Neck Pocket Angle Jigs and techniques

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by chinjazz, Jun 12, 2019.

  1. Hey Folks,

    I was recently planning cuts on a few bodies and simultaneously was doing a set up on one of my older basses....

    Not sure if my personal preference for low action got more low than in the past but I found myself shimming 2-3 business card thick pieces at the base of the heel, and really liked it a lot.

    Of course started researching and now want to route angles into my neck pockets.

    Anyone care to share your pocket angle jigs, techniques (low or high tech)?

    Thanks, and happy wood shedding!
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  2. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Well, first, if you decide that you want to build in a neck angle, you have a choice of cutting the angle into the heel of the neck, or tilting the neck pocket. I've done both; there are pros and cons to each. For the set neck guitars that I used to make with Mike Lipe, and similar guitars that Keith Horne makes now, we cut the angle on the neck blank, early in the process, while it's still full width with no fingerboard. Clamped in one of my router planer fixtures, set to the angle with a cardboard gauge.

    When I've needed to cut an angle into the neck pocket, there's been no special fixturing. A normal routing template with shims under the back end to tilt it at the small angle. You have to measure carefully and do the geometry to get the angle and the depth of the pocket where you want it. If you want to use that same angled neck pocket on multiple upcoming instruments, you make a routing template that has the tilt built in to it.
  3. Hey Bruce,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and techniques :)

    Having watched a number of on-line videos and web posts it certainly seems important to know what particular angle is needed. Figuring out what that angle is also essential. I have a general tools protractor that I've believe I've outgrown (at least for this application) 17 Square Head Stainless Steel Angle Protractor, 0 to 180 Degrees, 6-Inch Arm | General Tools & Instruments.

    I'm thinking I should get a digital one:

    I'll start practicing with shimming the back side of the routing template.

    I like being able to have a Jig that is flexible for re-use and can be adjustable. This morning I watched a video from Fletcher Handcrafted Guitars, and he's got this pretty elaborate Jig he made (fast forward to 11:26 here).
    I think what I like about this jig is the side rails adjust up and down and side to side (for any neck). Just watching it makes me want to try a set neck at some point :)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  4. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    I shim the back edge of the jig a bit to angle the pocket. The jig in this photo was being clamped over a contoured body, so it fits relatively tightly to the top contour even though the pocket ends up being angled.

    I like angling the pocket because it allows the end of the neck to remain square with the pocket when it is added. As far as knowing the precise angle that is going to produce the string geometry that you want there's nothing like drawing your instrument in CAD. I "group" the entire side neck profile and then you can simply adjust the tilt angle until you get exactly what you want and measure the resulting angle.

    This is a copy/paste from the 30" scale semi-acoustic bass that I documented previously in this topic:

    30” Scale Compact Semi-acoustic Fretless Bass Build

    79. The neck pocket routing guide jig is clamped in place and the neck pocket is routed. I do this in 1/16” depth increments until the correct depth (5/8”) is reached. The back edge of the routing guide was sanded to contour it so it could be clamped against the body to produce a uniform pocket depth.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
    chinjazz likes this.
  5. Thanks for posting this Rudy!

    I've seen your build thread a few times and for some odd reason, I didn't pick up on the neck pocket angle stuff.
    Now I'm kinda laser focused on the subject because I definitely want angled neck pockets.

    I like your tip about while in the CAD software to group the entire side, and adjusting the tilt (then measuring the angle in the software). I'll definitely do a full scale drawing in software.

    I'm wondering about the picture above. Once you figured out your desired angle, how did achieve placing the neck pocket template at that correct angle (after adding in shims)? Did you use a digital protractor like the one I posted above, or angle finder?

    Digitial Angle Finder Rule.png
    Thanks :)
  6. Craftsman had and maybe still has a level that has a digital component that you can 0, say on the guitar top, then it will read out your angle off of that zero. Would help setting the angle of the template to the body.

    Edit: I think this is the one:
  7. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    You can do it all with trigonometry, a calculator and a pencil. Calculate and measure how much higher one end is than the other. That's usually more accurate than trying to use a digital angle gauge, when working with small angles.
  8. My son took trig, and in his 2nd year of HS now, he’s going into pre-calc. I probably should have asked him (even though he’s at that age where he doesn’t have time for his parental units :) )

    In My post above (#5), I asked how with tools, and thanks @Matt Liebenau !

    I just found an iPhone app my RIDGID called “Level”, which seems pretty accurate as a cheap alternative.

    Have a great day, and weekend!
  9. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    I do it Bruce's way. Use math to figure rise over run for the angle you want. Say, it turns out to be 1/16" every foot. That's easy to check for and doesn't need any special tool.

    Put the template on a piece of scrap wood. Make a reference mark on the scrap so you can consistently place the template. Put a straightedge sitting on top of it, and measure the straightedge's height above the scrap a foot away from the edge of the pocket on the template. That's your "zero angle" height as a reference point. Tape a shim under the template, put it back on the scrap and check the height again, and adjust the shims until you get that 1/16" (or whatever) target rise above your zero angle measurement. So if your first measurement was 1/2", you're looking for 9/16". Once you get the shims right, fire up the router and make a cut on the scrap (doesn't have to be full depth, just skim the surface) and verify using the same method.
    tbrannon and Matt Liebenau like this.
  10. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    I'm not a fan of trying to measure an angle because (1) I'm too cheap to buy tools that won't see a lot of use, and (2) VERY small changes in neck angle will result in large changes in where the "ideal" string height at the bridge will end up. (That's why a relatively thin shim can make such a difference in action...)

    I used a much simpler process. Since I knew the general height I wanted the strings to end up at, I simply fastened the pocket jig down to create the angle needed to create the pocket. What I had as constants were the thickness of the neck and the depth of the pocket that would give me the correct amount of neck above the body surface. I placed a straightedge on the neck pocket jig's top surface and measured the height of the gap at the bridge location, shimming the rear edge of my jig until the measurement would result in the correct angle.

    It's harder to explain than to do, unfortunately. It's one of those things that ends up being clearer when you're in the process of doing it.

    When I set up the angle I worked to create a neck pocket that would be very close to ideal, but at an angle that if it wasn't close enough I could add shims at the end of the pocket and not the body end. A few thousandths of shim at the end can be added and it won't create any visible gap where the neck meets the body. If you were to need the other end shimmed that would be visible. Hope that is sort of clear?

    The process of creating a jig with the correct angle would be a whole lot easier on a flat-bodied bass, but in my case I needed something that I could "mate" to the carved top surface. That required a bit of one the fly improvisation.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2019
    dwizum likes this.
  11. Hey Rudy,

    Thanks for the detail. I think I get it. I was picturing it well enough to start giving it a few trys/visualizations to get the gist. I was thinking yesterday that I won't know till I gave it a few trys, so that all makes sense (it certainly is hard to explain).

    Cheers, Thanks!