Do I really want my neck straight?

DanglingNutslots

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A straight edge isn’t a very good way to measure relief as fret height can vary. The other method of using a capo mentioned earlier is the correct way to do this.
 

ChicknPickn

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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.

Interestingly enough (to me), a recent Strat setup brought me to .010" relief, not because I intended for it to go there, but because any lower started bringing forth buzz and sizzle in the strings. Having done a level/crown/polish job using an under-string leveling bar, I put relief at .005 and set the string height at 4/64 all the way across. Low E and A buzz . . . went to 5/64. Long story short, I very gradually moved up to .010 relief and Fender "standard" 4/64 height all the way across. This is what my Strat seems to require. It will never be a "super low action" guitar. But in truth, I don't need it to be.
 

Boreas

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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:
We just like to BS? I don't see any harm in that. 🙃
 

Boreas

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How many early guitarists made a career with one guitar and were totally oblivious to "relief"?? The truss rod nut was thought of just something that held the neck on. Martin players for generations lived with whatever shape the neck was in until the action was so high they needed a reset. Then they likely bought a new guitar instead.
 

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.

I'm confused. Maybe it's a US/UK thing... but all this talk of 4/64... isn't that 1/16?

Yeah, it’s weird to see that expressed this way.


The way I read Marc's comments was that his ACTION (which I define as the unfretted string height at the 12th fret) was 4/64, which is 1/16 which is 0.0625 of an inch. Many setup specifications are given in 64th of an inch and lots of people use a 6 inch machinist's rule to measure. I like to convert everything to decimal thousands because that makes if very easy for me to compare one reading to another, and frankly, it some times takes me a minute to think is 5/64 bigger or smaller than 1/16... (You metric folks don't know how nice you have it).

I think Marc also confused things by throwing a string height action measurement in to a discussion on relief. Anyway, thats how I interrupted it, I could be wrong.
 
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moosie

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Interestingly enough (to me), a recent Strat setup brought me to .010" relief, not because I intended for it to go there, but because any lower started bringing forth buzz and sizzle in the strings. Having done a level/crown/polish job using an under-string leveling bar, I put relief at .005 and set the string height at 4/64 all the way across. Low E and A buzz . . . went to 5/64. Long story short, I very gradually moved up to .010 relief and Fender "standard" 4/64 height all the way across. This is what my Strat seems to require. It will never be a "super low action" guitar. But in truth, I don't need it to be.
Without seeing it, and with no knowledge of your luthiery experience (no offense meant), my first thought is that there's something wrong. Relief is never the answer to proper action. I'd start over, checking everything, especially the frets. If the under string method is new for you, perhaps revert to an old school leveling job (set the neck dead flat and use a bar with sandpaper). The under string method really only adds value with problem necks, ones that deform in unexpected ways under string pressure.

It would be interesting to Sharpie the fret tops, and see if the first pass of the leveling bar hits all the supposedly level frets evenly, or if it highlights areas that the under string method leveled ... 'differently'.
 

moosie

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I should have added that it all depends how hard you're hitting the strings, too. Sometimes when we test, playing an electric acoustically, we pick much harder than we would plugged in. Any well setup Fender will buzz in that circumstance.
 

ChicknPickn

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I should have added that it all depends how hard you're hitting the strings, too. Sometimes when we test, playing an electric acoustically, we pick much harder than we would plugged in. Any well setup Fender will buzz in that circumstance.
Yep, I respect your instincts here. I bought this Strat second-hand, and the owner was honest enough to say that he felt the guitar needed a thorough setup. One thing I noticed was that the saddles were all the way down to the plate. The neck has micro-tilt adjustment, so I raised it a tad. At that point, I found that simply raising the saddles wasn't curing buzz. I do hit the strings hard, but still, that concerned me. I checked the nut and neck relief. They looked okay. Then I pulled out the fret rocker and found high areas up and down the neck. Having heard that under-string leveling can be useful in these circumstances, I went about doing the L/C/P.

I think there is something hiding in this instrument. After the leveling job, buzz is gone, but there are dead areas around the higher frets. The notes ring, but not as I think they should. Comparing them to my Teles, the Strat seems a little dull. Am still investigating, but am getting close to taking it to a good tech.
 

moosie

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Yep, I respect your instincts here. I bought this Strat second-hand, and the owner was honest enough to say that he felt the guitar needed a thorough setup. One thing I noticed was that the saddles were all the way down to the plate. The neck has micro-tilt adjustment, so I raised it a tad. At that point, I found that simply raising the saddles wasn't curing buzz. I do hit the strings hard, but still, that concerned me. I checked the nut and neck relief. They looked okay. Then I pulled out the fret rocker and found high areas up and down the neck. Having heard that under-string leveling can be useful in these circumstances, I went about doing the L/C/P.

I think there is something hiding in this instrument. After the leveling job, buzz is gone, but there are dead areas around the higher frets. The notes ring, but not as I think they should. Comparing them to my Teles, the Strat seems a little dull. Am still investigating, but am getting close to taking it to a good tech.
Doing a spot level is not as easy as it sounds. Some people seem to have success. I nearly always find it better to do a full level. It doesn't take that long, and now I'm absolutely certain of the state of the frets.

The dead frets definitely sounds like either a bad level, and/or improper crowning.

I'd do a full level at this point, but if you're very new to all this, and perhaps don't have your setups down cold yet, it may be best to take it to a good tech. Ask if they'll allow you to be present, and to watch. They'll likely want to do a full fret dress, which should come with a full setup.

EDIT: there's a lot to be said for paying to get a truly great pro setup. The guitar will play perhaps better than you ever dreamed, and now you have a proper target to shoot for in your own work.

Then carefully read Freeman Keller's excellent setup guide. And the next time your guitar needs strings, do a full setup, for the practice. If you're not changing string gauges, do the setup on the old strings to avoid damaging the new ones. Then install the new strings for the intonation step.
 

moosie

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Spot fret levelling is pretty simple with these two tools.



Actually grinding the fret is not difficult. But the rocker won't definitively tell you if this fret is high, or that fret is low. In addition, one has to consider that MANY frets may be off to a tiny degree, unless the last fret job was very recent. The out-of-level might not be enough to affect playing, but relying on the other frets as a reference plane is not sound practice, in my opinion.
 

moosie

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I'm confused. Maybe it's a US/UK thing... but all this talk of 4/64... isn't that 1/16?
They are equivalent, yes. But converting like that doesn't add value in this situation, only needless complexity.

The 64th is the meaningful unit in this context. If we leave that constant, and just think of it as a 'unit', then everything is much simpler.

Which way would you rather count?

3/64, 1/16, 5/64, 3/32, 7/64

OR

3/64, 4/64, 5/64, 6/64, 7/64


When doing arithmetic, 7/64 minus 4/64 is easy. But 7/64 minus 1/16? Not so much.


Sometimes I encounter folks who use the 32nd as the 'standard unit'. Usually because they spend their time setting up acoustic instruments, where the action tends to be a bit higher, and where 1/64 isn't going to matter as much. Martin does this, I believe. They set the action on all new factory guitars to 3/32 bass side, 2/32 treble side.
 

moosie

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A straight edge isn’t a very good way to measure relief as fret height can vary. The other method of using a capo mentioned earlier is the correct way to do this.
I'm aware of several ways to set relief, all valid if done correctly. I'm not counting the specialized gauge.

There's the capo/feeler method, the tapping method, and the straight edge.

In my opinion, all of these should be done with the guitar in playing position, as should most setup tasks.

The concern about the straight edge is a non-issue, because any unlevel frets should be fixed first, before setting relief.

With the capo method, it can be difficult to tell if you're pushing the string up with the feeler gauge.

The straight edge won't be pushed by the feeler. It's very easy to tell if the feeler is loose or tight, without looking.

The tapping method could be done with a capo, I guess, but I've only ever seen it done (and I do it myself) by holding the string down at both ends, with your two hands, and then using a finger to reach into the middle of the span, to tap the string against a fret top. There is no feeler. The "measurement" is listening and feeling for the nature of the string tapping the fret. With experience, it is easily as accurate as a feeler, and much, much faster.
 

DanglingNutslots

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Actually grinding the fret is not difficult. But the rocker won't definitively tell you if this fret is high, or that fret is low. In addition, one has to consider that MANY frets may be off to a tiny degree, unless the last fret job was very recent. The out-of-level might not be enough to affect playing, but relying on the other frets as a reference plane is not sound practice, in my opinion.
It gives you three frets to measure the average and if you move down one fret at a time, it's a pretty good method to get rid of buzzing or a dead spot. If you move methodically from fret to fret, it will capture high frets pretty consistently. Not perfect like you say but it's really the best a non-luthier can do at home.
 

DanglingNutslots

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.....

With the capo method, it can be difficult to tell if you're pushing the string up with the feeler gauge.

The straight edge won't be pushed by the feeler. It's very easy to tell if the feeler is loose or tight, without looking.

The tapping method could be done with a capo, I guess, but I've only ever seen it done (and I do it myself) by holding the string down at both ends, with your two hands, and then using a finger to reach into the middle of the span, to tap the string against a fret top. There is no feeler. The "measurement" is listening and feeling for the nature of the string tapping the fret. With experience, it is easily as accurate as a feeler, and much, much faster.
That's for sure. I use a jewellers headmounted magnifying glass to check that.
 

moosie

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It gives you three frets to measure the average and if you move down one fret at a time, it's a pretty good method to get rid of buzzing or a dead spot. If you move methodically from fret to fret, it will capture high frets pretty consistently. Not perfect like you say but it's really the best a non-luthier can do at home.

Maybe agree to disagree on this.
 

moosie

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Happy to hear of a better method. I’m not stuck on this one.
The better method, in my view, is to learn to do a proper fret level. It takes patience and practice at first, but it's absolutely not beyond the abilities of the average DIY player.

I have the fret kisser, and do use it occasionally. But in my opinion, it's not a tool to make fretwork easy for newbies. Without knowledge of fretboard geometry (in other words the skill to do a full fret job), it can cause more harm than good.

You have your views, I have mine. If you like your results, that's all that matters.
 




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