Neck Reset - The Theory

I’ll have a couple of articles about neck resets appearing in the near future, so I thought it might be an idea to discuss what they are and why they might be needed.

Why would I need a neck reset?

If you have almost any steel-string acoustic guitar for long enough, odds are it will need a neck reset at one (or some) point(s) in its life. Wood settles and string tension pulls the guitar’s geometry around over time. The upshot can be that the action gets slowly higher and higher so that it’s uncomfortable to play.

Often, you’ll find a saddle that’s been lowered, again and again, until it’s just a sliver of bone poking over the bridge. If this is the case, and the action’s still high, a reset might be on the cards.

What happens in a neck reset?

During a neck reset, the neck is removed and the angle at which it joins the body is modified to tilt it back a little. This means it follows the plane of the strings more closely. To try illustrate this, I’ve included one of my, patented, Haze Guitars Hastily And Clumsily-Drawn Exaggerated Diagrams.

On Guitar 1, the action is pretty high. Nobody wants to play Guitar 1 and, when he goes to the beach, Taylors come up and kick sand in his sound-hole. Poor Guitar 1 could use a neck reset.

Why you might need a neck reset and what happens during a neck reset

Off with his neck

The neck is removed so that we can alter the angle at which it connects to the body. We take some wood off the heel—removing a wedge so that the neck tilts backwards a little when it’s reattached.

What we have essentially done is pivot the neck at Point A. In doing so, we’ve moved it so it’s more in line with the plane of the strings and the action is magically reduced. Guitar 1 is transformed into Guitar 2. A shredder picks up Guitar 2 and plays so fast that he spontaneously combusts. All is well with the world.

Is it a big job?

Well, first know that removing a neck generally involves either undoing bolts or steaming glue-joints to soften the adhesive.

Neck resets, therefore, range from relatively-easy (Taylor NT necks), to a-bit-more-hassle (bolt-on necked guitars) to break-out-the-steamer-and-the-tea (Martins), to break-out-the-steamer-and-the-whiskey (Gibsons), to oh-god-not-a-bloody-Guild (Guilds).

Bear in mind, also, that neck resets will often require additional work afterwards. Fret work — likely a fret level or even a full refret is a strong possibility (and the latter may require a new nut too). Some finish touch-up might even be necessary (although this isn't needed too often).

A neck-set should generally be considered relatively serious surgery as it involves some invasive work (in removing the neck) and some potentially disastrous work if the modifications to the heel aren’t performed properly. I’m all in favour of people doing some DIY but a neck set might not be the job for that guy you know who's 'handy'.

Ask around, get some advice and have a good chat to whoever you approach to do the job. It's important to trust whoever you get to do this for you.