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A Disappearing Truss Rod

3/3/12 – This article was featured in the Finger Lakes Guitar Repair Newsletter. Sign up for a free newsletter by entering your email address and clicking Go !

4.0 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret.JPG 1.0 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret over tightened truss rod.JPG
1. The Gibson SG This one has a “rubbery” neck, it flexes quite a bit under the modest string tension of a set of 10’s. The truss rod has been tightened to the max, but the neck has too much relief to be playable. This neck needs a compression refret to help straighten the neck. 2. Bad Truss Rod Nut The truss rod on the SG is so tight that it’s actually crushing the mahogany to the point that the truss rod’s nut and washer are disappearing beneath the fretboard.
1.1 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  healthy truss rod thread and nut protrusion.JPG 1.3 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  over tightened truss rod washer damage.JPG
3. Good Truss Rod Nut This truss rod has kept the neck of a much older Gibson straight with no issues since the 1950’s. 4. Bad Truss Rod Washer With the truss rod nut removed you can see the embedded washer. Look at how far it’s disappeared into the neck.
1.4 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret healthy truss rod washer.JPG 1.5 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret truss rod nut washer spacer.JPG
5. Good Truss Rod Washer The antique Gibson’s washer is right where it’s supposed to be. 6. A Spacer between the truss rod nut and washer will allow me to get a wrench around the nut.
1.6 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret clamp neck and adjust truss rod.JPG 1.7 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret heat frets and remove from neck.JPG
7. Adjusting the Truss Rod is safer and easier with the help of a clamp. I placed a thin shim at the first and the last fret, then used the aluminum sanding beam to clamp the neck into a back bow. Now I’m tightening the truss rod nut until it’s really snug. 8. Removing the Frets with a modified soldering gun and flush ground end nippers is safe for the guitar and really fast. I’ve shielded the pickups from the soldering guns e.m.f. with mu metal.
1.8 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret sanding fretboard with radiused sanding beam.JPG 1.9 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  bevel fret slots.JPG
9. Sanding the Fretboard with the long, radiused sanding beam under simulated string tension will quickly sand the fretboard straight and to the proper radius. I’m using 80 grit self-adhesive sandpaper. I’ll follow up with 220 and 600 grit sandpaper wrapped around a sanding-belt cleaner. 10. Chamfering the Fret Slots will allow the new frets to safely be installed and removed without chipping the fretboard. This triangle file has had it’s corners sanded smooth so it can not accidentally damage the binding or surface of the fretboard.
2.0 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  resaw fret slots.JPG 2.1 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  prepare fretwire.JPG
11. Re-sawing the Fret Slots with a small pull saw ensures that the tang of the new frets will not be obstructed during fretting. When I’m done resawing the fret slots, I will loosen the truss rod nut all the way. 12. Preparing the Frets I’ve bent the fretwire and cut to rough length each fret. Now I’m pre- grinding the fret ends.
2.2 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  prep frets for pressing.JPG 2.3 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  press frets with arbor press.JPG
13. Getting the Frets Started with a mallet. The customer wants stainless steel frets on his SG so I pre-bent the first 15 or so frets to an exact radius of 12”. 14. Pressing the Frets is quick and painless. I press in as many as I can before the body of the guitar gets in the way. I will have to tap in the last few frets with the mallet. I will slightly over-radius the last few frets because they seat better with a mallet this way.
2.5 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret.JPG 2.6 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  file fret ends.JPG
15. Gluing the Frets with water-thin super glue. I want the glue to help compress the neck so I have the truss rod as tight as I can get it. When cured, the glue will help this rubbery neck resist bowing under string tension. I will clamp each fret with a 12” radius clamping caul and quick grip bar clamp while the glue dries. 16. Filing the Fret-Ends with a course file. I’ll stop filing before the fret ends are flush with the binding.
2.7 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  sand fret ends.JPG 2.8 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  level frets under simulated string tension.JPG
17. Sanding the Fret- Ends with 400 grit self-adhesive sandpaper on a short sanding bar. I’ll stop sanding when the bottom of the fret ends are flush with the binding. 18. Leveling the Frets under simulated string tension in the Erlewine neck jig is very accurate. The long, flat sanding bar with 400 grit sandpaper quickly levels the new stainless steel frets.
2.9 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret  bevel fret ends in erlewine neck jig.JPG 3.0 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret.JPG
19. Sanding the Fret Ends with the long bar. I’m only focusing on the top of the fret ends. This allows me to overcome any lateral twisting in the neck and ensures a straight end of the playable surface of the frets crowns. 20. Filing the Fret Ends and spot crowning the new frets is quick and easy with a 300 grit diamond crowning file.
3.1 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret sanding frets.JPG 3.2 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret buffing frets.JPG
21. Sanding the Frets with 600, 1000 and 2000 grit sand- paper prepares the stainless steel for the buffing wheel. 22. Polishing the Frets with the buffing arbor.
3.3 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret polished frets.JPG 3.4 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret smooth fret ends.JPG
23. Stainless Steel Frets take and hold a fine polish. 24. Smooth Fret Ends
3.5 gibson sg 1961 reissue compression refret stainless steel refret.JPG
25. A Compression Refret With the guitar tuned to pitch, the truss rod is still fairly tight, but not nearly as tight as it was before the compression refret. This should prevent the truss rod nut from pulling another dis- appearing act and is much more affordable than the other approach to repairing a severely over-bowed neck: a new fretboard.