(probably) very obvious setting-up neck relief / action question

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by Verzila, Dec 8, 2019.

  1. Verzila

    Verzila Tele-Meister

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    I'm not the world's best setter-upper, but I can get it pretty much in the area I want. Still I'm always trying to get that action down and still keep it playable.

    I start by getting the neck relief as low as can be - NOT flat but a hair's breadth at the 7th/8th fret area with the string held down at the first fret and last fret. Then I lower the action, but I'm finding that the strings start bottoming out and buzzing at the higher end of the neck before I can get the action down to where I'd like it. So I end up having to live with a higher action than I want.

    My question is, can I add a little more bow to the neck relief, thus giving the stings more room to vibrate and allowing me to get the action lower? Only I heard that you shouldn't use neck relief to set the action. Or maybe it's OK because correct action is a balancing act between string height and neck relief?
     
  2. pepperfox

    pepperfox TDPRI Member

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    How is the action at the nut? If you fret the 3rd, how much space is between the string and 1st fret? I file my nut slots so there is a hair of space between when you test it this way.
     
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  3. Dismalhead

    Dismalhead Poster Extraordinaire

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    I've done what you're saying, but like you I'm not sure if it's what you're supposed to do. When I'm setting up my guitars I tweak it all, starting with setting the neck in the pocket, sometimes with shims, and tweaking the truss. I'm interested in a real luthier responding to your question though, 'cause I may be going out of order myself.
     
  4. AndyPanda

    AndyPanda Tele-Meister

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    Most people will tell you to set relief by fretting (or capo) the first fret and the last fret - but I disagree. I always set relief between first fret and 12th fret. The reason is that the truss rod doesn't do much (or nothing good) between the 12th fret and the last fret --- most of it's effect is between the 12th fret and the nut.

    Then I check between 12th fret and the last fret to see if I have skijump. Most bolt on neck instruments have some amount of skijump forming where the last few frets are higher. So I'll fret between the last fret and 12th fret and if I have space under the strings I know I'm either looking to address the skijump (if it's bad enough) or if it's not bad enough to try and fix then the truss rod setting needs to be the best compromise you can make.

    If you keep tightening the truss rod it can start to make a "S" shape where there is a bit of back bow between nut and 12th and a forward bow between 12th and 24th... which is really awful. So loosening the truss might give you too much relief but it's a lot better than an "S" curve.

    Hope that makes sense.
     
  5. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    Yup...check for "ski jump".
    Might need to level those last few frets.
    If it's a set neck, the truss rod only works to where the neck joins the body, so that's where you fret it when checking relief.
     
  6. chris m.

    chris m. Poster Extraordinaire

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    It’s subtle adjustments of relief and saddle height that get you where you want to be. My best results are when the neck is almost straight but not quite.
     
  7. AndyPanda

    AndyPanda Tele-Meister

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    Here's a crude drawing I made showing how too tight of a truss rod can make an S curve if you have a bit of ski-jump. I have a lot of experience so I always just fix the ski-jump. But if it isn't too bad (and most guitars have a bit of one - it's very common) you just compromise a bit on the truss rod setting and find the spot where you have the most consistency (which may seem like too much relief but a smooth curve with too much relief is better than a lumpy curve or S curve). Hope this picture makes sense and is helpful.
    SkiJumpTrussRodSetting.jpg
     
  8. Ian T

    Ian T Tele-Holic

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    I invested in a straightedge and feeler gauges a couple of years ago and wish I had done so sooner. I'd also recommend an action gauge ruler, like the Stew Mac or D'Addario one.

    My advice is to spend the $50 and then start measuring the guitars that you are most happy about the setup with. Then you can try to replicate this with other guitars. Over time, you'll get a clearer idea of what you prefer and can have more consistent setups.

    The string and eyeball method is just not as accurate, and the eyeball's ability to measure hundredths of an inch is totally unreliable.

    Guitars need relief for string headroom, the string vibrates in an ellipse. If you have a very flaccid picking hand and a weak left hand, you may prefer the "low as possible", straight neck and low saddles, shred guitar. If you play with high gain it will mask the weak string output and compress everything anyways, which is why shredders play this type of setup. I prefer to have a lot of dynamic range and clearer tone so I set up my guitars with relief and more height on the saddles. Ultimately it is personal preference.
     
  9. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    eallen and Tommyd55 like this.
  10. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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  11. gregulator450

    gregulator450 Tele-Meister

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    As a tech but not yet a full-on builder, I'm gonna weigh in with my 2 cents:
    1. Look at anything Ronkirn says and study it seriously. The man knows his stuff.
    2. Read the setup blogs at hazeguitars.com. Gerry Haze has a talent for explaining and illustrating setups in a way that makes good practical sense and explains the "why's" behind the "what's".
    3. Some buzz is inevitable, and a big factor in the amount of buzz has to do with the player's individual style.
    Here's my setup process in a nutshell, and in the order that I execute the process. Order is important:

    1. Neck Relief- Once I install new strings, stretch them, and tune to pitch, I adjust neck relief. I use a notched straightedge all the time, unless I have an odd scale length guitar on the bench. I check relief between 8th and 9th frets with feeler gauges slipped between the the fretboard and the straightedge. I try to get the neck between 0.004" and 0.012", depending on the guitar. I usually go lower gap for with flatter radius fretboards and a bit more gap for "rounder" fret boards. That said, there are no hard and fast rules, and each guitar is a bit different.
      In my opinion/experience, (more experienced guys please correct me if I'm wrong) the more precise the fretwork is, the flatter you can run the neck with minimal buzz.

    2. Action at the bridge- I like to capo the strings at the first fret to set bridge action. This takes an incorrectly adjusted nut out of the equation, which possible nut issues will be addressed in the step after bridge action is set. I like to set the E strings to their respective desired heights, measuring at the 17th fret*, and use a radius gauge of the neck's radius to match the other to the heights of the E strings while matching the neck's radius. If the neck is a compound radius, I match the strings to the radius measurement at the highest fret.
      *Once the nut slots have been properly set, action from the 12th to the 17th frets is almost identical.

    3. Action at nut/1st fret- Keep in mind that action at the nut has a rather large effect on the feel of the setup, and optimal action at the nut can depend greatly on the player's individual style.
      Pepperfox above has excellent advice: fret each string at the 3rd fret and check for the amount of gap between the string and the 1st fret. Graphtech suggests 0.010" gap on the wound strings and 0.006" on the plain strings when fitting their pre-slotted nuts. In a general setup, these are good numbers to try to match. In my opinion, it is best to get the height of each string as close as you can to the neighboring strings. I am going for a consistent feel within an acceptable height range.
      Other methods include measuring your fret height, adding the desired height of the string to the fret height, and then stacking feeler gauges against the nut so that when the slotting file hits the feeler gauges you are at the correct height. The Stew Mac Safe Slot Nut Guard is a fancy tool that aids this method. When I use this method I find that I need to add 0.010" to my feeler gauge stack and then ease into the final slot height from there or I sometimes end up with nut slots that are too low. The key to nut slots is to go slow and ease into your final slot height. If you try to rush this part of the setup you will create extra work for yourself.

    4. Set intonation at the bridge. There is one way to do this, so I won't elaborate on "what works best for me".
    A side note: If, at this point, I find a slight bit of buzzing in the lower frets (1-9), I will back off the truss rod 1/16th to 1/8th of a turn at a time until the buzzing subsides, allowing a tiny bit more relief in the neck. Nine times out of ten, this alleviates slight fret buzz if the frets are minimally out of level from each other. It doesn't always work, but often it does. I enjoy doing fret work (glutton for punishment) but I am of the opinion that I don't want to remove any fret material until it is 100% necessary. Only once it's absolutely necessary, I will level and crown frets.

    Generally, I find that my clients are happiest with their action when I get the neck as straight as possible and the action at the 17th fret a tiny bit higher than you might think. This way, the space in which the strings vibrate gradually and consistently increases as the string is fretted higher up the neck; as opposed to having a lot of relief in the neck and the strings sitting closer to frets 15-22 than they would at frets 3-15 (which increases likelihood of buzzing in the upper frets). While this doesn't always get you "shred-low" action, it provides consistent feel all the way up the neck and provides a good starting platform to dial in the setup to fit the player's style. Keep in mind that each guitar and each player is different, and those aspects will affect the setup. Also, I offer each client a subsequent adjustment session as part of the price of a guitar setup.

    Finally, keep in mind that a good setup is contingent on having level frets and a correctly assembled guitar. Some bolt-ons will need a shim to be able to get a setup right.

    More experienced guys, feel free to correct me where I'm wrong here. I love learning and welcome feedback. Hopefully this helps!
     
  12. gregulator450

    gregulator450 Tele-Meister

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    Might I comment on the "shred-low" action at the bottom of the post: if that's what you're going for, it's entirely possible to run a close-to-straight neck and shred-low action, and it's quite easy to get there with minimal buzz on Jacksons and Ibanezes. The amount of buzz is going to depend largely on the player's pick-hand attack at that point. A true shredder often just "brushes" the strings with a pick, and that light attack makes possible a low, buzz-free action. I always try to take into account the player's pick-hand technique when I am setting action at the bridge.
     
  13. beninma

    beninma Friend of Leo's

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    I find my Tele works best with around the recommended relief from Fender.. 0.010" or so. I have my nut lowered down to the point I just get the hair of clearance over the first fret as usually recommended. If I get set the relief much lower than 0.010" or so it negates the ability to get the action lower at the saddles. It will also make the guitar more likely to buzz in certain areas of the neck and more likely to have spots on the neck where bends are easier to choke out.

    I think the fretboard radius has an effect on this. The shredder guitars tend to have a flatter neck like an acoustic which enables less relief and lower action without compromising bending. My Tele has a 9.5" radius FWIW.

    My other guitar is a Taylor, it has a 16" radius I think? In any case it is fine with MUCH less relief than the Tele. Taylor's spec is 0.004-0.007. I find it behaves very differently as the relief is dialed out.
     
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