Someone help me out: Truss Rod adjustment on a strat

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by patchesprescott, May 16, 2005.


  1. patchesprescott

    patchesprescott Supporting Member

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    Help a brother out here...

    where the neck meets the body if i turn counterclockwise (or clockwise) what exactly am i doing?

    and how much do you need to crank it?

    my intonation is just a little off and after spending an hour last night with the bridge saddles (raising, lowering, forward backwards)...and my strobe tuner...and a couple beers i'm thinking it has to be the truss rod...

    so someone gimme a couple pointers if you would be so kind...
     
  2. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    Don't adjust the neck to correct intonation. If it needs adjusting, it's because the relief isn't right - which does affect the intonation to a small extent, but it's not the real function of it. If the relief is correct, you should be able to get the intonation right by the normal adjustments.

    Check the relief by fretting the G string at the first fret and the first that's over the body (17th on a Strat) and look at the gap between the string and the 7th-8th frets. It should be between almost non-existent (but just detectable if you tap the string up and down) and about the diameter of the string. Check it with the guitar in the playing position since the weight of the neck affects it if the guitar is lying on its back. There's no "right" relief, it depends on personal preference and playing style. My starting point is around half the string diameter, but I finely adjust it after that depending on how it feels and whether there's any rattle in the lower positions.

    If the neck is too bowed (very large gap between the string and the frets), tighten the rod - clockwise on the nut, looking towards it. If it's too straight (strings touching all the frets), loosen it.

    If the relief is in the right range and you can't get the intonation dead on, check the nut height next. If it's too high, the notes will be sharp in the lower positions as you bend the strings down onto the frets. Fret each string at the third fret and look at the gap between the string and the first fret. It should be about 1/10th to 1/4 of the string diameter (very small, most factory-cut nuts are too high, some severely so.)

    If both of those things are OK, make sure the pickups (especially the neck, but the middle to some extent too) aren't too close to the strings - the focused magnetic pull of Strat pickups is so strong that it can cause 'false nodes' on the strings and pull the intonation out significantly, particularly around the 12th fret and above.

    Check that the frets are properly crowned and not too flat on top (not usually an issue unless it's an old guitar that's been already worked on).


    If all that's OK and you still can't get it dead on with the tuner, (warning: controversy ahead ;)), put away the tuner and do it by ear. No, I'm not joking.
     
  3. patchesprescott

    patchesprescott Supporting Member

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    wow john

    thanks my friend...

    that was a lot to decipher, but i will read it again a couple times and go to work
     
  4. davesee

    davesee Guest

    i would add that a small movement on the truss rod has a large effect. i would only adjust by quarter turns at a time...also, if it is too tight, don't force it, take it to a tech. it's very easy to strip the bolt or break the truss rod. then you'd have to use the neck as a cricket bat, and who knows how to play cricket?!!!
     
  5. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    I do, of course. I'm English.

    :)

    Scotland does have a cricket team too, that competes in the minor English league :eek:. Most Scots probably don't want to know that ;).


    Truss rods aren't actually that easy to break. Over twenty years of repairs, I've only seen a very few broken ones, and most of those were things like old Hofners which were rather weak (and prone to rusting too) in the first place... it is a right pain to fix them though. But yes, be careful when adjusting them anyway.


    patchesprescott - setting up your guitar isn't that hard! You can easily get it right yourself - especially if you make the adjustments in the right order, which helps avoid disturbing one setting with another. The order in the post above is best, except that I left out the bridge action; you need to set it after the nut and before the pickups, and adjust the tremolo (if you need) before doing the intonation.

    Hope that helps!
     
  6. Rich T Fingers

    Rich T Fingers Member

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    ... you'll be telling us that they have a football team next....:D
     
  7. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    I've heard that with most good guitars you should only adjust the truss rod once a day and then let the neck "settle" and wait until the next day to see if it needs furthur adjustment... is that true?

    I loosened the truss rod about a quarter turn 4-5 hours ago and see that the neck is still too straight... is it true that I shouldn't adjust the neck again until tommorow?
     
  8. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    Necks do 'settle' or continue to move after truss rod adjustments... this is one of the customer-relations hazards as a pro repairer! Most guitars that come into the shop for a set-up need a truss-rod adjustment, and mostly they need tightening. This is a problem because the neck usually continues to move back slightly afterwards, for a few minutes, hours or even days. Result - sometimes the customer comes back a few days later complaining that the guitar is now rattling in the lower positions - they don't always believe that the reason is anything more than an excuse either...

    So you have to make a judgement when adjusting them as to how much to compromise the correct setting to allow for this... not always easy. I still get about 1 in 20 set-ups coming back for readjustment, and this is the largest cause. Generally maple necks are more predictable - they respond more immediately and remain more closely where you set them. Mahogany ones can continue moving, by quite a long way, after adjustment.

    It's also best to make all adjustments as a tightening - it tends to reduce the 'settle' movement. This means that if you need to loosen the truss-rod, you need to loosen it too far, wait a few minutes for the neck to settle, then tighten it back to the right position. If your neck is still too straight, keep loosening until it isn't, then leave it to settle for a few hours or overnight - chances are you'll then need to retighten it slightly. It's hard to say how much you need to turn it - some necks are very sensitive and a quarter-turn is 'a lot', some need more than a whole turn. If it's starting to get a lot more than that, you may even be better to 'help' the neck move by deliberately bending it in the direction you want it to go in - this will help it settle more quickly.

    Don't be afraid of it, they're not quite as prone to breakage as many people think, and the forces involved are relatively high.
     
  9. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    Thanks John, your posts are extremely helpful and informative. I've also been taught that whenever you loosen a truss rod, to always tighten it ever so slightly after loosening it... (i.e. if I have to loosen it a 1/4 turn or 1/2 turn, to then tighten it @ a 1/16 or 1/8 turn back right after loosening it). Does that make sense?

    I play exclusively in what I call "Albert King tuning", down 3 half steps to C# and using very light strings (right now using 9-42's), so as you can imagine I've had to learn to do my own set-ups on most guitars.... King played a 24.65 inch scale guitar using 10's tuned down to C#, so on a 25.5 inch scale using 9's it seems to work out OK (for me) turned down to C#

    Whenever I get a new guitar, I always need to loosen the truss-rod a 1/4 turn or 1/2 turn when going to this set-up and then (usually) re-intonate
     
  10. sundaypunch

    sundaypunch Member

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    Wow, those things must be like rubber bands :eek:

    Back to the original question, to explain it in simplest terms, clockwise on the trussrod makes the fretboard more of a "hill" and counter-clockwise makes it more of a "valley".
     
  11. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    I think it depends on what you are used to and what style you play. The strings aren't nearly as loose as one might hink (to me anyways). To me, a guitar in standard E tuning feels way too stiff and unnnatural
     

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