was industry code for, not adjustable, used by cheap guitars in past times. I can't remember the last time I saw "Steel Reinforced Neck" on a new guitar. It means there is a steel reinforcing bar in the neck. There is nothing under the fake truss rod cover that says, "steel reinforced neck". Essentially all guitar necks are reinforced with something: an ebony, steel or carbon fiber bar, or one of various styles of adjustable truss rod. If the truss rod cover does not say "steel reinforced neck" there is an adjustable truss rod, but it is probably broken. Kays and Harmonys had "over under" rods. The adjustment nut would shorten the bottom rod, arching the top rod and bending the neck backward. This is a fine concept, and the basis for many modern truss rods, but at the non-adjusting end, the two rods were held together with a shaky spot weld. It was very common for the spot weld to break, leaving the rod useless.

To straighten a Steel Reinforced neck we pull the frets, plane it to the proper drop-back so that the string tension will pull it perfectly straight. Then we install, level, round and polish new frets and you are good to go. Normally, when a truss rod breaks, the neck warps forward. It is sometimes possible to plane and refret the neck and have it play great, with a broken rod. A new rod is the best way to go. As you shop, realize that most of the truss rods you deal with are broken or will break with your first attempt to adjust them.

Another important thing to look at is the joint between the
neck and the body. Truss rods only work from the first to the 14th frets, they basically move the 7th fret up and down. If the warp you see is at the 14th fret, your problem is the neck set. It is possible to set routers to cut a dovetail that fits perfectly, but, in production, the cutters get dull after many cuts, and also, the wood changes shape after it's been cut. In practicality, the only options are: cut the dovetail too tight and hand shave it until it fits perfectly, or cut it too loose and float it together with glue. Martin and Gibson used the former method, Kay and Harmony, the latter. The hide glue that they used broke down and a gap appeared at the bottom of the heel, allowing the neck to pull forward and requiring the bridge to be impossibly low. Resetting a Kay or Harmony neck is quick and easy. Just pop it off, shim and shave it tight and reglue it with hide. Unfortunately, most of these guitars have had their necks reset by home hobbyists with a unclear concept of the problem. It is very common to see various horrors: the gap filled instead of closed, the joint refloated with epoxy, nails, screws etc. Resetting an epoxied neck can be dauntingly expensive.

Those old, American made, pressed top, arch top guitars were of no interest to anyone until the last few years. Now everyone is looking for one. We have restored quite a few. A full meal deal, including a new truss rod, plane and refret, neck reset and regluing cracks and open joints can run six to eight hundred dollars. Never refinish one. The funky is part of the appeal.

Happy hunting.
Steve Mason

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