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The Off Ramp or Gravity: it isn’t just a good idea…It’s the Law

Granted, it doesn't look like much but there is an almost imperceptible rise in the fingerboard where it meets the body. The good news is its an easy and non invasive fix.

I keep seeing this and it’s pretty subtle. It’s not a difficult fix-any decent luthier can do it, I’m just amazed at how often it shows up. When you sight down the neck, do you see a little upturn right where it meets the body? It’s no accident that this happens either. Consider how much time (out of its very long life) a guitar spends in its case -often flat on its back. The forces of gravity are counteracted in two places. One is the neck rest and the other is where the body meets the bottom of the case. The surface area of the body that actually sits on the bottom off the case is a lot less than it should be in those old cases so more of the guitar is subjected to these gravitational forces that they would be in a modern case. Consequently, quite a lot of downward gravitational force is concentrated in one place-where the body and neck join. It’s like those “bookshelves” you had in college made from cheap lumber and cinder blocks. Eventually they kind of sagged in the middle, didn’t they? Same deal here. Leave gravity to its own device for long enough and something has to give. Gravity wants to pull the guitar down and it can only do so where it isn’t supported and will do so at the thinnest and weakest point which is right behind the heel. I’ve also seen the problem just below the neck rest at the seventh to 9th fret but not as frequently. Surprisingly, the problem shows up more often in mint guitars. Counterintuitive? Not really. the mint ones spend most of their lives flat on their back under a bed. If the guitar is stored standing up, the problem is not likely to occur. Let me refer you back to the red ’61 dot neck I found in Indiana that had been in its case for 47 years-unopened. It didn’t have the rise because it was standing up in a closet all that time. I will note that the lower strap button was completely corroded away probably from all the moisture flowing downward. So, you’re about to buy the 335 of your dreams and you sight in the neck and there it is. Just the very slightest rise from around the 18 fret to the end of the fingerboard. Then you play it up there and it sounds kind of plunky or it frets out when you bend. You adjust the truss but it doesn’t help because the truss doesn’t adjust all the way up there. So, what,  you don’t buy it? If that was the case, you’d be eliminating an awful lot of spectacularly good guitars. They just need a little “anti gravity”. The easiest fix is a fret level-remember you play the frets, not the fingerboard. It’s usually slight enough that a simple fret leveling will take care of it. If it’s more pronounced the next thing to do is have your luthier just shave the tiniest bit off the board at the rise. I’ve seen this done completely invisibly because the amount of rise is so slight. A friend of mine brought over a 59 ES-355 (not the one I have) that looked like the off ramp of I-95 at the body join. He took it to a very talented young luthier in our area and when I saw it again I couldn’t believe it was the same guitar. I couldn’t see any sign of any work at all and the fingerboard was as straight as a Nevada highway. So when you see the upramp, don’t reject the guitar. It’s normal, it’s ubiquitous and it’s fixable.

Gone. OK, it isn't the same guitar but it had the same issue and now it doesn't.

2 Responses to “The Off Ramp or Gravity: it isn’t just a good idea…It’s the Law”

  1. Mikey says:

    Could you email me with more info on this issue?
    I have a 335 and a sheraton with this same issue and it’s frustrating

    Thanks!

  2. cgelber says:

    Send me an email with specific questions and I’ll try to answer them.

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