Bring it on home – before you bring that guitar home… (Part 1)

by Rik Mercaldi on February 3, 2013

Bring It On HomeSo, you’ve found a guitar that speaks to you. Musically and aesthetically that is. If it’s actually saying things to you, you might want to talk to someone about it…

Before you drop your hard earned cash, there are a few things you should check, starting with the neck. Does it look relatively straight, and how do you know if it isn’t? The proper way to check is to sight down the neck from the nut down towards the body with your eye along the low E string. The string is your straight edge, so check to make sure the neck is lining up and running evenly along with the string. Then do the same thing with the high E string.

Most modern guitars have an adjustable stabilizing rod in the neck called a truss rod. There are exceptions as some guitars have a steel reinforced neck that isn’t adjustable. So, if you don’t know if the guitar has a truss rod, be sure to ask. If it looks like the neck is dipping down, away from the string, the guitar has a bow and the truss rod needs to be tightened to straighten it out. If it’s going in the other direction, up towards the string, then it has a back bow and needs to be loosened. How much you should adjust it depends on your playing style, but the most important thing is to make sure that the truss rod actually works, and moves in both directions.

Some players, myself included, like to have the neck adjusted with a slight but barely noticeable bow in order to facilitate a heavier attack without string buzz. This is known as putting a bit of “relief” in the neck. A little relief is also a good idea if you occasionally play with a slide. It gives you a bit more room to dig in without having to raise the action. Too much relief results in high action, a back bow with no relief results in the strings buzzing and fretting out.

Next, check to see if it looks the same on both sides. If one side has a large bow and the other side doesn’t, the neck could be twisted. If it is twisted then it’s a potentially costly repair and a quick adjustment may not fix it. A slight twist or bow can often be fixed with a process known as a heat press. If it’s an older guitar with an issue such as this and you decide to buy it “as is” you’ll want to factor any repairs into the price.

What types of things have you come across when buying a vintage or used instrument?

  • Juano Lippi


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