How—and why—acoustic guitar builders create predictable, controllably stable necks.
There is a lot of talk in the guitar universe about the need for an instrument to have a straight neck. In general terms, a straight neck seems like it would be critical for a guitar to play well. In reality, for a guitar or any other stringed instrument, a truly flat or straight playing surface underneath those strings isn’t necessarily the most functional shape. What most guitar makers mean when speaking about straight necks is actually a predictable, controllably stable neck. To achieve this, makers rely on careful wood seasoning and neck shaping to prevent wood’s wily ways from unintentionally warping the playing surface. In addition, most modern steel-string-guitar makers use some form of an adjustable metal rod to control the neck’s ability to bend in a desirable way.
A basic characteristic most players want from a guitar is for it to be easy to press the strings to the frets. To help achieve this, and to ensure the pitch accuracy of the notes we play, a maker wants the string to be as close as possible to each fret to reduce the finger pressure required to stop the string, while also preventing the string from bumping into other frets as it vibrates. To help achieve this ideal, the frets should be arrayed so they closely match the arc of a string in motion, which is distinctly different than closely matching the straight line a string forms while at rest.
Looking at the strings from the player’s position, it’s easy to strike an unfretted open note and watch the string create a cat’s-eye-shaped pattern over its length. With the string held somewhat still at the nut and saddle, the ends of the string appear to move very little, and the middle of the string moves a substantially visible amount from its resting position. While we know the entire structure of nut, string, and saddle together is creating the sound we love when in motion, the string appears to make an oval-shaped pattern over its length between the two stopping points. Knowing this, it’s clear why the fretboard surface needs to match this lengthwise arc of string motion in order to position the frets as close to the string as possible. Otherwise, a truly straight fretboard surface either bumps into the string as it vibrates—creating rattles and reducing amplitude and resulting volume—or the string needs to be moved farther away, making the guitar harder to play with less-accurately pitched notes.
As steel strings are stretched along the fretboard, the relatively slender neck will bow toward the strings as they are tightened, often creating more curvature than is desirable. To achieve an adjustable amount of lengthwise fretboard curvature, truss rods were created to minutely counter the forward bending induced by string tension. In a truss rod’s simplest form, a long steel bolt is positioned inside the neck very close to the shaped rear portion and tightened. It acts as a balance/counter-tension for the tight strings, with the neck and fretboard wood between the strings and the metal rod acting as a fulcrum of sorts in this remarkably effective and simple arrangement.
Since necks are usually made of wood, there are times when the wood’s own internal stresses can easily overcome the tension exerted by the strings and warp backwards away from the strings. This condition is known as “back bow” and makes a neck nearly impossible to set up to play comfortably. To prevent this, makers devised a system that incorporates two metal bolts inside the neck, which are attached to each other at both ends, usually via opposite-direction threads. One bolt is adjustable while the second bolt is held in place. Adjusting the threaded bolt causes the second fixed-length rod to press against the underside of the fretboard in the middle of the neck’s length, bending the neck away from the strings. Adjusting the movable bolt in the opposite direction causes the fixed rod to press against the underside of the fretboard near the nut and body joints, forcibly bending the neck to curve forward.
Whichever system is used, a predictable, controllable neck with a small amount of forward curve is crucial for a great-playing guitar. While a truss rod should not be used to control overall string height, it is certainly one of the more important aspects in making a guitar comfortable and enjoyable to play for years to come.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.