What should I do about my neck screws?

It’s one of those weeks where we are going back to achieves and revisit one of Bobbe’s old newsletters from a couple of years ago. Here it is.

I’m still getting many technical questions from many players that need or want answers, some of which sound like the sooner they answers, the better. This is one from Wiz Feinberg from the Chicago area.

Subject: What should I do about my neck screws?

How do you like the subject? 😉

Seriously, my 1983 push pull, with 8 pedals and 9 knee levers is in need of a slight adjustment of the neck screws on both necks. I almost got them right, but no banana.

The problem.

Harmonics don’t jump out any more like they used to; they are clunky and I have to be dead on to get a harmonic at all. When they sound, they don’t sustain very long. The 3rd string is thin sounding above the 12th fret; no sweetness at all. Sustain on plain strings is way down. Cabinet drop is noticeable on un-pedalled strings when 1st two pedals are mashed (E9). When strummed unplugged, the guitar does not “bloom” very much on the E9 neck, but does on the C6.

I believe that the guitar is fighting with me on harmonics and tone on the high strings. It now sounds more like my old Super~Pro than an Emmons push pull!

The decline has occurred gradually over the last half year or so. Temperature varies in the Eagles Club, where the steel lives until I take it out for the occasional one-nighter with another band.

What I have tried.

I loosened all (aluminum) neck screws equally, then pushed down on the necks as I struck harmonics at the 5th, 7th and 12th frets (no bar). When I found places that improved the tone when pushed, I tightened the screws under that area. The screws at both ends are a bit tighter then those in the middle.

I have tried raising and lowering the Lawrence XLR-16 pickups and even tried tilting them with the bridge side higher. No improvement. Sustain sucks and harmonics are hard to hit and keep going.

All other screws are tight, including body to frame and bridge mounts. The anti-warp bar is in place across the front to back in the middle of the body.

Which way should I go with the neck screws? Tighter or looser all around? Tighter in the middle than the ends? If I start with the screws all the way tight, how much would you recommend loosening each pair?

I am trying to get back the classic push pull tone and harmonics like John Hughey or Buddy Emmons had. I play classic Country at a local Eagles club and outlaw Country with another band on Fridays when they can afford the extra man. Any recommendations for adjustments will be appreciated.

My amps are a Nashville 400 at the Flint Eagles and a lighter Nashville 112 on the one-nighters. I use Goodrich electronic volume pedals. One I bought from you, the other from Bob Moss. I have a buffer plugged into the end of the guitar, which I built, which provides 1 meg ohm in and 10k out. Nothing in the effects chain affects the tone directly. I go from the guitar to the volume pedal to the amp, then feed the effects using the first patch loop. They include the Bobro I got from you. I use it every night, on multiple songs.

Wiz Feinberg, Pedal Steel Guitarist Extraordinaire!

I am a firm believer in my answer in the fact that every screw and nut and bolt on a steel guitar has a purpose. The purpose is to hold something together or to make the guitar perform as well as it can under many different circumstances. Because of this I’ll say that almost every nut, bolt and screw on a steel guitar should be as tight as possible without being in danger of stripping or breaking.

Yes, there are some in the world that feel that different tensions on these things in different places will improve the tone if left loose. If it does affect the tone it will not be in a favorable way and I feel all these ideas should be discarded. Let these individuals that think they need to take your guitar, charge you $200 to loosen up various screws on the neck and so on should technically be put in jail as far as I’m concerned.

Put your guitar together the way it was designed to be put together. If you’re having trouble with sustain, try new Cobra Coil strings, check your cords and volume pedal and you should end up being okay.

Several people have called or asked me via email what they have to tear down, unplug or disconnect when they go on break after a set in a club or go home at night after the gig. My answer is turn off nothing when you go on break except anything that might cause the guitar to feedback when you’re in the middle of a cup of coffee seven tables.

As you know, many volume pedals work so easy that a good stomp by someone walking across the floor or someone tripping on your volume pedal cable can cause your volume pedal to go all the way down. When this happens I think you know what can go on from there. Of course, if you have a tube amp, put it on standby.

When you go home in the evening or leave the stage for long periods of time, it’s a very good idea to turn everything off and possibly even disconnect one of your cords and put it in the back of your amp. Even better yet, unplug the amplifier so the janitor in the club won’t be trying to play steel when you’re not there.

You tube amp players need to keep the smallest amount of time on your tubes as possible. Tubes are kind of like an old electric light bulb, they deteriorate over time and can be pretty expensive to replace. When it comes to tube amplifiers, steel players generally don’t really care for them because of the problems that can invite.

Some guys absolutely love them as I do myself if they sound good. There are some tube amps that sound absolutely horrible and some that are absolutely wonderful. Just like transistors, there are some transistor amps that are horrifyingly bad and there are some that just sound better than anything in the world. It’s not the tube or the transistor that is determining good or bad, but the total design concept of the amp.

The thing I don’t like about tubes are their undependability compared to transistors. The weight of the transformer in tube amps makes the amp very close to impossible to move around. A hundred watt tube amp will probably weight more than your car, but a hundred watt transistor amp will only weigh twenty to forty pounds.

Several people that I know love the Fender Twin 12 tube amp or the Peavey Delta Blues. I agree they are both good sounding vacuum tube amplifiers, but when you figure all the problems that a vacuum tube can give you, the transistor is probably the better choice for your rig.


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