on how instruments are built, repaired, evaluated or whatever
Properly, we should do a blog on instrument repair. Trouble is, we’re too busy repairing instruments. These topics started as questions posed to us via e-mail. We’ll add to this section as it occurs to us.
Q: Is it o.k. to refinish an instrument?
Nope. Don’t do it. In almost every case, a worn original finish is preferable to a shiny refinished instrument. Besides, it’s hard to refinish an instrument and do a good job of it. Entirely too easy to do it badly (unfortunately we see this a bit too often). Here’s the scenario: You pay someone a lot of money to do an excellent job of refinishing, and it actually can devalue your instrument. What about this makes sense??
Q: Is it reasonable to expect the neck on older guitars to be perfectly straight, or is the lack of a truss rod and so many strings the inevitable cause of most of these instruments being a bit warped?
It’s common for older necks to need to be reset to the body for good playability, which is a separate issue from neck straightness. Truss rods help counter tension in the neck to keep the neck straight. Quite a few older instruments that lack truss rods still manage to have straight necks, either because the neck has non- adjustable reinforcement such as a metal rod or ebony insert, or because the neck itself was made much thicker than contemporary guitar necks. Therefore, when you see an older instrument with high action, it is frequently not the neck that is bowed but that the neck needs to be reset.
Resetting the neck means taking the neck off and then putting it back on at the proper angle. It is not something that is done casually, frequently, or to cheaper guitars.
Q: What changes take place in a guitar that cause it to need a neck reset?
Basically, the tension on the strings slightly changes the shape of the whole instrument. The back will tend to flatten slightly lengthwise, the top lift slightly in the bridge area and the neck sort of stretch slightly in the curve from neck to heel. The amount of these changes is almost imperceptable, but in the aggregate they allow the relationship of the end of the neck to the bridge to move a tiny bit. That only has to change by about 1/16″ for the instrument to become difficult to play. The surprising thing is not that it happens, but that it is as slight as it is given the tension on these things.