GUITAR NECK ANGLE

 
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The angle of a guitar neck is an important issue that affects several things on a guitar. The most impacted guitars from offset necks are acoustic guitars as opposed to bolt on necks where a bolt on neck can be more easily serviced.
 
First lets define some terms. "Overset" necks are where the neck angle rises above the bridge of a guitar. Juxtaposed, an "Underset" neck is where the neck angle is below the guitar's bridge. Whether the guitar is an acoustic, or archtop, or solid body, a guitar (or bass) neck can shift over or under. The most immediate signs of a neck angle shift is either 1) high string action, 2) string fret buzz. These are the two symptons that usuallly show up over time.
 
The most common findings that comes across a repair bench is high action that is mostly seen on acoustic guitars. High action is the distance between the bottom of the string and the top of a fret on the fretboard (sometimes called the fingerboard).
 
When we see low action over the first four (4) frets then the action gets higher as the string approaches the 12th position and beyond. Clearly, the neck shifted down below the bridge (called underset) thus high string action. When the neck shifts upwards (called overset) the neck angle is above the bridge and we hear fret/string buzz. The cure is to reset the neck to the correct the angle, that is, level with the bridge.
 
By the way, for acoustic guitars the bridge is not the saddle (bone or white plastic) that the strings go across. The bridge is the part that holds a saddle or individual string saddles on electric guitars.
 
Also there is a difference when measuring a neck angle on electric guitars compared to acoustic guitars. Briefly, for electric guitars the string saddles are used as the point of reference as opposed to an acoustic guitar where the wooden bridge itself is the point of reference.
 
If it is determined that a neck shift occurred then correcting the neck angle is the remedy sometimes called: A neck reset. If a guitar is constructed with a bolt on neck then resetting the neck is a more simple and cost effective fix. An example of the bolt on neck is the Fender Strat, but some acoustic guitars also have bolt on necks.
 
If the guitar neck is a dove-tail or butt-joint then a neck reset of this type is open heart surgery, time consuming, and costly. On many imported guitars (acoustically) a neck reset is not do-able given the construction/production methods used to build import guitars. Moreover, most guitar finishes (these days) are "polymer" finishes that can suffer finish damage if trying to remove a neck for a reset (see article: Lacquer vs. Polymer Finish).
 
One quick fix for "overset" necks that causes string/fret buzz is a "fret dressing." Here, the frets are cut lower then re-shaped to offset the string fret buzz given that the neck is overset causing the frets to be elevated contacting the strings. However, this is a "quick fix" and not the correct repair, but may be the option for a minor neck "overset" or given the guitar is an import and a neck reset is not do-able.
 
For an underset neck with high action, a fix can be cutting the white bone/plastic saddle to improve the string to fret distance, but this is not the cure-all. It may be possible to remove the bridge (on an acoustic) and cut the bridge itself down somewhat, but this is not a cure-all either and frankly not recommended as damage to the finish may occur.
 
In sum, a guitar neck angle is significant to how a guitar feels and plays. As to what causes guitar necks to underset or overset, well that's a different story and there are different reasons for the occurrence. It is recommended that reading articles "Wood Drying Methods," "Wood warping," and, "Neck warp" articles paints a picture as to neck angles.