Ask a Luthier Codabows Instruments Links Pi Guitar String Band Contact
Return to questions listing:

Neck Reset

Q: Any advice on a bowing neck on an acoustic guitar? It's totally playable,
but getting kind of annoying. What all does a reset entail? Do you have
experience in these things?


A: The neck is bowed when the neck arcs forward between the nut and the
body of the guitar. On most instruments, this can be corrected with the
truss rod. A neck reset is required if the movement is where the neck meets
the body. Resetting a neck is major surgery. Everything made out of wood
changes shape every time the weather changes. If the weather bows your neck
backward it will bow back into shape when the weather changes. If it bows
forward, there is 180lbs of string tension holding it in the new position.
Most guitars have an adjustable truss rod to counteract the movement of the
neck and a removable, refitable neck to counteract the movement of the body.

My guess, without looking at your guitar, but based on your statement that it is "totally playable", is that what you need is an action set. We straighten the neck, level the fret tops, round the fret tops, and set the height of the nut and saddle. Then we set the ramping from the saddle to the bridge pin holes, check your tuners, and clean and wax your fingerboard. The strings should be as close to the frets as they can be, without buzzing, for your style. If you beat a guitar your action will need to be a little higher. If you torture it more subtly it can be lower. Action setting is an art. There are even some people who do it for a living who don't do it very well. Find someone with a good reputation for setting actions and play a few guitars that they have set up.

The action is a function of the above mentioned variables. If you
change one factor you must readjust all of the others. Be wary of luthiers
who charge separately for each factor and are willing to address one factor
while ignoring the others. An action set should cost $60-$100, depending on
your locale. You should need an action set periodically. Once, when the
guitar is new, then after the first year and second year. Guitars
eventually stabilize to the point that you may need an adjustment only every
few years.

The other reason that people need an action set, beside wood
movement, is fret wear. This is a function of how much and how hard you
play. How much you rub the hard strings against the softer frets. I have
had a few customers who need their frets actually replaced yearly. Most
people seem to get 10 to 15 years out of a set of frets, with periodic
filing, reshaping and buffing.

Steve Mason