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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Lesson Beneath Neck Resetting - Part 2

Getting it right the first time doesn't mean you will get it right again.

Not long after getting my Gibson's neck done I got another opportunity to reset a vintage Martin D-18. It was built in the 60s. Back then, the fingerboard and bridge were made from Brazilian Rosewood. Those were the days, the Golden Era for acoustic guitars; only the best materials were used.

If you are keen to try some vintage guitars, you can find many in Heirlooms Music at Lichfield Road. Click here to view more pictures.

A1965 Martin D-18 available at Heirlooms Music

Taken from:

Since I have done neck reset jobs, it was natural for me to use the same steps that work. However, this particular neck reset job has reduced my thoughts to an assumption.

Finally the vintage Martin arrived. The neck angle has indeed altered over years and age has taken its toll on playability. To maintain comfort playability, the saddle has been trimmed gradually until it has very little crown height protrusion over the bridge slot. As shown in the picture below, the saddle was almost flushed with the bridge.

Low Saddle Height

I carried out the same steps without missing a beat until… the neck just wouldn't relent. It remained unmovable despite my attempts to remove it.

These are the "same steps" I have carried out.
1. Removed 15th fret wire
2. Dislodged fingerboard from top
3. Drilled hole into the fingerboard at 15th fret slot
4. Retrofit a tube to a espresso machine to deliver steam
5. Built a jig for neck removal
See series of pictures below.

With step 1 to 5 done, how can anything go wrong? In fact the ordeal has started… in total I made 5 attempts to "steam-the-neck" and I got nowhere. In the process, the neck removal jig gave way, it was unthinkable…  I have repaired and reinforced the neck jig to such strength that it is capable to crush a guitar. See picture below.

Original Neck Jig

Reinforced Neck Jig

I was perplexed and confused by the outcome. It set me on a root cause seeking mode for weeks. Trawled the internet for answers, writing emails to my luthier buddies for advice, desperately modifying jigs and equipment, etc. Finally an advise from Elderly Instruments made the critical difference.

It was step 3 of the "same steps", drilling a hole at the 15th fret slot. Most neck reset tips found on internet mentioned this step. When drilled accurately, it allows steam to be delivered into the dovetail joint thus dislodging the neck from the body. However many sources didn't emphasize accuracy instead they merely mention it as one of the steps.

It was imperative to determine the dovetail joint position on the fingerboard accurately. Using a spatula, I move it under the dislodged fingerboard until it hit the dovetail. That gave me with reasonable accuracy the position of dovetail joint on the fingerboard. I marked the position with a masking tape. In this case, the dovetail joint was close to the 15th fret but not at it. Two holes were drilled to allow entry and exit of steam.

Determining dovetail joint
Taken from:

It took less than 5 minutes to see water exiting at the neck heel whilst steam was flow in and out of both drilled holes. That was the indication that the guitar neck was poised to be removed from its body. The neck removal jig did its job easily and finally.

Neck removed, with glue residue
Cleaned, adjusted, ready for re-gluing

The joint was cleaned up, neck angle was re-adjusted, the required shims were prepared, and the easy part was to glue the guitar neck back to its body.

After the neck has been reset, it was usual to check on fret level with respect to the adjusted neck angle. It wasn't unusual for some frets to buzz. So the fret wires were leveled. This job concluded with a new bone saddle and set up. A new saddle was necessary because the original saddle was too low in its crown height (see picture below).
Personally, it was a damn good lesson learned.

Thanks for reading!

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