Builder News: Re-shaping A Neck
First, a disclaimer: there are plenty of opportunities to ruin a perfectly good neck here! Be sure you feel comfortable with the tools and the overall process before you try this.
I really like Allparts necks. They are consistently well-made, affordable, and fit well with the Clearfork Designs bodies I like to use. But they don’t offer every radius with every fret size and every neck shape, which can be a little frustrating. Their V-shaped guitar necks, for instance, come with a vintage radius and small frets, neither of which I like.
So I was eyeing the neck on the swamp ash Strat I put together, and considering it as a candidate for a little re-shaping. It’s extremely straight, maybe a hair too much so. The truss rod is tightened only enough so that it won’t rattle. This neck doesn’t much care what strings I put on it. I level-and-crowned it, with fallaway above the 12th fret, and it plays very cleanly with a low action.
So it seemed to me that this neck would stand up to being thinned a bit. I play a lot of chord stuff with my thumb over the neck, and I was curious to see if I could sand a slight V-shape and maybe even go a bit asymmetrical, with a little more wood removed on the treble side than on the bass side.
Many videos and internet articles later, I felt I had a good procedure worked out. I taped off the neck as you see, and marked the areas I wanted to concentrate on. I mainly used my random orbital sander with a 60 grit disk. Keeping the sander moving smoothly along the neck was the key to controlling the rate at which I was removing wood, and avoiding high or low spots, which would have been a serious PITA to even out. I’d sand a little and feel the neck. The work went quickly, and I had most of it done within a half hour.
Once the sides were to my liking, I untaped the center line and hand-sanded the whole surface. The sander leaves lines (and very few scratches, yay!), but they were easily smoothed with a piece of 150 and my fingers. I ran the grits to 600, and the neck feels and looks great to me.
I reinstalled it on the guitar, and put new strings on it. Sure enough, it’s as straight as ever; this neck has strong opinions. It’s a very soft V now, and I removed enough of the bulk that wrapping my hand around it is easier. I’ll play it this way for awhile, both to see how it settles in, and to decide whether or not I want to sand any further. It feels great with no finish, but once I’m sure about the shape, I’ll get a few coats of Tru-Oil back on there.
This is a pretty common modification. It seems like it would be a mistake to try to drastically take wood off; that is, if your neck is a tree trunk, go buy a new neck that you like. There are more than a few stories out there of people sanding into the truss rod, which would trash the neck. So, as always, you need to know your limitations, and work carefully. Still, it’s a cool option for a bit of customizing. I like it!