Getting to know your guitar better is always helpful for the serious guitarist and will certainly help you in the long run. Here you will find a step-by-step procedure to adjust your guitar yourself quickly and easily. As with any project, the first thing you need is the right set of tools.
Method 1 of 2: Adjusting the neck
Step 1. Check that the neck is straight
Examine the neck for signs that it is bent or deformed. To check this more precisely, you can put a ruler on the frets. Do this on both sides to make sure the neck isn't bent.
The neck is meant to curve up slightly, with the head bending slightly toward the bridge. Guitar builders refer to this as giving "relief" to the neck. There should be a very small space between the neck and the straight part. Bending the neck back away from the strings will cause problems with the guitar's action, and it's better to have your instrument serviced
Step 2. Try to be more precise if you suspect that the neck is bent
Use the D string to check how straight the neck is by looking at the height from the string to the fingerboard. Press the D string on the 1st and 22nd frets, or whichever is the highest possible fret on your fretboard, then check the distance between the string and the fretboard at the 12th fret. Ideally, you should just be able to slide a business card between them. You can check the straightness of the whole neck by pressing the string in different positions.
If you have a feeler gauge, take a capo and place it on the 1st fret. Hold down the lowest string at the last fret. Check with your feeler gauge the distance between the string and the 8th fret. This should be about 0.254mm. If this distance is greater, you will have to tighten the tie rod by turning the Allen key clockwise
Step 3. Adjust the tie rod to bend the neck
If it is necessary to make an adjustment to the curvature of the neck, remove the cap from the tie rod nut (usually at the top of the neck). Gently turn, 1/4 at a time, with an appropriately sized Allen wrench.
If the neck is too crooked, you will have to turn the Allen key counterclockwise, which will raise the strings. Take your time with this action and do not turn the tie rod more than a quarter turn at a time. Then let your guitar get used to the new setting and tune the strings before continuing or try playing the guitar. Give the guitar a night to get used to it
Step 4. Check the angle between the neck and the body
If the tension rod is set correctly, but the strings above the 12th fret are too high relative to the fingerboard, there may be an angle between the neck and the body of the guitar. Lay your guitar on a flat surface and remove all strings before attempting to unscrew the neck. Bolted necks can be loosened by loosening 4 screws on the underside of the guitar, after which you can check that the neck and body are in the same plane.
- The neck of your guitar should be parallel to the body, but often after unscrewing you will find a lot of sawdust from the manufacture, which is the cause of the angle between body and neck. If so, clean everything and screw the neck back on.
- If the angle between body and neck is still not corrected, you can change this by placing something at the height of the front or rear screws, depending on the desired effect. This has to be something very thin, like a Post-It. These stick to the wood and do not shift when screwing on the neck. If you need something thicker, fold the Post-It in half.
Method 2 of 2: Adjusting the action and intonation
Step 1. Adjusting the action of the guitar strings
The "action" of a guitar is an indication of the height of the strings in relation to the fingerboard. Guitarists with a light touch are usually fine with a lower action, while someone with a heavy touch will need a larger action to avoid rattling strings. The most important thing is that the height of the strings suits your way of playing and that the strings don't vibrate on the frets. If you have multiple guitars, try the following procedure on the least expensive one before moving on to your favorite guitar.
- Start by measuring the distance from the bottom of the string to the first fret. This helps to determine whether the bridge is deep enough. If the bridge is not deep enough, you will have to have it corrected. The string height at the 12th fret indicates whether the bridge should be raised or lowered. Here is a list of standard specifications for electric guitars:
- 1st Fret 1st String - 1/64" or 0.0156 (0.397mm)
- 1st Fret 6th String - 2/64" or 0.0313 (0.794mm)
- 12th Fret 1st String - 3/64" or 0.0469 (1.191mm)
- 12th fret 6th string - 5/64" or 0.0781 (1.984mm)
Step 2. Make a quick adjustment
Assuming that the tie rod is properly adjusted, and the angle of the neck is correct, adjust the height of your E string so that there is about 1.6mm of space between string and 12th fret. You can try making the action even smaller if you want.
The G and B strings are adjusted in the same way, but the low E and the A and D strings that are wrapped may be slightly further away from the fingerboard
Step 3. Setting the intonation
Your guitar may be in tune for the first 12 frets, but sound awful once you get past the 12th fret. If this happens you know that you will have to improve the intonation of the guitar. To do this you need a bridge with adjustable saddles. Usually you will find screws on the underside of the bridge, with which you can adjust the saddles forwards and backwards. Intonation is the very last step in guitar tuning, because every adjustment you make changes the intonation of the instrument.
- To make an adjustment, take a tuner and start with the low E, checking the overtone of the 12th fret (the note just above the fret) compared to the actual pitch of the 12th fret. These should be the same. If this is not the case, you will have to adjust the distance.
- If the 12th fret note is higher than the overtone, lengthen the string by working the saddle back.
- If the 12th fret note is lower than the overtone, shorten the string by working the saddle forward.
- Repeat this procedure for the rest of the strings and your guitar should now be quite well intoned. If you are a perfectionist, have your guitar tuned by a professional.
Step 4. If necessary, consider having your frets repositioned
If there are a few frets that the string hits while playing, not all frets may be positioned correctly. If you are brave enough, you can try to improve this by modifying them. First make sure that the pull rod, action and angle of the neck are correctly adjusted; a neck that is bent too far can increase the problem of irregular frets. Then you can try with a plastic hammer to get the frets in place.
- If this is not enough, you can sand down the frets. Make sure the neck is as straight as possible without breaking the tie rod and place the guitar on a level surface, then make sure your fingerboard is covered with tape, leaving only the frets you want to sand uncovered. Use a sanding block with sandpaper (grit 100). After that, it is important that you sand all the frets at the same time as much as possible. By laying a sanding block flat on the frets, all irregular frets are sanded to the same height.
- If many frets don't look right, it may be necessary to refret the entire fretboard. This is not easy and very expensive, which means it is better to leave this to a luthier.
Step 5. Adjust the tremolo bridge
An important adjustment and unique to the Floyd Rose, is to ensure that the tremolo bridge is well balanced. First check whether the tie rod and the angle between the neck and the body are correctly adjusted. Tune the guitar as best you can and then make sure the tremolo bridge is parallel to the body. If not, you will have to adjust the springs on the back of the guitar.
Tune your guitar again, then check the tremolo bridge. Repeat until the tremolo bridge is parallel to the body. Once that step has been taken, you will have to tune the guitar again, adjust the action and finally the intonation again. Due to the intonation it can happen that the tremolo bridge becomes unbalanced again, after which you will adjust the springs again, etc., until the guitar is completely adjusted
Step 6. Done
- If the guitar strings are too far from the fingerboard near the bridge (eg at the 1st fret), you can also try lowering the strings at the bridge, but this is not easy.
- Change your strings regularly. Always use the same thickness of strings. The string thickness is personal. Most solid-body guitars come with thin strings (.009-.042). Most jazz guitarists prefer a slightly thicker string (.010-.046). Stevie Ray used (.013-.056), so just try a few different ones until you find the thickness that works best for you. Thicker strings are also ideal for slides, but if you often bend the strings while playing, try a thin turn of.009 or maybe even.008.