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Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

Fret Leveling - Twisted Neck?

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by jrjrdiablo, Sep 7, 2017.

  1. jrjrdiablo

    jrjrdiablo TDPRI Member

    May 1, 2017
    I have a guitar that I just bought, that I have been working on setting up for optimum playability.
    I got the neck straight using a notched straightedge.
    I didnt think about checking anything else since the neck straightened up perfectly.
    Frets needed leveling, so I went about leveling the frets as I usually do. Used one of those stewmac aluminum radius beams.

    This is where I noticed that the 1-4ish frets on the bass side & the top frets on the treble side were leveling down extensively more than the middle & anywhere else. (see image, red areas)

    I was thinking that maybe the neck might be slightly twisted in order for this to happen.
    I'm I imagining this or has this happened to anyone else. Ive done a few refret jobs, leveling fretboards, etc...never had anything like this happen before. Im not a tech at all, just a curious do-it-yourself-er.

    Fret Level Issue.jpg

  2. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Lubbock, TX
    The time for analysis of the neck's basic geometry is before any work is begun, imho. One can look down a neck and see twists.
    Fwiw, if the neck is twisting at the nut in such a way that the bass side is higher than the treble, that is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the twist is not drastic. Such a twist brings the fretboard into the fretting hand whereas a twis in the other direction causes the fretting hand to have to reach around the twist.
    Re: the upper frets on the treble side. That part of the neck will not twist since there is almost 1 inch of hard rock maple there. It sounds as if the neck/fretboard kicks up in the upper region on the treble side. This is an undesirable although not uncommon trait.
    I look at necks very thoroughly in order to understand what I want to avoid in a neck/guitar. Some necks are not worth working on.

  3. ukepicker

    ukepicker Tele-Holic

    Oct 15, 2013
    East Texas
    I leveled a slightly twisted neck one time. It came out okay. It was twisted the bad way: away from the fretting hand.
    But I knew it going in. And the neck had spankin' new HUGE frets.

    I also used a straightedge with sandpaper up-n-down the board, instead of a radius'd block. I felt that helped because it leveled the frets relative to each other in relation to where the string will lay.

  4. trouserpress

    trouserpress Tele-Meister

    May 4, 2015
    How does the notched straightedge behave when you shift it up and down the fretboard - shouldn't that reveal a twist?

  5. LutherBurger

    LutherBurger Friend of Leo's

    Oct 29, 2013
    I noticed the same thing while leveling frets with a 16" wooden radius beam, but in the opposite direction. The low frets were getting short on the treble side and the high frets were getting short on the bass side.

    My first thought was, "Dammit, the neck is twisted", but that wasn't the case. The 9.5" radius had been cut into the leveling beam at an angle. :mad:

    So I chucked the beam into the garbage, re-fretted the guitar, and leveled the frets with a flat piece of marble threshold tile. All is now well.
    telemnemonics likes this.

  6. jhundt

    jhundt Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 23, 2003
    I bought a very cheap 12-string Tele-type made-in-China kit guitar. It had a noticeable twist in the neck. The first 4 or 5 frets under the skinny strings were way too high. But after a bit of leveling I was able to bring all the frets in line, and the guitar plays quite OK now. It was my first attempt at fret leveling, I was worried that I might ruin something. But the kit was so cheap I figured it would be a learning experience one way or the other.
    telemnemonics likes this.

  7. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 2, 2010
    A good tech or plek machine will give you a setup with more relief on the low E side than on the high E side, if you want both very low action and the ability to hit the low strings pretty hard without buzz.
    This is my preference, and I like a neck with a little twist in the direction you seem to have.
    Seems like you already dressed the "good" twist out though.
    Like a table with four legs, if you put a matchbook under one leg, the table will be tippy and seem to have two legs that are too long.
    As @Wally pointed out, there's a good chance you don't have twist happening in the area of the neck heel, more likely you have twist between 1st and 8th or 12th frets or so. But if the low E side at the first fret is high, and you dress with a neck length beam, it will take material off opposite corners indiscriminately, like that tippy table, because the beam doesn't know which end is high and which end is normal.
    For this reason, you need to assess the neck before removing material, again as @Wally pointed out.

    The neck length leveling beam is a newer tool that makes it easier for a hobbyist to dress frets, but it also kind of dumbs down the process.

    While we have well known guitar builders/ techs promoting this "make the whole neck straight" philosophy, there is also a long history of dressing straight on one side and relief on the other side, to account for larger string excursion of the wound strings. It gets more complex than that though, because we don't want both ends of the board under the low E sting to be higher than the middle, we really want just the 1st fret end to be high, so the 18th to 21st frets don't end up high and buzzy. Further, we might want the 16th to 21st frets to start getting lower, AKA "fall away". This results in an almost S shaped neck on the low E side, lower in the middle for full chording, then lower at the highest frets for those who actually use the low strings above the 12th fret.
    In addition to the old ways of tech visualizing string excursion in all playing positions, we have modern computer operated plek machines that do exactly the same thing as those old time techs.
    If the neck length leveling beam was the best solution, and dead straight was the best "level", there would be no market or purpose for plek technology.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2017

  8. trouserpress

    trouserpress Tele-Meister

    May 4, 2015
    [QUOTE="....If the neck length leveling beam was the best solution, and dead straight was the best "level", there would be no market or purpose for plek technology.[/QUOTE]
    It occurs to me that the outcome using a neck length leveling beam is a necessary starting point. From there one may follow different strategies. Is that true?

  9. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 2, 2010
    It occurs to me that the outcome using a neck length leveling beam is a necessary starting point. From there one may follow different strategies. Is that true?[/QUOTE]

    I would say absolutely not!
    But that depends on the players needs and wants.
    If you want the crazy multiple transitions I attempted to describe, dressing out the twist will make it hard to then dress a new twist back in, and you'll end up with lower frets.

    I would note that necks twisted in the opposite direction (like @jhundt mentioned) are a whole different story, and would indeed be best served by leveling the mess first.
    And some necks might do well to go in the wood stove!
    Likewise the twisted leveling beam @LutherBurger had!
    trouserpress likes this.

  10. jrjrdiablo

    jrjrdiablo TDPRI Member

    May 1, 2017
    I appreciate all the responses. I havent thought of the issues that some have mentioned.
    I'll take some measurements later & see what I can determine.

    I thought if I had to, I'd put the guitar in the neck jig & get it at optimum set up......take the frets out & sand the fretboard with the long radius sanding beam...then refret & finally level them.

    I have to admit, my reasoning for all this in the first place is to attain the holy grail (IMHO) of low action.
    Ive taken my more expensive guitars to a two different local techs before....same guitar to each to see what they could do.....I guess their idea of action was way different than mine. Hence why Ive done it myself.

  11. archetype

    archetype More tone than talent Ad Free + Supporter

    Jun 4, 2005
    Williamsville NY
    I had a Gibson Les Paul 55/76. Basically a "player" version of a Special and not a reissue of anything. I bought it new from a dealer and played it for about 6 months before the one-piece quartersawn neck went bad. It wasn't exactly a twist, but a warp that went in two directions.

    Between the nut and the 12th fret the low E side of the neck warped concave and the high E side warped convex. A straightedge on the frets clearly showed this when the guitar was strung. Take off the strings and it was flat, other than a proper amount of relief that was uniform on both sides.

    The dealer and everyone I showed it to had never seen a neck do this and none of us could figure out a rational explanation for it. The dealer sent it to Gibson Kalamazoo for warranty repair. At that time, repairs were in KM even though Gibson was manufacturing in Nashville, but the dealer negelected to tell me that Gibson Kalamazoo was on strike.

    After a 5-month delay they got started on it and I assumed they rushed the job, given their backlog. My best guess...

    1. They cut the strings off, saw it was flat, and said "there's nothing wrong with this."
    2. They leveled the frets
    3. They strung it
    4. They didn't set it up and see that the neck was still warped, and if they did...
    5. They didn't care and just boxed and shipped it back to the dealer

    It should have been re-necked or replaced. I traded it away, with all faults described.

  12. jrjrdiablo

    jrjrdiablo TDPRI Member

    May 1, 2017
    Good point, I'll have to check & see. I didnt assume that I'd have any issues since this was a new guitar.

    You know I have used a long radius alum sanding beam to level a fretboard & then I refretted it. It came out better than I expected. The action was so low that I was uncomfortable playing...and that's weird to admit.
    Figured i might have to do the same here.

    The issue I am concerned about is that it is a maple fretboard.....It has that lite satin type of finish on it....not the glossy lacquer at all. I was concerned about what to use if I end up sanding the board. I like the satin feel would like to keep that way. Would spray polyurethane work...or tru oil or ...?
    ultra80096 likes this.

  13. Vizcaster

    Vizcaster Friend of Leo's

    Sep 15, 2007
    Glen Head, NY
    How long is the sanding beam and did you remove the nut? Is it possible you compensated with more pressure on the corners of the beam as it was pushed away from the center? I would expect if the neck was twisted when trying to level the frets you'd get wear in the red areas and none at all in the middle.

  14. trouserpress

    trouserpress Tele-Meister

    May 4, 2015
    To get the picture you should also move a fretrocker up and down the neck and document what's happening (with strings on and off => consider archetype's story - probably a rare event but a real bugger).

  15. philosofriend

    philosofriend Tele-Holic

    Oct 28, 2015
    Good advice from all posts, but here is how I think about perfecting the frets on my own guitar: Once I have the strings I want figured out and the nut reasonable, I adjust the action lower and lower until when I play just a bit harder than I ever will normally play the strings will make obvious buzzes. I do this not plugged into an amp. as I set each string lower and lower, I play it to find out where it buzzes. If it buzzes exactly the same all up and down the fretboard it is perfect, but usually there are dead spots and good spots on each string. I take one color of sharpie marker and mark the frets that are too high and another color for those that are too low. Buzzing means the the frets just closer to the bridge than the buzzer need to be lowered. I end up with a map on the board of where the frets need to be lowered. Then when I use my level beam to sand the frets I can stare at the operation and make sure that each stroke of the sandpaper is removing the bad color and not removing any of the good color. This level of detailing is only good if you are sure you will continue to use the same string guage.
    trouserpress likes this.

  16. trouserpress

    trouserpress Tele-Meister

    May 4, 2015
    Splendid idea! This may serve me well to get rid of my 13th-18th heel-socket-area hump on my Fender Bass! (they all seem to develop that hump once they're stringed and tuned - depriving them from real low action)

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