Adjusting The Neck And Truss Rod Of Your Guitar

The Importance of a Properly Adjusted Neck

One of the more difficult things to adjust by yourself on a guitar is adjusting the neck, it is also one where you can do actual damage to the guitar if you’re not careful. Most electric and acoustic guitars are reinforced with a metal truss rod, which runs the length of the neck, One end of the truss rod will be secured by a seating bolt, and the other end will usually have an Allen wrench socket. Some older guitars may be fitted for a Philips head screwdriver.

There are two things which can go wrong when making this adjustment, but if you go carefully they can be easily avoided. The first is over tightening the rod, which either breaks the rod or wrings the seating bolt out. The second is loosening the truss rod too much so it comes completely unscrewed from the seating bolt. If this happens, it is extremely hard to get the rod re-seated into the seating bolt.

A properly adjusted neck is essential for a well playing guitar, and all the other procedures for getting your guitar in the best playing condition are dependent on a properly adjusted neck. This includes setting the action and making sure the intonation is accurate.

The neck should be either perfectly straight, or be curved very slightly towards the front of the guitar – this slight curve is called relief. If the curve towards the front of the guitar is too great, the action will not be consistent, and the strings will get further away from the fretboard as you get closer to the body of the guitar.

Making the Adjustments

If the neck is curved towards the back of the guitar it will make the instrument almost unplayable. The adjustments are actually quite easy – just be sure to go very slow, and adjust the guitar by turning the truss rod only ¼ of a full turn at once.

Depending on the guitar, the end with the Allen wrench socket will be either at the headstock (usually under a small plastic plate) or at the body end of the guitar. On most electrics, the adjustment socket will be at the headstock. On most acoustics it will be located where the neck joins the body of the guitar – just look inside the soundhole of the acoustic and you should be able to see where the Allen wrench will fit into the truss rod.

In either case, turning the Allen wrench clockwise will tighten the truss rod, counter clockwise and it will loosen it. Tightening the rod will make the neck flex backwards, away from the front of the guitar. If the neck has to great a curvature towards the front of the guitar (which is the usual case for a neck that needs adjustment) you will want to tighten the truss rod.

Before making the adjustments, loosen the strings slightly.

Take care though – it is always a good idea to first loosen the truss rod a ¼ or ½ a turn before starting the tightening procedure. If the neck has been out of adjustment for a long period of time, it may need a little extra coaxing as well.

After loosening the truss rod, tighten it back to its original starting position and then tighten it an additional ¼ turn. If there seems to be no change in the position of the neck, lay the guitar face up on your lap so the neck is laying over one of your legs about halfway up the neck, and then gently press both ends of the neck down. Do this very gently, tighten the truss rod another ¼ turn, and then retune the guitar.

After this initial adjustment, hold the guitar up vertically and look down the side of the neck to see if it has straightened sufficiently – remember, a slight amount of inward curvature (or relief) is OK, and sometimes necessary.

If the neck is bowed backwards (away from the front of the guitar) follow the same procedure, except loosen the rod instead of tightening it. Most adjustments to get the neck straight or with an acceptable amount of relief will only take ½ to ¾ of a turn, in ¼ turn increments.

When Professional Help is Needed

If the neck has a hump in it, as opposed to being curved to sharply, or if the neck is twisted to either side, it will usually require the attention of a repair shop, and may need to be replaced, but this happens very rarely.

Remember – treat truss rod adjustments gently, and do them slowly. If you follow these simple steps, this really is a simple procedure, and will be one more skill in your toolbox that will allow you to maintain and fix your own guitar!

Andy works and writes for Gaston Music & Pawn, one of the largest music stores in Gastonia with a full range of instruments, equipment and services.

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About Andrew Rumph : Author of the Article

Andy Rumph has worked in a wide variety of fields, and has had even more hobbies, from fishing and hunting to baking bread and drawing. He now works at helping the build Gaston Music into a truly world class music store, and attempting to perfect the perfect pumpernickel rye bread