Sometimes a bolt-on guitar neck can shift in the neck pocket, causing the strings to be too close to one side of the neck. It’s a common issue and very easy to fix. In this short video I show you how.
For guitars with bolt-on necks (i.e. more than 50% the electric guitar market), a perfectly tight guitar neck/pocket fit is rarely seen. The end of the neck is usually slightly smaller than the neck pocket to ensure a comfortable fit. This allows for a small movement of the neck in the pocket which can aid alignment of the strings over the guitar neck. But that also means that a bump or bang to the guitar neck (e.g. banged guitar case while in transit, or falling of a guitar stand) while not causing any significant damage could cause the neck to shift in the neck pocket. The effect of this is to cause the headstock to be displaced from the ideal centre line of the guitar. This can cause the strings to appear mis-aligned to the neck. It will be particularly noticeable on the higher frets where the low- or high-E string may be too close to the edge of the frets. In the worst cases, the string may not even be playable at the highest frets.
Some people see this problem and mistakenly attribute it to poor construction, perhaps jumping to the conclusion that the bridge is in the wrong place. But this is almost never the case. The cure is as simple as the cause – loosen the neck screws, shift the neck back into it’s correct position, then re-tighten the screws. It’s a two-minute job.
While this is a simple little job and requires just one screwdriver, a lack of care and attention with just one screwdriver can result in a scratched or damaged guitar. So take heed of the precautions I mention in the video, which I explain in full below. Obviously, I will not be held responsible for any damage that you cause to your guitar! With that little disclaimer out of the way, here’s the video.
Always use the correct size screwdriver for the job and make sure the tip is good condition. Take care that the screwdriver does not slip from the neck screws (it could cause a deep scratch in the guitar finish and damage the screw heads). Note how in the video I use the fingers of one hand to keep the tip of the screwdriver from slipping off the screw head. When holding the neck in place and tightening the neck screws, it may be useful to ask somebody to hold the neck for you, freeing your other hand to do this.
Also note that the guitar is positioned vertically and not lying flat. Gravity is not a myth. If the guitar is lying flat, a screw driver that is dropped or slips from the screw head can only make unwanted contact with the guitar body, possibly violently. Holding the guitar in a vertical orientation means that a dropped or slipped screwdriver has a chance to fall away from the guitar, reducing risk of damage.
Only use the minimum amount of force necessary when shifting the neck in the pocket. Stress cracks frequently appear in the corners of the neck pocket (a common issue to all bolt-on neck guitars). This can kind of manipulation could cause such a crack or make an existing one worse, particularly if the neck pocket fit is very tight. In the worst case, you could actually crack the wood at a corner of the pocket. Before you shift the neck in the pocket, check the condition of the corners. You may find that you’ve had little tiny cracks there already. Those neck pocket finish cracks are *usually* cosmetic, not structural, and not something to worry about. But when manipulating the neck like this, try not not make them any worse or to cause any actual damage by forcing the neck into a position it can’t achieve.
On rare occasions, the fit of the neck in the pocket may be too tight or there may be other issues which make it impossible to adequately align the neck. In these cases an experienced guitar tech or luthier will need to take over. remember that contrary to popular belief a tight neck pocket is not optimum. A little loose is always better than a little tight.
When tightening the neck screws, do not use force! You do not have to crank the screws super tight. The neck will be very stable and will be well mated to the guitar body with moderately tight screws. Over tightening the screws risks three problems: damaging the head of the screws or the tip of the screwdriver (which can lead to a slipped screwdriver, risking scratches to the finish as mentioned above); cracking the neck plate; or stripping the screw holes in the guitar neck itself (which will need plugging and re-drilling by an expert).