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Making a neck

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Neek, Mar 29, 2013.

  1. Neek


    Nov 26, 2008
    South Florida
    Greetings LC,

    I have hit a road block on my current project and I come to the masters and inspirators at the Luthiers Corner for assistance. This is my first attempt at making my own neck, as opposed to buying a pre-made neck from allparts/warmoth/mightymite. I spent a few days reading through the full build tutorials in the LC, but no one mentions how they built their neck, it just magically appears from one post to the next. So I have a few questions regarding the process.

    Does the maple board need to be perfectly flat and straight? I bought three separate 3.5' lengths of hard maple 1x4's from the local lumber yard, and although they seem flat when held in my hands, laying them on the floor reveals a bow in the wood. It wont lay flat on the floor. In order to fix this, I soaked one of the boards in water, then placed it on a flat surface with a few heavy objects on top, hoping that after a few days it will be relatively flat. Is this an issue all builders deal with, or do I have to go further out of my way to purchase perfectly flat boards from the start?

    How do you guys get the long sides of the neck perfectly straight? My design is simple enough, no scarf joint, jazz neck profile; but the 25.5" straight cut sides from heel to headstock is difficult to achieve. I made an MDF template of my neck using a router and straight-edge, but even then the final product cut into the maple had little "dips" and "hills" on the long sides that could be felt and seen. The long-and-thin shape of the neck doesn't provide a very stable platform for my router, and my belt sander is nowhere near long enough to sand the entire length at once.

    What is the best way to route a truss rod channel? I jumped ahead of myself and cut my first neck blank before routing the truss rod channel. I had a very hard time trying to line up a make-shift jig and heavy router over the neck to cut the channel right down the center line. In the end, the cut went off center, one side was wider than the other, it was a failure. Is it better to cut the channel into the board, then cut the neck design around the truss channel?

    I'm sure I will have more questions, but for now I'd appreciate any help you can provide.
  2. kaoskater08


    Apr 1, 2011

    I'm not experienced enough to give you an answer for the first two questions, but I can at least give you what I've done for a truss rod. Granted the two neck's I've built are a little different than how you are going about it but maybe you can make some sort of jig/method that can help you accomplish this.

    I use a router edge guide on my router and measure to the center of the neck and rout out the channel. This picture was taken after I routed the channels for the truss rod and carbon fiber rods using the edge guide.

    Attached Files:

  3. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    Hi. I'm new to talkbass, but I've built a few instruments, so I suppose I'm qualified to chime in.
    Yes. I would never use any lumber for a guitar neck without first planing the surface that the fingerboard will be glued to. A jointer or a planer is the ideal tool for the job. If you don't have access to one, it could be done by hand, but it would be quicker to take your boards to a cabinet shop and ask them if they would be willing to true them up for a few bucks. It wouldn't take more than a few minutes, whereas doing it by hand would take a very long time, and the end result would not be as precise.

    Serious builders have lots of power tools for this very reason. Businesses that sell lumber don't put too much effort into making sure their boards are perfect, as most woodworkers have the tools to true up the boards themselves.

    If you lack the appropriate power tools to do everything you need to, this is not an insurmountable obstacle. Just beg and borrow the tools you need.

    Just a suggestion: You could build a simple router table, and mount your router to it. That way, you could use the same template, but you would be moving the workpiece against a stationary router bit rather than trying to balance your router on a skinny guitar neck. Another option is a Robo-sander sanding drum for use with a drill press. It works much in the same way a pattern router bit works.

    I like to cut the fingerboard to final dimensions and then use the fingerboard itself as my template for truing up the sides of the neck. I first trace the contour fo the fingerboard onto the neck, and then cut as close as I can to the line with a bandsaw. Then I true it up with the fingerboard attached using the robo-sander drum.

    Yes. It just seems easier to work with a board that's slightly wider, and then trim the excess after the truss rod channel is cut.
  4. Neek


    Nov 26, 2008
    South Florida
    Thanks for the replies, fellas. I understand how planing the maple board will flatten it out, but I also imagine it would decrease the thickness of the board. I bought a 1x4 board from the lumber yard without actually noticing that "1x4" doesnt mean 1" by 4", it means .75" by 3.xx". From my measurements of pre-made necks, the final maple thickness is roughly .75". I guess the only way to resolve this issue would be to buy thicker boards in the future, to compensate for thickness lost planing the board flat?
  5. chiselhead


    Mar 18, 2009
    Knox, New York
    I always sight down a board that I'm going to buy because in my experience a piece of wood with a bow to it whether it be up and down or side to side will often exhibit that same bow even after you machine that bow out. In other words if you absolutely need straight wood buy straight pieces to begin with. The way I approach it is any machining you do whether it be sawing, planing or jointing is only a way to further refine the previous machining process. That's not to say minor bows can't be taken care of for certain woodworking projects with these processes but if I want dead straight I try and start with a dead straight.
  6. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    Assuming the board doesn't get TOO thin from truing it up, you can compensate for the lost thickness by using a slightly thicker fingerboard. I believe that you can specify thickness when ordering a fingerboard from Luthiers Merchantile.
  7. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    You should have read Melvyn Hiscock or Martin Koch's books so you had a base of knowledge to start building an instrument. Bruce Hoadleys "Understanding Wood" could prove to be helpful also.

    Flat is critical for the neck to fingerboard surface. Too thin equates to the truss rod coming through the back of the neck and no thickness of fretbard is going to counteract that.
  8. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    You raise a valid point. However, it seems that a few thousandths of an inch would be negligible. In your opinion (for a Fender style neck), what is the minimum thickness (after planing) for a maple board? At what point do you draw the line and reject a board because it's too thin?
  9. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Depending on the feel the customer is looking for, I will go as thin as .200 for a fretboard on a flat or 20" radius for people looking for neck thicknesses close to Dingwall. You can go even thinner if you are doing a board similar to the Fender veneer fretboards which could be as thin as .065. Your thickness from fretboard bed of the neck to back of the neck is the critical measure, and keeping at least 1/8" behind the rod before finish sanding.
  10. SaintMez

    SaintMez Commercial User

    Jan 3, 2010
    Meridian, idaho
    Blood Brothers Guitars - Luthier, Porter Guitars - Contractor
    +1. These books will help you a great deal. Also I'd suggest a more thorough search of past build threads in the LC. Over the years there have been a great number of threads by very professional builders who document exactly how they go about building their necks. No magically appearing necks...you can find everything you need to know here.
  11. Neek


    Nov 26, 2008
    South Florida
    I should have figured there would be good literature out there to help me. The most I've read was Dan Erlewine's Guitar Player Repair Guide, that was years ago. I understand the importance of starting with a straight board. I have been reading through some of the most recent builds in the LC, I know there are more out there, but I felt from what I saw (besides amazing craftsmanship and attention to detail) my specific questions had not been answered completely. Thank you for the information, I will track down those books and keep reading through the LC.

  12. jsbarber


    Jun 7, 2005
    San Diego
    I'm not a builder so take this FWIW, but it sounds like you just bought the wood from a lumber yard. It's my understanding that most builders buy the wood and store it for an extended period of time before using it, in order to have the moisture content stabilize. I think that it typically has higher moisture content when you buy it and the wood moves a bit as the moisture content changes and adjusts to the humidity level in your workshop. I'm not sure how accurate this is but others here may be able to give you more definitive guidance.

  13. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    I'm surprised nobody's mentioned this yet, but - that board you soaked in water? You can't use it for a while. It needs to dry completely before it's a candidate for a neck again.
  14. Neek


    Nov 26, 2008
    South Florida
    I figured, but I didn't want to waste the money I spent on it without first trying to salvage it. From what I gathered here, I had already decided to head back to the lumber yard to get a more suitable piece of wood for this current project.

    At the moment, I have the bowed board clamped between two large pieces of wood. I had soaked it again, since it still had a (slightly less obvious) bow after removing the heavy objects it was resting under. After soaking it the second time, I clamped it between two other boards and I will leave it there for a while before releasing the pressure. Is this attempt to straighten the board futile?
  15. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    These are both very valid points that deal with the two different ways that wood retains moisture.

    Wood that is too green has too much intracellular (inside the cell) moisture content, and needs to be cured or kiln dried before it can be used.

    A board that gets soaked with water has too much extracellular (outside the cell) moisture.

    Because intracellular moisture is trapped within the cell membrane, it takes much longer to dissipate than extracellular moisture. Therefore, if the maple boards the OP bought are not cured properly, it could be a couple of years before they are suitable for use as neck blanks. If they were indeed cured properly, then the board that was soaked in water should be fine after it dries for a week or two.
  16. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    It might work, it might not. Wood tends to lay into a comfortable position after being cut. I've had ripped stringers sitting for a while, ready to be planed before glue up, and then after planing, they've twisted or curved. Sometimes there is just force within the wood that comes out when it's overall shape is changed. Unless there is another piece glued to it to spread that force, a lone piece will usually just settle back to it's comfortable position, no matter how much you try to wet/bend, etc. Other times, it totally works with a minimum of effort. You just need to be prepared to recognize when it's not going to work and just get another piece of wood... :)
  17. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    I think it is. Wood has a memory, and it wants to do what it wants to do. Wood often twists or bows as it cures. This is normal. The proper way to deal with it is to plane the surfaces straight after it has adequately cured - NOT to try to force it back the way it was before it has cured.

    What if you (temporarily) successfully straighten the board and make a neck out of it, and THEN the bow returns? All the time you put into building the neck will have been wasted.

    I'm afraid if that plank of maple is too thin for a neck blank after the surface has been planed straight, then it can't be used for that purpose.

    IMHO, you're wasting your time trying to straighten out that board, which could lead to you wasting your time building an entire neck out of a piece of wood that just doesn't want to be straight. Believe me - your time is WAY more valuable than one piece of wood.
  18. Meatrus


    Apr 5, 2009
    Whether it would be quick and accurate or not would depend on the person using the hand plane. It takes a lot of practice but you can get just as good if not better joints with a hand plane and once experienced its very quick! Look through instrument building history for evidence of this :).
  19. Neek


    Nov 26, 2008
    South Florida
    I like this mentality. I'll hold on to the maple, maybe I can use it for another project later on. At the very least I can use it to hone my hand tool skills on a mock-up neck build. Luckily maple isn't terribly expensive.

    I appreciate all the replies :)
  20. Hot Vibrato

    Hot Vibrato

    Mar 26, 2013
    Okay - It would tale ME a very long time and the end result would not be as precise...

    However, that's definitely a skill I'd love to have - but I'm not giving up my jointer!

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