All guitars have a metal bar inside the neck called a truss rod. These are integrated to counteract the tension that the strings exert on the guitar neck. And it is of critical importance for any player or enthusiast to know how to adjust the truss rod on an electric guitar. If the tension is great enough, the neck could bend forward towards the side of the strings. This would make the guitar unpleasant to play due to “high action” or the increased distance between the neck or fretboard and the strings. However, guitar necks shouldn’t be too stiff either, as it might be a sign of a brittle build or cause a “low action” with strings too close to the fret wires causing an unwanted buzz.
With a truss rod, it is possible to find the sweet spot when it comes to action, as well as setting up the guitar’s intonation. You can “tighten” or “loosen” a truss rod, and depending on which way you turn, you can adjust the distance between the strings and the guitar neck.
Usually, truss rod adjustments are done by the manufacturing company after installing the stock strings to ensure that the guitar is playable right off the store’s racks. However, many guitarists experiment around different string gauges for trying out new tones and playing feel.
Heavier and larger gauges exert more tension on the neck while smaller gauge strings cause less tension. When installing a heavier gauge string, you would end up lowering your action because of the increased bow after installing them, and inversely increase the action after installing lighter gauge strings.
You may take your guitar to a technician if you feel uncomfortable with adjusting the truss rod but learning how to do it yourself is a great skill to have for every guitarist.
If you want to learn how to adjust the truss rod on an electric guitar, the following will provide you with the steps on how to do it yourself.
First off are the tools needed – you will need a screwdriver, an Allen wrench for the truss rod (usually found in guitar shops or included with your electric guitar after purchase), and a tuner. A guitar neck-rest and a radius gauge could also come in handy, as well as a straight edge ruler.
To adjust the truss rod of your guitar, use a tuner to get your guitar into standard tuning. Then lay it on its side, close one eye, and keep the headstock close to your face. Observe the neck’s bow by looking down from the headstock. What you want is a relatively straight surface without an excessive back-bow (low action) or up-bow (high action).
Another method of testing is by pressing down on the first fret of a string while keeping another finger near where the neck meets the body of the guitar (around the 15th or 17th fret). Then, you can observe if the relief of the string between the frets you’re holding down on is too high or too low. Generally, you’re going to want enough space to fit in 2-3 sheets of paper between the neck and strings freely.
Now that you’ve determined whether your guitar needs more back-bow or up-bow, it’s time to adjust the truss rod. Truss rods are accessible through an opening hole on the headstock. Some guitars may have a truss rod cover that requires a screwdriver to open. Once you’ve accessed the opening, use an Allen wrench to either tighten or loosen the rod.
If your guitar has too much up-bow and has high action, you’re going to want to loosen the truss rod by turning counterclockwise. If your guitar has low action and you’d like to give it more up-bow, tighten the truss rod by turning the wrench clockwise. An easy way of remembering the turning direction is “righty-tighty, left-loosey” – the same applies to screws and I use it all the time.
Generally, when you adjust a truss rod, make sure you only make about a quarter of a full turn (adjust in 90-degree increments) to avoid overcompensating. Repeat the procedure of looking down the neck and check the space between the strings and the neck to check if you need to readjust. You may also play your guitar and test for fret buzz. If you feel comfortable with the playability, you’ve adjusted the truss rod correctly. Don’t forget to retune your guitar after every adjustment. Additionally, avoid forcing a turn when the truss rod feels tight because it could break – instead, take your guitar to a shop and have a professional check the adjustments for you. Remember incorrect adjustments can cause guitar strings buzz.
Learning how to adjust the truss rod is an important skill for guitarists, especially for those who experiment with various string gauges. You may also take your guitar to a technician at a shop for initial adjustments and learn from their techniques. Adjusting the truss rod seems like a difficult task but it can be done by anyone with the necessary tools and knowledge. Now that you’ve learned how to adjust the truss on an electric guitar, you won’t have to worry about fret buzz and unplayable action.
I hope you found all the answers you needed on how to adjust the truss rod on an electric guitar in this detailed guide.
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