Attempting to straighten the neck on your guitar is easily one of the scariest things that you can do when setting up your guitar. This is precisely why most guitarists take their warped-neck guitars to guitar technicians, who have the proper tools and expertise to do it correctly. The thing is:
It really is not that difficult to do on your own.
All you need is the proper tools and a little know-how to make it happen. There are a few different ways that you can go about straightening your neck. In this article we will go through those options and tell you precisely what you need to do to get your guitar back to normal!
- 1 Why Do I Need To Straighten My Neck?
- 2 Sighting Your Neck
- 3 Tap Test
- 4 Checking For Fret Buzz
- 5 How to Straighten a Guitar Neck With a Truss Rod
- 6 How to Straighten a Guitar Neck Without a Truss Rod (Using Heat)
- 7 First Part Of Setup Phase Complete
Why Do I Need To Straighten My Neck?
Before we get deep into the straightening solutions, let’s make sure you know why this is necessary in the first place. In a perfect world, you want your neck to be as straight as possible, though it will always have a slight bend in it thanks to natural tension.
Straightening the neck will get rid of excessive bend and relieve the tension. If you have too much back bow, you will have a nasty, buzzy sound. This means that you need to relieve tension on your guitar neck. If your neck is bent the other way, your strings will feel much too far off the fretboard, making the guitar difficult to play.
Sighting Your Neck
One of the first things that you must do before straightening your neck is to give it a proper look. This will help you gain a bit more insight into how the neck is reacting to the truss rod and the tension of the strings. Don’t worry too much at this point. All you are doing is analyzing the situation to see what kind of adjustment is necessary, or if any adjustment is necessary at all.
Here are some steps to sight your neck:
- Tune your guitar to your preferred pitch.
- Turn your guitar to the side, close one of your eyes, and peer down the neck starting from the top of the headstock.
- Look at the profile on both the bass and treble ends of your neck to see if you notice a curve.
- Your truss rod will affect the middle of the neck more than anything, so be sure to look carefully from the fourth fret to the eighth fret.
If you follow these steps but are still unsure of your sighting abilities, you can also use the tap test method to assess the curvature of your neck. The tap test is an excellent way to get a feel for the amount of neck relief your guitar has. You are essentially using the strings on your guitar as a straightedge to check for bend.
The idea is that you must analyze the space between the frets and strings. A neck with too much space typically suffers from too much relief, while a neck with too little space typically suffers from back bow.
Checking For Fret Buzz
The action on your guitar and the relief in your neck go hand in hand. It is essential that you make sure these are both set up properly so that you are comfortable playing. But you also don’t want to have any buzzing frets. A buzzing fret is a surefire indication that you need to make an adjustment. Here are some tips for checking to see if your guitar has fret buzz:
- If your guitar has buzz within the first five frets, you likely have too much back bow.
- If your guitar’s relief is appropriately set, though it also has buzz above the 12th fret or throughout your fretboard, you more than likely need to raise your action.
- If your guitar is buzzing above the 12th fret after adjustment, you’ve more than likely added too much relief.
How to Straighten a Guitar Neck With a Truss Rod
To adjust your neck with the truss rod, you will only need a nice flat surface to work on and the following tools:
1. Check The Straightness of Your Neck
If you are using a notched straight edge, this part of the process will be pretty straightforward. Place the notched straight edge atop the frets and shine a small light behind it. If your neck is not straight, the light will shine through the notches.
If you don’t want to use a straight edge or you do not have one, you can use a capo to hold the first string down. Then press down on the fret where the neck meets the body of the guitar. This will create a straight line between the two points, which you can measure with feeler gauges.
If your guitar has relief in the neck, there will be tons of distance around the seventh fret. If your neck has a bow, the distance around the seventh fret will be much smaller.
Get a better idea of how to use feeler gauges below:
2. Adjusting the Truss Rod
This is the part where you need to take extreme caution so that you do not over-tighten your truss rod. The truss rod is a piece of metal that applies pressure to your neck.
If you tighten the truss rod too much, you could actually warp or snap the wood on your neck. If you do that, you’re in for an incredibly expensive repair.
In general, you will need to look out for two different kinds of truss rods:
- Gibson Truss Rods
- Fender Truss Rods
The main difference between the two is that the Fender Telecaster truss rod can be found at the bottom of the guitar neck closest to the body, while the Gibson truss rod can be found at the top of the neck closest to the headstock.
Adjusting a Gibson Truss Rod
Gibson guitars have access to their truss rod near the headstock, making it very easy to adjust.
Side note: most guitars will use headstock-accessible truss rods these days, so even if you are using an Ibanez, Epiphone, Gretsch, Later-Fender, etc., you can follow these same rules.
- Tune your guitar up to the proper pitches. If your preferred tuning is something other than standard EADGBE, then tune to that. You need string tension to see how you will want to adjust the neck.
- Remove the cover on your truss rod by unscrewing it. The cover will typically be in-between the tuning pegs near the headstock.
- Depending on the type of truss rod head, you might need a specific tool to adjust it. These heads can range from nuts to screw heads to Allen heads, so make sure that you find out which one you need prior to starting this process.
- Begin by turning your rod by ⅛ turns. If you are looking to eliminate back bow, you tighten the screw. If you are looking to add relief, loosen the screw.
- Retune the guitar after your ⅛ turn. Keep the necessary tension on the neck by applying string tension. Without it, you won’t be able to measure your bow or relief properly.
- Repeat the steps above until your neck is straight. When it looks correct and plays in tune, replace your truss rod cover. Voila!
Adjusting a Fender Telecaster Rod
Unlike Stratocasters or other newer Fender guitars, older Telecasters have their truss rod endpoints at the bottom of their necks. Some Telecasters can be adjusted without unbolting the neck (usually newer ones), though some require that it comes off.
For the sake of differentiating between these and the Gibson truss rods, let’s talk about the ones that need to come off.
- Loosen all of your strings along with the two bolts that are furthest away from your headstock. Make sure these bolts are loosened all the way.
- Loosen your two peghead neck bolts ⅓ of the way.
- Gently move your guitar neck away from the body to expose the screw on the truss rod.
- Most telecasters will require a flat-head screwdriver, so purchase one if you don’t have one available at home! Carefully turn the screw by a ⅛ turn. Tighten your screw to get rid of neck relief, and loosen your screw to get rid of back-bow.
- After that ⅛ turn, tighten the neck bolts back to the body of the guitar and tune up. You must use the tension of the strings on the neck to see how much bend is in your neck.
- If your guitar neck has too much back-bow or relief, repeat the steps in the process.
How to Straighten a Guitar Neck Without a Truss Rod (Using Heat)
Tools that you’ll need:
While it is pretty standard to adjust your neck by loosening or tightening the truss rod, there are some situations where that can be difficult. Older guitars may have loose truss rods or threads that have been worn, meaning adjustment can prove futile. Luckily, you can use a mix of heat and pressure to properly align your neck. Here are the steps to do so:
- Remove the strings from your guitar. You can do this by hand, though a string winder will make the process much quicker.
- Place your guitar on your workbench or workspace. Using a measuring tape, measure the distance between the bottom of the neck and the bench.
- Set up two separate table/bench clamps approximately 12 inches apart. Make sure that these clamps are set at the prior-found distance between the bench and the neck.
- Turn your clothing iron on and set it on medium heat. Give it some time to warm up.
- Wrap an old piece of cloth or t-shirt around the guitar neck to create a small barrier between the iron and neck. While we want to use the heat to loosen the adhesive between the neck and the pocket, we never want to apply direct heat to our guitar. If you have some other t-shirts or cloth materials lying around, we also recommend wrapping the guitar body to protect it from dripping water or heat as well.
- Gently run the iron atop the fret area where the neck meets the body. Do this for around two minutes. The heat from the iron will temporarily melt the glue inside the neck, expanding the wood and allowing you to move the neck joint slightly.
- Place your guitar string-side up and clamp it between the center of the clamps. Tighten the clamp near the headstock to prevent movement.
- Tighten the clamp nearest the body to realign your neck to a straight position.
- Leave your guitar clamped overnight. The glue will eventually cool and reset the neck so that it is straight.
Note: both of these methods will work with a bass guitar.
First Part Of Setup Phase Complete
So by now you should have a good understanding of how to straighten your guitar neck. Your instinct might be to turn this project over to a professional, but know that this is not a difficult process. You don’t need a guitar technician as much as you think.
With that said, make sure you approach your straightening process carefully. The proper caution, care, and tools will ensure a smooth and painless process that will leave you with a beautifully straight neck. Approach it hastily and you will likely create more damage than before.
Now that you’ve mastered the straightening of your neck, you can move on to other setup processes, including setting the proper intonation, setting your preferred action, and adjusting the height of your pickups.