Where to Place a Strap Button, Bolt-on vs. Dovetail Neck Joints, and More Guitar Advice from Luthier Frank Ford

Ford contributed many articles in the early to mid-2000s, and here is a sampling of the sage advice he offered.
Frank Ford repairing guitar neck
Frank Ford repairing guitar neck, Photo: Gryphon Stringed Instruments

The late luthier and instrument repairer Frank Ford was known for generously sharing his deep knowledge of all things fretted, including in the pages of Acoustic Guitar. Ford contributed many articles in the early to mid-2000s, and here is a sampling of the sage advice he offered in his regular contributions to the magazine’s general question-and-answer column. 

I’d like to install a strap button on my Washburn D10SCE acoustic-electric. What is the best place on the guitar to put it? 

If you look at prewar photos of the stars of the Grand Ole Opry, you’ll see that virtually all the guitar players tied their straps onto the peghead, under the strings right at the nut—a marked contrast with today’s players, who attach their straps near the base of the neck. The idea for the latter strap attachment was probably inspired by the factory-installed strap buttons on solidbody electric guitars. Attaching the strap at the base of the neck makes the guitar more maneuverable onstage. Also, the view of the neck and fingerboard is not obstructed by the strap.

By far the most popular location for a strap button is on the treble side of the heel, more or less centered vertically on the neck. (If you have a guitar with a bolted neck, it’s wise to have an idea of the location of the bolts before installing a strap button.) In almost all instances, it’s safe to locate the button here. Another popular location for the strap button is the bass side of the guitar near the neck. Here, it’s vital to make sure the button screw goes into the neck block inside the guitar. 


On instruments with small neck blocks, it’s necessary and reasonable to add a bit of reinforcement on the inside. Guitars with a wide, flat heel seem to ask for a strap button right in the center, and with the button in this location, the strap is held very securely and the guitar balances well. A strap button can often be installed in the heel cap, but that tends to make the guitar tip forward. 

In all cases, it’s important for the strap to draw at about 90 degrees to the button, just as it does at the endpin. Installing a strap button is a reasonable do-it-yourself job, requiring a bit of woodworking experience and common sense. The biggest single challenge is to drill an appropriate pilot hole for the screw. Any competent luthier can install a strap button quickly and easily.

I purchased a new Gibson Advanced Jumbo and noticed that the two sides of the top wood don’t match—one is slightly darker than the other. Does this difference in tint affect the sound of the guitar? 

What you are describing is not a question of tint but rather the visual effect of a phenomenon known as grain runout, which occurs when the grain does not run straight through the length of a piece of lumber. If you place two pieces of wood with different degrees of runout next to each other, they will reflect light differently, creating the impression that one is darker or lighter than the other. [For an illustrated explanation, type “frets.com runout” into Google’s search engine. —ed.


It is an almost strictly cosmetic matter—grain runout would have to be extremely pronounced to have any significant structural impact. So you should decide whether or not to keep the guitar based on whether or not you like how it looks. If you are not pleased by the appearance now, chances are it will eat at you, and you might regret that you failed to return it for that reason. If you do decide to return it, by all means make it clear that the grain runout is an issue for you, so that the dealer will look out for it in the future. Such feedback can be useful for both dealers and factories. If the grain runout appearance is not offensive to you, rest assured that it will not have any particular impact on the tone or aging process of the guitar. Some of the world’s greatest-sounding instruments have spruce tops that most of us would judge as visually unappealing.

There’s a lot of debate about bolt-on necks versus traditional dovetail joints. What are the relative merits of each? 

When I first started in lutherie, more than 30 years ago, it was commonly held that necks needed to be reset only on really old instruments and/or poorly built ones. But virtually all steel-string guitars, including lightly built archtops, eventually undergo body shape changes that result in a neck-angle problem, and today we accept that it’s only a matter of time before any flattop guitar will need to have its neck removed and reset as close as possible to the original angle with respect to the top and the bridge. In fact, many will need that job repeated at regular intervals. 

With that in mind, why not go with the flow and make a guitar with a neck that can come off with minimal damage to the finish or structure of the instrument? A glued dovetail neck is removable as long as the glue can be softened reasonably easily. It’s the traditional method, but that doesn’t make it superior to a bolted mortise. Many people argue that the neck joint contributes to tone—claiming that Taylor guitars sound bright and Martins have a fuller bass response because of their different neck joints—but that’s comparing apples and oranges. In the dreadnought size, for example, Taylor instruments have different, heavier top bracing, which makes for a stiffer top that emphasizes treble response, while Martins are more flexible, due to lighter bracing and similar thickness tops and backs, allowing for a fuller bass. From time to time, I’ve been asked to convert a guitar from a solid nonremovable to a bolted neck, and in no case have either I or the owner of the guitar detected a loss of tone.

Classical and flamenco builders, in the interest of playability and tone, often aim for a rather low bridge and saddle height, but that presents nasty challenges for repair as the guitar’s action changes over time. I’ve met a number of angry owners of high-end Spanish classical guitars who were disappointed that their necks couldn’t be removed and reset. Thanks to Bob Taylor and other highly regarded makers such as Collings and Huss and Dalton, the stigma of a bolt-on neck is now a thing of the past, so why not let the dovetail be a thing of the past, too?

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 344

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Frank Ford
Frank Ford

Frank Ford (1944-2023) was a legendary luthier and co-founder of Gryphon Stringed Instruments. He created frets.com, the largest acoustic instrument maintenance and repair reference site on the internet.

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