First thing to adjust to lower action?

Night Prowler

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So I've had a Classic Player Triple Telecaster stored in it's case for several years and felt the need to play her and decide if I want to keep it or sell it and buy something else.

After years in storage she needs the action adjusted. The strings look to be too high off the fretboard and gets more-so as you go higher up the upper neck.

But which do I adjust first, string height at the bridge, truss-rod, or possibly shim the neck?
 

Boreas

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Always start with the geometry of the neck and body. Set your relief perfectly flat, tighten your neck screws if any are loose, then use a straight edge to ascertain where it hits the bridge area. If it hits close to where you WANT your saddles to be, then the neck angle is OK.

The neck angle is likely to be OK if the action is just a tad high and you have plenty of room to drop the saddles. If the saddles are floored, you will likely need a shim.

Do a search for Freeman Keller's setup thread. That will take you step-by-step.
 

Steve Holt

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I always start with the truss rod. After that get the saddles pretty close and then I work on the string height at the nut, finalize the saddle height, and then do intonation.

Do a shim if you can't get it to work without one.
 

KokoTele

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The truss rod affects action and intonation, so it has to be done first. Neck relief is also the only thing that really changes on a solidbody guitar, so I’d the action was once where you like it, a tweak of the truss rod will certainly fix it.

Fender specifies .010”, but I think that’s generally too much. I’ve always suspected that they use that to prevent people from thinking the neck is bad if it back bows.

After you get the neck straight, set the action. If the saddles are too low or too high, then you need to shim the neck pocket.
 

alex1fly

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Relief - press down the string at the 1st fret and at the fret where the neck meets the body. Measure the distance between the string and the top of the fret in the middle. I just eyeball it based on pro setups I've had before - one credit card thickness. Then tune it up and work on the saddles.

IMO only pros should make the call on shimming a neck or filing a nut.
 

JL_LI

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Check the nut. Fret one string at a time at the third fret. The string should just clear the first fret. Recut the nut if necessary with quality nut files. You’ll be unable to set low action with a poorly cut nut. Next check that the neck is seated correctly in the pocket. You can’t set the action if it’s tipped. Set the truss rod to give a couple of sheets of paper of relief at the 12th fret. Set the saddles so you don’t get buss from the 15th fret to the 21st. Check for buzz down the neck. Increase relief only if you hear unacceptable buzz.
 

Night Prowler

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Thanks guys, I'm going to work on her this weekend and your suggestions are very helpful.

Just would like ask if it's normal for the action to keep getting a little higher as you go farther up the neck ? I mean am I correct in saying that even a Tele with a great setup will sport strings slightly higher off the frets as you go up the neck?
 

Matthias

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Neck relief will affect action but never tweak the truss rod simply because the strings are too high… Tweak it because the relief is too much. BUT if the action has changed while stored it’s likely because the truss rod has moved a little so the relief is out.

Start by checking the relief is right. I eyeball it these days, but I used to go on a business card between the low E and the top of the seventh fret when the first and last fret is depressed. There are more precise and slightly different ways to measure it and how much relief you dial in is partly taste. If it seems right, leave it be.

Next, get your saddle height to where you want it, then set intonation. @Wally on here alerted me to the fact that if your saddles don’t have the correct front-to-back stagger when intonated, it’s a sign your action isn’t even across strings. You may want to check the saddles are in that ballpark before you begin as it makes things easier. The pattern is roughly as below, although the relative distances between saddles are quite small:

_ _ _ _ _ E
_ _ D _ B _
_ A _ G _ _
E _ _ _ _ _


Only shim if a) your saddles can’t get low enough or b) you want a greater string break angle. No real benefit otherwise.
 

KokoTele

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Just would like ask if it's normal for the action to keep getting a little higher as you go farther up the neck ? I mean am I correct in saying that even a Tele with a great setup will sport strings slightly higher off the frets as you go up the neck?

unless your action at the nut is super high (like a lap steel), then yes, the action has to get higher as you go up the neck. It’s geometry.
 

jaxjaxon

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Thanks guys, I'm going to work on her this weekend and your suggestions are very helpful.

Just would like ask if it's normal for the action to keep getting a little higher as you go farther up the neck ? I mean am I correct in saying that even a Tele with a great setup will sport strings slightly higher off the frets as you go up the neck?
I have had guitars that there was no higher action any where on the fret board. I do my own set ups and like no relief what ever dead flat neck. I have also had guitars that had some action get a little higher the further up the neck you would go. Many necks have a slight rise around the 18th to the last fret. And some fret boards need more clearance from the 12th on down because of the radius a higher radius can get fretted out with bends because of the radius. There are things you can do to make it not be as high of action, but it takes doing fret work to get it lower action.
 

Wally

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unless your action at the nut is super high (like a lap steel), then yes, the action has to get higher as you go up the neck. It’s geometry.

Lap steels need not be part of this discussion. They do not function as do fretted instruments.


I have had guitars that there was no higher action any where on the fret board. I do my own set ups and like no relief what ever dead flat neck. I have also had guitars that had some action get a little higher the further up the neck you would go. Many necks have a slight rise around the 18th to the last fret. And some fret boards need more clearance from the 12th on down because of the radius a higher radius can get fretted out with bends because of the radius. There are things you can do to make it not be as high of action, but it takes doing fret work to get it lower action.

I challenge you to set up a guitar that has maybe .0020” clearance at the first feet and with the same clearance at the last fret and play that guitar. It does not work.
 

jaxjaxon

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Lap steels need not be part of this discussion. They do not function as do fretted instruments.




I challenge you to set up a guitar that has maybe .0020” clearance at the first feet and with the same clearance at the last fret and play that guitar. It does not work.
You do fret work and what is known as fall away I have them set up so the difference is only .25mm difference between the first and the 18th but the radius on it is 16.
 

Wally

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You do fret work and what is known as fall away I have them set up so the difference is only .25mm difference between the first and the 18th but the radius on it is 16.

That can work if you play with the attack of a butterfly’s wing. One can have no dynamic control through the pick attack due to the amount of fret rattle that will eat away at the strings’ vibrations IF one uses any sort of energy in the pick attack. In 1991, I started working for a pro who wanted that kind of set up on his 15” radius fretboards. I set them up according to his wishes. I know exactly what happens with that kind of set up. He no longer plays that way. Yo7 get players also now wonder how he gets so many different tonalities and levels of distortion with no pedals….just changes in his pick attack and/or volume control at the guitar. His tone is richer, too. Constant Heavy distortion???? play away…it matters not.
 

TeleTucson

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So I've had a Classic Player Triple Telecaster stored in it's case for several years and felt the need to play her and decide if I want to keep it or sell it and buy something else.

After years in storage she needs the action adjusted. The strings look to be too high off the fretboard and gets more-so as you go higher up the upper neck.

But which do I adjust first, string height at the bridge, truss-rod, or possibly shim the neck?

In light of the way you asked your question, I'm concerned that you're not being given an adequately prescriptive set-up sequence.

There's lots and lots of descriptions on the web for that, so you should read them, but in a nutshell you first adjust relief which is the "flatness of the neck", not the distance to the strings, and then you adjust the action or height using the bridge, and then you do intonation last. This assumes your nut is cut correctly, and in your case that would not have changed so you can probably assume the nut is fine.

@alex1fly points out how to measure "relief" before you set out to make any adjustments, but then says the string to the top of a middle fret (usually the 10th or 12th) when pressing simultaneously on the 1st fret and the 21st (or last) fret. But then he indicates it should be a credit card thickness which is huge relief (i.e., credit cards are about 0.030"). Maybe he meant "business card", but even that's a bit much. Fender recommends about 0.010", but many (including me) like less, i.e., closer to a flatter neck.

Adjust the truss rod to get that right, and then if the action is still too high adjust the bridge saddle heights. Don't be thinking about a shim unless you run out of adjustment range on the bridge saddle heights.

Only when you're done with all that should you check the intonation, and adjust the longitudinal position of the saddles as needed to get the (gently) depressed 12th fret to match the 2nd harmonic of each string using any decent tuner.
 

jvin248

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.

The process is:
-nut slots (fret 3rd and check gap at 1st)
-truss rod (fret first and 17, 19, last depending on who you believe) and measure at the 12th or 7th again depending on who you believe.
-saddle heights.

Really, the first step is use a fret rocker or the edge of a credit card to bridge three frets at a time and find where the rocker happens. Make a sharpie dot on that high fret spot. Check all frets next to all strings. If you have measles marks on the guitar then you need a full fret level/crown job but if only a few spots you can fix with a small file.

Watch half a dozen youtube videos 'daves world of fun stuff' and you'll get the process down. Frudua and Sam Deeks channels to get technical insights.

.
 

Peegoo

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Thanks guys, I'm going to work on her this weekend and your suggestions are very helpful. Just would like ask if it's normal for the action to keep getting a little higher as you go farther up the neck ? I mean am I correct in saying that even a Tele with a great setup will sport strings slightly higher off the frets as you go up the neck?

Assuming the guitar's setup was fine when it was stored, the only thing that's going to move (and increase the strings' distance from the frets) is the neck having flexed into an up-bow condition. Think about it this way: the bridge saddles and the nut are not going to grow any taller while the guitar is asleep. Unless something like the neck screws letting go occurs, it will always be the truss rod that needs a tweak.

The distance from the frets' tops to the strings remains generally consistant between the highest fret and about the 13th or 14th fret on most guitars. There is often a slight increase as you continue up the neck, but it's not something you can easily see simply by eyeballing it.
 




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