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Strat Neck Relief and its effect on String Bending

Discussion in 'Stratocaster Discussion Forum' started by Platefire, Mar 1, 2018.

  1. Platefire

    Platefire Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    70
    Nov 3, 2003
    North Louisiana around Many
    I wanted to start a new conversation on this. I have been learning strat setup last few years, have learned a lot and can set up my 5 strats pretty much to my satisfaction. I consider myself a Blues/Rock player at heart but do play country and a hint of Jazz. I'm a heavy handed string bender and generally like my action a little high to be able to get a hold/push the strings without any problem and also higher actions seems to lend itself to a more singing tone. On the other hand to high hinders speed---so I try to hit a happy medium.

    So I would like to hear your experiences regarding this. I have got good a achieving a straight neck on my strats but some of my strats even though set up very similarly, I just can't seem to dig into them and make them perform the way I can others. Some say that some neck relief is required to aid in string bending, others say set your neck straight and just raise your strings. Setting the neck to the extreme either way will cause fretting out issues I know, so lets assume no fret issues exist and setting the neck from perfectly straight to a small amount of relief causes no fretting out issues. So before I go and start loosening all my truss rods to add relief I thought I would ask the question? Platefire
     

  2. schmee

    schmee Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 2, 2003
    northwest
    Generally the sweet spot for me is max .010 relief. Probably more .007/.008. I have set them up near flat though. I too like some string height. Under the string I'm .110 height on the low E and .070 on the high E.
    I have found some necks to just be "dead" though. Usually a double truss rod neck or highly figured one.... but that's a small sample...
     

  3. Platefire

    Platefire Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    70
    Nov 3, 2003
    North Louisiana around Many
    That's a small amount of relief. So your saying just a hint of relief does it for you.
    I see now one of my problems I guess? I been doing it by eyeball sighting and feel.
    Guess I need to get more technical and get a straightedge and a scale. Platefire
     

  4. FirTrader

    FirTrader Tele-Meister

    Age:
    43
    245
    Jan 8, 2017
    Alberta Canada
    All things being equal, what relief does is functionally make it so that the action is relatively higher, with relatively lower bridge saddle placement. That is, if you had two guitars set up identically with straight necks and an action measurement of X, then if you undo the truss rod and add some relief, the action would be X+ on that guitar, and to bring it back to X, you'd have to lower a saddle. This is not so good on some guitars - if you have a 9" radius fretboard and do a lot of bending, you'd find that the string frets out pretty frequently - I would set up a guitar like that the other way - neck as straight as possible, and action determined by saddle placement, and this is guitar-specific - you find out by playing the guitar and doing bends and stuff, just where it needs to be (for you).

    So my recipe for the perfect strat is to get the neck real straight, only a tiny bit of relief. Then set the saddle heights so that I can bend strings without them fretting out. ONce that is established, I will cut the nut slots as low as I dare. Then they play for me.

    Other than that, the feel of each guitar IS different - neck shape, fretboard material and radius, fret size and shape, all lead to nearly identical guitars feeling totally different.
     
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  5. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Age:
    56
    Mar 17, 2003
    Spring City, Pa
    IME, relief doesn't make much difference in string bending/playability...unless it's just way out.
    A little daylight in the middle.
    On a Strat, keeping the trem a little loose makes it feel slinkier, but you have to physically bend strings further to hit your target because you pull the trem.
    You could try taking the strings out from under the trees...you may have to wind them further down the posts to keep them in the nut.
    I think the best thing for bendability is big frets.
     
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  6. Platefire

    Platefire Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    70
    Nov 3, 2003
    North Louisiana around Many
    Well truthfully, I guess a string can be a pretty accurate straigt-edge if you hold it down against the first fret and last fret. could use two capos to do it hand-less and measure or just observe.

    I have been moving to staggered graduated tuners on two of my strats to get the string angle on the head-stock side of nut to do away with string trees as much as possible. I have a 1998 Affinity Strat that's a project guitar that has out maneuvered all my other strats in play-ability for my purposes and has got me looking at what I can do to bring my other strats around to that one. My best quality strat in a 1997 CIJ 50's reissue strat and it has the truss rod adjustment on the body side. So I would have to pull the pick-guard I think to get access. The neck(7 1/4" R) is currently straight. So far I haven't been able to get it to feel and respond as well as the Affinity with changing the action height. I'm not totally sure but think the Affinity is a 9 1/2" Radius and medium frets which could make a difference.

    On the 97 CIJ 50's RI using my stings as a staight-edge held down against the frets on both ends of the neck and using my eyeball only, at the 7th fret on the little e I would say relief to be about .009 and on the big E slightly more than that. Without strings depressed the action height at 7th fret is about 1/16" on the little e and about 3/32" on the big E(action measured with tape measure). Platefire
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2018

  7. Platefire

    Platefire Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    70
    Nov 3, 2003
    North Louisiana around Many
    So what I've gleaned so far is a mostly straight neck with a hair of relief is about right! So that's pretty much where I'm at on all my strats relief right now. I guess different strats just act a little different. That why we always have favorites!

    I think I'm going to get the affinity out that plays so well and check it a lot closer to measure relief and action to see how it is set with a fine tooth comb. Maybe that will reveal something I can apply to the others that could improve their play-ability. Platefire
     

  8. jabsalt

    jabsalt Tele-Meister

    319
    Apr 23, 2007
    New York
    Any possibility you may need to adjust neck angle?
     

  9. hopdybob

    hopdybob Tele-Holic

    545
    May 28, 2008
    netherlands
    some things you maybe can use.
    radius will make that you will not get every guitar the same in playability.
    bending a 7 inch radius will note out earlier than a 9 and 12 inch.
    your way of attack on the strings matter to

    a book of Dan Erlewin had some interviews and guitar spec articles about Buddy Guy, SRV, BB King, and they did not have a low setup.( and see how fast SRV plays here with those heavy strings and high setup)


    and i found this topic very helpful
    http://guitarsbyleo.com/FORUM/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=1596

    good luck
     

  10. highwaycat

    highwaycat Tele-Meister

    Age:
    30
    331
    Jun 15, 2017
    California
    That would be a good starting point. I do have numbers in my head I like to see but I do keep in mind when it comes to relief, I sett eh relief Differently on each guitar. It's just the way it is. I like my action basically a certain way, nut slots low but not too low, and the relief, straight, but it can vary .007-.002 depending on the guitar. If the particular guitar 'likes' a lot of relief, I most likely sell that guitar.

    Your Squier may have a more flexible neck. Especially around the 4th fret. I would guess your other strats have straight, meaning more truer necks. I say this because I've done fret work on tons of squiers.
     

  11. Platefire

    Platefire Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    70
    Nov 3, 2003
    North Louisiana around Many
    Yes, I hear you. Need to look at each strat as an individual and will have to
    experment with settings to find the sweetest spot for each one. Different radius, frets and fret-boards requires a little different approach. Seems Everytime I take one of my strats out at home, I end up tweaking it in some way. I need to get a better measuring tool to nail actual relief and action height better. Platefire
     

  12. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity

    Age:
    58
    Mar 2, 2010
    Maine
    IME relief only helps strumming that would otherwise cause buzz on the low strings.
    Relief hurts fret out in bends.
    Small radius hurts fret out as well, but can be mitigated by what we now call PLEK, which in the '80s and '90's we called compound radius, and in the '60s and '70s we called good fretwork.

    Given that fret out only takes a .001 too tall fret, the amount of compound radius that needs to be dressed onto the frets is pretty small, too small to see with your eyes.

    While we're at it, we can dress a little relief onto the frets under the low strings, so we set the truss rod to keep the frets under the high E as close to dead straight as possible, with maybe .001- .002 relief as insurance in case the neck moves a little in a cold van.

    If you imagine yourself in the valley dead centered at the bottom of the relief, looking toward the bridge with a low action setting, you cannot see the saddles over the 22nd fret.
    The observation being that more relief is good for open chords but bad for playing and bending up the neck.
    And since the middle of the fingerboard is higher than the edges, with the saddles correspondingly higher over the middle, dragging the string that starts on a lower saddle toward the higher part of the board, that hill you can't see over from the valley stops the string.
    So zero relief, and each fret going up the neck needs a slightly flatter radius, starting maybe around the 10th or 12th fret.

    This is not the same as "fall away", though it is a similar idea.
    Many of us add some fall away by putting a piece of tape on one end of the dressing beam, and making a few passes with the tape at the first fret so only the upper frets get a graduated height reduction.
    This can similarly help the fretting out; or, it can allow a little more relief for player that like to strum some punchy cowboy chords when not bending on upper frets.

    Ideally we want both some fall away and some compound radius.
    Between the two, compound radius helps bending the most.
    Fall away might be enough though, since it allows you to see the saddles from the valley, so to speak.

    Many many players (back in the 20th Century) had compound radius necks and didn't know it, because they paid their skilled tech to make their guitars suit their playing style at the highest possible level.
    AFAIK, flattening the radius of each ascending fret was not called "compound radius" until Warmoth introduced it to the aftermarket.
    Just plain good fretwork.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2018
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  13. Platefire

    Platefire Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    70
    Nov 3, 2003
    North Louisiana around Many
    Well truthfully I had a little fretting out with much relief and making my strat necks straighter did away with all of that. So I'm glad now to have all my notes singing out.
    That's why I'm very shy about loosening up the truss rod to let some relief back in.
    Also in my strat setup journey "fret work" is something I haven't learned---so I end up working with the existing frets as is. Everything else I can manage very well. I don't think I've ever played on a strat with a compound radius neck.

    I watched the SRV video, Thanks! One thing I noticed is that he played all his lead on that high position on the neck, didn't move/stray hardly out of that spot. Talking about a string bender, he was. One thing about high action that bugs me is when I'm bending the little e, b or g and my finger goes up under the adjoining string like the D. Sometimes it can't be helped because when you really get into what your doing you sometimes overemphasize and take it to another level of bending. If I find my bending finger going up under adjoining strings too much I start wanting to lower the action to prevent it. Do any of you have that problem, going up under adjoining strings??? Platefire
     

  14. FirTrader

    FirTrader Tele-Meister

    Age:
    43
    245
    Jan 8, 2017
    Alberta Canada
    Yes, there's a fine line between the strings being low and kind of not easy to bend without mashing them into the fretboard, and a bit too high and kind of getting above the meaty part of my finger when I bend into them. Fret height is a factor here too, action being measured above the frets, not the fingerboard. So the SRV strat has these crazy monster tall skinny frets, and the action FEELS high even when it's pretty low. Conversely my 55 reissue has the tiny frets, and it looks pretty low and slinky even if the action measures a bit high. The difference in playing is night and day between those two guitars, and overall, I much prefer the old-school small frets and tight radius board.

    PS I don't think every PLEK'd neck has a compound radius. Compound radius meaning that at one end of the neck the radius might be 9" and at the other end 15" or something, flatter on the higher frets. This does allow marginally lower action and less fretting out on bends. But a PLEK'd neck at 12" radius is... not a compound fretboard. It's just a very perfectly dressed one.
     

  15. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity

    Age:
    58
    Mar 2, 2010
    Maine
    True that not all PLEK'd necks get compound radius.
    Not all players need that and the PLEK can be set to do anything a tech would do but faster and cheaper.
    Also, i'm not sure a PLEK taking .001 of the middle of each ascending fret above the tenth would really be "a compound radius".
    I use the term because I'm not familiar with a better one.
    Off the top of my head I'd say the gradual flattening treatment might make a 7.25 board radius into maybe an 8.75 fret radius by the 21st fret.

    Warmoth compound radius is not just for fret out during bends, it also makes players happy who really want a pretty flat radius up high but need a little more curve for barring down low.

    These days there are new guitars advertised as having "the PLEK treatment" without details on what PLEK treatment.
    It's kind of a doctors prescription for the player IMO.

    Using a PLEK to make the frets level is more like automation replacing hand work, but can be sold as an improvement.
    I suppose any fret dressing is an improvement if otherwise the frets are left as installed!
     

  16. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity

    Age:
    58
    Mar 2, 2010
    Maine
    I read an interview with Lee Ritenour years ago where he explained that he preferred to get his bending finger under the next string rather than have it drop down to the fret, because he didn't have to mute that string.
    I tried to learn it but have the same feeling as you where it bothers me, so I keep my action lower than that, though not by a whole lot.
    Point being it can be used as a part of your technique.

    Ritenour is a heluva player.
    Fusion though, tough to find cuts I actually want to listen to, kind of struck out tonight but here's a sample at least of a player who does that.



    Sorry, fusion.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2018

  17. Platefire

    Platefire Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    70
    Nov 3, 2003
    North Louisiana around Many
    Yes Lee is a great player, hadn't seen much of last few years until now! He sure make that LP scream. Seems he use to play on a 335 type years ago.

    I once read an article where BB King and SRV was playing in the same club
    and BB seen SRV high action and told him, make it easy on yourself and lower
    that action. Apparently SRV never heeded his advice. I use to read every issue Guitar Player Magazine going way back to the 70's and have read a whole lot on the old players. A lot of them passed on now.

    One thing I've learned with
    strats, some feel pretty good bending with relatively low action and some don't.
    I haven't become a sophisticated enough strat tech yet to bring them all in compliance but I working on in---fret work being the final frontier.

    I am a DIY Tube amp builder and working on a strat is kind of like working on an old vintage fender amp---equivalent to eating a bowl of ice cream---I really enjoy it. Platefire
     
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  18. awasson

    awasson Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Age:
    54
    Nov 18, 2010
    Vancouver
    My experience with Strat’s and Tele’s for that matter is that the neck needs to be nearly flat if you want low action and to not fret out when bending. I’ve been really liking low action and small gauge strings. Mind you, the smallest radius I’m dealing with is a 9.5” radius board.

    I find that if the neck has too much relief it will result in a bit of a high spot between the 16th to 21/22 frets and you’ll need to level the frets with an amount of fall off in order to allow for a low action without buzzing and fretting out. What’s worked for me so far is to get the neck almost flat and to raise the saddles just enough to allow for buzz free playing. At that point, I tend not to fret out.

    That’s worked for me but I think next time I visit the luthier’s shop I’m going to see if I can get her opinion on how to get a nice buttery but buzz free low action that doesn’t fret out. Maybe I’m on the right track but it could be that there’s another approach that I don’t know about.
     

  19. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Age:
    61
    Jul 18, 2010
    Western Connecticut
    Didn't read much past the OP, but the main disconnect seems to be that action = relief. Set relief first, then set saddle height. Don't add more relief to get more string clearance overall. That's the saddle's (and nut's) job.

    I like fairly low action, and the only way to get it buzz free is with a flatter neck. I target .004-005" relief. Fender "suggests" starting with .010". The more heavy-handed you are, you probably want it closer to that number. But I recommend starting flatter, adjust the saddles as high as you want 'em, and see if it works for you.

    The other thing, and the reason all your guitars won't quite set up the same way... very slight fret level inconsistencies do matter. Perhaps not enough to need a dress, but enough to buzz, and to need to raise saddles to clear.
     

  20. Platefire

    Platefire Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    70
    Nov 3, 2003
    North Louisiana around Many
    I would grade myself as medium heavy handed. Definitely don't have a lite touch. Seems like a mostly straight/flat neck with just a slight hint of relief is where my strats are set at and seems to
    be working for me. I played on one of my
    project strats last night with low action(no relief measurements!) and I was able to accomplish 95% of my bends very well. So this discussion is helping me understand that my present settings may be very close to where I need to be. Platefire
     

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