Depending on how this went I was prepared with an alternate title: How to wreck your Strat in 5 easy minutes. Instead this method worked really really well.
I’m some kind of magnet for bad truss rods. I’ve had 3 Strats all with the same issue. Truss rod out of thread. When this happens you run out of adjustment and can’t correct a neck with too much concavity.
I have one Strat I’ve been playing for about 15 years. It’s one of the more deluxe models so I didn’t want to jack that one up. I took it to a respected guitar repair man and he fixed it to the tune of $700. (To be fair this was the total bill: Plek, neck fix, 3 new pickups, blendy pot, some other small stuff) Then I did some math. $1500 guitar I bought used for $580, put $700 into, and can probably only sell for $900. hmm.
I decided the approach to take on my “more affordable” strat would be different. I bought it used for $380. American Highway One Strat. I don’t consider myself an optimistic person but I was that day when I took a look down the neck and thought “Oh, I’ll just adjust the truss rod”. My new iron clad rule is: Never buy a guitar if you can’t adjust it there on the spot.
I did a bit of sleuthing about the process. You need to soften the glue that holds the truss rod plug in place. Then back the truss rod nut up. This forces the plug out. Remove the nut. Add washers. That way the nut does not run out of thread. Re-insert nut and see if you can adjust the neck to where it should be. Since strings will cause the neck to bow your final truss rod adjustment should take place with strings on and tuned.
I found varying ideas of how to get the truss rod plug out. I heard streamer, hair dryer, exacto knife, and a few others. The hair dryer method is supposed to be from Fender’s repair papers. My repair guy mentioned an exacto knife.
The exacto knife method seemed far fetched to me. Seemed you would butcher it trying to cut around that small radius hole. I scraped that idea right away.
I also had a hard time believing the hair dryer method would work. Here you shield the headstock with foil just exposing the truss rod plug like so.
Then heat the plug with a hair dryer until you see it start to sweat. Back the nut out pushing out the plug. I tried this and it did not work for me. Plug sweat fail. Softened glue fail.
The other method I thought about was inserting a soldering iron into the plug hole. This made a lot of sense since it would evenly heat the plug from the inside out. The heat gets applied uniformly unlike the hair dryer method. And if anything burns it will be the plug not the headstock.
Pressing on. Tape fail!
I taped the strings out the way. Don’t do this. I used painter’s tape. It’s not supposed to tear paint off or leave a residue. Not 100% true. Apparently guitar work is more exacting then painting. It left a very thin film on my fingerboard. I’m not going to sweat it that much. Will probably come off with some playing.
From left to right: Cheapo soldering iron, utility knife on top of tin foil, needle nose pliers, 1/8″ Allen wrench with ball end, wife’s hair dryer.
You can throw out the hair dryer, foil, and utility knife since they are for the hair dryer method. The rest is very useful.
Using a typical Allen wrench can be a real pain imo. This specialized Allen wrench can be used at a slight angle, has a very strong shank, and can be turned continuously.
This soldering iron is a low wattage model. But it loosened up the plug quite fast. I think a high wattage model may be overkill and start your plug smoking. My model came with an assortment of tips. I chose the one that best fit the opening for my plug. (Man, it’s hard to write this stuff with a straight face.)
Needle nose pliers were good for pulling the plug free. The nut will only back it out so far. They were also great for bending the lock washers and bending a paper clip into a useful tool. More below.
Here’s how things looked before.
Once the glue gets soft you want to back out the nut fast. So First I backed the nut out as much as I could. Then I inserted the soldering iron making sure it did not touch the wood of the headstock.
I didn’t want to heat things any more then I had to. I gave the soldering iron about 30 seconds then tried to back the plug out. Rinse repeat. Don’t force it. Once the glue warms up it comes out easy.
It took about 2 cycles of 30 second heatings and then … sweet success! Wow, that was refreshingly easy. And the plug hole is in relatively good shape.
Getting the nut out took a bit since it is almost the same diameter as the hole. This is where an unwound paperclip with a slight hook at the end may be helpful. Use the needle nose pliers to bend the hook.
Here is the nut.
After I got the nut out I cleaned the Allen wrench side of it with a needle and vacuum. You don’t want that gummed up when it’s time to adjust your truss rod. Then I added a very small dab of Chap Stick on the threads. I’ve heard of using oil, Vaseline, dry lubes. To me it made sense to use something that’s a solid at room temperature. That way it doesn’t wick into the wood easily.
Now comes the most time consuming part of the process. Finding washers. I walked into two large hardware stores. What an amazing assortment of washers that weren’t the right size. I guess it would kill Fender to make their guitars fit a readily available washer. Lots of people run out of truss rod adjustment. This fix is not rare.
I got washers that needed to be drilled out. I got washers that were slightly too wide. I got a nylon spacer that I wasn’t sure I could trust. Would nylon deform under stress? I didn’t want to find out.
If the washer is too wide it won’t fit into the plug hole. And if it’s center hole is too narrow it won’t fit over the trust rod’s threads. You don’t want those threads getting striped by a snug washer.
Useful fact: The truss rod is a #10-32 thread. When you go to the hardware store have your truss rod nut and a #10-32 machine screw in hand. It’s an exacting fit.
What was just the right size? A metric lock washer. I believe it was the lock washer for a M4 sized screw. I wish I wrote it down but that’s pretty close, maybe right. I didn’t want to stack 4 lock washers on top of each other. So I planned on twisting the “lock” out of them with two needle nose pliers.
If you can take some exact measurements it may be worth ordering the washers online from an automobile supply place like this.
It was pretty easy getting them flat. See.
I put 4 of these flattened lock washers down the hole for my truss rod. They fit perfect. Then I inserted the nut and screwed it back down. I don’t think I would ever put back a wooden plug. But I don’t want the hole to get filled with crude. So I inserted a bit of backer rod. It will maintain a crude-free zone and is easily removed. Not much for looks though.
I wish this was where the perfect ending occurred. I was able to adjust my truss rod better. Here is a shot of the gap at the 7th fret. There is a capo on the 1st fret and I’m pressing down on the last fret. That’s a good way to check the concavity of the neck.
This is a 1/16″ gap and way too much. After adjusting the truss rod with the washers in place I got it back to factory specs. That’s checking with a .011″ feeler gauge.
But after the strings went back on to tuning tension I lost some of that. I’m in a much better place, but still not Fender specs. Unfortunately the truss rod nut is turning very hard at this point. The next option is to apply some back bowing pressure to the neck and see if I can turn the truss rod a bit more. I only need a bit. But that’s another post (maybe)