How to Fix a Warped Guitar Neck: The Complete Step by Step Guide
Oh, darn. You hadn’t played one of your prized guitars for a while, and when you went to strum it today, it felt all out of sorts. The neck is definitely warped. You have no idea how this happened, but you want to fix it if possible. How can you repair a warped guitar neck?
Follow these steps for fixing your warped guitar neck:
- Take off all the frets, relying on an iron’s steam to help you do it
- Next, with a hammer and scraper, take off the fretboard
- Make a straightening jig using wood, including tension rods
- Connect your A and B tuning pegs to the tension rods, making adjustments to the pegs as you go along
- Use a source of heat to firm up the straighter neck
- Glue the fretboard back in place
- Replace the guitar strings
In today’s post, I’ll walk you through those steps in much greater detail so you can follow along and fix your warped guitar neck. I’ll also discuss why guitar necks warp and how to prevent it from happening again. This is one post you’re not going to want to miss!
What Is a Warped Guitar Neck?
Okay, first of all, what the heck is a warped guitar neck anyway?
Guitars are made of wood, which is no secret. Although your guitar uses durable wood, that wood is still not invincible against warping.
When your guitar neck becomes warped, it’s no longer straight and even. The neck may now rise above the headstock ends of your guitar, and, in some cases, even the instrument’s body. Another type of deformation is called the up-bow, which happens when the neck bows due to string tension.
Why Do Guitar Necks Warp?
Okay, so your guitar is definitely looking a bit funky, and not in the good way, either. Why has this happened to your poor instrument? Here are a few reasons.
What kind of room did you store your guitar in for a while? Was it a very hot one? If so, then the buildup of heat is going to wreak havoc on your instrument, leaving it worse for wear and hardly playable in its current state.
The same is true of putting your guitar in a humid environment, be that your attic, an unused room in your home, your garage, or anywhere else. To preserve the condition of your guitar, it’s recommended you establish a relative humidity of 44 to 55 percent.
Otherwise, all that humidity will cause the angle of the neck to gradually change, especially from prolonged exposure. The finish of your guitar can also lift, all glue in the joints will begin to soften, and the wooden body itself will become swollen, altering its shape.
I just want to reiterate that how tightly you have your strings set can absolutely affect the condition of your guitar with time. When the strings are set too tight, they pull up on your guitar’s neck, causing the telltale up-bow I mentioned before.
Age of the Wood
Do you own a seriously classic guitar from several decades back? While this instrument is definitely considered a collector’s item, its age can wreck its condition. Not all wood will age particularly well, especially if combined to the above combination of factors. If the wood is old or just weak, you’ll get guitar neck warping.
Problems with Having a Warped Guitar Neck
Do you think you can just ignore a warped guitar neck? I wouldn’t really recommend it. You’ll find out pretty quickly that using a guitar with a warped neck won’t be very fun. Here’s why.
Playing Feels Awkward
When your guitar neck is warped, no matter the kind of deformation, playing it is going to prove quite challenging. No longer can you hold your guitar properly, which can be painful or at least uncomfortable, especially if you’re trying to play for long periods. Where once your guitar felt so natural to play, now everything about using it is strange and unpleasant.
Fret Buzz and Poor Tone
Even if you can get around the feel of your guitar, it’s going to produce some strange noises that will really negatively impact the tone. Although you didn’t make any changes to your amplifier or other parts of your setup, you might notice the quality of your guitar tone is now quite muddied.
If you don’t get muddled quality to your tone, then you could hear this weird buzzing sound that does not seem to go away no matter how much you fiddle around with your setup. No amount of amp knob-turning is going to improve the buzzing and muddiness. Only fixing your warped guitar neck will.
Another nasty side-effect of an unaddressed warped guitar neck is that some of your notes will sound out of tune. Even though you’re playing the notes the right way, due to the positioning of the neck, the notes come out wrong.
I’m sure I don’t even need to tell you how detrimental this can be, but I will anyway. If you’re performing live or in a studio, not being able to get the notes out right no matter what you do will definitely make it hard to get any work done.
Bowed Neck vs. Twisted Neck: What’s the Difference?
Next, I wanted to take a moment to talk more about the specific type of neck damage your guitar may have. The most common deformations are bowed and twisted necks, but what do these mean and how are they different? Allow me to explain.
Remember the bow deformation I touched on before? These are the forward-bow and the back-bow, both of which are equally problematic guitar neck deformations.
The forward-bow is also known as the relief of the guitar. This deformation occurs from string tension as well, but it causes the neck to curve in such a way that the fretboard’s middle begins moving away from your strings.
If you have a severe forward-bowing problem, then your guitar action can increase. You’re also more prone to tone changes and not enjoying the feel of the instruments in your hands.
The back-back moves the fretboard nearer the strings instead of away like the forward-bow. You may not be able to hit all the frets depending on how severe the back-bow is. You’re also more likely to hear unwanted buzzing sounds when you play.
If your guitar neck doesn’t bow up or down, then it’s probably twisted. With a twisted guitar neck, the neck turns at a slight angle. This rotation prevents the fretboard from being on the same plane. The nature of deformation then is the biggest difference between twisted and bowed guitar necks.
The other thing about twisted guitar necks is that a bit of twisting may not necessarily be the end of the world. You’d want to closely monitor the situation to prevent further damage, but you’re unlikely to have as many detriments to your playing as you would with a bowed guitar neck.
How to Determine if You Have a Warped Guitar Neck
You think your guitar neck is warped, but admittedly, you’re just not sure. How can you tell? Try the following methods.
You can begin by eyeballing whether your guitar neck has twisted, bowed, or otherwise isn’t straight. I wouldn’t recommend this being your only measure of determining whether you have a warped guitar neck, but for starters, it works.
If you do want to use your own two eyes to assess the condition of your guitar, then take your guitar with your hands, raise it up until it’s eye-level, and bring it to the nearest light. From the bridge, you want to study the strings, then the neck, and finally, the tuning keys.
Your guitar neck should have a few dips at the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth frets where the strings meet the fretboard if your guitar neck isn’t warped. If you don’t see those shadows, or if you see shadows elsewhere, then your guitar neck has warped, sorry.
If you want to confirm by eyeballing, then turn the guitar around so the neck is closest to your face. Again, lift the guitar up to your eyes under the light. Between the fourth and sixth frets, you’ll see shadows, this time at the bottom frets. Any other shadows could be indicative of guitar neck warping.
Even if you have a pretty good idea that your guitar neck is warped just by eyeballing it, it helps to be positive of that fact by measuring the straightness of the neck. You’ll want a straightedge or a perfectly straight ruler for this job.
Place your guitar on a worktable or a dining table that’s completely level. Then, put your finger on the sixth string between the first and the twelfth, which for electric guitars may be the first and the fourteenth. Look for the space between, which should be so miniscule that it’s not even an inch (more like 0.4 millimeters).
If you don’t see a gap, that means your guitar has a back-bow, which is no good.
Next, you want to do another test by putting your finger on the sixth string at the eighth fret and the highest one on your guitar. If the string isn’t flat on the fretboard, especially in the middle between the twelfth and fourteenth frets, then you have an up-bow.
Now you want to put your finger on the sixth string and your first fret, moving your fingers down along the fretboard using your other hand. Does that sixth fret gap get smaller as your hand moves along the fretboard? That’s a sign of general neck warping.
How to Fix a Warped Guitar Neck
You’re pretty certain now that your guitar neck is warped, which is problematic, as playing it just isn’t the same. Is your guitar a goner?
Not necessarily. You have two options you can try, either repairing the instrument at home yourself or paying someone to take care of the repairs for you. I’ll start first by elaborating on all the steps from the intro on how to repair your warped guitar neck.
Step 1: Removing the Strings from the Fretboard
You need the guitar neck to be nothing but the wood for you to repair the warping, and that means taking off the strings first and foremost. Don’t worry, you can put them back on later.
First, you want to relax the tension of the strings, rotating the turning key as you do so. When you feel the tension get loose enough, all you have to do is take the string, unwind it from its tuning post, and take it off. Repeat this for all the strings.
Step 2: Taking the Frets off the Fretboard
Okay, so that was the easy part. With the strings gone, you need to get rid of the frets too. These are glued to the guitar neck, which means melting down the glue with the steam of a household iron.
Plug your iron in and let it get very hot, as hot as it will go. Then, put the iron on the fretboard, only the topmost part. The steam and heat from the iron should make the frets able to come off without difficulty. That said, you’ll probably have to hold the iron over the fretboard for at least five minutes before you see results, so be patient.
Once that time has elapsed, using a scraper, push the frets off since the glue should be extremely loose at this point. You may have to chisel somewhat, using your scraper with a hammer and tapping on the scraper until the frets come off that way.
Step 3: Removing the Fretboard
With the frets gone, now you have to remove the last part separating you and the guitar neck: the fretboard. Since the fretboard and the frets have sat under a hot iron for at least five minutes, the fretboard should be ready to come right off. It will also be hot, so only handle it if you’re wearing gloves.
A putty knife or scraper can slip beneath the fret and the neck itself and pull the fretboard off bit by bit. Try to keep the fretboard in one piece as you work.
Step 4: Making Your Straightening Jig
Okay, the guitar is now ready to be repaired. How do you do that? I hope you have some woodworking experience, as you’ll need it.
Through what’s called a straightening jig, you can repair the guitar neck. To make your straightening jig, first, you want to construct a cradle block for the guitar. This should be an oak wood or another sturdy type of wood.
Your block will be about five inches on average length-wise and wider than the guitar neck by an inch. The depth should be roughly 6.35 millimeters. A tape measure can help you get the exact measurements you need.
Using a saw, create a trough, or a hollow area in the wood where your guitar neck can fit. By notching the cradle block near its top, the trough should be level enough for you to fit the guitar neck in securely.
Next, you want to make your tension block. Use a 2×4 piece of wood for this, cutting it with a saw so it’s six inches long. Where the wood is widest, put a mark that’s three inches from the center. You’ll probably have to turn the wood on its side to do this.
Then, where that three-inch mark is denoted, make a mark two inches from either side of that midpoint. The midpoint is for your guitar headstock, as it will hang over this area. The tension rods go in the two-inch marks.
Your tension rods are just nails, so your hammer can get those into place based on the marks you made from the midpoint. Then, with pliers, you can get the tension rods in just the right shape. Make sure the ends of the nails match the ends of your fretboard.
Step 5: Using the Straightening Jig
With the straightening jig complete, you can begin working. First, you want to put your tension block over your guitar. Set up the instrument so its headstock is over your midpoint. Ensure the guitar neck is secure and add a clamp for extra peace of mind.
Now, take your A and B tuning pegs and connect them to the tension rods. These are your thickest strings, so you want to begin with those. Secure the strings by wrapping them around. Then, with the ends of the strings in hand, pull them towards your tension rods.
This is creating tension that repairs the neck’s warping. You also want L-shaped straightedges between the neck and the base of the guitar to check if you fixed the warping. If not, keep tuning the pegs, watching your tension as you go.
Step 6: Using Heat for the Neck
With a steel ruler over the neck of the guitar, put your heated-up iron over the metal. Keep the iron on medium-low (350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit) rather than super high this time and avoid direct contact between the iron and the ruler. The heat lets you set the guitar neck’s straightness even more, and the ruler ensures the accuracy of the new neck.
Step 7: Put Your Fretboard Back
With your neck now repaired, apply glue and put the fretboard on.
Step 8: Return the Strings
You also want to take all the strings you just removed and put them back on your instrument.
The Cost to Repair a Warped Guitar Neck
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that fixing your warped guitar neck at home is easy. It’s very time-consuming, and it helps if you have woodworking experience to make the necessary parts for the job.
If all that seems too much outside of the realm of possibility for you, that’s okay. You can always bring your out-of-shape instrument to a guitar repair person. That said, you may pay between $100 and $500 for repairs depending on the extent of the damage. Sometimes, a repairperson will opt for a brand-new guitar neck if it’s a bolt-on or a whole new guitar rather than fixing the damaged one.
How to Prevent Your Guitar Neck from Warping
No matter what you decided to do, either going with a DIY fix or letting the pros help, your guitar neck is once again straight. You never want to have to go through that ordeal again, so how can you ensure your guitar neck doesn’t get warped or curved?
Try these handy tips.
Keep Your Guitar in Its Hard-Shelled Case
It’s okay if you don’t plan on using a certain guitar for a while, but you don’t want to just leave it anywhere around your house. When you’re giving your guitar a break, put it in the hard-shelled case it originally came in.
If you lost that case over the years, then you can likely find a replacement case online.
Keep Your Guitar at a Consistent Temperature
Heat and humidity can wreck the wood of your guitar, causing deformations like bowing and twisting. In whatever room you store your guitar, in addition to putting it in its hard-shelled case, you also need to check the humidity and temperature in the room.
Remember, you want a relative humidity of 44 to 55 percent. Whether you use a dehumidifier to make that happen or set your thermostat differently, keep the conditions cool, or at least room temperature.
Use a Guitar Humidifier
You can also buy a guitar humidifier. If you haven’t heard of this before, a guitar humidifier is a type of tube system that goes on top of your guitar’s sound hole on the strings. There, it controls humidity within and around your instrument.
Guitar humidifiers work best with acoustic guitars, but you can also get humidifiers for your guitar case if you have an electric guitar.
Time, humidity, aging, and string tension can all cause your guitar neck to warp. Whether the neck is twisted, bowed, or even some ungodly combo of both, the instrument is likely fixable. Best of luck!