My intention was to tell you all about neck making as it is the very step I’m at with the three guitars I am currently working on. It soon became clear that “Necking” was going cover more that one post, as it should.

The Neck of a guitar is the structural support for the fingerboard, strings, and tuners. It must be light weight, slim, and sufficiently strong. Most all necks are made from Mahogany or Maple. There are varied styles and different methods of construction with several different joint types where the neck meets the body. Most necks should have a truss rod to eliminate bowing, which will also vary in design and installation techniques. Lastly, the fingerboard usually Ebony, Rosewood, Maple, or other very hard wood. Beginning with the wood choice and construction type lets look at these components.

For my necks I use Sapele which is similar to Mahogany and commonly used in instrument construction such as 26 and 36 string harps and Ukulele necks. It has a reddish brown color with nice ribbons down the grain. There are a few basic styles of construction: one piece, two piece with a scarf joint and a single heel block, and multi-piece utilizing a stacked heel block. A one piece neck is cut from a single block of wood. Two-piece and multi-piece necks are cut from a 1×3 board where the multi-piece uses smaller pieces to “stack the heel” while the two-piece has a solid heel block. I use the multi-piece method. Using one board I make the scarf joint, and the heel blocks which are stacked in a specific manner, () , to create ‘one’ heel block. Either type of construction is acceptable and as with most any subject, the more you try to figure out which type is best, the more perplexing, so I say get on with the Necking which leads us to the Joint and I always enjoyed Necking along with a good Joint.

There are several types of neck joints but all are basically a mortise and tenon. Most common is the dovetail mortise and tenon, which is normally made using power tools, however I have seen video of a few talented craftsmen who create this joint by hand. I was humbled. I make mine with a router and jigs which once set up is accurate and reliable. Another type of joint is a rectangular mortise and tenon which can be glued or bolted on. Lastly a dovetail which is bolted on rather than glued. The real task with the union of neck to body is attaining the proper angle. Prior to gluing the neck to the body the headstock must be shaped and tuner mounting holes drilled. Ha! Drilled! Necking with a good joint and Drilled plus, Rods coming up.

Truss Rods are used in guitar necks to eliminate bowing caused by string tension, tension release in the wood or a combination of both. There are two basic types of truss rods, single action or standard and double action or “two way”. A standard rod can only remove ‘upbow’ in a neck where a two way rod can remove ‘back-bow’ as well. I use a standard rod on my acoustics and a two way rod on my electrics. Installation of either type requires routing a channel and creating access either at the headstock or sound hole. Once the rod is securely installed the neck is ready for the Fingerboard. So, on to more Necking and Fingering.

The Fingerboard or Fretboard if you prefer requires a very hard wood such as Rosewood, Maple or Ebony. There are other woods of course that meet the requirement it’s just these are the most popular. I have a nice piece of Persimmon that I am holding onto for the right guitar. Fingerboard blanks are made to 5/16” x 3” x 15” for the acoustic flat top. The finished dimension will be up to 1/16 less thick and tapered from 1 3/4” wide at the Nut to 2 1/8” wide at the Twelfth Fret. The Fingerboard also gets a radius on the top side, fret slots, frets and position markers. Once the components are together the neck still needs to carved.

Carving the neck shape is for me the last step before gluing the neck to the body. There are several profiles used in carving guitar necks which have letter names according to their shapes, as in D C U then Oval. I carve mine to a C shape. The tools used to carve the neck are: chisel, small hand planer, rasp, spoke shave, and various files. I begin by carving the heel, then the headstock transition, and finish by blending the rest of the neck. It also requires a lot of patience to get it right. Once done though it’s very rewarding and takes us to the final component of Necking, the Nut.

The Nut is one of the most important components of the guitar and Necking. The overall best material for the job is bone. (Necking , Bone , Nut, ha… .) Poor choice of material and / or improper nut construction will result in poor tone and can cause high action, fret buzz, or tuning and intonation problems. The nut is shaped to fit into a slot at the base of the fingerboard, curved to the fingerboard radius and slotted to size for each particular string.

With the Nut in place and the neck glued to the body it’s finally time to locate and install the Bridge which will be covered next post. So, always remember when Necking it is important have a good Joint, Easy Fingering, Shapely Headstock, Hard Bone and a well done Nut.


My First Guitar

This blog is intended to pass along my experiences related to guitar building, repair and setup.

I don’t know why but for as long as I can remember, wood has been my material of choice for most building projects. In school I would choose a project which required wood “ I had an edge!” As a hobbyist I built the standard projects; shelves, bookcases, etc. In my early twenties I worked in a close friends cabinet shop and learned to build and install cabinets. My interest in guitars began in my early teens when my brother received a Silvertone electric with integrated case/amp for Christmas. We banged out a few simple things for a couple years then let it collect dust. I bought a Yamaha FG 75 in 1972 I played pretty regularly and improved well. Around 1981 the Yamaha took a fall and broke it’s neck just below the nut and to about the second fret. I used a piece of dried white oak, fashioned a new headstock, chiseled and sanded two steps on the neck and matched them to the new headstock and glued it up! This repair was surprisingly good and I played on for close to twenty years. I did have another guitar, an Eterna by Yamaha, which I played with a band for a couple years but the old one was still my favorite because of it’s tone. I met a luthier around 2000 who explained to me how to reset the neck on the old Yamaha which had unmanageable high action. Amazing! The reset was correct and she was playable again. It has since passed to my son and had some more mods.. more about that at a later date. While playing at a wedding in ’02 or ’03 the brides uncle told me about a guitar building class sponsored by Martin Guitars and a couple years later I was enrolled and on my way to Peters Valley Craft School in Southwestern New Jersey. Still have the first guitar I made at the class and have since built 16 guitars, some of which are ‘Terz’ guitars that I build from my own plans. Every one of them has a story so that’s where I’ll start..

“My First Guitar”

This story has to start with the excellent instruction of Dr. Brown of Martin Guitars and Tom M. , Doc’s assistant. Doc Brown was at the time, running the store at Martin and teaching some of the classes. He had also been a custom builder at Martin and I believe worked on a Clapton signature guitar. There were seven of us attending, all starting out with the same D-18 style kits; Walnut back and sides, Spruce top, Mahogany neck, back-strip, and remaining parts and hardware to complete the build. We began to assemble our parts and learn the ins and outs of guitar building while the rain poured outside and the humidity climbed inside. When a learning curve is involved mistakes will be made, good thing is we all learned from, not only our own mistakes but those of others as well. The goal was for each of us to have the body and neck ready for assembly, not final fit and glued unless that was a personal goal. This worked well for those who wanted to finish on their own to see how it was done first. So at the end of class I headed home with a neck to fit/glue and a bridge to locate and install, a guitar to ‘finish’ and the assurance from Doc Brown that due to the humidity during the week of rain, most of the guitars built there would ‘implode’ if they ever fully dried out. I was successful in getting the guitar complete and must say it turned out well and has gotten pretty high praise from others who have played it.

One of the subjects during the class was ‘repair’. Doc was constantly reminding us as we progressed that taking things apart at some point was a given. He told an amazing story about a guitar taking a fall in their repair shop and literally shattering into large and very small pieces. Claim was, they put it back together, informed the customer as to what had happened, who was pleased with the repair-repair. Knowledge of this feat came in handy when in the early winter months a couple of years later, some painters in the building left windows open and the shared thermostat caused the temp to go over 80 degrees F for the entire day. Needless to say Doc was right. She was cracked down the glue joint on top from bridge to tail, cracked on top at each side of the fingerboard and sliding forward =1/64”, cracked down the back in two places. I searched the web for repair tips, properly reset the ‘slide’ at fretboard/ soundhole and re-enforced the bracing as well. The center line crack got a couple cleats on the inside and some feeble cosmetics on the out side. These repairs got me back to playing so I ignored the cracks in the back for probably two years before deciding to remove the back and repair it. First let me say if you are going to remove the back from the guitar plan on taking the neck off and do it first. Simple reverse order of assembly. I had not done this repair before and didn’t realize the obvious … that things moved. Once I did have the back repaired and re-glued I ended up doing a neck reset. Cosmetically it isn’t the best looking guitar but it is one of my favorites.