Is a twisted neck irreparable?

Tommy B

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Howdy esteemed builders: I bought a 100-year-old Hawaiian uke on Evilbay, and it arrived with a bunch of cracks that weren't a total surprise, given the age and fragility of the instrument. But it also had a noticeable neck twist. After back and forth with the seller, I got a partial refund and decided to just keep this as a display instrument. It's a pretty cool Akai ukulele with the crazy headstock shape.

Even though this won't be a player for me, I wonder if it could be made playable. Are there actual remedies for neck twist, or is this usually considered the death knell for an instrument? (I did see a post by Jake Wildwood in which he said he remedies this by refretting the uke and adjusting each fret to compensate for the twist.)

Thanks!
 
I'm assuming that it will depend on the severity of the twist. I bought an old Banjoette banjolele with a severely twisted neck and finally decided to have a new neck made, keeping the Gumby shaped headstock. Since the luthier who made it was a guitar maker, he put the position marker at the 9th rather than the 10th fret, but I rarely venture up there on the banjolele, so it doesn't really matter.
Since it had a great pot, I'm glad that my unplayable $12 banjolele became a playable $112 banjolele.
The head is covered with autographs from people I've never heard of with dates from the 1930s.

banjoette new neck.jpg
 
If the twist is only slight, then it may be recoverable. I once salvaged a uke with this problem by simply making a nut with a slight slope one way and a saddle which sloped the other way; that made the tops of the nut and the saddle level with each other.

It would be an easy job to try this remedy. If the twist is not too bad, it might work.
 
Depends on how bad the warp is... As with many of these issues, with no measurements or even a photo it's hard to diagnose and suggest a remedy. But a throw at it, from not that bad to I get drunk when I look at my fretboard:
  • Adjusting a warp via levelling the frets is only for a very slight warp. You don't want much difference in fret-height across the board, buzzing could become an issue that's not solvable with work on the nut or saddle.
  • More drastic is levelling the fretboard, redo the fretslots and then refret. Might come out looking a bit wonky with a meandering thickness of the fretboard but it would be playable. Correcting nut and saddle to compensate the loss in height of the neck is needed (level 2).
  • In the same reach: removing the fretboard, correct the neckplane, shim it with a veneer back to the correct level, and if you're lucky you could re-use the fretboard. If the fretboard doesn't want to cooperate and settle on it's new position, that's a new one also. (level 3).
  • Final option is a new neck (level 4).
So it all depends on a couple of simple questions:
  • Did I buy it as a wallhanger or do I want to play it?
  • How bad is it?
  • How much am I willing to spend (money and time)?*
* is without taking into account the market value, but with what it's worth for you to get it fixed. Yes, some people spend a multitude of the value of an instrument on the repair, because they want to (often for sentimental reasons). As long as they know, that's fine by me. These kind of repairs are seldom recovered when selling on later, don't forget that...

I would say: take it to a luthier you trust, have it looked at, get your options clear and then decide. I hope it can be fixed (for the instrument), and I hope it's not costing an arm and a leg (for you). Good luck! 🍀
 
If the twist is only slight, then it may be recoverable. I once salvaged a uke with this problem by simply making a nut with a slight slope one way and a saddle which sloped the other way; that made the tops of the nut and the saddle level with each other.

It would be an easy job to try this remedy. If the twist is not too bad, it might work.
That works too, but only if you have a nice and even warp where there's an even gradual twist along the length of the neck. That would also mean a nice even (but slightly tilted) graindirection.
If it comes  rollercoaster, with a bend here and a twist there, a whole different can of worms...
 
Thank you all for your learned (and very interesting) replies. I probably won't be throwing scads of money at this uke because, as I mentioned, it's more of a decorative piece to me. Not to belittle its value as an instrument, but because I prefer larger, more modern ukes for my players, and old instruments like this for their historical value. Here are a couple of photos, one showing the neck twist, and another showing the headstock that caught my fancy. (It looks different even from all the other Akai "Gumby" ukes I've seen online.)
 

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I’ve made twisted necks straight again by rigging up a jig clamping a counter weight lever on the headstock and placing a hot iron the fretboard.
 
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