A broken truss rod and straightening a bowed neck!

GREETINGS GUITAR GEEKS! As promised, I’m back! 

I hope all of you had a great time putting 2020 to sleep and a wonderful time ushering in 2021. May it be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for all.

During this ‘break period’ I worked on a clutch of guitars, but allow me to begin on the note I signed off: 

With that being reiterated, let’s introduce you to the job at hand.



There’s one instrument on the bench and its mirror image stands in the corner. The one in the corner I can take apart – part by part – and have allowed it to take up premium space for the sole purpose of explaining to customers and people in general, guitar anatomy and pointing out problem areas in other instruments.

One look at it and it was clear that the owner was conscious about the evils of counterfeiting. This one was called ‘Fendar’ but the owner had taken the time and effort to cover up all branding. 

To the owner: Even though the style in which the name is printed is very similar to the famous American brand, you needn’t have worried about copyright infringement. The original is spelt ‘Fender’!

So, the young man who brought in this guitar sheepishly admitted to it having been a hurried purchase some years ago. Now, more informed and wiser, he understood his mistake but still wanted to see if this instrument could be salvaged. 

The problem, as he explained it, was two-fold. One: the truss rod didn’t work, and two, the neck had way too much relief (and thus very high action) for the instrument to be played comfortably. 

Yeah! The action was reeee-ally high. Here you can also see another effort to hide the branding on the instrument.

He also mentioned something about either the ‘B’ or the ‘G’ string not intonating properly or going out of tune (I forget).

One look at the bridge/saddle area and a very discriminatory ‘Humph!’ escaped my lips.

You see why? 

Those of you who have been regular readers of this blog, know about the angst caused to me by nuts and bolts in bridges and plastic nut and saddles . Here I was seeing both in the same frame! The area encircled in red is where I could see a hairline crack in the saddle. 

I had decided to throw out this saddle and put in a new plastic one in its place to keep the budget as low as possible. Using only fingers, I tried to remove the saddle from its seating, but it would not budge. Gripping it with pliers, this is how it came out.

I was convinced that there was something gripping the saddle in the seating and closer inspection revealed remnants of  what could have been some sort of glue. Measuring the saddle length and width, I was surprised that it was much, much smaller than what I had. In order to put in a new one, I would have to shave down a new saddle much in height and length and thickness. Too much work!

I just super-glued the two parts of the old saddle and polished it up, and it was as good as new. However, the seating did need attention which I gave with 80 grit sandpaper and some elbow grease.

All this was the easy part. Now, began the real work.

Trying to work the truss rod, indeed, it did not work. My guess is, it never did, even in the shop from where it was bought. If I tried fiddling with it too much, the nut capping the truss rod would come off. So, I left the truss rod alone almost as if it did not exist!

The process that I tried to straighten the neck, works (usually) when you take off the fretboard, and actually focus on the wood of the neck. But then, on this instrument, investing so much time and effort would have been a waste. I still tried it with the fretboard on because I wanted to see if it would work, and besides, there was nothing to lose.

It’s a process of applying clamp pressure under hot and moist conditions. Moisture was provided by a portion of a leg of a pair of jeans soaking in water, while the heat was radiated through heat guns.

As fate would have it, one heat gun got so hot that it caught fire, melted, burnt the guitar neck rest (the block of wood) it was resting on. The molten plastic burnt the mat that I lay instruments on, and while I was fighting the fire, some of the molten plastic landed on me too.

Suffice it to say that disaster was averted, and I ordered another (better, sturdier) device to carry on with the work. For four or five days, I kept feeding the guitar neck water and heat intermittently and then let it cool completely.

Thereafter, when I released the neck from bondage, it had a bit of a bow in the reverse direction, such that it would certainly make the strings buzz. Believe me, I was very happy to see that because I knew that once I strung up the guitar, string tension would pull the neck straight.

With just the stringing left to be done, I cleaned up the fretwires and the fretboard and oiled it, exposing the pretty wood grain of the fretboard.

Look carefully at the background and you can probably see the burnt neck rest and the portion of the matting that got burnt in the fire episode.

As I strung up the instrument, I noticed to my horror that the neck not just straightened but much of the bow returned in it. Ah, well, I tried!

But I was pleasantly surprised when the owner came to pick up the guitar and pronounced that it was much better and very playable.

So much for happy endings!

Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me: guitarguyhelp@gmail.com

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