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Electric guitar neck relief, truss rod and string height info

2018 Fender Limited Edition Troublemaker Tele

It's a fact that most guitar players have absolutely no idea how much relief to set when it comes to adjusting guitar neck bow with the truss rod. This is some quick info on what Fender recommends you use for measurements, along with some of my own thoughts on whether I feel they're correct or not.

I'm going to concentrate on Fender info here, but if you have an electric guitar with a 25.5" scale length, you can follow this and it should work.

For Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars with 7.25" neck radius (vintage style):

For Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars with 9.5" to 12" neck radius (modern style, what most guitarists have):

For Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars with 15" to 17" neck radius (super flat modern style):

The tool needed to be accurate about this stuff

A 26 blade master feeler gauge set.

This sounds like an expensive thing. It's not. 6 bucks.

There are some people out there who say you can check string height measurements using certain American coins.

No American coin has the proper measurement you need.

Get the feeler gauge set instead. Don't do the coin thing.

Relief height

This is the height of the string when you have a capo on the first fret and you're holding down the string on the last fret.

You obviously can't use coins of any kind to measure this because they're all too tall.

Again, get the feeler gauge set.

Fender's assumption

Fender makes a very brief mention that all their recommendations go on the assumption you're using the strings that came from the factory.

On modern Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars, that means the Fender 250L set in 9-42 size. Or to be more specific, the string sizes are .009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042.

My experience with Fender's recommendations

They work for the most part, but don't take into account humidity shifts or if you use a different string size.

I live in Tampa Bay Florida, and at the time I write this it's summer, a rainy season. Humidity levels have a wacky way of working in The Sunshine State because of quick torrential rainfall on any given summer day. I've learned over the years to deal with this concerning how it affects my guitars with wood shifting and whatnot.

I use the second lightest string gauge available, 8-38. The only string lighter I'm aware of is 7 gauge. Dunlop makes them in 7-38 size. I can't use 7 because that's too light even for me.

Do Fender's recommendations work? If you stick with 9-42 strings, yes. If you don't, slight adjustments must be made.

For me personally, my strings are very close to the board. So close that if my 8-38 set was switched out with 10-46, I'd have to readjust both the relief and string heights to my preference - and this is totally normal whenever you switch around with string size.

Where humidity changes are concerned, dealing with neck wood shifting for guitars in Florida is just a fact of life, and again, I've learned to deal with it.

I have never had a good experience with a tech setting up a guitar to proper Fender spec

My complaint about guitar techs is the same complaint other guitarists have. For whatever ridiculous reason, they always set up the neck where the strings are high off the board. Sometimes way high. It's never set to proper Fender spec.

Why does this happen? Usually because no testing is ever done with the guitar in the seated position.

When a tech gets a guitar, most of the work has to be done with the guitar on a bench. However, the final test is supposed to be with the guitar being played in the seated position. If not, what was "perfect setup" on the bench ends up being awful when the guitar is actually played.

To avoid this crapola, learn how to set up your own guitar. It is time well spent. Only you can set up your guitar right.

In the end, Fender's recommendations mostly work as said above - if you set up your own guitar.


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