Category: Uncategorized

Adaptive technology for guitar

Since it’s been a while since I posted anything I decided to put something up. I worked on an interesting project recently that turned out really well. One of my repair customers is a young guy who has a problem with his left wrist that limits the amount that he can rotate it. When he is playing at the low end of the neck the required rotation to play certain chords is painful which required him to hold the guitar in an almost vertical position. He bought a Novax fanned fret neck thinking it would help but then realized that below the twelfth fret it actually was worse because it required him to rotate his wrist even further in the bad direction. I suggested that we make a neck with all the frets slanted back rather than fanned. Rickebacker made some guitars like this back in the late 60s or early 70s. Apparently they weren’t widely accepted because they were only made for a few years and you never see them. The concept seemed like a good solution for his problem so I made a neck for him. It was made to fit a Yamaha electric which is his primary guitar.

After doing some calculations it looked like we could get a way with a 10 degree slant on the frets and still accommodate the constraints of the bridge (a strat style tremolo). This required that the displacement from normal fret positions on the E strings in particular would fit on the footprint of the bridge. The slant put the low E a round 1/8″ closer to the bridge and the high E an equal amount farther from the bridge. As it turned out the high E just cleared the pivot screw with the intonation adjusted. Unfortunately the low E could not be pulled back far enough to get the intonation set correctly. This called for some drastic action. I took the saddle for the low E and cut it in two with a cutoff wheel. I removed a little more material and squared up the two pieces to yield a part with the correct length. My plan was to use my MIG welder to weld the two parts together but there was a hitch. How the heck could I clamp something that small so that it would be stable to be welded back together. I went through an amazing assortment of schemes trying to figure out how to clamp it reliably. I took a break and started looking through a Harbor Freight ad. There was the answer to my problem, a cheap set of mini vice grips. After several attempts I was able to get the two parts of the saddle aligned correctly and securely clamped. The jaws of the vice grips just fit between the ends of the saddle. I attached the ground clamp of the welder to the pair of vice grips which helped me position the saddle securely so that I could get to it with the welder. Luckily my Mig has some very low heat settings and a stitch weld feature that allowed me to get a good weld on the saddle ( I once butt welded two single edge razor blades with it, just for the hard ass). After some filing and polishing the saddle was ready. I stuck it on the bridge and set the intonation.

The customer is quite happy with the guitar. He says it is a thousand times easier for him to play than a conventional neck. I’m sure that would be hard to quantify but he likes it. The neck is also an assymetric profile. It is fatter on the bass side and thinner on the treble side. for people that play thumb-over it allows your wrist to be in a more relaxed position and makes the neck feel smaller while retaining mass. All in all it was a fun project and improved one guys playing experience a bunch.