What is guitar neck bow and why is it important to address it?
Tune Your Guitar
We tune an instrument to be sure it plays at the correct pitch. To sound good while making music with other musicians, vocals and instruments it must match pitches precisely with the other players instruments and vocalists in the band. There are two reasons why tuning your instrument is important. Firstly, the instrument has to be in tune with itself and secondly, it needs to be in tune when playing music with other musicians. If not, you’ll be out of the band very soon.
Guitar neck bow is a problem and has a bit to do with “in-tune” playing. It’s simply physics at work. Think about it. When a guitar string is “open” tuned or tuned without pressing down on a note it’s the most perfectly in tune it will be. When you press down or finger a note, the string gets sharper and sharper and sharper until it finally lands and rests on the top of the fret to form the note you’re looking for.
High string = sharp note
The more space between the open string and the top of the fret, then the sharper your note will become before finally coming to rest on the note. It is the nature of fretted stringed instruments to be a bit out of tune. However, the key is to make your guitar less sharp than anyone else’s. It will never be perfect but if you shoot for 100% perfect tuning and only make 99% it’s a good goal to achieve and almost no one will notice such a slight amount of that magnitude.
What does guitar neck bow have to do with playing in tune?
Good question. If your neck is perfectly or as perfectly parallel to the guitar string as possible, then you’re half way there to playing in tune. The other problem guitarists face is not having “consistent action all the way down the neck”. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Getting the neck “straight”
First let’s talk about getting the neck “straight”. Why does a guitar neck need to be straight? Remember, “The more space between the open string and the top of the fret, then the sharper your note will become.” Alright, so that being the case, when you have a guitar neck bow, the string will be much further from the fret you want to play where the neck is bowed most. That means when you sight down your guitar neck (as if looking down the barrel of a gun) you can clearly see where it’s bowed the most. The lowest point of the bow is the area the guitar will be most out of tune, as well it will be more difficult to play. When the neck is straightened the problem goes away and now it’s in tune. But wait. What about, ” “consistent guitar action all the way down the neck”?
Consistent Guitar Action
Consistency is the second issue to be addressed before the guitar plays in tune. A consistent guitar neck will be in tune and play better and give less resistance to you as a player. How do you address that? A good guitar setup will take care of it. If you want to do it yourself then simply raise or lower the action so the first fret and the 12th fret are about the same distance from the fret directly underneath. This will give you consistent action all the way down. Now you have the situation of parallel and consistency between the string, the neck and the frets. This is your best chance of playing as in tune as possible.
Sometimes the smallest changes in your guitar will bring about the biggest differences. This is one area you won’t have to spend lots of cash when looking to get a huge improvement in the play-ability of your guitar. Learn how to straighten a guitar neck bow here: https://haywirecustomguitars.com/2018/05/straighten-your-guitar-neck/