Late Night DIY: Modifying a Guitar’s Neck Pocket

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A few posts ago, I showed you my new Strat (named “Ray”) which is made from parts. I also promised to show you how I modified the neck pocket to cure a non-adjustable problem with fret buzz at the 22nd fret. While I’ve got the guitar apart, I’m going to modify the wiring to add two more pickup options for some more sounds. The addition of a switch in the standard wiring will provide a neck and bridge pickups option, or an all three pickups option for a 7 tone monster.

I’ve read that this is a really worthwhile mod that can be done by adding a small switch or changing out the volume pot to a push/pull (or push/push) & volume. I chose the extra switch because I had one on hand and I can easily hide it between the two tone pots so I won’t hit it by accident. I’ll provide the wiring diagram for both so you’ll have a choice. (Yeah, I’m a fan of the “sleeper”, too. Looks like a regular Strat but has this monster tone.)

Modifying the Neck Pocket

This was more of a repair than a modification per se. The guitar had a problem that I couldn’t cure with the truss rod adjustment or the string height, not unless I wanted to set it up for slide only. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. This is not for the faint of heart. You can do irreparable damage if you get heavy handed. If you have a guitar that plays great there is no reason for you to be messing with the pocket anyway. This treatment is mainly reserved for cheap guitars, Frankenstein guitars (like mine) or guitars that the neck and body just don’t work together well (also mine). Sometimes, this might be any name brand guitar that got through quality control on a bad day! It happens.

My problem was that the Mighty Mite neck has a thicker fingerboard than the standard Fender neck. The guitar plays really well but it has a different feel than my ’88 Strat. The Mighty Mite neck heel measures 25mm thick at the 16th fret while my maple Strat measures 24mm. One millimeter? Seriously? That’s all it takes sometimes. There is also a little bow beyond the end of the truss rod which wouldn’t adjust. The remedy – tilt the neck, ever so slightly, to allow the neck to be straighter and drop the 22nd fret out of the way. Another option might have been to file down the 22nd fret but it looked to me like that would just transfer the problem to the 21st fret.

Pic 1 shows how I saved my strings.

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I’m working on a TV tray in pic 2, not the ultimate work area. (I miss the house with the great kitchen and garage workshop!)

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Do the best you can with what you have but use something to protect the finish. (Towels work great.)

Pic 3 shows the chisel I used. It needs to be shave-your-head sharp!

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You really need to pay close attention as you work. Check your work often so you don’t go too deep. Use the square, pic 4, to determine your flatness or slope and make sure you keep it consistent all the way across the pocket.

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Pic 5 shows a problem I ran into. Most bodies are made of multiple pieces, glued together to make the required body size. This one was 2 pieces but they cut a little close to a knot on one piece so I had to deal with the grain problem that resulted.

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Pic 6 shows how to use the square to monitor the flatness of the pocket. Leaving humps or unevenness in the pocket may result in damage to the neck over time. It may or may not affect your guitar’s playability but wood is a living thing and tension put somewhere it shouldn’t can make itself known somewhere else – like causing the fingerboard/neck joint to fail in the future.

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You woodworkers out there will notice that the chisel is upside down in Pic 7. You’re right. I use it in this way because I really don’t want to “plane” the wood in the conventional way you would use a chisel. I only want to scrape the smallest amount off the surface and not dig in and shave “curls” of wood off.

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Your chisel needs to be extremely sharp, and sharpened correctly, for this to work properly. Search for “sharpening a wood chisel” online for the how-to on sharpening your chisel correctly.

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As you’re working, pay attention to the corners to avoid leaving an edge that will affect the neck’s fit in the pocket.
Remember the back and corners, too.

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Pic 11 shows the shavings you should be taking. They look more like sawdust than shavings. You probably don’t need much of the surface removed. If you remember, the difference in thickness between my two necks was only 1mm but it was enough to make this neck not work right in this pocket.

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This is the way (pic 12) to hold the chisel when you get a piece of tough grain that just won’t budge. Use your index finger to keep the chisel flat on the surface and scrape the grain away. Be patient. See the difference in the pocket surface where the chisel is and along the right side and the back. The “whitish” area is where that curvy, hard grain is and it just won’t come off smoothly. It will test your mettle if you run into this but don’t give up. It will eventually succumb to your will.

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Here’s a tip: Use your square to look for high spots and mark them with a pencil as seen in pic 13. Scrape the pencil off and recheck the area. Keep this up all over the pocket until you have what you want.

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Unfortunately, there is no simple or easy way to test the fit of the neck. You just have to put it in there and try it. You want to make sure it doesn’t rock around and feels solid.

Next, bolt it in and see if you got it right. If not, well, it’s back to the chisel. If you did, congratulations!

A word of caution: If your pocket is off more than a minute amount, even if the neck is sitting securely, you can do some harm if you tighten the screws down incorrectly. Tighten them evenly and don’t tighten one all the way and then another. Bring them tightly together so the neck gets a nice even pressure on it. Failure to do that could result in damage to the neck, especially over the long term. (You can refer to “Simple Guitar Repairs: How to Align a Bolt-on Neck” for more info on adjusting and tightening the neck.)

Once you have the neck in place, do a setup and readjust everything to specs. Mine plays much better now that the neck is in proper orientation to the rest of the guitar. I hope yours does, too.

Since this piece has gotten a little long, I’ll do the 7-tone mod next time. Until then… keep rockin’!

More in depth DIY guides from Doug Knight.

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Doug Knight

Our “Man on the Street” reporter, with his “What’s New in Music Stores?” series, resides in Coos Bay, OR. You can find him on Friday nights at The Small Events Center at OrCoast Music in Coos Bay.

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