Do I really want my neck straight?

Boreas

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I worked on my own guitars and as a guitar tech without ever using any measuring devices until I was well into my 50s.
Then one day as I squinted down the neck to set relief I concluded that my eyes had stopped working as feeler gauges, so I moved to straight edge and either feeler gauge or whatever was near the top of the tools pile on the bench.
I don't need to know the number of thousandths my relief is set to, but if chasing an odd neck problem or removing and storing a neck to do other work on it or the guitar, I might want the number for reference.
Same with a neck I'm going to do a heat reset to, I want to know how bad it was and confirm I heated and over bent it enough, since that's kind of instinct and doesn't always come out as expected.

I have to admit all the tech chat here also played into my bringing feeler gauges in from my garage mechanics tools to use on guitars.
I set up tons of guitars for other players based on watching them play and setting relief and action to match their technique, but only in the last 5-7 years learned the numbers associated with my relief settingsYou bring up an important note
You bring up an important note - whether one is adjusting only their guitars and one who is adjusting guitars for others. It is likely more important to MEASURE AND RECORD settings when adjusting for others. If the instrument comes back in two weeks, it would be good to know what clearances it had when it left, and what it has now. In my recliner, it isn't as important. Also, using tools, numbers, and documentation makes the client feel like you know what you are doing - then you can up your fees!
 

Freeman Keller

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You bring up an important note - whether one is adjusting only their guitars and one who is adjusting guitars for others. It is likely more important to MEASURE AND RECORD settings when adjusting for others. If the instrument comes back in two weeks, it would be good to know what clearances it had when it left, and what it has now. In my recliner, it isn't as important. Also, using tools, numbers, and documentation makes the client feel like you know what you are doing - then you can up your fees!

Boreas, as I think you know, I do that with every guitar that crosses my work bench. A long time ago I created a spreadsheet that is pretty generic, it works for most instruments that I work on. It has as section for general information - brand, model, serial number, owner's contact. Then it has four columns - the measurements as it arrives on my work bench. my target value for those measurements. One column lists where I got those measurements (might be factory specs or a setup tech I respect (like Bryan Kimsey who we have mentioned) or maybe my own experience), and the last is the final setting when the instrument leaves.

This is very very helpful on several fronts. First, it forces me to measure EVERYTHING before I touch ANYTHING. Many of these setup parameters interact, if I change one it might affect several others (relief does for sure). By looking at the measurements I know the order in which to do things - it makes no sense to adjust the relief or action if the guitar is dehydrated or needs a neck reset. It gives me a way to talk to the owner, even if that is me - here is what is wrong with your guitar. And as you said, it gives me a record of this guitar for the future.

The spread sheet has one other little function, a second page conveniently lists different settings used by people I trust. There is a section for Fender factory specs, Gibsons, Martins, Kimseys, Erlewines... If I'm curious about what the relief should be on a nylon strung guitar I should have it listed.

As I've mentioned before, I'm happy to send a copy of the spread sheet to anyone who wants it, just PM me an e-mail addy.

IMG_5491.JPG
 

telemnemonics

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I agree with Ron Kirn too. But just realize that with a perfectly flat neck, you are probably going to need to raise the string height a little. You may get string rattle and dead spots with a perfectly straight neck and the "normal" 2/32 string height at the 12th fret. It's all a compromise.
DURING THE SETUP PROCESS yes, if you reduce the relief you need to then raise the string height.
But if you compare say .001 relief as a practical example of dead flat, to the Fender spec of .012 relief which I would only set up for a cowboy chord strummer acoustic?
The bigger the relief gets, the more you are forced to RAISE the action if you want to be able to play the entire neck.

This is because when fretting in the middle of the bottom of the relief, from that point to the bridge, the relief is reversed, and instead of more clearance you have less clearance.
So with the lowest action possible on the .001 relief setting applied to the .012 relief, fret in the middle of the neck and the strings lay down on all the frets all the way up, because you basically pulled the strings down into a lower point than the higher point at the 21st/ 22nd fret.
Or put anther way, think in terms of being at the bottom of a hill, looking uphill toward the bridge. The rising fretboard plane hides the bridge unless you raise the bridge/ saddles higher above the rising "plane" of the 10th to 22nd frets.

With a dead flat AKA .001 relief neck, there is no uphill fretboard run from the 10th to the bridge. So no extra action height is required to clear that uphill run.

What you're thinking may be a desire to play hard cowboy chords with no buzzing.
If you want loud cowboy chords to be buzz free, you compromise your upper fret action and have to make it extra high.
If you want great action up the entire neck, you need to compromise how hard you can strum cowboy chords.

But who needs hard strummed cowboy chords?
Players who are using an acoustic with no amplification?
That's fine since in that case there is no way to get single notes up around the 10th- 14th frets as loud as the hard strummed booming cowboy chords.
The purposes or uses are just not the same, not compatible.
Maybe if you are a Tony Rice and ARE using amplification by mic which you get closer to for single notes and move back for cowboy chords.
That is a less common player style though, and it requires other factors like player compromises in very extreme fretting technique with action that's getting pretty hard for the average player up high, and probably careful strumming to prevent and buzzing down low.

Fall away comes up and I only consider it for the extreme player who wants to pound the strings with cowboy chords AND play up the neck.
Lowering the frets above say the 14th fret helps by adding clearance when you're looking uphill from the middle of the relief.
BUT, it makes a HUMP around the 14th fret or wherever you start the fall away.
You can find the hump with a 6" or 12" straight edge.
Fall away is making a hump on purpose.

Dead flat or my .001 relief is the way to get the lowest possible playable action along the entire fretboard.
Adding relief requires higher action.
 

moosie

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Fender publishes recommended relief of .010" (10 thousandths of an inch). It's important to realize that's just a suggestion, not a requirement. I imagine it's designed to not be terrible for the largest percentage of players. But it will be a problem for those seeking very low action.

I target .003" to .005". That seems to work well for most players. For the heavy players, it might mean a bit more relief AND higher action.

Truly dead flat can be a problem because the slightest change (wood moves constantly) can result in a slight back bow. And that's gonna buzz.

I have a light touch, but I like a lot of clarity, with notes able to ring out freely. So my action is relatively high, around 6/64 bass, 5/64 treble. Also, my nut is cut a few thousandths higher than one might expect in a well set up guitar.
 

Boreas

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Boreas, as I think you know, I do that with every guitar that crosses my work bench. A long time ago I created a spreadsheet that is pretty generic, it works for most instruments that I work on. It has as section for general information - brand, model, serial number, owner's contact. Then it has four columns - the measurements as it arrives on my work bench. my target value for those measurements. One column lists where I got those measurements (might be factory specs or a setup tech I respect (like Bryan Kimsey who we have mentioned) or maybe my own experience), and the last is the final setting when the instrument leaves.

This is very very helpful on several fronts. First, it forces me to measure EVERYTHING before I touch ANYTHING. Many of these setup parameters interact, if I change one it might affect several others (relief does for sure). By looking at the measurements I know the order in which to do things - it makes no sense to adjust the relief or action if the guitar is dehydrated or needs a neck reset. It gives me a way to talk to the owner, even if that is me - here is what is wrong with your guitar. And as you said, it gives me a record of this guitar for the future.

The spread sheet has one other little function, a second page conveniently lists different settings used by people I trust. There is a section for Fender factory specs, Gibsons, Martins, Kimseys, Erlewines... If I'm curious about what the relief should be on a nylon strung guitar I should have it listed.

As I've mentioned before, I'm happy to send a copy of the spread sheet to anyone who wants it, just PM me an e-mail addy.

View attachment 941184
I am already in possession of your great spreadsheets and they would certainly be useful for any tech/luthier.
 

Freeman Keller

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DURING THE SETUP PROCESS yes, if you reduce the relief you need to then raise the string height.
But if you compare say .001 relief as a practical example of dead flat, to the Fender spec of .012 relief which I would only set up for a cowboy chord strummer acoustic?
The bigger the relief gets, the more you are forced to RAISE the action if you want to be able to play the entire neck.

....

Dead flat or my .001 relief is the way to get the lowest possible playable action along the entire fretboard.
Adding relief requires higher action.


I agree and that is why it is important to watch the player play and listen to what she says about how she plays. I will set up a guitar entirely differently for a bluegrass rhythm player or a heavy metal shredder or bottle neck blues player. I have pretty good starting measurements that work for many players (the actually come from Bryan Kimsey) but I certainly modify them to suit the player (and the guitar - we have already talked about 14th fret humps and neck angles and the importance of good frets).

If I had a dollar for every time someone says "I want my action as low as possible without buzzing...." I would be wealthy. But that isn't always how they really want it.
 

telemnemonics

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Boreas, as I think you know, I do that with every guitar that crosses my work bench. A long time ago I created a spreadsheet that is pretty generic, it works for most instruments that I work on. It has as section for general information - brand, model, serial number, owner's contact. Then it has four columns - the measurements as it arrives on my work bench. my target value for those measurements. One column lists where I got those measurements (might be factory specs or a setup tech I respect (like Bryan Kimsey who we have mentioned) or maybe my own experience), and the last is the final setting when the instrument leaves.

This is very very helpful on several fronts. First, it forces me to measure EVERYTHING before I touch ANYTHING. Many of these setup parameters interact, if I change one it might affect several others (relief does for sure). By looking at the measurements I know the order in which to do things - it makes no sense to adjust the relief or action if the guitar is dehydrated or needs a neck reset. It gives me a way to talk to the owner, even if that is me - here is what is wrong with your guitar. And as you said, it gives me a record of this guitar for the future.

The spread sheet has one other little function, a second page conveniently lists different settings used by people I trust. There is a section for Fender factory specs, Gibsons, Martins, Kimseys, Erlewines... If I'm curious about what the relief should be on a nylon strung guitar I should have it listed.

As I've mentioned before, I'm happy to send a copy of the spread sheet to anyone who wants it, just PM me an e-mail addy.

View attachment 941184
Very sensible and professional!

I basically stopped working as a guitar tech in 1998, and prior to that I had customers come to my shop or worked in a Brooklyn guitar shop.
Customers could drop off early in the day (at the guitar shop) when I'd ask them to play for me, then pick up later that day and I'd check to make sure it worked well for them.
But my eyes were still good, I got $25 for a setup that took 15-20 minutes, and all my methods were secrets because there was no internet!
There were also not really shredders in Brooklyn then, so I wasn't setting close to dead straight and also figuring these younger pre hipster players lived in nasty (Greenpoint) apartments (or illegal lofts) with drug dealers greeting them, and did not care for their guitars the way some of us here and now tend to.

So how well they will care for a guitar does factor in to how flat the neck can safely be set and expected to stay playable for long.
 

telemnemonics

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I agree and that is why it is important to watch the player play and listen to what she says about how she plays. I will set up a guitar entirely differently for a bluegrass rhythm player or a heavy metal shredder or bottle neck blues player. I have pretty good starting measurements that work for many players (the actually come from Bryan Kimsey) but I certainly modify them to suit the player (and the guitar - we have already talked about 14th fret humps and neck angles and the importance of good frets).

If I had a dollar for every time someone says "I want my action as low as possible without buzzing...." I would be wealthy. But that isn't always how they really want it.
Well yeah and problems that come up when hobbyists try to learn setup skills for their own guitars, include the odd fact that in some cases a 14th fret hump is a guitar defect/ problem (like acoustic at the body joint) that needs to be eliminated, while the 14th fret (or so) hump that comes with creating fall away is a specialized solution that costs extra!

At one time I was more obsessed with finding the perfect balance including enough relief for the bottom strings plus low action up high, that I put some fall away on all my necks plus put a twist or sanded/ dressed in more relief under that bottom strings.

I think that's when a PLEK makes sense, where a tech takes a lot of time to create all those shapes on the fretboard for the most picky and specialized players.
But using a PLEK to effectively do the beam style leveling is kind of crazy, aside from a dealer putting every new guitar through the machine while answering emails and eating a sammitch.

After a while I concluded that for an electric, I really didn't need all those ups and downs to play Rock & roll.
I still like a little twist so I get dead flat under the high E and a few thousandths under the low E, but it's just not important to me any more.
Fall away is useless and becomes a liability if we like as close to dead flat relief as possible.

That's been my conclusion anythow.

Edit: Freeman I'm not meaning to sound like I think you need teaching, just repeating ways of putting the same stuff for the sake of those trying to understand and learn.
Plus I learn a little bit now and then!
 
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Freeman Keller

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Very sensible and professional!

Well yeah and problems that come up when hobbyists try to learn setup skills for their own guitars, include the odd fact that in some cases a 14th fret hump is a guitar defect/ problem (like acoustic at the body joint) that needs to be eliminated, while the 14th fret (or so) hump that comes with creating fall away is a specialized solution that costs extra!

Kind of ironic because I am the ultimate hobbyist. I'm a retired engineer who started build guitars over 15 years ago. I was fascinated by the traditions and technology that allows a little box of wood to make beautiful music (in hands other than mine). As I built guitars I was always striving to do the best job I could - take the extra little bit of time that a factory can't take to make mine just a little bit better.

I know a lot of local musicians and got a reputation for my setups and repairs. It has never been a business and was never intended to be. I give stuff away, I take "payment" in swag or a nice bottle of wine or tickets to a gig. I really appreciate the opportunity to work on guitars and the trust people put in me.

I'm kind of funny about what I will do and who I will do it for. I'm happy to reset a neck on grandma's old Harmony, but I don't work on Martins because I feel they should have the paper trail of an authorize repair person. I'll refret a piece of junk to make it playable again but I won't touch a lacquer maple Fender because its too much of a hassle and I won't be happy with the results.

Over the past couple of years I have almost entirely stopped doing repairs for people I don't know. I'll still take on the special projects and there are a few folks I can't turn down, but more and more I'm uncomfortable working on someone's pride and joy - its just not worth it.

Over the past 15 years I have sat at the feet of some of the best modern luthiers alive - I'm a member of the GAL and attend all of their conferences. I literally have watched the masters do the things they do, and it continues to amaze me how free they are with what in other industries would be "secrets". I try, in my very small way, to carry that tradition on, if I can help a budding builder or tech its my way of paying back.

With respect to the dreaded 14th fret hump, obviously when I'm building a guitar I have control over it and there is none. If I have a choice there might be a hair of fall off. I do believe a bit of relief is desirable, but its only a "bit" and it depends a lot of the condition of the frets. If the hump bothers a player I'll pull the frets and plane it away. If I can tell the that player will never go above the 12th fret I might not worry about it.

Anyway, lots of ways to skin this little feline and its nice to see all these folks working on guitars.
 
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Bob J

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Good Gawd.. what's all the discussion about.. it's like any other personal preference. it's a blankin' personal metric ... I wear 10 ½ D shoes... I've been doing it for almost 60 years.. so I know what size shoe to wear.. you all should be wearing 10 ½ D too... Duh. . :rolleyes:
I don’t know Ron, 60 years and your feet haven’t changed size or shape at all?
 

telemnemonics

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Good Gawd.. what's all the discussion about.. it's like any other personal preference. it's a blankin' personal metric ... I wear 10 ½ D shoes... I've been doing it for almost 60 years.. so I know what size shoe to wear.. you all should be wearing 10 ½ D too... Duh. . :rolleyes:
That works for those who really understand guitar adjustment, understand the physics of what feels good to them.

What I found that led me to working on other players guitars in the early '80s was that players were usually impressed by my guitars but assumed it was because they guitars were particularly GOOD guitars. I was only a beginner player when I started reading up on guitar repair so I could learn to do my own.
The electrics were pretty good but the acoustic was a $50 plywood Hohner I did a lot of work on to get it to play more like an electric. It was NOT a good guitar.
Gradually more players would comment and I began to realize that they were mistaking a "good setup" for a "good guitar", because many had never played their own guitars with a good setup!
Often these were players who "set up their own guitars".

When I started doing full setups for players who assumed my guitars were better than theirs, they were almost always amazed to learn that they too had pretty darn good guitars!
Literally over and over, players were surprised that they had good guitars, often after playing the thing for years.
So over the years I've found that most players who are primarily players and only dabble in setups, they are really not highly skilled at setting up even their own guitars, never mind looking at different players and knowing what geometry best suits each players touch on their instrument.

Or put another way, I kept finding players who "knew what they liked" really had no idea what they liked and only knew how to turn screws and nuts until the problem wasn't as bad.
Some years ago I started saying I liked almost dead straight no relief setups here, and got a lot of comments saying that was wrong and you have to have relief.
There were a few of us saying that and it seems like more players agree now than ten years ago.

But when we just assume that we understand guitar setup because we play the durn thing, that's really not a guarantee we do actually understand.
In fact when anyone assumes they automatically know stuff without any study, good chance that assumption is WRONG!
 

Marc Morfei

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Well I will only add that "hobbyists" sometimes do their own setups because any time someone on TDPRI mentions taking their guitar to a tech for setup, 10 guys respond saying, "What's wrong with you? Just do it yourself! It's easy!!" ;)
 

Marc Morfei

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I will ask one question though. Over the past few years I have learned and learned and (I think) become competent at basic setup. But one thing still bugs me. When I get the action down below 5/64th or so (4/64 is the target), I sometimes notice the timbre of the notes changing. It's not buzz, there is no buzz. But the sound sometimes thins out in an unpleasant way that is noticable to me. Just in that 1/64 fraction between 5 and 4, it goes from full-bodied to whiny. Just on the high E and B. Does this ring a bell with anyone? It does not happen all the time, just sometimes. But when it does, the only way I have found to dial it out is the raise the action back up to 5. That's not where I want it.
 

Freeman Keller

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I will ask one question though. Over the past few years I have learned and learned and (I think) become competent at basic setup. But one thing still bugs me. When I get the action down below 5/64th or so (4/64 is the target), I sometimes notice the timbre of the notes changing. It's not buzz, there is no buzz. But the sound sometimes thins out in an unpleasant way that is noticable to me. Just in that 1/64 fraction between 5 and 4, it goes from full-bodied to whiny. Just on the high E and B. Does this ring a bell with anyone? It does not happen all the time, just sometimes. But when it does, the only way I have found to dial it out is the raise the action back up to 5. That's not where I want it.

Marc, 4/64 is about 60 thousands which is my (normal) target for an electric guitar or low action on an acoustic (high E string, they go up from there). I don't notice what you describe. With acoustics the action height has some effect on how the top is driven, in theory higher rocks the top more and imparts more energy, but I'm not sure I detect it. I just like 60 thou as good low action - it rarely buzzes and most people like it.

The one place it might make a difference is if you have fairly shallow break over on your saddles, but with a normal tele thru body bridge I can't see that.
 

jwp333

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I will ask one question though. Over the past few years I have learned and learned and (I think) become competent at basic setup. But one thing still bugs me. When I get the action down below 5/64th or so (4/64 is the target), I sometimes notice the timbre of the notes changing. It's not buzz, there is no buzz. But the sound sometimes thins out in an unpleasant way that is noticable to me. Just in that 1/64 fraction between 5 and 4, it goes from full-bodied to whiny. Just on the high E and B. Does this ring a bell with anyone? It does not happen all the time, just sometimes. But when it does, the only way I have found to dial it out is the raise the action back up to 5. That's not where I want it.
I've worried about string height height like most who are fussy about their setup. In the end, you have to use what the guitar is giving you and adjust the bridge accordingly to get a cleanly fretted note. By all means, adjust the neck and give it just a touch of relief. But if that doesn't fix it, I'd raise the action a little and enjoy the pure sound.
 

ChicknPickn

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Good Gawd.. what's all the discussion about.. it's like any other personal preference. it's a blankin' personal metric ... I wear 10 ½ D shoes... I've been doing it for almost 60 years.. so I know what size shoe to wear.. you all should be wearing 10 ½ D too... Duh. . :rolleyes:
But, Ron! If it were easy, anyone could do it, and what the heck would we debate?
 




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