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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:20 PM   #1 (permalink)
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How to Shim a Neck - Step by Step with Photos

Disclaimer this guide is provided "as is". It's your guitar, so any work you underatake on it must be your responsibility. Make sure you understand the procedure fully before you start any work and please don't practice this type of thing on the pre-CBS Strat you found in the attic.


The following thread uses a Squier Precision Bass to show the technique. The construction of this bass and the principles behind shimming the neck are exactly the same as for a Strat, it's just that I needed to carry out the procedure on this particular bass so I took a few photos.

I'm not a luthier - just a keen amateur so feel free to add any comments or tips that might help others.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:28 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Why Would I do This ?

You would do it if you need to lower the action but find that the bridge saddles are already at their lowest position and will not go down any further (You can also use this technique to raise the action when the saddles are already raised fully but see the end of this thread for details).

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:29 PM   #3 (permalink)
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What Do I Need ?

Some space. An empty kitchen table is good enough but put some towels down to protect the guitar finish. You'll need a medium sized cross-point screwdriver to remove the neck bolts, a capo (or elastic bands), and something to make the shim from




How Long Will It Take ?

Once you know what you are doing it can be done in abouit 10 minutes. If it's the first time then allow up to an hour.


Can I Undo it if it Doesn't Work ?

Yes. The neck shim can be removed easily and quickly, returning the guitar to excatly the condition before you started.
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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:30 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Step 1.

Ok. You've got some space and a covered surface to work on. First step is to loosen (but don't remove) the strings. Loosen them off until there is no tension on the neck and they're all flappy.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:33 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Step 2.

Now put your capo on at the first fret. This will hold the loose strings in place when you remove the neck.



If you don't have a capo use an elastic band - it's just to stop the strings falling out of the nut (If you live in the UK and don't have an elastic band then follow your postie around for a day or so - he'll be dropping those pinks ones all over the place so you can use a few of these)



You can put a second capo/elastic band halfway down the neck if you wish, but it's not essential.
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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:35 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Step 3.

Turn the bass over onto it's front. You'll see the neck plate and (usually) 4 neck screws. You'll need to remove all 4 screws.

Step 4.

Use a well-fitting screwdriver to avoid burring the screws.



Unscrew each screw a little at a time so that they are all loosened evenly.





DON'T unsrew one screw completely then move to the next - this will put pressure on the neck. Undo each one a turn or so, then go back to the first and do another turn, and so on until they all come out.

Remove the screws and the neck plate and put them aside.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:42 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Step 5.

Now - nothing is holding the neck on. Lift the guitar carefully. If the neck slides out then that's ok, but if it doesn't then it's just a tight fit in the neck pocket. Turn the guitar over onto it's back.



If the neck is still in place, carefully ease it out straight up - don't wiggle it from side to side, you may damage the neck pocket.



Move the neck, with the strings still attached, to the side.
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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:43 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Step 6.

Check the neck pocket and the underside of the neck for any signs of a previous shim.

If there is a previous shim you can either remove it completely or replace it with a new one.
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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:44 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Step 7.

Make the new shim.

There's a big debate over what material the shim should be made of - wood veneer, sandpaper, cardboard. But remember - it needs to be thin. In most cases, cardboard the thickness of an ordinary business card will be enough to allow you to lower the action.

Sandpaper to grip the neck ? Well it's held tight by 4 screws so it's not going to move, so what will the sandpaper do (apart from being thicker than a business card). Wood veneer ? Yes, if you have some thin enough then this is a perfect material.

Wedge shaped tapered shim ? Well if you can make a tapered wedge with the thickest part as thin as a business card then that is perfect too.

For simplicity I have used an ordinary cardboard business card.

Place the neck over the cardboard and use it as a template to draw around and mark the shape of the shim.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:47 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Step 8.

Cut the shim.



Cut inside the line to ensure the shim will fit.



To allow you to lower the action the shim should be fitted at the back end (closer to the bridge) of the neck pocket. Check the fit is ok with no wrinkled or bent edges - it should be perfectly flat in the neck pocket.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:47 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Step 9.

Replace the neck. With the shim in the back of the neck pocket, carefully replace the neck in the socket. Put the neck straight down and don't wiggle it from side to side.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:48 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Step 10.

You now need to turn the guitar over onto its front, keeping the neck in the pocket. It doesn't matter if the neck moves a little here but try to minimise movement and keep the back edge of the neck against the body so as the shim doesn't move.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:49 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Step 11.

Refit the screws.

Leave the screwdriver aside for now. Drop each screw into the hole then finger tighten them - you should feel each screw grip the wood in the neck. Go round each screw and get them all finger tight.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:50 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Step 12.

Tighten the screws.

As with removal do NOT fully tighten each screw individually. Go around the screws and give each a single turn, then mve on to the next one. Tighten all the screws evenly in this way. Make sure they are all good and tight, but do not use excessive force - just tighten with a normal screwdriver.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:51 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Step 13.

Finish Off.

Turn the guitar over and remove the capo/elastic bands.

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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:52 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Step 14.

Adjust the action



You should find that the action has been lowered by putting the neck shim in place - the strings will probably rattle on the frets. You can now raise the bridge saddles to get the action you want. Job done.
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Old June 29th, 2009, 04:53 PM   #17 (permalink)
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If the neck screws are loose then you need to plug the screw holes in the neck with something. Cocktail sticks and wood glue will do this job perfectly well and allow the neck screws to grip again.
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Old June 29th, 2009, 05:00 PM   #18 (permalink)
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The "theory" behing shimming.

I am indebted to "BigRedX" at the Basschat.co.uk forum ( Basschat.co.uk - the UK bass guitar players' forum ) for the following two diagrams which help explain what shimming actuall does -




A shim place at the back of the neck pocket (as described above) will change the neck to body angle by effectively pushing the headstock backwards. This has the effect of lowering the action.

A shim placed at the front of the neck pocket (furthest away from the body) will effectively push the headstock forward and should slightly raise the action.
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Old June 29th, 2009, 05:01 PM   #19 (permalink)
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And before you rush in and decide that shimming is necessary - here's a little check you can to to first -

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Old June 29th, 2009, 05:08 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Thanks for reading this and I hope you've found it helpful.

Note that some Fenders have a "micro-tilt" neck adjustment. This performs the same fuction as the shim technique described above, in that it can adjust the neck angle by moving the bass of the neck away from the body. Some people say it's a bad design, others are quite happy with it. Certainly the modern 4-bolt micro-tilt is more stable than the seventies 3-bolt version.



The only other criticism I've heard of neck shimming is that, over time, it can cause a slight "hump" in the neck at the body join area, resulting in slightly higher frets here. This is possible, or this may arise for other reasons. However, note that neck shimming has been a common practice with Strats for years and may be the only way of obtaining a playable action on some guitars.

Note also then sometimes the REMOVAL of an old shim will be the only adjustment required.
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