Guitar Making Tip Number 985 is about finishing the back of the guitar neck. Since hands produce sweat, and sweat can be sticky on a finish, it is not necessary to apply a ton of finish on the back of the neck. Here is what you can do instead.
Finishing the Back of the Neck
Guitar players often argue about the finish on the back of the neck. Some like it a certain way, and others hate it. The common goal though is to produce a surface that is comfortable to play, and doesn’t restrict hand movement.
One of the worst things as a player is when you are enjoying your music and your hand starts to stick to the back of the neck.
This typically happens on lower end guitars that just dip their instruments in lacquer. On most handmade instruments, you will not run into this problem at all.
The difference is in the time and attention to detail that a handmade instrument affords the player. A mass produced instrument needs to be moved in and out quickly. A handmade instrument gives more time for the maker to pay attention to details like the feel of the back of the neck…
Start With a Light Finish
One of the simplest things that you can do with your finish is to create a very light initial coating that just protects the surface. From there, you can evaluate if the coating is enough to care for the guitar and offer a good experience for the player.
Most makers use the same finish on the back of the neck as they use on the rest of the guitar. The big difference is that they apply far less coats to the back of the neck. On my oiled guitars, I apply the first few coats to the whole guitar, and then I skip the back of the neck on the rest.
This method tends to work. The only trouble is where the successive coats in the other areas border with the back of the back. In these places, I just do a little extra steel wool to blend in the borders.
My oil finish process is described in detail in How to Finish With Tru-Oil.
Steel Wool Any Finish on the Neck
One thing that you can do to make the back of the neck finish better is steel wool. The nice thing about 0000 steel wool is that it smooths and it removes finish. The scratching is minimal, and it brings the finish right to the wood.
You can also steel wool if you have accidentally applied too many coats. If you shot the whole guitar, just steel wool the back of the neck until it’s smooth. You will notice a clear difference in feeling when you are done, and the neck will be very smooth.
Once you are done with the steel wool, you can use a polish to restore some glow to the neck, or you can leave it as-is. In most cases, when you lay out the steel wool correctly, you greatly minimize the scratches you will see.
How to Wool for Minimal Scratches
The steel wool process starts with the wool itself. If you buy really inexpensive steel wool, then you are going to see more scratches. Discount tool store wool can vary in grading within the same packaging, so 0000 can have 000 fibers in there too.
The best thing to do is get some nicer steel wool from a furniture repair place. Mohawk makes great wool. It’s expensive, but it lasts a lot longer than hardware store wool. Buy a small roll, and it will last a long time if you take care of it.
Now, lay out a piece nice and flat. Make it about the size of your palm. Then, apply the entire piece at once to the back of the neck. Use your hand to spread out the force, and gently allow the wool to do the work. Wipe the surface clean, and you will have minimal scratching due to the steel wool.
Guitar Making Tip No. 985 Wrap-Up
Sometimes, we tend to forget that in the end, you are making a guitar to be played. A person is going to play it, and they need to enjoy the process. When you make your guitars, consider how the player is going to interact with it, and that will help you build better.
On the back of the neck, players like smooth surfaces. They also like when they can move freely without getting stuck on the finish. Consider the thickness of the finish, and also steel wool the area for smoothness. The player of your guitar will thank you.
If you have any questions on Guitar Making Tip No. 985 please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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Tip No. 985 is from my book, 1,001 Acoustic Guitar Making Tips for Beginners, which has a thousand more great tips to get your first few builds on the right track. There is no secret to guitar making, just a lot of small things that you need to get right. These tips will help you.