Tell me if this sounds familiar: you own a guitar that you are overall quite happy with, but you don’t play it as much as you want because it has a gloss neck with a sticky feel. Your fretting hand keeps ‘catching’ the neck as you try to slide it along, and at times playing the guitar can be a frustrating experience.
This is commonly referred to as sticky-neck syndrome. It mostly occurs on guitars with a gloss finish, and it makes it more difficult to precisely position the fretting hand. This especially happens when the hand is slightly sweaty.
On one of my guitars, the Epiphone LP Tribute Plus, I had the same problem. By sanding the finish on the back of the guitar neck I was able to fix it and significantly increased the guitar’s playability.
Before showing you how to sand the guitar neck, I will give some more information and answer several frequently asked questions:
How to fix sticky-neck syndrome
To fix the sticky guitar neck, we need to make the surface of the neck more coarse. We can do this by lightly sanding the finish. A coarse surface makes it more difficult for the skin to stick to the lacquer. Without the skin sticking to the lacquer, the fretting hand can move more easily along the neck.
What do you need to sand the guitar neck?
The most important thing are the Micro-Mesh Sanding Sheets. These are cushioned abrasive sheets that allow for very uniform sanding.
The Micro-Mesh sheets consist of a flexible cloth with silicone carbide grit. The flexible cloth makes it perfect to fold around a guitar neck. The sheets are also less messy than sandpaper, which often has the grit coming off during sanding.
The rest of the tools and materials are listed further down the page.
Can you use steel wool to sand the guitar neck?
In theory, yes. Some people successfully use fine steel wool to make the lacquer finish more coarse.
However, when using steel wool to sand, a lot of the fine steel wool fibers come loose. If these steel fibers end up on or around the pick-up magnets of an electric guitar they can cause problems, are very hard to remove.
Therefore, for sanding the neck of an electric guitar I do not recommend using steel wool.
Another reason not to use steel wool is that the final coarseness of the finish is easier to control with Micro-mesh sheets or even sandpaper, which usually come in packs with a variety of grits.
Is the sanding reversible?
Yes, the entire process is reversible, as long as not too much of the lacquer is sanded off. The remaining lacquer can be sanded back to a gloss finish with finer and finer grits and a polishing compound.
The downside of re-polishing the lacquer is of course that the neck will get its stickiness back.
I don’t care if it is reversible. Can I just sand the lacquer down to the wood?
Yes, you can. You can use coarse grit Micro-Mesh sheets to remove the entire gloss finish and sand down to the wood.
Does this also work for other finishes, such as nitrocellulose lacquers?
As far as I know, yes. I only have experience sanding necks with polyurethane lacquers however.
How to sand a sticky guitar neck
What you’ll need
Preparing the guitar
Taping off the headstock and body
Sanding the neck
Moving up in grit
After this, it is just a matter of removing the painters tape. There will be a clear contrast visible between the sanded and unsanded portions of the guitar. If that is an issue, you can always blend the transition line by sanding it gently.
In order to revert the lacquer finish back to the original gloss state, you can polish it with the finer Micro-Mesh sheets (6000 -> 8000 -> 12000 grit). If necessary, you can also use a polishing/buffing compound afterwards.
A summary of the sanding process
- Wipe the guitar neck down to remove any sweat and dirt.
- Tape off the headstock and guitar body near the neck.
- Prepare a bowl of soapy water.
- Wet sand the gloss finish with a 2400-grit Micro-mesh sheet.
- Gradually move up in grit until the desired finish is reached.
- Wipe the neck down to remove any sanding residue.
- Rock on!
As you can see, it is not too hard to fix sticky neck syndrome yourself. With Micro-mesh sheets and a bit of elbow grease, sanding the neck finish takes about 30 minutes. The process is reversible as well, as long as you don’t sand too much of the finish off.
I only had to do the sanding once on my guitar neck. The effects have so far lasted over a year.