Some of us never think twice about our guitar necks. They’re attached to the body, they have a fretboard on top (typically made of rosewood) and they are either thick or thin, short or long. Most of us never give our guitar necks a second thought past that initial batch.
Some of us start to notice that our notes are buzzing a bit and get curious. Then we look down the neck and discover that it is bowed.
Guitarists don’t seem to realize that when you change string gauges or tuning, the amount of pressure on your neck changes. Your neck is a long piece of wood. Too much pressure on a long piece of wood can cause it to bend.
When you change string gauges or tuning, you should always check your neck, and make adjustments to your truss rod when necessary.
A truss rod is a rod that is in the neck of your guitar. What’s more, it can be tightened or loosened, depending on the need, to adjust the relief of your neck. Loosening to the truss rod pushes the rod towards the body and the strings, adding a slight bend. Tightening the truss rod moves it further from the body, straightening the neck.
Now, it is pretty obvious how the truss rod can help you with neck bowing, but how do you know what you need?
Before we explain this, we need to talk about how to access the truss rod. On most guitars, the truss rod is covered by something known as the truss rod cover. This is a little piece of plastic on your guitar’s headstock underneath the strings. For other guitars, the truss rod is actually at the bottom of the neck just before the body.
To find out what you need, hold your guitar at an angle, roughly forty-five degrees from your body, and look down the neck. If the middle of your neck is dipping, you need to loosen the truss rod to relieve that dip. If the middle of your neck is bulging, you will need to tighten your rod to straighten the rest of the neck.
The only way to safely adjust the truss rod is by turning it in small increments. Never tighten or loosen more than a quarter turn at any time, as small amounts do a lot, and an extreme amount can damage your neck.
Be sure that while you are adjusting, you are constantly reevaluating the contour of the neck to avoid overcompensating and bowing the neck in the opposite direction. This may lead to bigger guitar neck bowing problems if not done right. Once you have the neck adjusted properly, double-check to be sure that your neck is straight.
If you find yourself a bit overwhelmed by the idea of adjusting your guitar’s neck, you may want to consider bringing your guitar to a guitar repair technician. Confidence is key when doing any work on any instrument, and a nerve-shaken hand isn’t going to do you any good, so be sure you are up to the task before diving in. Good luck!
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