In this simple, step-by-step tutorial, I cover how to 1) carve the truss rod channel, 2) install the truss rod, 3) glue the fretboard and 4) trim it to size while avoiding common pitfalls.
The overall process if relatively simple, but if you’ve never installed a truss rod and fretboard before, then it can seem intimidating. I hope this tutorial will be helpful to new builders.
Before proceeding with the installation of the truss rod and fretboard, make sure to accurately draw centerlines on the fretboard and neck. They will be used to properly align the truss rod and the fretboard.
In this article, the neck is already in its final shape but the fretboard is slightly over-sized. In the last step, the fretboard will be trimmed to fit perfectly with the neck.
Step 1: Create The Truss Rod Channel
- Place the truss rod on the centerline of the neck and position it according to the guitar plans you have designed or using.
- When the truss rod is in the correct position, make two pencil marks on the neck, representing the front and back of the truss rod. These will be the ends of the channel.
- Place the neck in the truss rod channel carving jig and tighten the screws to hold the neck firmly in place. If you wish to build this jig, I have a Youtube video of an older prototype.
- It’s important that the channel is routed along the centerline and therefore the router bit must travel in a perfectly straight line over the neck.
- Leave the router turned off and lower the bit to just above the neck. Move the router over the neck a few times to check that the router bit stays over the centerline throughout its travel.
- To prevent from routing too long, place a block along the neck to create a hard stop for the router. The block should be aligned so that the router does not go further than the pencil mark. Place another block at the other end of the neck.
- Once you have triple-checked that everything is correctly aligned and everything is firmly in place, go ahead and start routing.
- Do not route the channel in one pass, instead, take multiple shallows passes.
- Measure the depth of your truss rod and route to that depth. Verify with a ruler as you get close to the final depth and also test fit the truss rod.
- Test fit the truss rod in the newly routed channel. It should fit snuggly and have minimal empty space at the front and back.
- The truss rod channel should be deep enough to fit the truss rod but no deeper.
Step 2: Install The Truss Rod
- Before installing the truss rod, wrap it with Teflon tape to eliminate rattling noises that may occur when the truss rod is in the neutral position in the neck. The Teflon tape is flexible enough to expand with the truss rod when the tightened.
- Before inserting the truss rod into the channel, place a drop of silicon under the head and tail ONLY, not along the whole length of the truss rod. Only at the ends and only a small drop.
- The silicon will prevent the truss rod from rattling in the channel.
- Clean the extra silicon that may squeeze out.
Step 3: Install The Fretboard
- Before spreading glue, verify that both fretboard and neck surfaces are clean.
- Wipe the surfaces with mineral spirit, acetone or other solvents. Do not use water.
- Allow the solvent to evaporate completely before moving to the next step.
- Place two locator pins on the neck a few millimeters away from the truss rod channel, one on each side and at each end. What’s a locator pin and how does it work?
- The locator pin will help minimize movement of the fretboard while gluing. The text in the next photo will describe how to use it.
- I create my locator pins using a staple gun (you can also use a small finishing nail and cut the head off). Loosely hold the staple gun over the neck and then staple it. Cut the staple as shown above in the photo and remove the long portion.
- You will be left with a small pin, make sure the pin is vertical to the neck and not at an angle.
- How to make use of the locator pins?
- Before applying the glue, position as accurately as possible, the fretboard over the neck and pins. Make sure the centerlines of both are perfectly aligned.
- When you are certain that the fretboard is perfectly aligned, using both hands and the weight of your body, press down on the fretboard to “mark” or create a small indentation on the underside of the fretboard. See image above.
- Place a long strip of masking tape over the truss rod channel and trim off the excess from each side.
- The tape will prevent the glue from entering the channel and messing with the truss rod’s functionality.
- Also place masking tape along the edges of the neck. The tape will prevent glue from dripping onto the neck and make it easy to clean up.
- Almost ready to apply the glue but first prepare your cauls, wax paper and clamps.
- Spread the glue over both surfaces. You don’t need any type of special glue, here I’m using regular yellow glue, as I always do when gluing wood to wood.
- Make sure the glue is spread evenly and that no dry spots are present, especially at the edges.
- At this point, you can choose to leave the masking tape over the channel or you can remove it, both options are fine.
- Position the fretboard over the neck and align it with the locator pins. You will feel the fretboard slide in, connect and lock with the locator pins.
- Using two long cauls, clamp the fretboard and the neck together.
- Use multiple clamps along the length of the neck.
- Wait until the glue squeeze-out has started to partially dry, (depending on temperature and humidity, somewhere between 5 to 20 minutes), and then use an old, dull chisel to remove it.
- Partially dried glue squeeze-out is much easier to remove than liquid glue. Remove as much of the squeeze-out as possible all around the joint.
- Allow the glue to dry, I usually leave it to dry at least overnight.
Step 4: Trim The Excess Material From The Fretboard
- This is what the neck looks like after removing the clamps. Although the neck has its final shape, the fretboard is slightly overhanging.
- On the router table, use a flush trim router bit with a ball bearing to remove the excess fretboard material.
- The neck will act as a template as the ball bearing will ride along it.
- The fretboard is perfectly flush after trimming the overhang.
- Here’s the final neck with the truss rod and fretboard installed.
If you want to follow the progress of this particular build, you can do so here: Custom Telecaster Guitar Build Diary