Before we can move to the actual setup and action adjustments we must make sure the neck is adjusted properly. I will detail how to check and adjust a neck that is not damaged or needs a new truss rod.
Starting our guitar repairs, we want to ‘sight’ the neck. In other words, with your nose practically touching the head stock, look down the fingerboard towards the body. What you are looking for is straightness, up-bow, back bow, humps and high frets. My favorite tool for this is a precision 18″ straightedge. If you are a do it your-selfer than a good quality straight ruler will do.
Note: Use a new set of your favorite guitar strings and always make sure you are tuned to ‘concert pitch’ during any setup procedure.
Tuning to concert pitch keeps the tension on the neck as in when you are playing. Everything we adjust will have to be checked at concert pitch or in perfect tune.
When you lay your straightedge on the neck, look for light between frets and the straightedge. If you see light, then you may have a bow or high frets on the neck. It can bow forward or backwards. FYI, on almost all guitars, there is a term guitar makers use for ‘controlled neck bow’ called “relief”. Preferably, I like my guitars setup with a almost flat neck. I get lower string action that way, and most guitarists seem to like low action. Most players gets better tone when the neck is straight, it makes the actual setup more delicate though. Relief adjustments are generally used during a setup when we need to bow a neck very slightly to stop fret buzz, particularly when the action is low. Again, low action is nice, most guitarists like a low action.
Briefly, this is a good time to mention that every guitar has it’s own set of specifications for relief and guitar setup that are brand and model specific. For instance most Gibson Guitars have their own particular specifications for each model. You can expect another brand like Fender Guitars to have a set of unique specifications for each of their guitars. The last thing to know about setting relief and in general, setting up your guitar is some guitar players, usually seasoned professionals have personal specifications that suits them best. Things like personal specifications only become important after many years of playing. however, almost every guitar needs the neck checked and a good setup performed. It’s easy to replace a Fender Stratocaster guitar neck, so should it need replacement many choices are available. Don’t even mess with any Martin guitars. They cost to much to mess up!
If you have any high frets, they need dressing first, which I will cover in the next article. Fret dressing is the bomb, the feeling of well dressed frets is unbelievable and addictive. Lets assume you need no frets dressed up for the remainder of this tutorial.
To put it in simple and in understandable terms, the truss rod needs to be adjusted to set neck bow or relief. When it comes to adjustment of a truss rod, generally there is a nut or fastener at the end of the rod by the headstock. Here is what you need to remember: “lefty loosey/righty tighty”. Sounds silly, but if you turn the nut to the left you will loosen it and allow a back-bowed neck to return to a straight neck, if you turn it to the right, you will tighten it up and pull the neck back causing a back bow. Obviously by adjusting your truss rod, the relief is being set, if you prefer relief. If not use your straightedge and adjust the rod until no light can be seen between the neck and straightedge, for a flat neck.
A few things to keep in mind as you proceed:
+ Some guitars have the truss adjustment nut at the body end. Usually you will have to loosen the strings to remove the neck to adjust it, and then reinstall and tune to pitch to check it.
+ Don’t force the nut. Use common sense, if it is too tight, don’t brake it. Once the nut has been removed, put some light lubricant on the treads after you clean them up. Don’t get the lubricant on the wood. If it is too tight, it may be a good time to take the guitar to a competent luthier.
+ The adjustment may take a day or two to seat in and get used to it’s new position. Recheck it the next day, if it moves then readjust it.
Basic setup is something most people can do by them self. Assuming no damaged parts are encountered. Otherwise, I would defer to a competent guitar maker for such service. The best book on guitar making and repair is the “Guitar Players Repair Guide” by Dan Erlewine. I am on the third edition. You can purchase it at Stewart-MacDonald. You can also purchase the exact tools I use and most luthiers use here also.
Step one complete. If you have any questions, contact me at Guitar Players Center or use the comment box, for more info or to make comments. Take a minute to share this with Stumble or give me a Tweet! Just click the Share It button and see how easy it is, it is free also.