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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Sorry Paul, I guess my question was not specific enough.

I am not coming at this from a beginner point of view.

If the fingerboard and/or frets are going to be leveled by a flat tool, the neck must be held in a specific position while this is done. If a truss rod is ineffective or absent, some method must be used to hold the neck in position at the moment the tool is passed over.

In my world it must be within a couple of thousands of an inch.

I have not heard anyone explain how they can do this with the classical neck example I gave above.

Even though every fretting situation is indeed going to be different,  this does not preclude general discussions about how best to hold a neck in position during leveling.

The very point of my post was that the specifics seam to be avoided by non neck jiggers.

Sometimes the," every instrument is different" sounds too much like Hesh's ,"I've been doing it this way for 35 years and it has worked........."

Not trying to offend, just get down to the nitty gritty.

I think David is saying you can't level frets properly on a curved/bent neck so how do others do the job without a jig? It's exactly the kind of question I'd ask. 'I've been doing it my way for 3 billion years' is not really an answer is it?

I too am not looking for an argument either but I will enter an arena chained to you if that's what the people are baying for :P (that's probably not quite true)...

I wanted to second some of the things that Paul said AND add that it took me years to "begin" to understand how we do fret work.  I say begin because obviously there will always be things to learn.

I also found that when I was a builder only there was no way that I would ever learn this stuff because I did not get enough opportunity to practice what I had learned.  When only building it may be some months between fretting sessions.... not enough for me to get it down.

 For any real answers I fear we will have to wait for my patent to go through on a Torque Pick and Digital Fret Buzz Analyzer. Only then will we have the ability to have a perfectly played "One Note Samba" on a guitar without a customer wondering aloud "Can you hear that ? Can you hear that?" Science. 

Good luck w/ you digital analyzer patent Ian. Here's a peek at my open source analog version. Still gotta play that one note Samba. It's ok as long as it's  played  with feeling. 

Fascinating ! I never realised when I asked my innocent question, that this would run and run!

It's been good to have heard other points of view and be given an opportunity too rethink my oown take on this.

Sufficient to say that I have never ( to the best of my knowledge. I may be completely misguided in this!) felt the need in any of the setups I have done. This includes building and fret leveling classical guitars with variable profile across the strings.

I would concede that a bad backbow might well give me pause for thought, but fortunately have so far not had to face this problem.

Whatever my views, thanks for continuing to ponder the subject and give us all the benefit of your valued opinions and findings.



Hesh said:

Sorry, got caught up in my geezer stories...

Regarding the non-jigger articulation consider this.  Do we have to preserve that .015" relief or... go for level, achieve that, and then impart relief including that .015".

For me much of how I approach any fret work or getting the relief that I want were I want it starts with observing and noting what is under string tension and then correcting accordingly.

Achieving level, using bluing and long beams that are perfectly flat and checked on a calibrated surface plate is a pretty good baseline and something that we all can understand.

Simply orrienting the neck with the support in the middle of the area where you want the most relief and then some slight finger pressure on the head stock to induce a bit of back bow makes the area where we want relief proud of the rest of the board/frets.  Be it a bare board or the frets themselves relief can be milled in as desired.

By the same process excessive relief can be removed as well again by orrienting that neck support fulcrum and now pulling up on the head stock with the free hand while using the beams you can correct a neck that say has more relief on the treble side.

In either example the degree of relief imparted can be what ever we want and carefully checking along the way gets me where I want to go.

OTOH going back to observing what is, under string tension first goes a very long way in how we approach any job.  A mental plan is made and followed and most of the time it's gets us where we want to go.

For years, even still now, lots of folks used weights on the shoulders of the instrument for say Martins with non-adjustable rods.  

Necks can be manipulated and some necks gravity does it's thing too so why not use this to our advantage.  After all it's already there!

You could call it a "touch" thing like hitting a draw in golf but way easier to reliably do time and time again.

Dave Farmer replied:

Ah, some non-jigger nitty gritty articulation. Thank you!

I use a neck jig just like you describe using," neck support". The difference is, If I want to remove say .005" of relief in a non truss rod neck that has .015", with simple math I can pull back on the neck, set the dials and supports, and go to work knowing it will come out just as I intend. I can even stop, talk to a customer, go have lunch, check the dials and pick up right where I left off.

If I put an instrument on my jig and support the neck as you do, presumably on a bench top, and try and hold the headstock down the appropriate amount with my left hand, while simultaneously leveling the fret swith my right, the dials will show it is very difficult to hold steady and in the right location.

How would you know you were pulling back exactly .005" if that was what you were shooting for?

You must be a far better golfer than I. Seems like putting a draw on a 300 yard drive and landing it in the hole

Dave, at the end of the day when the project is completed, what maters is that it is done well. How you get to that point is less important. A repeatable method that you use to keep the time factor reined in and gives you predictable results should be a mainstay in your bag of tricks. If the neck jig is what works and the job is done well, then you should not feel somehow inadequate or less of a craftsman because others use a different method.

I totally agree with you Paul.

I would like to give up the neck jig because it slows me down. This topic interests me because those who say it's not necessary seem to fall into a couple of  camps.

If someone says they don't use a jig because it is overkill and they can't make enough money if they use one, that makes sense to me.

It's the idea that they can be just as, or more, accurate without one that I find difficult to understand and does  cause me to question my adequacy.

I'm not saying it's impossible. I just haven't heard how its done. (unless Hesh really can just push on a headstock, hold it there while he sands, and know he's removed the right amount of material in the right place).

Believe me, I'd toss that sucker in the bin tomorrow if I felt I could do as good a job with out it.

Hesh explained a little of his method.

Do the others, who don't use a jig, support the neck and push on it with their hands while they level too?

If you push on the headstock what holds the body down?

Your right leg?

Isn't that a just an awkward jig with no indicators to tell you what's going on?

That is the question I was hoping to hear answers to when I challenged people to explain.

The next time I have one anchored to the rack, I'm going to set the dials and try again to hold a long flexible neck steady with just a support and my hands.


woops woops

Sorry for coming so late to the thread, and for not really reading much of the posts so far. If I could sum up my thoughts on the neck jig as concisely as possible though (or at least try).

Pros - It's a great tool. It can help save from redos, and bring consistency to one's work, especially on inconsistent rubber-necks.

Cons - with enough experience and intentional process it is not necessary to achieve ideal results, although the learning curve is longer without it. Reliance on this tool I feel can impede or prevent one from suitably developing the sense and skills to work without it. It still does not always ensure a true replication of string tension, but often may inspire a false confidence in its accuracy being more true than it is actually capable of delivering.

To start with, let's look at the development of this jig and how it actually works today. The original idea was brilliant - string it up over a rigid frame with the body in place, adjust the truss rod, raise the support rods to the back of the neck. Remove strings, then readjust the neck either by truss rod or pull-down clamp to bring the center back down to the support rods (which will have sprung up when strings are removed). Before long it became apparent that gravity and playing position were a factor of required consideration and inclusion in setup (the original can of inspirational worms was a Fender Jazz Bass with a really flimsy neck and massive headstock / tuners). Eventually dial indicators were added in place of or between the support rods to make control and manipulation a bit more consistent and quantifiable. Many other refinements were made to simplify mounting, ease of adjustment for different body styles, and ultimately to make it compatible with manufacture, sale, affordability, and shipping (earlier versions were so massive they could only be sold as a few key parts along with plans to construct the massive neck jig bench yourself). That pretty much brings us to the current jig.

Now a few key points. First, perpendicular support/force against the center of the back of the neck does not guarantee identical distortion across the board as strings pulling parallel to the neck with variable tensions across its width. It can be close much of the time, but under the right (although admittedly rare) circumstances can also fail miserably. If you approach this tool with the overconfidence that it actually replicates string tension, this can lead to great frustrations, wondering what possibly could have gone wrong. Strings anchored to the bridge/soundboard and nut/headstock of an acoustic guitar with force along it's length and across its width, can affect a final neck and body joint distortion notably different than a body anchored to a frame connected to support rods forcing perpendicular against the center of the neck, even if they appear to read identical according to the jig chassis, the reference to which adjustments here are made. Which brings me to be next point -

The neck jig chassis will distort much more than many would assume. I can put a dial indicator in my Rockwell radial arm drill press made of 3" steel beams and heavy cast iron joints and plates. Rest only the weight of my hand on the drill head, and it can show a few thousandths deflection. In perspective, the typical neck jig is much less rigid, and much longer, and subject to much greater force than this drill press example, and I guarantee you it deflects to a much greater degree. If you ever want an eye-opening perspective on just how flimsy in reality things are which we often falsely assume to be practically rigid, read Wayne Moore's book "Foundations of Mechanical Accuracy" (long considered the bible of precision control techniques).

And thirdly, the neck itself is not rigidly supported as we may prefer to believe. When you lay leveling beam in it, it moves and flexes along with the neck jig frame supporting it. When your leveling beam is toward the bass or treble sides, the neck will twist and deflect differently on the edges vs the center. It is simply it well supported to account for twist,or differential deflection as pressure from leveling beams is shifted across the width of the board.
There are other issues, and I could go on, but these are some of the main areas where the jig really doesn't bring as much precision and control to the process as one may assume. Now I may sound like I'm bashing the neck jig, but I'm not. In spite of these weaknesses it is a fantastic tool, and can be of great use to many. Furthermore, it was a great advancement in the trade compared to average fret work before, not only for aid it may offer in control, but increasing awareness of many factors of influence which were commonly left unconsidered before Dan developed and promoted this tool. This awareness and call to attentiveness may bear more credit for improving the work of many than the tool itself in my opinion.

My approach today simply bypasses the tool, and focuses more on the attentiveness. As argued above, the tool can have many shortcomings and weaknesses, and they can be frustratingly difficult to accurately observe and suitably control within what I feel are the restrictions the jig can carry with it. I tried for years to modify the tool in ways that would account and allow corrections for these weaknesses, but ultimately found for my self anyway, that to move to the next plateau I had to abandon it all together.

Unfortunately the methods I use are difficult to teach to any depth in person, much less type out in a post. There are a lot of tricks, and a whole lot of practice, and just like writing out tab for some Pat Donohue licks isn't going to suitably convey how to play his tunes in a complete fashion, writing a steps 1-2-3 instruction for my leveling approach isn't going to tell half the story either.

Most importantly is developing a consistent, reliable, and accurate method to judge your own work. Referencing, gauging short range precision, consistency of long range curves, and mental tricks for reliably storing the observations made under string tension to incorporate in the leveling process with strings removed. It takes practice (lots), but can be done. That's probably the toughest part. Then developing a feel, not only for support to control deflection in the neck independently for the bass and treble sides, but deflection in your leveling beams, and how pressure focused in different regions affects rate of material removal differently.

My approach is certainly mostly freehand, but that term can be quite misleading. I always have a neck supported in three areas, two of them fixed by either the body or a rest, and the other variable with hand pressure. This hand pressure is not willy-nilly though. My hand is connected to a forearm and elbow, one of which is typically locked against a solid reference somewhere on the bench. "Freehand" may sound crude and sloppy, but with practice and developed disciplines you may be surprised just how consistently and precisely toucan control this variable pressure and deflection.

I will often go through 3, 4, sometimes more stages of leveling and crowning before I'm satisfied, the later stages being very very slight degrees of refinement. This may sound cumbersome and time consuming, but today takes me less time and delivers more consistent predictable results than I used to be able to achieve using the neck jig. Today I leveled a fretless bass neck, rubbed on a few coats of CA (Jaco style), and was able to level out the entire neck up to 30 micron lapping film with full length beams before buffing, and didn't go through the CA in a single spot. With variable relief on the bass and treble plus fall-away factored in, I felt this spoke well of the consistent repeatability achievable by these methods. I don't want to sound boastful, but shaping a complex form, laying on a coat of rough and crinkly irregular finish, then reproducing that complex form a second time so precisely above the first as to not go through even with full length beams, is not an easy task, and I feel serves as testimony to the idea of very precise repeatability.

I'm always looking for ways to better explain the methods we use, but as easy as it's become with practice over time, it is anything but easy to describe. So many little details not only in actions, but observations. I'm working on better ways to accurately communicate the our methods though. Working on it...


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