"He tightened the truss rod all the way and the neck still isn't straight. He says I need a new neck."
The problem: your neck looks like like #1 and the truss rod is tightened all the way or your neck looks like #2 and the truss rod is loosened all the way.
The wrong answer: buy a new neck because yours is broken.
The right answer: Heat press the neck into looking like #3. (We'll talk later about why you don't want a dead straight neck in my next blog post).
Wood can and wants to bend
No two pieces of wood are the same. Some will take in moisture and react to temperature differences more readily than others. You can make two guitars from the same tree, use the same strings and tunings, put them in identical cases, leave them in the same room, and one of the necks may end up with twists while the other remains perfect. It's not your fault and it's not the factory's fault. Technically, it's the tree and Mother nature's fault.
The truss rod, on the other hand, is less forgiving, as it's made of metal. Unless exposed to very high temperature — much higher than wood needs to bend — the truss rod isn't going to change shape, or for this matter, length. So by the time the truss rod gets hot enough to change shape enough to change the neck bow, the wood would be less suited for a guitar and better for roasting marshmallows.
The guitar being heat pressed here is a Fender Telecaster (country of origin completely irrelevant). It came in with a truss rod tightened all the way but still with a nasty back bow. Here's how it looked coming into my shop. Notice how you can see under the frets. This neck is most closely resembles figure #1 from above. The small image below is a zoomed in view.
When bending wood, two things matter: heat and force. Heating the wood makes it malleable and flexible. Force puts the neck into the desired shape.
Before heating, it's necessary to ensure that the frets are glued in, or else they could pop out — unlikely, but still possible.
To heat the neck up requires two aluminum bars cut to the approximate length of the truss rod, which doesn't travel the entire length of the board. Between the bars is a custom heating blanket that can reach 300°F or more. Shims ranging between .010" to .040" are strategically to "bracket" the problem areas. Then the neck is clamped flat, or relatively flat with wax paper and cork properly cushioning and protecting the neck.
Next, the neck is heated up to between 110° and 125°. The temperature is checked every few minutes with a digital thermometer.
Too little heat and the wood won't bend. Too much heat and you can damage the neck or loosen up any glue, causing frets to come out, the fretboard to separate from the neck, or cause actual burn marks — the guitar may read 100° but the bars could already be hotter than 200°!
After the optimal temperature is reached, the heat source is turned off and the neck is allowed to cool off while still being clamped flat. To be safe, I like to let it sit overnight, although you could probably unclamp it sooner than that. Next, I put the neck back on the guitar and string it up. Since the truss rod was fully tightened before the heat press, the truss rod can now only be loosened, so a completely flat neck, or even a little upbow is a good sign. It may require a few runs to get the desired result, but it'll eventually get there.
Here's how this particular neck turned out after the heat press.
Voila! Your neck is as good if not better than new and you saved a few hundred dollars!
When I attended repair school in NJ, one of my teachers told me that there is one specific phrase that reveals whether a tech is a hack or a pro...
"This is how I like my guitars"
If you hear a tech or luthier say this, run away! Every single guitarist has their own style, attack, and technique. There are averages and common preferences, but 'common' doesn't mean 'universal.' What one guitarist likes, the other might hate.
I knew a tech who set up guitars so that they suited his style perfectly, but when he set up guitars for his customers in the same way, they complained about it being uncomfortable. He argued with the customers, saying "well this is how I like my guitar and I think it's the best way." I cringed whenever I heard that.
"I'm right and you're wrong"
If you ever bring your guitar to a tech and ask him or her to do part of a job in a very specific way, and they won't do it because they don't think it's "right," walk away.
For example, I recently had a customer who told me that he had been to three other techs before me who had all refused to do what he asked. Specifically, they refused to bring up the string action, or height, at the nut—something that is addressed during any good routine setup. The other techs told him that what he really needed was a proper setup or that high nut action is "wrong."
The request is so simple. A shim for one of the customer's guitars and some slot filling for the other. It didn't take more than 30 minutes and he was very grateful that I did the simple deed of doing what he asked.
I gained a loyal customer that day just by practicing good customer service, while those other techs lost one just so that they could preserve their egos.
So to sum it up: your guitar is an extension of yourself, and if a tech won't treat it as such, it's time to move on...to me, hopefully.
But are they really unbreakable? That's a bold claim and depending on which ad campaign you see, it seems that Ernie Ball still isn't sure as they're described as being "unbreakable" or maybe just "break resistant." Either way, their adversity of breakage is the selling point for the strings. The customers who've requested I string up their guitars with the Paradigms usually talk about videos of shredders trying to break their strings, like in this video featuring Kirk Hammet of Metallica.
But I Saw it on the Internet...They Can't Break!
As you can see, Kirk is slamming, bending, pulling, and just overall assaulting his guitar, trying to break the strings, but they don't break. Customers tell me that these videos are the reason they bought strings.But you know what? Every pair of strings I've ever put on a Floyd Rose equipped guitar can withstand this. It doesn't take specially wound and coated strings to do this. That's actually one of the reasons Floyd Rose and similar tremolo bridges were created -- to compensate for varying string lengths and tension.
I actually test tuning stability of Floyd Roses by slamming and pulling on them like Kirk does, but without thrashing the guitar around so dangerously (it sits on the bench!). String breakage hardly ever occurs.
If you really wanted to test the durability of the Paradigm strings, you'd keep tuning up a guitar until a string broke, then compare that to how high you could tune regular strings before breaking. If your strings are breaking after doing what Kirk did in the video above, your problem is a bur or sharp edge somewhere on your guitar, not the string, although there are duds (NYXL excluded, Elixirs very guilty).
No Stretch Strings: breaking vs. unraveling
at Ernie Ball uses their patented Everlast coating to make the Paradigms "hydrophobic and oleophobic," meaning they're water and oil resistant. They've actually been using a variation of this on their coated strings for years, but the coating is enmeshed in the wraps and windings of the strings instead of sitting on top of the strings, which could feel sticky at times.
But there's a tradeoff for this type of supposed molecular durability -- the strings are stiff. When putting new strings on a guitar, you must stretch the strings; they have to be broken in. If you don't, you'll very likely go out of tune and out of intonation until the strings are stretched out by playing. Strings (windings, wraps, core and all) have an optimal point of tension where they perform their best, which is never, ever achieved fresh out of the package. So I always, always, ALWAYS stretch out my customer's strings.
With the Paradigms, though, stretching does nothing, which may sound great -- the string is in its final and concrete form from the get go -- but the technology that helps achieve this also serves to ultimately defeat the string.
Yes, I've never seen a rusty or broken Paradigm string, but I have seen them unravel, more often than regular strings. With regularly coated strings, the coating erodes off after a while. With Paradigms, it seems that when the coating wears off, the string unravels, but is still technically unbroken.
Ernie Ball proudly boasts that they'll send new strings to anybody who manages to break or corrode a Paradigm string. They have 90 days to return the entire package of strings, up to three times a year, and get sent a new pack.
But take into account how many players with Paradigms keep their receipt. From my experience -- none. Fine print and legalese isn't something you really care about when you get a new toy for your guitar. You assume that you won't break a string or that Ernie Ball will just send you a new one if you just tell them you broke one.
So what do you do when a string dies? You go buy another pack. You're not going to mess around with customer service or go digging through your trash. You can't play a guitar without strings, though. Even if you keep your receipt and properly send everything to Ernie Ball, you're going to need strings in the meantime and it's a safe bet that you're going to buy the same strings that you just broke, because when the warranty ones arrive, you'll have some backup, right?
These strings are good for casual players with a light to medium attack. They're not good for heavily gigging players or those with hard attack. But as with any musical gear, what's wrong for one person may be right for another. Try them out before you totally discount them.
You can buy Ernie Ball Paradigm Strings from most musical instrument retailers, starting from $14.99. They're offered in all the gauge sets that normal Slinkys come in, as well as a select few acoustic sets.
Guitars are not precision instruments. It is impossible to perfectly tune a guitar. But in practicality, you don't need to perfectly tune your guitar -- you just need it perfect enough for the human ear.
So to help you choose the right headstock tuner, I've compiled information on some of the more popular ones, gathered from customers and personal experiences.
So of course there are dozens of other headstock tuners out there. For every one, there's two to three variations with little differences like color and material to display brightness and size. but these are the ones I see the most often and have the most experience with as a repairman. Obviously, Snark comes out on top and I think it's because their primary product focus is on tuners. They make great products and I stand by them 100%. Their interests aren't spread thin like some of the competition.
Personally, I use the Snark SN-5 for gross tunings for acoustics, but when it comes to intonation, it's absolutely necessary to use a proper stationary strobe tuner. There is no substitution.
Winner: Snark ST-2
Loser: Korg PC1 Pitchclick