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Neck CPR

“Bones, I think that neck needs some CPR”

“Dammit Jim, I’m a guitar builder, not an EMT!”

What the heck are we talking about and why would my neck need it?

As all of you know, and love about us, we use a single action truss rod.  If you have watched the process, it’s essentially a straight steel rod that we force into a curved channel so its hugs really tight (in the spirit of the #metoo movement we do want to stress that we did ask permission of the truss rod and it did say yes).  All throughout our processes, we work that rod several times to make sure it’s doing what it should do. But, alas, sometimes after leaving our facility the wood in your neck can constrict, squeezing the rod just a bit too tight. Thus the need for some CPR.  

Ideally your neck, when it’s loose and relaxed, will have a good amount of relief.  We check this with a straight edge. You can check it on your own guitar by using your strings as a straight edge.  Hold down a string on the 1st fret and also around the 12th – 14th and see if the string touches the in-between frets.  Conversely, if you tighten the rod, it works against this relief and will adjust your neck towards a back-bow.  This way, depending on what gauge strings you use or what tuning you’re in, you can adjust your neck for that specific tension.  Most necks seem to play the best mostly flat with a tiny bit of relief.

Now if your neck is NOT responding correctly, this is where CPR can get things moving again.

  1. Take the neck off the guitar.
  2. Loosen the truss rod all the way, be sure that the nut is no longer snug against the washer.
  3. Find a fairly low table surface and rest the heel of the neck on it fret-side up
  4. Use one hand to support firmly under the headstock (you don’t have to place your hand underneath it, our crew does this with no hand underneath BUT they know just how much to push).
  5. Use your other hand or both to push down in the middle of the neck with enough force to flex the neck.  Not enough to break off the headstock…but be firm.

You should hear and/or feel a click or a pop.  This is the truss rod freeing itself. Go ahead a do this several times, just as you would perform chest compressions in CPR.  Once you hear those pops you will probably see some relief in the neck but mounting it back on the body and stringing it up should make it quite a bit more noticeable.  Now you can get the strings to tension and adjust the rod to get it where you want it. As always if you ever have any questions please contact us. Cheers!


It’s Wood

If you have been reading our posts here you probably know that we try to infuse some humor at times when discussing issues. But it’s always good for us to take a step back and try to realize why we are asked some of the questions we get; or why a specific idea is floating around out there. In general I think we could probably place most of the blame on “too much” information on the interwebs. We don’t claim to be THE expert, but when you deal with as much wood as we do, and build as many necks and bodies as we do, you gain a good amount of perspective.

By covering some of the topics we discuss we are simply trying to clear some of the fog. Eliminate some of the misconceptions and misinformation and give it to you straight while tossing a bit of humor in here and there. If you don’t like it please don’t send us nasty notes about our dogs or threaten our hamsters. It’s really uncalled for!

So, onto today’s topic: WOOD. Something we care deeply about here at USACG. Also something that seems to create rifts as big as the one between our two political parties today.

We get funny questions about weight, color, why we “make our wood that way” (we love that one) and many conversations explaining why that swamp ash body in our inventory doesn’t have the correct grain patterns and therefore it must be Saskatookie Wingding Oilybird wood which is illegal in Uzbekistan where he is from and he is going to have to take it into customs custody. Okay, we made that last one up…but the truth is:

It’s WOOD.

Its weight is never consistent.

Its colors can vary wildly.

Its grain patterns can change drastically in the same board.

And here is the thing….we have zero control over it! To be honest, that’s what we love about it, right?!

The fact that the back of your maple neck doesn’t look just like the guys neck on the other side of the stage from you…your flame maple top looks different that the one you just saw at Daves Dinky Doodads and Geetars…that’s what makes building and playing so much fun! Embrace it, enjoy it and try not to be too anal retentive about it…we’ve heard that can cause ulcers, or hemorrhoids…we don’t remember which.

Remember it used to be a tree in the forest. Bears have scratched their butts on it. Bees have nested in it. Sasquatch has eaten its bark, its been rained on, tossed about by the winds and now you have given it new life as a musical instrument. Give it a little kiss, it wants you to be happy.


Nut Installation

We get many requests to install nuts on our necks. While we understand the angst that a nut installation entails, we also know that you don’t want us installing it. Why? you ask. Well, it just so happens that installing it in the beginning is the wrong time!

Ask any guitar repair guy or luthier or builder exactly when they install the nut and most will tell you it’s about as close to the last thing as it can be, and many swear it IS the last thing you want to do. The reason is pretty simple actually. The height of the nut, the string positioning on the nut and (most important) the desires of the player are all related to the setup of the instrument as a whole. The bridge that you ultimately choose, the depth of your neck pocket and any angles you may have put in or are adding via shims will all dictate where you begin on the nut. To do the nut first makes assumptions, and you don’t want to base such an important part of your new guitar on assumptions.


Does size matter?

We sometimes receive an upset call or email from a nice customer that ordered say an .840 profile on their neck and it arrives and they whip out their trusty set of calipers and lo and behold its an .856.  “It’s an outrage…it’s a scandal!  I can’t believe it…this is going to ruin everything…do they not have calipers there?… What the $#@&!”

We operate, in most circumstances, within an acceptable tolerance of 20 thousandths.  That looks like this – .020.  As you have probably noticed from the pic above it’s not much…actually it’s just a bit larger than the G string on a set of guitar strings.  We did some random testing a few years back and our crew could start feeling a difference in a neck at around .030 -.040…30 to 40 thousandths.  And understand that these are guys that touch thousands of necks each year.

Could we get it closer?  Probably….that would mean that we would need to have machines finish everything and we don’t really believe in that.  We do all of our major cuts on CNC’s to assure we are starting from the same place, but we still finish EVERYTHING by hand, and we think that’s part of our secret sauce.  That basically means if “Schmendrick” was late because of car problems and his girlfriend yelled at him A LOT last night your .840 may come out at .820 lol.  Or if they had a great dinner and a nice IPA and the car started just fine you may get an .856!

I guess the point is that our tolerances are pretty tight…but if you are waiting for the UPS guy with a set of calipers chances are you are going to be disappointed….but once you get it completed and playing you will be thrilled….we stake our reputation on it.

Roasted Wood

What does roasted mean?

The “art” of tempering wood has been around for a few years now, and one would think that we would have eradicated all of the misinformation that exist…but NO!

One of the things that pops up most of the time, especially about roasted maple necks, is that fact that someone is buying it because they “won’t have to put a finish on it.”  Let me end this here and now.


There we’ve said it, now no one will ever ask again….we wish lol.

We think much of the disinformation comes from the reality that the tempering process DOES reduce the size of the moisture holding cells in the wood.  Someone must have heard that and ran straight to “it can’t absorb moisture, therefore, it needs no finish.”  The truth though is a bit stranger.  If you follow our Instagram we have a few pictures up of occurrences of major cracking in roasted necks during the manufacturing process.  These things happen because the company that those tempered boards came from did not get enough moisture back into the wood…a very important step in the process.  There is still moisture in tempered wood, and there needs to be.  As a result, we now buy all of our tempered wood from one of the originators of the process.

Now, you CAN put just a light oil finish on a roasted neck and it will do wonderfully.  Where on a regular maple neck you might do 8-9 coats of oil, you can probably do 4-5 on a roasted neck and it will be just fine.

So, the final verdict:  yes it needs a finish, but it can be a lighter oil finish that anyone can do successfully.  Makes sense?  Great!

OH…and a final note that probably should be its own discussion.  You MUST pre-drill roasted wood for tuner screws, neck screws, string trees, etc.  If you don’t predrill them they WILL, in almost 100% of attempts, crack right where you are attempting to place the screw.