Neck Relief 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Neck Relief 101: A Beginner's Guide

Neck relief is one of those things that every guitarist should be familiar with, like adjusting a bridge or changing strings. Knowing how to adjust your neck will help you keep your guitar in good playing order while saving some money on set-ups. 

That said, neck relief can also be intimidating to newer guitarists. How do I adjust it? What if I damage the neck? How do I know when it’s right? Those questions keep many from learning how to adjust their neck. But in today’s blog, we’re going to answer those questions and teach you what you need to know to adjust your guitar’s neck.

What Is Neck Relief?

First, let’s talk about what neck relief actually is. Put simply, neck relief is about how straight your neck is. Typically, guitars are set-up to be very close to perfectly flat, but with a little bit of relief (slightly concave). 

Neck relief can go in two ways—concave and convex. Concave is when the neck bows backwards, away from the strings. Convex is when the neck humps upwards, towards the strings. Too much relief in either direction is undesirable. A heavily concave neck will result in high action and intonation issues, and a heavily convex neck will result in fret buzz. 

Again, an ideal set-up is typically very close to flat with a very slight concave bow. Some players also prefer a perfectly flat set-up. Either way, a neck with proper relief will make your guitar play better and minimize fret buzz. That’s why it’s essential to have a neck that is set-up well. 

What is Neck Relief?

When to Adjust Your Neck

So, when exactly do you need to adjust your neck? At face value, that’s a simple question with a simple answer—when it is too concave or convex. But how much is too much? Let’s dive a little deeper. 

The most basic way to figure out if you need to adjust your neck is by looking at it. Look down the neck from the headstock down and see what it looks like. Is it straight, bowing back, going up towards the strings? If it seems to be going heavily in either direction, you probably need to adjust the neck. Remember, it should be relatively straight.

You also might be able to tell if you need an adjustment just by playing the guitar. Is your action really high, especially in the 5th-12th fret range? Do you get a lot of fret buzz, particularly in the middle frets? Those two can both be signs that you need to adjust your neck. 

While both of those methods are helpful when it comes to seeing if your neck is okay, they aren’t very precise. That’s where measurements come into play. The most accurate way to check your neck is with a feeler gauge and a capo. 

Put the capo at the first fret. Fret the high E string at the last fret (or where the neck meets the body). Use your free hand and the feeler gauge to measure the distance between the bottom of the string and the top of the 7th or 8th fret (the top of the fret itself, not the fingerboard). Then repeat the process for the low E string. 

This will give you a measurement for your neck relief. There is no single perfect number to aim for. Different guitar manufacturers recommend different amounts of relief depending on the specific guitar. Typically it’s somewhere around .010” – .012”, but you should check with the manufacturer for recommended specifications. 

And remember, there is a degree of preference involved too. Some players prefer a neck that is as close to straight as possible without causing fret buzz, while others like a little more relief than usual. It can also depend on the guitar. So don’t get too hung-up on specific numbers, and focus more on getting into a reasonable range and adjusting it to your preferences. 

How to Adjust Neck Relief

How to Adjust Your Neck

Now that you can measure your neck or look at it and tell if it needs an adjustment, let’s move on to the scary part—adjusting your neck. Don’t worry though; adjusting your neck isn’t that hard, and it isn’t something you should be afraid of. As long as you’re careful and don’t do anything extreme, there’s no real risk of causing any permanent damage. 

  1. Measure your relief.

The first step is to measure your relief and figure out whether your neck needs more or less relief. Just follow the steps in the previous section, and you’ll know where your relief is currently at. 

This is important because depending on whether your neck is concave or convex, you’ll need to turn the truss rod in a different direction. To add more relief and make your neck more concave, you’ll want to turn it counterclockwise (towards the high E string). To remove relief and make it more convex, you’ll turn it clockwise (towards the low E string).

But don’t start twisting the truss rod just yet. There’s a few more things you should know before making any adjustments. 

  1. Access the truss rod and get your wrench. 

The truss rod is typically on the headstock, just above the nut. On many guitars like Gibsons, the truss rod is covered. Before making any adjustments, you’ll have to remove the truss rod cover. It should just be a few screws if you have one. For other guitars, there is no cover and you can access it right away. 

For some guitars, the truss rod is actually located at the bottom of the neck. This is common on acoustic guitars, as well as Telecasters. Thankfully, the process is still the same no matter where your truss rod is located. 

You’ll also need a truss rod wrench to make any adjustments. You can buy one online if you need a new one. Just be sure to get the right size, as you don’t want to strip the truss rod. Always double check to make sure your wrench is the right size before making any adjustments. 

  1. Slowly adjust your truss rod. 

Go slow. Don’t try to force your truss rod or do it fast. Adjusting your truss rod is safe, but make sure to go slow and steady. Forcing your truss rod or going too fast can cause damage to your neck. 

Make small adjustments and check the relief as you go. A small adjustment can have a big impact, so go slow and check the relief until it’s where you want it to be. You can eyeball it to make sure you’re going in the right direction, but it’s a good idea to get more precise by using the feeler gauge again. 

  1. Check it over time. 

Your neck should be good to go for now, but it won’t stay like that forever. Temperature, humidity, string gauge, tuning, and more can impact your relief. After an adjustment, check your guitar for a few days to see if you need any more adjustments. And take note of things like action and fret buzz over time, as they may indicate you need to adjust it again. 

Adjusting Neck Relief: An Essential Skill

Adjusting the neck relief on your guitar is an essential skill. It will help you keep your guitar playing great while saving money and time on trips to the guitar shop. Though it can be intimidating at first, adjusting your truss rod is relatively easy. Just follow this guide, go slow, and your relief will be perfect in no-time. And don’t forget to restring your newly adjusted guitar with a set of Stringjoys!

6 Responses

  1. fret ruler longitudinal cures for straightness but remove strings torquing and have apprentice manual force by hands preload neck convex easing torquing

    cold air conditioning helps because constituents contract so allow chilling before torquing

  2. -Neck relief is also a function of string tension. You’ll need to readjust if you pick a string set with a different tension.
    -You should slacken tbe strings some before making any adjustment, to reduce the torque required and avoid twisting up and/or breaking the truss rod. With slack strings, you’ll be able to feel whether the nut is turning on the threads or merely twisting the rod (due to, say, corrosion on the threads.
    -You’ll have to re-tune after each change to measure what you accomplished.
    Side note: proper NR allows minimum bridge and nut height, which minimizes intonation problems.

  3. Great post on neck relief.
    Can you write one on intonation?
    I put a graphite bridge on my Eastman, and playing it sans amp, I get weird overtones. Come to find out intonation is off.
    Thanks Doug

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