A deformed neck is one of the most common problems found in guitars. While there are ways to fix such issues with a truss rod, the truth is you do not always have this option. And you have to fix a bowed guitar neck without a truss rod. The bad news is that most of these problems are caused by users when they set up their guitars. This is the main reason wherefore so many expert players take their guitars to professional technicians – they have the experience and tools to do a proper job. If you are like me, chances are you are not an expert, and you want to do it at home.
Now, before learning this, you should understand why you have to do it. At first, I thought I could do a pretty good job with a bent neck as well – after all, how would it affect my playing style? But then, I learned that the straighter the neck, the better the experience – despite being a bit bent due to the natural tension. A straight neck will relieve the tension, while a bent one will bring in a buzzy sound. When bent on the inside, strings will be too far from the fretboard.
Either way, a bowed neck will cause all kinds of issues. Having a truss rod will make the job so much easier, but there are situations when you do not have one. How do you get your guitar fixed then?
What you need to Straighten a Guitar Neck Without a Truss Rod
Most amateurs will have one option at their disposal – the heat. There are more ways to get the job done with heat, but a few of them stand out in the crowd. Besides, they are relatively safe, especially when compared to other solutions that can damage the guitar neck. So, what do you need?
- Bench clamp
- Clean cloth or old T-shirt
- Clothing iron
- Measuring tape
You can also use a string winder. While not mandatory, it will help in the process.
There are more sophisticated methods to fix a bowed guitar neck without a truss rod, but they require a bit of experience and infinitely more work1.
For example, you can come up with some cauls and cork pads, which can go between the clamping jaws and the neck straightener – yes, you will have to use some clamps. Two different pastes usually make cauls – the point is to get the solution to harden and imitate the profile of the neck.
Again, you will need a heater, but you will also have to clamp both sides to put some pressure on the neck. Sometimes, you might have to use more than just two clamps. Clamps must be perfectly aligned to avoid twisting the neck. Once the neck is straight, let the clamps in place and allow it a bit of time to cool down.
While the option mentioned above sounds too sophisticated and requires way more tools, the classic one is more simplistic.
Lose the strings
Rookie mistake – leaving the strings on. They must be removed – all of them, one by one. Do it manually or use a string winder for rushing it.
Do some measuring
It is pointless to mention that you should have a wide workplace – such as a large table or a top. Place the guitar in there and make sure you measure the right distance between the bench and the bottom of the neck. I recommend doing it twice to make sure.
Install the clamps
Exactly! You cannot learn if you do not have a few clamps. These are the main instruments. Set up a couple of clamps – you can easily find table clamps in commerce. They should be around 12 inches one from another set at a distance you measured before – between the bench of the table and the neck.
Bring the clothing iron in
Get the clothing iron. If you have more settings, you should go on medium heat – not too little, not too much. Let it warm up for a few minutes.
Wrap the neck
Get the old T-shirt or the cloth and wrap it around the neck. You do not want the iron to go directly on the neck, so you need some barrier. You can use more cloths to wrap the body as well.
Use the iron on the neck
Run the iron on the fret – make sure you target the area where the body and neck meet. The point is to melt the glue located in the neck. You can then work on the joint a little.
Clamp some more
Get another clamp in and place it between the other two. The guitar should be facing the ceiling. Tighten the third clamp – just enough to prevent random movement, but not to damage it 2. Once done, reach to the clamp close to the body and tighten it once the neck is perfectly straight.
Let it cool down
Once all these are done, you want the glue cooled down and solid again. In other words, I recommend leaving it like this for a few hours – when I do my guitars, I let them cool down overnight. Better to be safe than sorry.
The bottom line, learning this is not such a complicated job, but it is a thorough and meticulous job. It takes time, lots of attention, and may also cause some frustration. You want the neck to be perfectly straight. Luckily, it can be done. If it is not perfect from your first attempt, you can do it again the next day.