6 String Cowboys. A Basic Guide to Necessary Tech Work

Tonight, I heard a tale from a client that reminded me of why I am always open and honest with how and why I maintain guitars the way I do.


I was contacted by a client via email asking if I could correct a severe neck bow in their guitar. Correcting a neck bow can pose a multitude of difficulties so, I suggested he drop by the workshop with the offending instrument for a proper assessment. He dropped by at the end of the day with his guitar and told to me a tale... A tale of the six string cowboys.


As I began the assessment, I noted the guitar neck was severely bowed and not helped by a poorly slotted nut and overly high saddle action. As I removed the strings and unbolted the neck, I asked the client when the instrument had last been seen by a tech? He told me he had taken it to someone else a short time ago.


This "tech" had informed the client that his neck was twisted and that he would need a full fret level to fix the issues with the action. As he told me this, I discovered the truss on the neck was totally loose and not assisting the bow. Immediately upon adjustment of the truss, the neck returned to straight with no twist which I determined with my notched straight edge and demonstrated to the client.

Reviewing the frets, I found no rust, discolouration, dents, or divots. In fact, they appeared to be almost new stainless steel.


My initial assessment found the neck to be incorrectly adjusted and that the high nut and saddle action would require a setup. The client said he thought the initial consult with the other "tech" has seemed strange as the guitar was basically new and rarely played. 


I would like at this time to make clear that I make no judgement as to the motives of the assessment previous to mine. The guitar tech world is a strange one, with no standardisation. A large portion of tech's are self-trained or trained by someone who was self-trained. So, there is a wide scope of ability and experience that can be encountered.


This client had the good sense to seek another opinion but too often people agree to totally unnecessary work due their lack of basic knowledge.


Here are a couple of standard things to look at and consider before visiting your local tech.


1) Check the Frets:

Pull your strings aside enough to see where the string contacts the fret and move the guitar into different angles of light to detect low spots, dents, dings, or corrosion. If you find dings and dents its full level, recrown and polish time.

2) Check Nut and Saddle Height:

Guitar action is supposed to be comfortable. Look at the height of your strings at the nut they should be roughly a business cards width away from the first fret. Then look at the string height around the 14th fret. If it's over 3mm from the top of the fret you will most likely benefit from some adjustment to the action.

3) Look at the Neck Relief:

With your guitar strapped on press down on the low E string at the 1st and 16th fret. Then view the area around 8th fret, the gap will give you an indication of the amount of relief (bow) in the neck. If it appears more than a couple of millimetres, it may be in need of adjustment.


4) Check your Electronics:

Gently wiggle your jack in the guitar to make sure it doesn’t cut in and out. Twist your tone and volume knobs (while plugged into an amp) and listen for any crackles or cuts in sound. Test your switches for the same. If anything sounds amiss it may require electronic service.

These 4 simple steps will not only let you know when it’s time to consult a tech, but also give you a basic idea of the issues your guitar faces. Never be too apprehensive to ask questions during an assessment. Issues should be demonstrably problematic with basic measurement tools like straight edges etc, it's good to see the logic behind a guitar’s diagnosis.


I hope you have garnered some insight into guitar maintenance and given you some pause for thought regarding your own instrument.


If this piece has raised any concerns about your beloved riff stick my door is always open for assessments. Drop in anytime within my business hours and let’s check it out.


Till next time stay safe and riff hard.


Chris Re-Animator


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