What tool do I need to check string height?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by Sir Ricardo, Mar 12, 2006.

  1. Sir Ricardo

    Sir Ricardo Member

    Oct 3, 2004
    Berkeley, CA
    I'd like to set up my guitar per its factory specs......"the string should be 3/64 of an inch, at the 17th fret" and the like.

    What is the best kind of tool for measuring string height?

    Thanks much -

  2. stratofied

    stratofied Member

    Dec 6, 2004
    I use a small metal ruler. Old school but it works just fine. For measuring relief I use an automotive blade type feeler gage.
  3. illinimax

    illinimax Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 17, 2002
    A set of little hex wrenches work great. Just insert them between the fret and string and you get get very precise when dialing in the height.
  4. James Knox

    James Knox Member

    Mar 4, 2005
    Phoenix, AZ
  5. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2002
    State of Denial
    Fingers and ears.

    Lower it to where it feels good to your fingers. Play up & down the string - don't forget to bend! - and see if it buzzes or frets out on the bends. If so, raise it back up. If not, lower it a little more if you want and repeat the process. Of course, this method kind of requires the neck to be adjusted to your liking first.

    IMHO rulers are useless for setting action. You know how you want your guitar to play, not the factory.

    Besides - 'factory settings' are for the ideal, perfect instrument off the line. If you've played a guitar for any appreciable amount of time, the factory settings aren't going to be valid - fret wear, string gauge, etc. all come into play.

    Toss out the ruler and go with your fingers & ears.

  6. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

    Mar 17, 2002
    I totally agree with Chiba.

    ... except to say that factory specs aren't even for perfect instruments, they're for instruments with all the small tolerance variations that mass-produced objects always have. The factory specs are intended to result in every guitar being playable in the shop and with no obvious faults, such as string buzzing. In order to cope with the most outer-tolerance examples, this means that for an average, middle-tolerance one the action is in fact higher than it needs to be. This especially applies to the nut height, where even fractionally too low will result in unacceptable buzzing and the nut needing to be replaced, so the average is always set substantially too high to make sure that even the lowest ones are above the buzz level.

    There are no 'right' measurements really - it's all down to the particular guitar and the way you play.
  7. alderbody

    alderbody Member

    Oct 14, 2004
  8. K-man

    K-man Member

    Feb 3, 2006
    I think the ruler is a good idea for someone who doesn't have a lot of experience doing setups. It will give you a good starting point. Go to a hardware store and get a metal ruler that measures 1/32 or 1/64" (General makes one and I know Ace carries it).

    First you have to check the action at the nut. Fret each string at the third fret with your right hand middle finger, then push on the string with your right hand index finger. There should be only a slight gap. If you have to push the far for the string to touch the first fret then your nut slots are too high and you have to file them deeper (you may want to have a luthier do your set up in that case).

    Then check the relief. I don't like the feeler gauges. They are a pain in the ass and I can never tell which one is correct (probably because I don't know how to use them). I fret the first fret (it's easiest to see with the low E string) with my left hand and then fret the 13th fret with my right hand pinky. Then I use my left hand index finger to push down on the string at the 7th fret. You want to set the relief so that you barely press on the string before it touches the seventh fret.

    Then use you ruler to set the action and pickup height per factory specs. That way you have a good reference point to start with. Then you can raise or lower the action to match your playing style. If you like the action really low or if you have a heavy hand you may have to add a little more relief to avoid fret buzz. You can also lower the pickups to your tonal preferences.

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