One of the most common problems of poorly maintained guitars is the occurrence of a warped neck. It’s a structural flaw of the neck, which causes one side of the guitar neck to be lower or even twisted than the other.
Commonly guitar necks feature a bow shape with even curves from one side to another. However, this form sometimes gets defective, which indicates the warped neck problem. Basically, it means your guitar’s neck is out of alignment.
It is not a rare problem for guitars left without good care and maintenance to have warped guitar necks. In this article, we will deeply examine the problem and its effects on your guitar while explaining in detail the causes of the issue, how to diagnose it, and, of course, how to fix it.
What does a warped guitar neck do to your guitar?
A guitar with a warped neck may be playable depending on the level of the problem. However, it causes many problems giving the player a hard time.
The guitar becomes almost un-tunable, the strings pop out from the nut, the frets make buzzing sounds, and truss rod adjustments become utterly hard.
Through all of these problems, a warped guitar neck greatly influences the tone of your instrument. The sound quality may significantly decrease depending on the severity of the problem, with the strings causing buzzing sounds, the sound becoming muddy, and the intonation going bad.
What causes a warped guitar neck?
Warp guitar necks can occur for many reasons, including heat, humidity, and time. As necks are made of natural wood, they can be subject to changes in humidity and temperature.
The heat changes and the unbalance between the air moisture, and the moisture of your neck may warp the guitar neck over time. So leaving the guitar in its case at room temperature will help you prevent the problem significantly.
Another reason is the natural pressure from the strings. The pressure warps the neck slowly, causing it to go out of alignment. That is why you should tune your guitar half-step or full-step down when you finish playing in order to relax the pressure coming from the strings to the neck.
Besides these reasons, the wood material, the way it’s cut, its aging process can cause the neck to warp, twist, cup or bow as it ages. Poor quality, badly cut, or aged wood will be less stable and more susceptible to changes in environment and string pressure.
There are mainly two types of warped guitar neck: bowed necks and twisted necks.
This is the most common deformation that is seen on guitar and bass guitar necks. It mainly happens because of the string pressure on the neck, causing it to be curved inwards into an up-bow shape.
Normally, guitar and bass necks are slightly bow-shaped to provide a more comfortable playing experience. This is called neck “relief” But, when this curve angle reaches exaggerated degrees, it becomes a problem for the guitar.
To prevent this issue, modern guitars have truss rod adjustment systems that allow the user to pull and control the amount of “relief” on the neck. However, older guitars do not have this advantage and need different repair methods.
As the name suggests, we say a guitar neck is twisted when the neck is rotated around its long axis. This causes the fretboard to be uneven and non-flat.
The problem is not as terrible as it sounds, as slightly twisted necks are common and are unnoticed. If all of the strings have their own individual plane and there are no problems with playability and the sound of the instrument, you do not need to worry.
However, if the problem is severe and your guitar’s playability is affected, then you should take your guitar to a luthier for repair. Severely twisted necks are very rare and probably won’t happen to you, but if it does, I am sorry to say that there is only a little chance of fixing them.
How to tell if your guitar neck is warped?
There are many easy methods to test if your neck is warped or not. First of all, you can tell by the sound of the instrument. If the guitar is constantly out of tune even when you try to tune it, or if the strings create buzzing sounds hitting the frets, you can start getting suspicious.
An easy method to tell if a neck is warped is the eye-ball method. It is done by looking down the bass and treble sides of the fingerboard separately with one eye closed to see if the neck is straight, bowed, or twisted.
An important tip here is to hold the guitar by the body and never from the headstock, as holding the headstock can give you a false reading.
Another easy method is to use feeler gauges to measure the length between the strings and the frets. This way, you can determine the neck relief and see if the neck is okay or deformed.
You should check the length between the fret and the string of the high and low E strings on the 8th fret, as the curvature should be deepest there. The optimal relief is different on every guitar so that you can check it from the specs of your model.
This measurement will indicate how much your truss rod should be tweaked or if your instrument needs a repair or not.
How to fix a warped guitar neck?
The fix of a warped guitar neck will be different depending on some paradigms, such as if the issue is a bowed neck or a twisted neck, how severe the issue is, and if the instrument has a truss rod adjustment system or not.
Slightly bowed necks can be adjusted by the truss rod system easily. However, if your guitar is an older model or if it does not have the truss rod adjustment system, then you should take your guitar to a professional luthier for repair.
The luthier will examine the problem and use one of the repairs, including heat treatment, leveling, or corrective re-fretting. There is a big chance that a bowed guitar neck can be solved with one of these treatments.
If the case is a severe twisted neck, then things get a bit more complicated. For small cases, leveling can help solve the problem. However, for extreme cases, the possibility of a solution is not great. It would be best to talk to your luthier and maybe consider buying a new neck for your instrument.
The heat treatment is done by heating the guitar neck and tightening it with clamps to straighten it. You can watch the attached video to have an idea, but I strongly suggest not to try this by yourself at home.
Leveling is another technique that is done by removing the frets and leveling the wood of the fingerboard to straighten and adjust the neck. A tool like the Erlewine Neck Jig is used to hold the guitar in a particular position while leveling the fingerboard.
This process is highly delicate and needs to be done by experienced hands, so think twice before attempting to do it. You can watch the video to understand the process better.
The warped neck is a common problem and can be a nightmare for many guitarists. However, extremely severe cases with no solution are highly rare, and you do not need to worry about them. Now, as you’re more familiar with the problem, the diagnosis and the repair process will be better, you will be more careful and experienced with the problem.
Maintain your guitar carefully by storing it in cases all the time to avoid extreme heat and humidity changes, and loosen your strings when you are not playing your instrument to prevent warped neck issues. If you do your part, your guitar will do its part, and you will be fine.