Can someone enlighten me? In my woeful ignorance, I've been doing fret jobs and setups for over 30 years WITHOUT a neck jig! Despite the fact that I have never had a dissatisfied customer, I have been told that I cannot perform a PERFECT fret job without paying Stew-Mac £230 + postage for four bits of wood, a few screws and a couple of dial gauges ....and a further £60 to British Customs, which I would bitterly resent! I know William Cumpiano is slightly scathing about neck jigs, I don't know what Frank Ford uses, but I don't think I have seen it mentioned in his pages.
The only advantage I can see is the "WOW!" factor, when the customer walks in the shop and thinks. "this guy's really hi-tec!". It pays to generate mystique!
Anyone care to set me straight?

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Hesh, man, you and Mr. Collins are crackin' me!

All the mentions of," the way we fret" and," it's too difficult to describe". Shoot the video, teach the class, something!  I would love to toss my neck jig in the trash. I dream at night of walking in a post neck jig world. (sick right?)

Every time I'm working on some difficult neck, twisting knobs checking dials, sliding feeler gauges, adjusting straps and clamps, thinking there is a better way, I imagine you and Dave casually flopping an instrument on the bench and leveling the frets to 2 angstroms of light, or what ever he insists on, all with just a hunk of aluminum and some sand paper. All the while laughing and stuffing more cash in the drawer! Enough!  :)  (took me a while to figure out what those things were. :)

Hey David!  Neck jigs, wooden ones, put out some pretty cool colors in the bonfire too! :)

To be clear the methods that we use I was taught by Dave Collins who developed most of the methods that we work with.  As for me the only thing that I ever made prior to making my first guitar were reservations....:)

Interestingly though although there are lots of tools that are sold to Luthiers that we don't need, want, or use on the other hand how many Luthier shops have digital microscopes, high speed cameras, a plethora of lighting and lens, and physicists and engineers on call to the point that Bill Nie would feel right at home here.

So I'm fortunate and if you can imagine we often run into some flak on other forums with some folks exclaiming that I did it this way for 35 years and I know what I am talking about.  I like to offer them something such as saying "now you have a chance to get it right..."  I'm still wondering why my comments are not always well received....:)

I'm reminded though that there are lots of ways to do most things and at the end of the day results matter.  OTOH if the end of some folk's days are more like a month passed perhaps there are different ways that may get one where they wish to go too.

We make our livings with Lutherie and guarantee our work 100%.  To do both things means that we have to work in a manner that provides real value to our clients AND produces the revenue that we need to keep the lights on and pay ourselves.  Doing both is something that lots of Luthiers struggle with because not everyone has business chops and Lutherie chops too.

It's been my experience that a successful Lutherie shop has to do the following:

1)  Do great work!

2)  Offer real value in terms of value delivered and price paid

3)  Be reliable and available

4)  Know when and how not to get any on us when the problematic instruments (or people...) grace our door way....

David you have an open inviation to come visit us in the People's Republic of Ann Arbor and we would love to meet you.  Dave completely enjoys showing folks the tools he has developed and you can also find him some years presenting at the North Wood Seminar put on by Bryan Galloup.

Victor don't get me wrong neck jigs work and can work very well and they actually give visual representations of the issues likely as clearly as any approach.  I just learned methods from Dave Collins that kind of sort of made our neck jig moot (and a space sucker too...).  I don't have a pic handy but ours is about half the size of a Honda Fit...:)

Mike very nicely done!

Re: "I did it this way for 35 years and I know what I am talking about."  I like to offer them something such as saying "now you have a chance to get it right..."

Now that's the kind of humour I like :D

I have to agree that I almost never reach for my homemade neck jig for doing "precision" fret work but I do occasionally use it as a holding fixture and it works great for that. It does get used it for bolt on necks that are off of the guitar but again, as a handy way to hold the neck for the processes that follow fret installation.

I did have a project last year where I felt the neck jig would be an asset to get the job done correctly. A fellow that I have done work for in the past brings in his 45 D18 Martin and he wants me to make the playing field dead flat, no relief. He is a music teacher, excellent flat picker and knows what feel he is after. After enduring my lecture about having to do a re-fret if he didn't like the outcome, he gave his blessing to go ahead. The frets had plenty of meat to work with but for those that don't already know, there is no truss rod in a 45 D18, so no forgiveness. String tension simulation was the most sure fire way for me to get this done. My rig has a dial gauge on it and it is necessary to get the neck geometry held closely as possible to tension simulation when the strings come off. There is always some fussing with the support rods, straight edges and the dial gauge to duplicate/maintain the settings after the strings are removed. When I was done, I ended up with .002" of relief. Not quite dead flat but I'm not sure how I could have accomplished this any other way, splittings hairs on 1 thousandths of an inch with no truss rod. The owner was quite happy with the final set up.

I think it is limiting to think of the neck jig just as a string tension simulator. Yes, it can do that but as mentioned, it is also a very handy holding fixture. I have plenty of other tools and fixtures taking up space in my shop that rarely see the light of day but sometimes, that dusty tool/fixture is the best solution for the task at hand.

" Not quite dead flat but I'm not sure how I could have accomplished this any other way, splittings hairs on 1 thousandths of an inch with no truss rod".

Just to clarify, there is in fact a truss rod in a 1945 D18, it just isn't adjustable.

IMO, the approach I would have adopted would have been to use compression fretting on the center frets, stringing up to tension after each fret was installed until the wood of the fretboard showed level under tension. Depending on the initial relief, three replacement frets might well  have been sufficient, but if it takes more, then it takes more. 

I would then have done a fret dress  ( with the strings still on and fully tensioned) until the fret tops were dead straight.. Remove the strings and crown and polish the frets, restring, adjust nut and saddle as necessary, and job done.

Thanks for your comments Murry, more than one way to go about most repair processes. However,  I am familiar with compression fretting and have routinely used it to correct excessive relief where there is no adjustable means to do so. For the results I was after, compression fretting involves too much trail and error and the project was compounded by previous fret work that was poorly leveled. Also, there is a high risk, in old Ebony especially, of chipping up the finger board. How hard do I want to work to achieve my goal? Besides, I felt it best for this vintage instrument to use the least invasive approach possible. And why not? I have a string tension simulation jig.

Terms can be annoying. I think of a truss rod as an adjustable device but would refer to steel, Carbon Fiber rods or secondary internal wood as neck stiffeners but I didn't say that.

I agree totally with your point about truss rod terminology, Paul.  Alas, so many people refer to the steel reinforcement in the Martin necks as "non-adjustable trussrods" which is, I agree, a bit of an oxymoron. 

The one thing I don't quite get is if you didn't use compression fretting to straighten the neck, and the wood of the fretboard still shows a concave curve under tension, but  the tops of the frets are in a straight plane, showing no relief, does that not mean that the frets extending from the 6th or 7th outwards on either side to the first and the 14th, are now getting progressively lower in height in both directions?

I may well be missing something here ... if so I apologize for my obtuseness.


Murry, I didn't bother to read the fingerboard surface. The existing relief measured at the top of the frets was around .010", if I remember correctly. The frets had enough meat on them to flatten the playing field, there was no need to straighten the neck any further. I have to say yes, in general terms, I lowered the heights of the frets away from the center of the finger board in both directions. However, the existing fret work (not my doing) had uppy-downy problems through the entire length and that was cleaned up as well.

I thought it was mandatory to have a cabinet, shelf, box and/or corner for stuff you only use once every 5 years. 

I just went through a box of old cauls and small jigs yesterday... didn't throw out a thing. ( I even kept a set of cauls for gluing on an ovation bridge, something I never intend to ever do again... but I kept the cauls anyway. It's a disease.)

The surest way to for me to find a use for something is to throw it out. Pitch it into the bin and it's assured that I will find a need for it within a week. 

"The surest way to for me to find a use for something is to throw it out. Pitch it into the bin and it's assured that I will find a need for it within a week."


For anyone interested, here are a few shots of my home brewed neck jig. My version of the infamous Erlewine jig sold through Stewart Macdonalds.

I used MDO plywood for the jig, commercially used for exterior sign board. Last I checked a sheet ran about $70. It is worth spending the extra, you want the material to be stabile, so don't use two by fours. Glue and screw, hardware store fittings. Straps came from an Army Surplus store that also sold camping gear.

I have added propeller nuts for different shaped instruments over time and just swap the cork capped levelers as needed.

Dial gauge cam from Stew Mac and is made to clamp to a straight edge. It is not dedicated to this jig and makes it that much more useful.

This block is held down with screws and is used for bolt on necks. The jig is simply a holding fixture, I can't remember any fret job with a bolt on neck that needed any special jig related VooDoo.

The mount is shop worked Aluminum angle ( I keep a bucket of scraps around just for such things) and I made it adjustable up/down for more versatility.

This is the nuts and bolts of it. The only item that might not be common hardware store stuff is the Rosan type fastener. It would be a standard item in a woodworking catalog offering cabinet related hardware. It is used with the threaded rod and knob so it won't back out when tightening the threaded rod down on the neck rods.

I have other fixtures that clamp to this rig for other operations when the jig is used as a holding fixture. Ugh, they are in a cabinet(?) somewhere? I think I show one or two in a previous post.

What are those cork covered nuts on picture 2 (the ones that support the guitar)? I'm in England and 1: I do not know what they are called and 2: I can't find any (I'm building my own jig but need to buy those 'things' ... I have everything else)...

Victor, Those are leveling furniture feet. There is another shot of one in the last picture, top right. The threaded part and the Nylon cased foot can swivel a bit and this type of leveling foot is the best style for the application. Instrument backs are not necessarily flat and the foots ability to swivel allow it to fit the curved shape when needed. I then contact cemented 1/4" thick cork onto the faces. These feet should be available at a good hardware store or a wood working catalog with cabinet related offerings.


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