Exploring Guitar Neck Issues
It is easy to get confused between neck relief and neck angle when looking down the edge of some guitar necks. These are very different issues indeed, and unfortunately unqualified guitar “techs” get confused also and they can literally break your instrument by making improper adjustments. A mid-grade Taylor came through our shop recently and the neck had been broken by someone working at a different store in town.* He obviously didn’t know the differences between these two issues. Below I will explain why. We wanted to use this situation as a warning and an opportunity to inform our customers so you also know what to look for.
Check out the diagram below. Neck Relief is the amount of “bow” in a neck due to the tension of the strings. This “bow” occurs only in the area between the nut (1st fret area) and the heel of the neck (the bulkier section where neck and body meet.) Neck Angle refers to the actual angle the neck makes relative to the body. This defines how well the strings point and angle toward the bridge. In the diagram below you can see excessive neck relief in figure 1 and then a low neck angle in figure 2. Notice in figure 2 how the angle is so low that the bridge cannot be lowered enough to create proper string height. This is an example of what we will be exploring, so please keep reading!
This is a commonly misunderstood scenario. A low neck angle and excessive neck relief can sometimes look similar and will always have the same effect: high action. An untrained person can misinterpret this and tighten a truss rod well past the limit of the neck and break the rod, or the neck itself, in a fruitless attempt to correct a problem that will not be resolved with a flatter neck or even one with negative relief (back bow.)
Below we can see two sets of images: one set viewing down the treble side and the other of the bass side on a Taylor neck with a low and improper neck angle. Notice the superimposed white line in the second image of each set, indicating the actual neck angle pointing to the middle section of the bridge. One can imagine an untrained eye seeing this and then cranking on the truss rod more and more while not getting the desired result until “crack!” A proper neck angle will line up right with the top of the bridge (not the saddle.)
It could’ve been worse. The customer actually took it upon himself to squeeze in some wood glue in the cracked throat area because the shop who broke it just filled it with wood putty and said it was probably due to dryness, even while explaining they cranked the truss extensively without getting it to adjust enough! Be careful who you let work on your guitars! Many stores don’t understand or appreciate the art form we practice, the craft of luthierie and informed guitar repair. After all, you probably wouldn’t take your car with transmission issues to your neighbor who does oil changes for his buddies on the weekends.
*Custom Sound is the only authorized warranty repair center for Taylor guitars in Northern Arizona. Taylors have a unique neck joint or neck attachment system that makes neck angle issues fairly easy to fix if you have the right tools. Also, we find many Taylors with loose neck bolts inside the guitar due to humidity issues and this can cause or contribute to a low neck angle as well.
Don’t let this happen to you!