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When a string buzzes off of frets, your guitar may be asking for a bit of Neck Relief. This is no cheat but rather an accepted tool used by pros and amateurs alike. Click image to enlarge

Neck Relief

Yes, the neck of your guitar is supposed to be straight – almost

Text & Photos by Tom Hintz

Posted – 8-30-3012

The Basics

Neck relief is a slight bow in the neck that shows itself as an approximate 0.004” to 0.010” gap between the middle fret and the bottom of the top (bass) E string. It’s not much but that little bow takes extra frets out of play when you form a chord or fret a string and lets you intonate the guitar properly. The string needs to be fretted for this measurement and that is described below.

The Fix

It is important to remember that this check and adjustment is done with all of the strings in place and tuned. The tension of the strings is partly responsible for the slight bow in the neck so we need them at normal tuned tension to make this adjustment.

We start by applying a capo just behind the first fret. Then using a finger we hold the E string down at a fret above where the neck meets the body. Just choose a fret that is close to this juncture. Then we measure the gap between the top of the middle fret between the ones we are holding and the bottom of the E string.

A feeler gauge is a good tool for checking the amount of Neck Relief (left) before and after any adjustments. Tweaking the truss rod (right) must be done in very small increments, often less than 1/4-turn at a time as it is not difficult to break a truss rod and ruin a neck.
Click images to enlarge

If the gap there is less or more than the range we want the truss rod has to be adjusted. Keep in mind that truss rod adjustments are done in VERY small increments, like ¼ turn or less. On my new Super Guitar I found that I had about 0.018” of relief so I loosened the truss rod nut slightly and then rechecked the gap. This time it was 0.008” which I consider good so I left it at that.

After getting the neck relief where we want we have to retune the guitar and check the intonation. Both can change quite a bit after a surprisingly small relief adjustment. It is a good idea to check neck relief occasionally just to be sure that the neck has not picked up a bow along the way. If a tuning issue develops, neck relief should be one of the first things you check.

The Benefit

If you have been frustrated by unwanted buzzes or odd tuning problems checking and fixing the neck relief can save your day. This is a simple and accepted cure for many tuning and playing problems. This is just another way to help us part-timers sound better that many veteran players already use.

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