Contact: Kelsey Austin


Location: New York, U.S.

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Part 2: Guitar Neck Adjustment

    A lot of guitarists are afraid of the word "truss rod" and anything to do with adjusting it. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has heard horror stories. Perhaps one about how Billy Bob,  from down the street, took a wrench to his Fender Strat's truss rod, twisted it one too many turns and the truss rod popped right out of the neck, splitting the fretboard from the neck backing.

    While this is possible, it is highly unlikely. You would need to keep cranking on that sucker way past the point that any reasonable person would have stopped.

    If you just exercise a bit of caution and patience, and turn the allen wrench 1/4 turn at a time, you will be fine. Small adjustments here can make huge differences in the way your neck feels.

   Its a wise idea to let the wood in the guitar settle into its new state after each adjustment. I personally will do up to a half turn in either direction and stop. I come back to it in twenty minutes and re-assess the straightness of the neck.

    The best way to learn this skill, like many others, is to do it. You will be glad that you did. Keep track of the number of 1/4 turns you make. If you get frustrated, at least you know how to return the truss rod to its original state.

Look down the neck of your guitar.

   If you've been to Guitar Center you've probably seen some guy holding the guitar up to his eye, examining the neck. There is a good reason for this. He is checking the bow of the neck for any twists or defects in the straightness of the neck.

   To check the neck, stand up and hold the guitar so that the headstock is pointed right at your head. Your left hand should help hold the body upright.

   You'll want to align the neck so that you can see from the nut all the way down to the bridge. The strings are your straight edge, compare the neck to the strings. Is there a slight bow? Is the neck dead straight?

If there is any degree of relief in the neck you will see it bending away from the strings. You can do this on both sides of the neck to check for a twist, but this is rare. Congratulations, you just did your first assessment.

Notice the slight bow in this Tele neck, this is slight neck relief.

My Schecter Hellraiser FR with a dead straight neck.

Dead Straght Neck

   Are you a metal player that likes to play runs, sweeps, or a lot of lead work? If so you will probably gravitate toward a dead straight neck.

A dead straight neck offers a more uniform string height over the entire length of the fretboard.

   This allows for faster fingering of notes. The downside is that you may encounter dead spots or fret buzz at certain spots on the neck. Your note clarity may suffer a bit, but if you play with a lot of fuzz or distortion this may not be a problem for you. I prefer a dead straight neck on my Schecter Blackjack and Hellraiser FR.

Neck with Slight Relief

   Maybe you aren't so concerned with speed. You play a lot of clean parts, and you are after the perfect tone. You want note clarity. If so, you'll likely prefer a bit of relief in your neck. 

   I myself like a bit of relief on my G&L Telecaster. It makes it so much easier to use a capo. The notes ring clearer and I don't need it to play fast. 

Neck with Back Bow

   This is ideal for nobody. You'll want to avoid this at all costs. It is nearly impossible to play cleanly with back bow. The strings will bottom out on the frets and will constantly buzz. If you have back bow, you'll need to adjust the truss rod before continuing with the setup.