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Feeling comfortable while playing guitar is important. In fact, for many guitarists (including myself and those I play in bands with), the feel of a guitar is just as important as the tone and far more important than what brand is on the headstock.
The feel of the neck is vital, as it is where your hand will move all over to play the notes. There are a variety of neck finishes, including unfinished necks. So which is better? If you have a guitar with a finished neck, what are the pros and cons of sanding the neck to get that unfinished feel?
The pros of sanding your guitar’s neck include making a smoother playing surface, removing sticky-feeling necks, and making your guitar look more vintage or unique. The cons are, the impact on resell value, unfinished wood is more susceptible to the effects of moisture and humidity, and re-finishing a guitar can be a lot of work.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these pros and cons to help you decide if you should sand the neck of your guitar.
Below we will look at three pros and benefits of sanding down your guitar neck. This is not a comprehensive list, but these are what we have found to be some of the biggest pros to doing this.
Pro #1: Can Make A Smoother Playing Surface
Sanding down your guitar neck is like pressing reset on the guitar neck. I have talked about in other articles that even high-end guitars can have flaws, which means it is more likely that less expensive guitars will have flaws. One such flaw that can seriously impact your playing ability is the finish of the neck.
There is a chance during the production process that pieces of dirt or other things could get caught up in the finish and cause an uneven playing surface to form. While these imperfections might be minor, they could still impact playability. I have never experienced this, but I have read about it happening in forums.
Pro #2: Gets Rid Of Sticky Necks
Similar to making the neck smoother is getting rid of a sticky neck. Sticky guitar necks make playing difficult. It has been such a widespread issue that it even has its own name: Sticky neck syndrome.
Getting your hands stuck on the neck when you are trying to fly across the fretboard for your epic solos is something none of us want to experience. So, instead of buying a completely new guitar (although I like this option also), you can sand the neck down to remove some of the finish and make it less sticky.
One of the appeals of vintage guitars is that the neck finish has been worn down from years of playing, removing some of the finish and making the playing experience very smooth.
The important thing to note here is that there is still finish on these necks, and if you attempt to sand down your guitar neck, you should be careful to avoid removing all of the finish (more on this under con #1).
Typically, it will be glossy-finished necks that will result in a sticky feeling finish. While glossy finishes are easier to clean and can resist cracks, many players do not like the way they feel, so they opt for more of a satin-type finish. If you are one of those guitar players, you can either buy a satin-finished guitar or sand down your glossy neck to get more of a smoother, satin finish.
Even satin and matte finishes can feel glossy over time (usually due to grime and dirt build-up), so at some point, you may want to sand that down as well.
There are many different methods to sand a guitar neck, but the most popular are steel wool or sandpaper. The video below provides a great example of which sandpaper to use and how to sand down the neck.
Note that there are several types of finishes, such as nitrocellulose lacquer, polyurethane, and others, so make sure to do your homework on the best option for the specific type of finish that you are working with.
Pro #3: Make It Look Vintage and Unique
Vintage guitars are very popular but also very expensive, which is why many guitar manufacturers are making vintage-looking guitars. However, many of these guitars with worn-looking finishes can still be quite pricey, so many players make them look vintage on their own.
Of course, one way to do this is to play your guitar all the time, take it out to shows and on the road with you, and eventually, it will wear down in various places. However, not all of us are touring musicians or patient enough to wait until these vintage features show themselves.
So, instead, we can mimic and speed up this process by sanding down the neck (and other places) to give us that worn-in, vintage look that is appealing to so many guitar players.
Another reason to sand down the guitar is to separate it from other guitars. This is especially true if you buy a production model that thousands of other players might also be using. By sanding down the guitar neck, you can add some uniqueness to it to set yourself apart from the other players with the same type of guitar as you.
Below is a list of some cons associated with sanding your guitar neck and some suggestions and solutions to these cons.
Con #1: Unfinished Wood Is More Susceptible To Damage
Unfinished wood will degrade faster when exposed to the elements. Just like how we put a stain or sealer on decks and wooden fences to protect them from the elements, finishes on guitars help to protect the wood from humidity and moisture.
If you plan to sand down your guitar neck, it is a good idea not to sand off all of the finish. Unfinished wood on your guitar neck is much more likely to be damaged if exposed to moisture or humidity, leading to some serious wood warping.
A little bit of sanding can go a long way.
Con #2: It Can Be A Lot Of Work To Re-Finish
It may take a lot of work to re-finish a guitar neck, but if you plan on sanding down your neck, it is usually a good idea to do so because, as we just read about, unfinished wood is much more susceptible to damage over time. However, this is only if you take off all of the finish.
If you do decide to take off all of your finish, it is not a bad idea to re-finish it. There are many different ways to do this, but the video below will give you a great idea of how to go about doing this.
Con #3: It Might Impact Resell Value
You risk impacting the resell value whenever you mess with an instrument. Keep this in mind if you decide to sand down your guitar neck.
While this might not be something you are thinking about at the moment, there very well may come a time when you decide to get rid of a particular guitar, and if it has been damaged in any way from your sanding, you could end up getting a lot less for it than you would like.
In this article, I have given you three pros and three cons of sanding your guitar neck. Sanding down your neck is something you shouldn’t do without fully thinking through all of the potential pros and cons, as it could have lasting implications.
I hope you have found this article meaningful, and until next time, keep on playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.