[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]
Any guitar repair shop worth their salt needs to have a neck jig to do accurate fretwork. Fretwork is the most common job any repair shop does – I’d say I do about 60%-70% of my business is fretwork (which involves fret levels, refrets, etc.). Extreme accuracy is paramount for doing proper fretwork, so the first thing I did when starting my own guitar repair shop was to build the best damn neck jig possible.
Here’s my neck jig in action. Here’s how it works – the guitar is secured to the jig, like so:
Once secured, the entire jig is rotated so the guitar is in playing position. This way I can get an accurate read on the neck under actual playing conditions, instead of just guessing how the neck is going to behave. I adjust the neck to as straight as possible, measured against my Starett straightedge:
Once the neck is as straight as possible, I zero out all the dial indicators that measure the position of the neck:
The dial indicators will allow me to set the neck back to the exact position it was under tension and in playing position, so I can work on the frets without wondering what’s going to happen to the neck once strings are put back on it. This is the only practical way to get accurate results – and accurate results are extremely important when it comes to fretwork. If the frets aren’t perfectly level within a tolerance of about .01mm, the strings will buzz against the frets, notes will die, and bent strings will choke out.
Here’s the guitar flipped into working postion with the strings off, and with the neck raised into it’s original position with my favorite scissor jack, and secured with neck supports:
With the neck back in it’s proper postion, I use a steel beam to level the frets. Fanning the beam across the frets quickly reveals the high spots – it brings the tops of the high frets down to whatever the lowest point on the neck is, ensuring that all the frets are perfectly even with each other. You can see in the following picture that fret dust is accumulating in the upper and lower registers of the neck, but isn’t hitting a section in the middle, which isn’t surprising as the guitar was a bit buzzy in the middle register.
Once all the frets have been touched by the beam, it’s off the jig and on to the bench for fret crowning, polishing, and final setup.
This guitar was put together by my friend Chuck at Algiers Music Point, and was just almost awesome. Now that the buzzing frets aren’t a problem anymore, I was able to set it up without having to make any compromises. It’s got low action, plays clean, and string bends sustain like crazy. Success!