5 Obvious Signs Your Guitar Neck Is Warped


guitar neck on old piano keys

Not every guitarist knows the obvious signs of a warped guitar neck, especially if you only started playing recently. Some signs of a warped neck are much easier to spot than others. Regular maintenance and thoroughly checking your guitar for any signs that the neck may be warped can save you a lot of work and money going forward.

Here are five obvious signs that your guitar neck is warped:

  1. Your guitar neck is twisted.
  2. The frets on your guitar are misaligned.
  3. You are experiencing fret buzz.
  4. Your guitar is out of tune.
  5. Your guitar has become wet.

A warped neck can affect your guitar’s sound, and the last thing you want is to have to buy a costly replacement. In this article, we will take a deeper look at these five signs and how catching them early on can save you a lot of work and money going forward.

guitar neck on old piano keys

1. Your Guitar Neck Is Twisted

Playing on a guitar with a warped neck is uncomfortable and sometimes impossible. If the neck is significantly warped, the strings will make a buzzing sound, and you won’t be able to tune your guitar. If the neck is only slightly warped, you might be able to play on it without any issues.

It is possible to fix a warped neck yourself if you catch it in time, but if your guitar’s neck is seriously damaged, you might have to take it to your local guitar shop to get it fixed or even replaced. Repair costs vary and can be extremely expensive, so it is always best to properly maintain your guitar to avoid a twisted neck.

The first and most obvious sign you should look out for is a twisted neck. You can follow these easy steps to check if your guitar neck is twisted:

  1. Take your guitar, place it on a table, and sit in front of the instrument. Your guitar can be fully strung for this, so don’t worry about removing the strings.
  2. Make sure the lighting in the room is good. Natural light is the best light source, so position the table and guitar in front of a window if possible.
  3. Bend down so that your eyes are level with the guitar, and look down the guitar neck, from the tuning keys to the sound hole.
  4. Turn the guitar around and check it from the other side, looking from the soundhole to the tuning keys.

You can spot a significantly warped guitar neck easily. One side of the guitar neck will be lower than the other, meaning the middle of the neck will be higher than the body or headstock.

On the other hand, if your guitar neck shows only slight warping, you might not be able to see it as clearly. You can try using the shadows of the strings as a guide to see if there is a warp, but this might be difficult for the untrained eye.

If you can’t see any warp but are sure that there is something wrong with the neck of your guitar, you can take it to your local guitar shop. They will usually have an expert who can look at your guitar for you; however, it is possible to play the guitar with a slight twist without any issues.

Straightening a Twisted Guitar Neck

Straightening a twisted guitar neck is possible; you will, however, need the right tools for the job. Repair costs can be expensive, but if you aren’t sure that you can fix your guitar neck yourself, it is better to take it to a repair shop because you might damage it more. 

If you are a handy person and enjoy doing DIY projects and woodwork, fixing your guitar’s twisted neck should be easy and maybe even fun.

acoustic guitar repairman fixing the guitar neck

You can use heat and pressure to correct the twist in your guitar neck.

  1. Start by removing the strings from your guitar and placing them somewhere for safekeeping. Do not bend them as this can cause them to break next time you are playing.
  2. Now remove the fretboard. You can do this by using the heat from a clothing iron to melt the glue. 
  3. Once you have removed the fretboard, you can secure the guitar’s neck in your straightening jig. If you don’t have a jig, you can use your woodworking skills to build one or use some clamps instead.
  4. Cover your guitar neck in a sheet thick enough to protect the wood. The covering should also be thin enough to let the heat through. 
  5. Use a clothes iron without steam or water to heat the twisted neck. Wood is a natural material that can be pulled back into its original shape when heated. Do this slowly over 10 minutes as you do not want to damage the guitar neck, and wear gloves to protect your hands. You will feel when the entire neck feels warm to the touch. 
  6. Straighten the warmed neck by placing it in the clamps. The first clamp should fit just below the nut, and the second clamp should connect just above the neck’s heel. Gradually increase pressure on the clamps until the neck is straight. 
  7. Once the guitar neck is straight, you can let it cool down and put your fretboard and strings back on. It’s best to leave the neck overnight to cool. Be careful not to press the neck while it is cooling down, as you do not want to twist it again.

This process is not the easiest repair to do yourself, but it is possible. Unfortunately, it can also damage the neck, making the warp even worse, so it is always best to take your guitar to a repair shop if you don’t have sufficient experience or technical abilities. 

2. The Frets on Your Guitar Are Misaligned

Another sign that you have a warped guitar neck is that the frets will be misaligned. Spotting this sign might be slightly confusing for a novice, but if you have been playing for a while, you should easily be able to spot it.

Using the same technique described above, look down the neck of your guitar to ensure that the frets are aligned. You can place a neck rest under the neck to make sure your guitar doesn’t move. Guitar neck rests are easy to make, or you can buy them online or from your local guitar shop.

If some frets are higher than the others or look like a staircase, your guitar neck is warped (how to fix a warped guitar neck). The upper frets on your guitar neck should be perfectly aligned (Related article: electric guitar for small hands).

frets of a classic guitar neck

3. You Are Experiencing Fret Buzz

If you are experiencing fret buzz when playing your guitar, there is a good chance that the neck is warped. It is also possible that a faulty nut can cause the buzz, so always check the nuts to ensure they are fine.

You will constantly hear an annoying buzzing sound when playing, and not all of the notes will ring out.

Look at your guitar neck from the side. The distance between the fretboard and the strings should be the same throughout the neck of the guitar. The strings should not be pressing on the fretboard anywhere.

Here is an informative YouTube video showing you some of the reasons why you can be experiencing fret buzz, including a twisted neck and how it sounds.

If your strings are touching the fretboard, there is not enough relief on the neck of your guitar. This issue can occur for a variety of reasons. You might be keeping your guitar in a cold or excessively warm environment when not playing it. If it is really cold where you live, the humidity will be lower, and if it gets scorching hot, the humidity will increase significantly.

You need to keep your guitar at the correct humidity, and if you expose it to high or low humidity, it can dry out or get wet, which leads to neck warping.

You should also be careful when changing your strings or tuning your guitar. Going from a low gauge string to a high gauge string or over tuning it can cause extra tension on the neck, which can cause it to warp.

When experiencing fret buzz, you can try to adjust the truss rod to correct the tension.

Adjusting the Truss Rod

It is possible to adjust your truss rod if you believe it will solve your problem, but you must be extremely careful. You must carefully adjust your truss rods as they can easily snap if too much pressure is applied.

Make sure you know what you are doing before you start. You get single-action and dual-action truss rods and many different brands of each. You also need to know your truss rod measurements and have the right tools to adjust the truss rod.

Different truss rods require different tools, but you will most likely need the following items:

  • Screwdriver – Not all truss rods have a cover, but if your guitar’s truss rod has one, you will need a screwdriver to loosen it.
  • Hex tool – Depending on the truss rod installed in your guitar, you might need a hex tool like this Klein Tools Hex Key Set (available on Amazon.com) to adjust it. This set has two key positions, and the ends are square-cut to prevent slippage. It includes different sizes, and the tool can easily fit in your guitar repair kit.
  • Truss rod wrench – You can get the Vencetmat Guitar Allen Wrench Set (available on Amazon.com) to help you adjust your truss rod. The set includes various-sized gauges, and two lengthened wrenches with ball ends for guitars with narrow or deep truss rods. Manufacturers craft these wrenches from carbon steel, which is durable and will make a great addition to your repair kit.
  • String height gauge – This is a must-have tool for every serious guitarist. You can get this Baroque String Action Ruler (available on Amazon.com) to ensure all your strings are at the proper distance from the frets. Manufactured from stainless steel, it is also durable. It can be used for your acoustic, electric, or bass guitar (Question: Can Bass Guitars Have Whammy Bars?) and shows measurements in inches and millimeters.

Inspect your guitar neck again so that you are sure how to adjust your truss rod. Place it on a table, look at it from the sound hole to the tuning keys, and then repeat the process from the other side as described above.

  • If there is too much relief, the neck will be bending upwards, almost like it is bending in on itself. In this scenario, you will slowly and carefully turn the nut clockwise to increase the tension.
  • If there is too much tension on the neck, it will bend backward. In this case, you need to release some of the tension so you will turn the nut counterclockwise.

When adjusting your truss rod, make sure to do it slowly, and keep an eye on your guitar neck. As soon as the neck levels out, stop adjusting the truss rod. Over tightening the truss rod can cause your guitar neck or adjustment nut to break, resulting in a costly repair.

Here is an interesting YouTube video showing how to adjust your truss rod to ensure your guitar has a straight neck.

4. Your Guitar Is Out of Tune

As a guitarist, you might need an electric tuner to tune your guitar perfectly, but you should be able to hear when your guitar is out of tune. As we play, the strings lose tension and sometimes need to be tuned, this is normal, but if you constantly have to tune your guitar, you might have a problem.

If your guitar neck is warped, it is almost impossible to tune your guitar. Some frets may sound good, while others will be completely out of tune, and no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to tune it.

If you don’t have an electric tuner, you can get this D’Addario Accessories Headstock Guitar Tuner (available on Amazon.com) to help you ensure that your guitar is always tuned perfectly. It is lightweight and simply clips onto your guitar. It is highly accurate and easy to read as it has a tri-color backlit screen.

tuner for guitar clip on guitar head

5. Your Guitar Has Become Wet

The ideal relative humidity for a guitar is between 45% and 55%. If you expose your guitar to low humidity for an extended time, it will dry out, and if you expose it to high humidity, it will become wet.

The wood of your guitar will absorb the moisture, leading to all sorts of issues and structural damage. Sometimes people living in dry areas use soundhole humidifiers to prevent their guitar from drying out but instead over-humidifies their instrument.

We call this wet guitar, and although dry guitar happens more often, it can cause your guitar neck to warp.

Here are some things to look for if you think you have exposed your guitar has to high humidity levels for an extended period:

  • Swollen wood – This is easy to spot if you keep a close eye on your guitar and will need immediate interventions
  • Joint issues – If any of the joints on your guitar starts loosening, it might have absorbed too much moisture.
  • Finish lifting – Moisture will cause the wood to swell but also cause your guitar’s finish to start lifting.
  • Dull sound – Because of the water weight, your guitar will sound dull when playing it. Changing your strings will not help as the wet, swollen wood causes the dull sound, not the strings.
  • Back warp – Because of the extra moisture, the back of your guitar could warp. You can easily check this with a straight ruler.

Any of the above issues can lead to a warped guitar neck, so it is best to address them as soon as you become aware of the problem.

The best thing to do is to keep your guitar in a hardshell case when you are not playing it. Don’t store your guitar in the basement or garage; loosen the strings before packing it away if you aren’t planning to play it for a while.

You can buy a humidifier, dehumidifier, and a hygrometer to ensure that you always keep your guitar at the ideal relative humidity.

Dry Guitar Signs

Living in an extremely cold area can cause the humidity levels to drop, and many people will turn to appliances like heaters to warm up their houses. Low humidity can cause your guitar to dry out and even crack.

Never place your guitar close to any heat source when warming up your house, as this can also cause the neck to warp.

acoustic guitar on stand at home

If you think you have exposed your guitar to low humidity levels for a long time, you can watch out for these dry guitar signs:

  • Sharp fret ends – As your guitar dries out, the fret ends can become sharp and start sticking out.
  • String buzz – This is the same as fret buzz. There isn’t enough space between the strings and the fretboard, causing the strings to touch the fretboard, making a buzzing sound.
  • Shrinking fingerboard – The fingerboard can shrink in width, which you can pick up by measuring the board or picking it up by eye if it is significant.
  • Cracks – As the wood dries out, cracks can form on the guitar’s body.
  • Joint issues – A dry guitar can pick up many issues, including loose joints.

When your guitar becomes extremely dry, the neck bows forward and needs to be fixed by adding moisture and adjusting the truss rod.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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