Guitar Neck Relief - How to Measure Relief for a Great Playing Guitar

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Published: 23rd November 2010
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First of all lets get the fundamentals out of the way. Your guitar is expected to have an adjustable rod that runs down the center of the neck. In most all cases, there is a channel or groove routed down the center of the neck, which is sized to take the truss rod. Most guitar luthiers leave the truss rod loose, except the very end of the rod is secured to the neck or head block.

There are three types of truss rods:

Permanent Type: The fixed truss rod can be a section of steel, high strength aluminum or possibly hardwood (most quality classical guitar luthiers use ebony fixed reinforcement in the neck). If steel or aluminum are used, you will see many different configurations including tube-shaped, bars and tee-shaped bars. If you run across an aluminum neck reinforcement, it will usually comprise a heat-strengthened variety of aluminum.

One Way Truss Rod: A one way truss rod allows tightening of the rod which will bow the neck upwards. Adjustment of the neck for backward bow is not possible if you come across a one-way adjustable rod.

Dual Action Truss Rod: This type truss rod allows you to adjust in the rod both downward and upward. If you give tension to the rod with the adjustment nut, the neck will bow upwardly, while loosening the adjustment nut bows the neck downward. Unless you are dealing with a distorted or turned neck, the two-way rod will compensate almost any neck problem.

Neck Relief: You will see this term used in the guitar population as it refers to the amount of bow that a neck exhibits. The definitions that are used to describe neck relief are very perplexing. Backward bow and forward bow are used to define these two conditions.

Forward Bow: This is a desirable condition for your guitar neck. At least to a certain degree. To help you visualize this, just visualize forward bow as a little 'cupping' of the neck. To check this out, hold a string down tightly from the first fret to the twelfth fret and measure the distance from the sixth fret to the underside of the stretched string.This would be the neck relief dimension.

Backward Bow: You do not want this - not at all! Buzzing strings and higher than desired string action are a couple of symtoms of Backward Bow. You cannot gauge the value of an adjustable truss rod under these conditions. Trying the same employment as above with the guitar string, you will find that the string will not clear the fret and actually follows the curvature of the neck.

Neck Relief Measurement: We are after a magic measurement whenever it comes to neck relief. Here is what you can do. Fasten a Guitar Capo just behind the first fret. When you place the capo, be sure to tighten it just adequately to bring the string into contact with the first fret. To do a hands-free measurement, apply another capo at the 12th fret.

Now, take a feeler gage, measure the distance between the crown of the 6th fret and the bottom of the string. The measurement should be between 0.010" and 0.015". If your measurement exceeds the upper-end tolerance, do no be overly concerned unless it becomes unreasonable. With a measurement of less than the low end of 0.010", make an adjustment to the truss rod to bring the neck relief within satisfactory measurements.


If you wish to measure your neck relief, the right place to take this measurement is between the nut and the 12th fret. If you find that there is a bulge over the top plate of the guitar, you are dealing with another repair condition that cannot be addressed by a truss rod adjustment.

Adjusting for Proper Neck Relief:

For more information on how to measure neck relief, visit Guitar Neck Relief To learn how to adjust for desirable neck relief visit the article on Truss Rod Adjustment.

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