making the neck

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I usually complete the necks of my guitars first as the shape and size of the neck mortise dictates the shape and size of the tenon in the body, and the heel shape.

First the fingerboard blank is covered in masking tape, and the overall shape marked (sizes taken from the original drawings), together with the positions of the fret markers. The board is cut down with a bandsaw and the edges planed to size, planing ‘downhill’ so as not to tear chips from the wood. Straightness can be checked with the 600mm rule. The position markers are then centre punched and drilled out using a matching brad point drill. After removal of the tape the markers can be glued in with superglue or epoxy.

The fingerboard can then be fixed to a piece of thick MDF using double-sided tape and the camber sanded using a radiussed block, running through progressively finer grades of paper from 120 to 600. Constant reference should be made to each edge to check that the thicknesses are consistent. The finished board can be polished with 00000 grade steel wool.

A jig is then used to enable drilling of the side markers. A block of  square timber is g-clamped onto the table of the pillar drill, which allows the fingerboard to slide in a perfect line in relation to the drill bit. The drill depth can be marked by wrapping a small piece of masking tape around the drill bit to act as a depth stop. The markers are again superglued in place

A centreline is now marked onto the neck blank, and the extremes of the box-section truss rod marked. An mdf template allows a router or laminate trimmer to cut the channel. After practice on a piece of scrap softwood the template is fixed with double sided tape and the channel routed progressively deeper until the truss rod fits at or just below the surface of the neck blank. After removal of the template the ends of the channel are squared off using a chisel.


A full size photocopy of the headstock is fixed with spray adhesive onto the appropriate position and the headstock shape cut with the bandsaw. The edges are planed straight and the curved ends shaped with files.


The machine head holes are drilled before thicknessing so that the photocopy is still in place. The hole positions are centre punched, and pilot holes drilled on the pillar drill. These are then drilled out with the correct size drill for the machine heads.

The headstock is then thicknessed against the bandsaw fence having checked the fence, blade and edge of the timber for squareness. The newly cut top surface is scraped and sanded flat, and blended in to the nut area with a file, scraper and glasspaper. The neck can also be cut down to match the size of the fingerboard.

Having tidied up the headstock the truss rod is fixed in place with epoxy, using scrap on the back of the neck for protection, and a scrap strip along the length of the rod to ensure that it pushes down into the channel. Spread g-clamps along the length of the truss rod (five will usually do) and leave for 24 hours (do not be tempted to use quick-set epoxy as it has a tendency to “creep”).


After scraping any excess epoxy level with the surface of the the neck the fingerboard can then be glued in place. The position is accurately marked on the neck, then panel pins are partly inserted into diagonally opposite corners, and the shanks clipped just above the surface. The fingerboard is then pressed into place, the sharp end of the pins creating depressions in the bottom of the board. This enables easy location of the parts, and prevents them from slipping as the clamps are tightened.

The MDF blank is again used on the back of the neck, together with a softwood one over the fingerboard, with a strip of leather underneath to prevent it marking the finish sanded ebony. Again, spread g-clamps evenly along the length. Titebond (or similar) adhesive is recommended as it is extremely strong (and ‘grabs’ very quickly, demanding speedy cramping) and can be steamed off in the event of any fretting disasters. Any glue oozing out can be cleaned off now, or left to harden and cleaned up when shaping the neck.

When dry the neck can be cut down as close as possible to the sides of the fingerboard, and the sides cleaned up with a plane around the area of the neck joint, where it is vital that the sides are exactly square to the back of the neck to enable an accurate fit to the body.


The neck can now be fretted.

The profile of the neck can be taken from a favourite guitar or from pictures in magazines or the web, and suitable templates made. A rasp and files are used to shape the ends of the neck around the headstock and heel areas, either the headstock or tenon end being clamped to the bench, using scrap wood as protection. The shaped ends are then joined with a spokeshave, one of the most satisfying parts of the whole project. This is done progressively, until the desired neck shape is reached. A word of warning - it is very easy to over-do both of these jobs, removing too much timber and either ending up with a neck which is too thin, or worse still breaking through to the truss rod. Finish sanding again involves working through progressive grades of paper.

Ready for surface finishing.....