There’s rarely a shortage of interesting jobs to showcase on this blog, so typically I’m posting every week or so. For the past month I’ve mostly been plugging away at a bunch of bread-and-butter type jobs: refrets, fret levels, setups, pickup installs, etc.; certainly stuff I enjoy doing, but as I’ve already covered these type of jobs on this blog in detail, it hasn’t given me much to write about lately. This week I was presented with a type of job that I don’t get to do often: fixing a broken truss rod! It’s blogging time!
My friend, known as “Crash”, brought in his beloved Les Paul that had a massive amount of relief in the neck. I see this kind of thing all the time, and normally it’s not a major problem. Typically a few turns of the truss rod and/ or a heat press will straighten a neck out. I had taken all my preliminary measurements, and had loaded the guitar on to my neck jig, and started to adjust the truss rod to get the neck to a reasonable degree of straightness before leveling the frets. I gave the truss rod about a quarter turn, and the truss rod snapped right off! Oh no!
[Please forgive the slightly blurry pictures – it’s hard to get my camera to focus this close.]
While I usually urge caution to anybody adjusting their truss rod, I also know that they’re a lot more resilient than many people think. I like to say “treat your guitar gently, but not as gently as you might expect”. (That said, if a truss rod feels overly tight, then it IS overly tight. Take it to a professional!) This was not the case with this Les Paul – the truss rod nut turned easily, yet the truss rod still snapped in half. Turns out that both the rod and the truss rod nut were suspect: it appears that the rod was corroded, and the nut had cross threaded, and it was just the tiniest bit of pressure caused it to break. Through no fault of my own, this relatively simple job became a much bigger headache.
As a guitar tech, the last thing I want to do is to have to be the harbinger of bad news. I called up Crash and explained the situation and what it would require to fix his broken truss rod, which turned out to be a lot less expensive than he thought it could be. This was his favorite guitar and he wanted done right, so he authorized me to go ahead with the repair – and was super cool about it to boot. It’s awesome that most of my clients are great people – it makes these kind of calls much easier.
Now, as far as I know there are two ways to deal with a broken truss rod: peel the fretboard off and replace the rod, or use a truss rod rescue kit. I’ve removed fretboards before – it’s not a whole lot of fun and can be prohibitively expensive. Since this break was so close to the end of the truss rod, I opted to go with the later solution. I’ve used the kit previously elsewhere, before I started my own shop, so I had to bite the bullet and spend the $250(!) to buy this fairly simple tool. This won’t be the first time I’ve lost money doing a job, and I’m sure it won’t be the last…
Once the kit arrived a few days later, my first step was to remove the original truss rod washer, which was embedded into the wood and coated with lacquer. I first softened the lacquer with some thinner, and then gently pried it out with a metal pick.
With the wood and broken truss rod exposed, it was time to get to work with the truss rod rescue kit. The basic gist of the kit is this: remove some wood to expose the truss rod, then re-thread the rod. Pretty simple idea, and fairly quick and painless to do (unless you count dropping $250 on the tool…). I started with the cutting bit, and carefully cut away the wood surrounding the end of the broken truss rod, exposing about 1.5cm of the rod, vacuuming away wood chips as I went:
Next was to re-cut the threads on the truss rod. I switched out bits for the thread cutting die, and carefully cut the rod. I make one quarter turn at a time, backing off when I meet too much resistance, and clear out the metal flakes often, so that they don’t gum up the work and ruin the new threads:
Looking good! Now all I had to do was install a spacer washer and new nut on to the truss rod:
Good as new! The truss rod now functions perfectly, and the neck is ready for a fret level and setup. Rad!
Now, I wonder if I’ll ever get to use this tool again…