For a guitar to play well, its strings must line up straight along the fretboard, all the way from the nut to the bridge. On electric guitars with a 3-bolt neck attachment system—such as many ’70s Fenders or ’70s reissue models—it’s not uncommon for the neck heel to shift laterally in the neck pocket, causing the neck to move out of alignment with the strings. This can be caused by general wear and tear or even improper installation at the factory.
If the neck moves out of alignment, one of the two E strings will lie too close to the edge of the fretboard. Often, the offending string will actually slip off the frets as you play. And that’s not all: When a neck is out of alignment, some strings don’t run directly over the pickup pole pieces, and this affects your string-to-string volume. A misaligned neck is tricky to correct, but for the guitar to function properly, it’s an essential repair.
If you have a guitar with a 3-bolt neck that has shifted out of alignment, the fix is to carefully pivot the neck heel toward either the bass or treble strings, thus re-centering them over the fretboard. This operation involves measuring, drilling, and doweling. If you’re not comfortable with that prospect, it’s time to take your guitar to your local tech.
Let’s walk through this process using a mid-’70s Fender Tele with a 3-bolt neck and Micro-tilt assembly, and then you can decide if it’s a project you want to tackle. On this guitar, the 1st string was almost falling off the fretboard (Photo 1).
Prep work. Before removing the neck, I made sure the Micro-tilt Allen screw was backed off so it wasn’t pressing against the metal disc embedded underneath the neck heel. After confirming that the three neck bolts were snug, I checked the forward neck angle (or tilt) with the guitar tuned to pitch. Fortunately the action was good and the bridge saddles offered a sufficient range of adjustment to control string height. This was good news: It meant I wouldn’t have to shim the neck. This repair would be limited to the neck’s lateral adjustment, not any height adjustment.
Clamping down. Determining the new lateral position is an exercise in trial and error. First remove the inside four strings, leaving only the two E strings on the guitar. Tighten the strings just enough so they run in a straight line between the nut and saddles. The E strings will provide a visual reference and indicate how much to the left or right you’ll need to pivot the neck heel.
Next, place a grip clamp on the neck where it meets the body (Photo 2). Important: Make sure your clamp has rubber covers so it won’t damage the frets or body.
Remove the neck screws. With the clamp still in place so it’s holding the neck to the body, shift the neck heel from side to side in its pocket, watching how the strings align with the edge of the fretboard.