66. Neck Surgery

Handmade guitars are the thoroughbreds of the guitar world and like their equine counterparts, have a reputation for being somewhat temperamental as well as high performing. Since first emerging from Nick’s workshop in 2014, Carolan has flexed and shifted around somewhat and its action has risen to the point where it has become more difficult to play. We took Carolan to luthier Colin Keefe a few miles away in nearby Long Eaton. Following an inspection, Colin concluded that surgery was needed as so we left Carolan in his workshop for a few weeks. Here’s his account of what happened next …

Carolan’s fingerboard was removed. This revealed that the headstock and veneer were both lifting …

Fingerboard-headstock-lifting

The fingerboard was glued securely at the body end, so heat was applied …

Applying heat

and a palette knife used to loosen it …

Loosen with palette knife

The fingerboard was then removed …

Fingerboard removed

Since the veneer was lifting, it was removed, cleaned up and re-glued …

Removing the veneer

Regluing the veneer

A rosewood veneer shim was glued to the underside of the fingerboard and tapered down to nut end.

Lining the fingerboard

regluing the fingerboard

This raises the angle of the fingerboard in relation to the body so that a line extending out from the fingerboard (including the frets) will clear the bridge with room to fit a normal height saddle. It’s difficult to get a clear photo of the tapered shim, but it is basically like this …

shim

The neck was then sanded flat to remove any old glue and the shimmed fingerboard was glued back.

Regluing the fingerboard 2

Regluing the fingerboard 3

Once glued, a long ruler was laid along the frets to measure where the angle of the fingerboard meets the bridge. This was found to be very slightly lower than the bridge, so the bridge was planed down until a ruler laid from the bridge along the fingerboard was flat to the frets. At this point the frets were also stoned level and re-crowned.

Adjusting the height

Levelling the fretsIt is impossible to do this type of repair without some minor damage to the finish, particularly around where things have been re-glued. Therefore the back, sides, fingerboard and bridge were masked off, the existing finish to the neck and top of the guitar flattened off with 400 grit paper and finishing coats of lacquer sprayed, flattening off between each coat.

Sanding

Masking and sanding

The original saddle was broken so a new one was made from bone. The truss rod was adjusted to give the correct amount of neck relief and the new saddle cut to give an acceptable playing action. The new saddle was slightly shorter than would be ideal but the depth of the saddle slot could not be easily be increased to allow a taller and therefore stronger one to be fitted due to the way that the slot had been originally routed (wider at one end). A thin reinforcing maple shim was therefore glued to the bottom of the new saddle for added strength.

Finally, the string slots at the nut were re-cut. 

recut slots

The action (string height above frets) after the repair is now at 2.5mm at the 12th fret on the bass side and just under 2mm on the treble, which is around half of what it was before the repair – the guitar is now playable again.

measure action

If over time the top continues to pull up under string tension the action will increase. If it becomes unplayable again the next course of action could be to make a new, thinner bridge.

Finished

We’re amazed when we collect Carolan. The action is restored to being highly playable, the re-finished neck feels luxurious and the tone is sweet too. Thanks to Colin for a great job and also for this rare opportunity to peek behind the scenes into the luthier’s workshop.

We’re looking forward to getting back to some gigs and sessions soon – and also finding some new players for Carolan to visit. More on that soon.

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