Restoring a 1970s Guitar Neck - Part 2

Removing the fretboard from a 1972 / 1973 Japanese Jedson electric guitar neck, with simple tools.

After the initial inspection of the vintage neck and assessing what is required to make it functional, it is time to remove the fingerboard.

As this is a 50 year old neck, it should be easy to separate the guitar neck from the fretboard, due to the degradation of the glue. However, this is still a very risky procedure and one that could damage both parts of the neck.

The first thing to do is remove the nut, so access to the joint of the two pieces of wood is easy - if the nut is a quadrant type, slotted ones can be left in. I prefer to leave the fretwire in the neck in situ, this gives the fingerboard more stability. 

Before separation takes place it is necessary to apply a very gentle heat to the neck. I always use a heat gun that is set to a low heat, holding it about 9” plus away from the neck surface, gently warming the wood to soften the glue, this way you can avoid burning the fretboard wood. 

Before you ask, it is possible to burn or scorch a fretboard with a heat gun, particularly older, vintage ones. The oils from cleaning and the oils and grease from fingers playing the guitar are absorbed into the wood and therefore make the wood more flammable.

Once the neck has warmed up a bit it is now time to separate the two parts. Gently insert a blunt scraper or knife into the joint at the nut end of the neck, this is the narrowest part so an easier place to start the process. If you have to use a lot of force to split the joint you need to warm up the neck a little more.

Once you have begun to separate the two parts you gently force the scraper / blade down towards the heel of the neck. If you feel more resistance and the splitting is becoming more difficult don't be tempted to apply more force to the metal blade, gently reheat the wood again and continue. This process can take some time, patience is the key, you may need to apply heat several times before you get to the other end of the neck.

If you are willing to take the risk and challenge yourself, here are some DIY steps you can follow to replace a guitar neck truss rod:

  1. Remove the strings from your guitar. You will need to access the truss rod from both ends of the neck, so you will need to remove the strings completely. You may also want to remove the tuners and the nut from the headstock, depending on how your truss rod is installed.

  2. Remove the fingerboard from the neck. This is the most difficult and risky part of the process, as you will need to separate the glued fingerboard from the wood of the neck without damaging either part. You will need a heat source, such as a heat gun or an iron, to soften the glue. You will also need a thin spatula or a knife to pry the fingerboard off. Be very careful and patient, and work slowly and gently along the length of the neck. You may need to apply more heat or force in some areas than others.

  3. Remove the old truss rod from the neck. Once you have separated the fingerboard from the neck, you will see the truss rod embedded in a channel or a cavity in the wood. Depending on how your truss rod is attached, you may need to unscrew it from one or both ends, or simply pull it out of the channel. Be careful not to damage the wood or any wires that may be running along the neck.

  4. Install the new truss rod in the neck. You will need to choose a new truss rod that matches the size and shape of your old one, or modify your neck to fit a different type of truss rod. You can buy truss rods online or from guitar shops. You will need to insert the new truss rod into the channel or cavity in the neck, and secure it with screws or glue if necessary. Make sure that the adjustable nut is accessible from either end of the neck.

  5. Reattach the fingerboard to the neck. You will need to apply some fresh glue to both surfaces of the fingerboard and the neck, and clamp them together until they are firmly bonded. You may need to use some clamps or weights to ensure even pressure along the length of the neck. You may also need to trim or sand any excess glue or wood that may have squeezed out during clamping.

  6. Reinstall the nut and tuners on the headstock. You will need to align them with their original positions and screw them back in place.

  7. Restring your guitar and adjust your truss rod. You will need to put new strings on your guitar and tune them up to pitch. You will also need to adjust your truss rod using a hex wrench or an allen key. You can measure your neck relief by holding down a string at both ends of the neck and checking how much space there is between it and the frets in between. You can increase or decrease your neck relief by tightening or loosening your truss rod nut accordingly You may also need to adjust your bridge height and intonation after changing your truss rod.

Sometimes a truss rod can break, get stuck, or reach its limit and it may need to be replaced. Replacing a truss rod is not an easy task, and it requires some skill and a lot of bravery. If you are not confident in your abilities, you may want to consult a professional luthier or guitar builder.

Part One