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Adjust your guitar’s truss rod

For many guitar players, their guitar’s truss rod is a largely misunderstood device. Some people are terrified of touching their guitar’s truss rod while others believe it to be a magic exlir … adjust it often enough, and the truss rod can solve all the problems in their tone.

The truth is that the truss rod is a simple device that has one purpose: to counter the pull of the strings. It isn’t meant to adjust the height of your strings; you can’t set your intonation with it; and unless you do something unusual, you aren’t going to ruin your guitar trying to adjust it.

Adjusting the Telecaster Truss Rod

Gibson applied for the first truss rod patent in 1921. Until then, guitars had bigger, thick necks to handle the tension of the strings. Basically, the mechanism is simply a steel rod with an anchor at one end and an adjustment nut at the other. It is buried (usually in a curve) in the center of the guitar’s neck. Tightening the adjustment nut pulls the rod straight, thus straightening the neck. Loosening it allows the neck to pull up with the influence of the string tension, allowing the neck bow. To this day, most truss rods remain relatively unchanged. There are several versions of a two-way rod, rods that can move a neck both toward and away from string pull, but most are still the "old style", and that’s what will be covered here.

Is it time to adjust your Telecaster’s Truss Rod? Got questions about which way to turn the adjusting screw? Here is the definitive answer.

  • You tighten the nut (clockwise) to reduce relief (front bow).
  • You loosen the nut (counter-clockwise) to get more relief (back bend).

All the truss rod does is counteract the pull of the strings. When you loosen the adjusting nut the strings supply the pulling force to add the relief. If you have light strings it may change the amount of relief you get or how long it takes to see it. Don’t expect it to happen instantly. It takes a while for the wood to change in the neck.

REMEMBER: “righty tighty, lefty loosey!”

Here is a graphic to help you understand:

If the adjuster will not turn any more because it is adjusted to the end — you might need a shim washer:

Here’s what Fender has to say about adjusting the Truss Rod on a Telecaster:

Truss Rod

There are two different styles of truss rods found on Fender guitars and basses; the “Standard” truss rod and the “Bi-flex” truss rod. Most Fender guitars and basses are equipped with a “Standard” truss rod (there are two types of “Standard” truss rod; one which adjusts at the heel of the neck and one which adjusts at the headstock, but both operate on the same principle). The “Standard” truss rod can counteract concave curvature, for example: in a neck that has too much relief, by generating a force in the neck opposite to that caused by excessive string tension.

Fender also uses a unique “Bi-Flex” truss rod system on some instruments. Unlike the “Standard” truss rods, which can only correct a neck that is too concave (under-bowed), the “Bi-Flex” truss rod can compensate for either concave (under-bowed), or convex (over-bowed) curvature, by generating a force in either direction as needed for the correction.

Check your tuning. Install a capo at the 1st fret, depress the 6th string at the last fret.

With a feeler gauge, check the gap between the bottom of the string and the top of the 8th fret — see the specification chart below for the proper gap.

Adjustment at headstock (Allen wrench): Sight down the edge of the fingerboard from behind the headstock, looking toward the body of the instrument. If neck is too concave (action too high), turn the truss rod nut clock-wise to remove excess relief. If the neck is too convex (strings too close to the fingerboard), turn the truss rod nut counter-clockwise to allow the string tension to pull more relief into the neck. Check your tuning, then recheck the gap with the feeler gauge and re-adjust as needed.

Adjustment at neck joint (Phillips screwdriver): Sight down the edge of the fingerboard from behind the body, looking up toward the headstock of the instrument. If the neck is too concave (action too high), turn the truss rod nut clock-wise to remove excess relief. If the neck is too convex (strings too close to the fingerboard), turn the truss rod nut counter-clockwise to allow the string tension to pull more relief into the neck. Check your tuning, then recheck the gap with the feeler gauge and re-adjust as needed.

Note: In either case, if you meet excessive resistance when adjusting the truss rod, your instrument needs constant adjustment, adjustingthe truss rod has no effect on the neck, or you’re simply not comfortable making this type of adjustment yourself, take your instrument to your local Authorized Fender Service Center

Neck Radius
9.5″ to 12″
15″ to 17″
.012″ (0.3 mm)
.010″ (0.25 mm)
.008″ (0.2 mm)

Thanks to TDPers JWells and 0leFuzzy and to the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation and others for the information and graphics contained here.

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11 Responses to “Adjust your guitar’s truss rod”
  1. dan1952 dan1952 says:

    I have a friend who recently broke the truss rod on a Martin D16 $600.00 later, he’s back in the game.Don’t try this at home….

    • maninblack maninblack says:

      Your friend over tightened the truss rod by a huge factor. Make small increments like 1/8th of a turn then check the relief to see how much it has changed before doing another adjustment. You will never break a truss rod or neck by doing it carefully.

  2. All my guitars cost less than $250 so I am not worried. When I can’t get the allen wrench to turn anymore I just put a cheater bar on it to get leverage. (Please note this is a joke. Using massive leverage to turn your truss rod is not a good idea.)

  3. gearjunkie Ernie R says:

    Use common sense and you’ll Never have a problem with adjusting a truss rod…Anything more than a 1/4 turn at any time…adjust then give it a few days for the wooden neck to do its thing…check and adjust again if needed….

  4. KRTele55 says:

    This is how I adjust the action on my guitars:
    put the guitar down on the table in front of you. (for right handers-neck pointing to the left, as you play) With your right hand, any finger, press down the string (do this with all strings at a time) at the last/highest fret. With your left hand/pinky finger, hold down the string at the first fret. Now pread your left hand wide appart, so that you can reach with the thumb up the neck, close to the middle of the neck.
    If you tab down the string at the middle of the neck with your thumb (still holding down the string at the first and last fret) There should be a slight space between string and fret at the middle of the neck- just a bit – meaning, the neck should be slightly bowed hollow. concave
    When tapping down, you hear a ‘clink’ – meaning there is a space.
    If there is no space = the string is already touching, you neck is too straight, or even bowed down / convex = constant buzz in the middle section

    That’s how it works for me


  5. Twang Addict says:

    I like the strings on my guitar to be close to the neck. But every time I set it that way, the guitar starts to rattle. Does any one out there know what I can do to make my guitar play the way I like it to play but still keep it from rattlling?

  6. Guitartec Guitartec says:

    After adjusting thousands of rods in my 35 years of being a professional guitar repairman, all I can say is; there is SOOOOO much more to adjusting a truss rod properly than you’re ever led to believe on utube videos and in web articles like above. Sure, anyone can turn a rod and do a half-asses job, maybe you’ll luck out, but to find the sweet spot is truly an art. This is especially true when let’s say the frets are uneven or the rod isn’t as effective as it should be because the neck has been dried out, or maybe the neck is one of those flimsy ones that goes out of tune simply by leaning forward or backward, or what if the allen head is sorta stripped….. there’s dozens of reasons why you should know EXACTLY what you’re doing.

    Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that often, a rod adjustment affects several other critical adjustments that affect playability and tone. So, if you’re going to do rod adjustments on your own, get ready to do the others; action, intonation, neck tilt, nut slot height, fret dressing, pickup height, trem springs adjustment, yada, yada, yada….

    And don’t forget to pre-load!

    • teleaddicted teleaddicted says:

      I totally agree and I should say you must also take into account how you pluck the strings. I have always adjusted truss rods by myself on my guitars and experienced all the issues you describe. Personally on some of them I prefer a very very VERY little buzz when plucking hard so I can have that sax attack à la Stan Getz, but it’s also true that my picks get wore asymmetrically telling me that I almost always play with the pick slanted maybe searching for that dirt attack; looking for clean notes I just have to stay with the pick parallel to the string and don’t play too hard, and then nothing would buzz.

  7. juancaca juancaca says:

    hi, i wannto know if its normal:
    my MIJ custom 62 reiss had a very little turn capacity, i mean,
    -from “point zero” if you turn 1/4 clock wise it start thigthening like if was aproaching the end of the threading, still can be turned, but didnt wanna apply too much presure (or maybe is normal feel more ressistance once you start thightening?)
    -and if you turn counter clockwise from that initial “point zero”, feels free, like if the nut was loose…

    the neck is concave right now,
    E string = 2.2mm and e string = 1.9mm at 7th fret…
    and at 12th fret, E string = 2.7mm and e string = 2.4mm…
    but im worried about that thigtening i was refferring…

    theres somthing wrong? thanks in advise!!

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