Can neck bends damage your guitar?

While every musical instrument is cool in its own right, the guitar is arguably one of the coolest instruments out there. 

A big part in this is played by all the special sounds you can get out of a guitar by doing unusual things to it. 

One of them is neck bends. 

It can produce some really cool sounds but is it safe for the guitar? Allow me to shine a light on that:

Neck bends will most likely not cause any damage to your guitar, as long as your instrument is in good condition and structurally sound and you don’t overdo it. It may cause some temporary issues such as tuning problems especially if the contact points of the strings with the body are not well lubricated.

What I’m talking about when I say “neck bends”?

Most aspiring guitarists will start out by playing chords and notes but somewhere along this journey, the joys of bending from one note into another are discovered and it opens up a whole new world of musical possibilities. 

The most common way of doing this is by string bending. 

A more adventurous way of doing it is with a neck bend. 

This is accomplished by applying force on the neck by either pulling or pushing it against the neck joint.

Doing so alters the tension on the strings causing them to either slacken up or tighten up.

You can get a really effective vibrato by doing this and it certainly is eye-catching from a performance point of view.

Neck bends will (probably) not cause any damage to your guitar

While musical instruments are generally seen as fragile objects that need to be handled with care, most of them are stronger than they appear to be. 

The guitar definitely falls under this category. Despite the neck’s slender appearance, it is quite strong and can withstand a large amount of force. 

However, as is often the case with such things, the trick is to use neck bends in moderation.

Unless you are a freak of nature who can snap the guitar in two with your bare hands, the occasional neck bend won’t have any detrimental effect on the guitar. 

There is a caveat though. A guitar neck is made up of multiple pieces of wood that have been glued together. 

Similarly, the neck is attached to the guitar with the help of either glue or a set of bolts. 

Like any other joint, the structural integrity will deteriorate with time and if neck bending is done to the extreme or far too frequently then the neck can deteriorate a lot faster. 

This is especially true when neck bending is done to increase the tension of the strings. This can take the guitar beyond the tolerances it was designed for and that can cause a structural failure.

Are there any risks involved in neck bending a guitar?

As alluded to just now, guitars are complex instruments made by attaching different parts made up of different materials. 

The materials used are usually strong but they are not indestructible. As such, there is a limit to the degree of neck bending that the guitar can take before it ends up taking damage. 

This limit can depend on a number of factors. 

If the guitar isn’t stored properly or has been knocked around then chances are high that it has already developed cracks and other imperfections. 

Such guitars can end up breaking completely when subjected to a strong neck bend. Similarly, guitars made from weak materials can end up being permanently disfigured with a neck bend. 

The best way to avoid any risk is to use this technique only on a structurally sound guitar. In short, know the limitations of your guitar before neck bending.

Can neck bends generate any temporary issues?

Getting a temporary issue, on the other hand, is highly likely

The most common issue you will encounter is tuning instability. 

This usually happens when there is too much friction at one of the points of contact between the strings and the guitar. 

This can be at the nut or at the bridge

A low-quality tuning head (machine head) can also cause this. 

Finally, if the strings are of poor quality or are old and worn out, they can end up going out of tune as well.

Is there a way to prevent these issues?

A good setup is often the answer to most of the problems a guitar can present and here also, getting the guitar set up properly is a great strategy in avoiding these issues. 

Make sure that all the points where the string is in contact with the guitar are properly lubricated. You can take things up a notch by going for locking tuners or even a locking nut

The best strategy though would be to avoid neck bends altogether.

There are easier and less damaging ways of getting the same sounds you would get with a neck bend.

Alternatives to neck bending

The best way to get the same sounds you would get with neck bends is by using some type of floating bridge. 

These come in multiple flavors such as Floyd Rose Style bridge, Bigsby tailpiece, and other vibrato tailpieces. 

These floating bridges will help you get every possible sound and effect you could get with neck bending and a lot more. 

Furthermore, they are easier to use and only require a fraction of the effort. 

The best part is that you can do some serious pitch shifting with these bridges without affecting the structural integrity of the guitar one iota. 

If you are someone who uses or is looking to use neck bending to get to a higher pitch, bending before the nut is a technique you can explore especially since it is much safer than bending the neck to a higher pitch. 

B-benders are a more advanced and expensive option if you are really serious about bending to a higher pitch. 

The final option is to use an effect pedal or a digital modeler/processer to get the effect you want. 

This is the least intrusive way of getting those shifts in pitch and this option offers you plenty of room for experimentation.

Neck bending is a very cool technique as long as it is used very sparingly, sort of like the final garnishing on a gourmet meal.