[NOTE: We no longer use the neck jig, and have moved on to using a PLEK machine for all of our fretwork. Read about it here: strangeguitarworks.com/plek]
The secret to great fretwork is great tooling, and the skill to use it. Today I finished building my custom neck jig. Check it out:
So what exactly is it? Quite simply, the neck jig allows for a greater accuracy in fretwork, which is impossible using conventional means. Here’s how it works: the guitar is secured to the jig, and then swiveled into playing position. This is important, as the neck of a guitar lying on it’s back is in a vastly different shape than when in normal playing position. Once in playing position, the neck can be set to dead straight by adjusting the truss rod, and then the dial indicators are zeroed out, providing an accurate measurement of the neck in actual playing conditions. Then the jig is swiveled back to horizontal, the strings are removed, and neck is then raised back up to the original position using the neck supprts, referencing back to the original dial indicator readings. Now I can work on the fretwork and/or guitar neck under actual real world playing conditions. Awesome!
Why is this important? You frets need to be even with each other within a tolerance of about .01mm in order to minimize buzzing and to allow for clean bending. If one were to do fretwork using conventional methods, there’s no guarantees of any sort – necks do funny things under string tension (twisting, warping, compressing, etc.), and one simply can’t tell what the neck is doing without accurate measurements. Doing it without is flying completely blind on the most critical part of any guitar, and guessing simply won’t do. I opt for accuracy every time.
The neck jig isn’t a new idea, but mine has a few advantages over commercially available models. Mine is made from a steel beam and steel base, so it’s super stable. It has six dial indicators to read the entire length of the neck, and seven supports – guaranteeing absolute accuracy. I’ve built various body supports to accommodate most guitars, which can be quickly and easily swapped out, and won’t damage your guitar like on commercial models, which support the body with only four legs.
I’m really excited to get rolling on some fret levels and refrets. I’ve got a few guitars of my own I plan on getting on the jig as soon as possible, but for now I’ve got more shop improvement projects to get to. Fun will have to wait for now.