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Is a neck relief a must?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Chrisk-K, May 13, 2010.

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  1. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    Maryland, USA
    I usually give a neck a 0.010" relief. I recently bought a Lakland DJ and its neck is almost flat (BTW, what a bass!) The action is low and there's no fret buzz. Should I bother to loosen the truss rod?
  2. Marton


    Sep 20, 2005
    Why adjusting a bass that plays fine ?
  3. Floyd Eye

    Floyd Eye Banned

    Feb 21, 2010
    St. Louis
    No. In theory, flat is ideal. Most (notice I said most) basses demand a tad bit of relief near the headstock, Rickenbacker being a notable exception. If your action is where you like it and there is no fret buzz, you're good to go.
  4. A vibrating string moves more in the middle than on the ends. Obvious if you look at a plucked string relative to the fretboard. Having some relief allows more clearance at the higher frets so that the neck more closely matches the arc of the vibrating strings. This allows you to have a LOWER action than you can get with a perfectly straight fretboard. I've done many setups for guys who want a straight "no relief" fretboard on their bass. Somehow they got the idea that this is good. But this always requires a higher action to avoid buzzing from the higher frets. So a simple demonstration is usually required before they get it. The thing is, it's just not possible to repeal the laws of physics, at least when it comes to a vibrating bass string. The string forms an arc, not a straight line. If your "straight" fretboard works for you, great. But if you want lower action without buzzing, add some relief.
    Bluebard likes this.
  5. Floyd Eye

    Floyd Eye Banned

    Feb 21, 2010
    St. Louis

    Depends on the bass and the frets. I have tried many times to achieve lower action by introducing relief and most of the time you are correct. This theory does not apply to most Rickenbacker basses or the ratty old P bass in my spare room. ;)
  6. I guess the laws of physics can be repealed after all. I don't post very often anymore. I'm retired now, but I have 40 years of full time work under my belt in the music business as a recording engineer, studio musician, and performer. But every time I post I find out how little I actually know. That's what's so great about this forum. I've owned and played a few Rics over the years and never knew about that straight neck thing. It's sort of funny. The last time I posted I was enlightened about the use of compressors when recording bass tracks, by someone who's never been in a studio. And just lately I read about "ground loops" caused by grounding the bridge to the pot body on a passive P Bass. The warning was to don't do it. And then there was the one about blowing your speakers by "underpowering" them. I could go on forever. I guess if you want to know about neck relief the best thing to do is check with one of the high end bass builders. Maybe like that Sadowsky guy. ;)
  7. MarcusPocus


    Aug 28, 2008
    Allen, Tx
    I have set necks to almost flat. While the action was great and buzz minimal, I notice that a dead spot would be strengthened. (it would be ...um..dead-er). But then again I have been in a setup slump, screwing up everything I touch lately. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  8. okcrum

    okcrum in your chest

    Oct 5, 2009
    Verde Valley, AZ
    RIP Dark Horse strings
    +1. There's a thread about this over in Humor.
  9. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    JB696 +100.

    Flat is ideal? In what universe? If the bass plays fine don't mess with it. If you want the lowest action achievable you need to dial in the relief so that the neck curve matches the string vibration.
  10. Floyd Eye

    Floyd Eye Banned

    Feb 21, 2010
    St. Louis
    Well, ever since owning this 4001 I have, which is most certainly recommended for NO RELIEF and that is where the action is best, I have set all my guitars and basses up with the slightest amount of relief possible and this has consistently given me the lowest action possible.

    Like I said earlier in this thread, most basses/guitars need a slight amount of relief. Without adjusting anything other than the neck, are you telling me that adding relief will lower the action?

    Second time today someone commented on one of my posts either without reading it or while have some sort of reading comprehension issue.
  11. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Like I wrote, If you want the lowest action achievable you need to dial in the relief so that the neck curve matches the string vibration. A complete setup involves much more than adjusting only the neck.
    I think JB696 and I both comprehend what you're saying just fine. We're simply stating the plain fact that it's physically impossible.

    Hold your bass up and look down the neck from the top, then pluck a string. You can easily see the vibration in the string. If you want the lowest action achievable you need to dial in the relief so that the neck curve matches the string vibration. It doesn't matter what the instrument is, this is always the case. There's nothing about your Rick that suspends the physical laws which govern string vibration.

    Personally I can't even play a bass that has the lowest action achievable. I try to set the neck relief to match the string vibration, shimming or tilting the neck (which is impossible on neck thru instruments like your Rick), then setting the bridge saddle height, then lastly I set the intonation.

    To answer the thread title, no, neck relief is not a must, but with a straight neck you're going to have to raise the action higher than you would on a properly relieved neck to avoid having the vibrating strings rattle against the frets.
  12. PhatBasstard

    PhatBasstard Spector Dissector Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2002
    Las Vegas, NV.
    FWIW, Anthony Jackson claims his Fodera (doesn't get much more "high end" than that :smug:) plays best with no relief due to it's immaculate fretwork and that this should apply to any bass with proper fretwork. I highly doubt Vinnie and Joey would set his basses up for him in this way if they disagreed.

    I think something thats getting lost in this whole string vibration/laws of physics thing is directional vibration.

    Yes, the string moves back and forth creating an arc.
    But due to an individual player's plucking style, how horizontal to vertical is that string's vibration in relation to the fingerboard?

    If it is mostly horizontal, then yes, you may be best with little or no relief for optimum action.
    If it is more vertical, then yes, you may need relief to prevent buzzing anywhere from the frets above the fingered note to the apex of the string's vibration.

    It's a question of three dimensional thinking over two.

    FWIW, I play (and have played many others) fairly high end basses. I also do pro setups. For me, little to no relief seems to work best. However, another player, who plays no heavier than I, will pick up the same instrument and buzz all over the place. I am a firm believer the individual player has a dramatic affect on this due to plucking style, and always have that player play the instrument I setup for them. Even if it played great for me.

    Also, the whole "neck matching the string's vibrational curve" doesn't hold water either. That would only apply (assuming the vibration is strictly vertical) to open strings. Once you fret a note the string's vibrational shape to length curve has changed. Has the neck changed it's shape to length curve along with it?!? Of course not. Most fingerboards are pretty straight from the 12th fret up. What then?

    Laws of Physics don't apply when used in partials. ;)
  13. MNAirHead

    MNAirHead Supporting Member

    relief is to compesate for strings with runout, poor bass design and needed fret work.

    Hate to be this blunt... It took years to figure out how to dial in 1mm action.
  14. John Wentzien

    John Wentzien

    Jun 25, 2007
    Elberta, AL
    Artist:TC Electronic RH450 bass system (original test-pilot)
    Good fret level = Less relief....
  15. Giraffe

    Giraffe Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2003
    San Diego, California
    I don't think the original poster's question can be answered without the understanding that the best or least amount of relief for any player depends largely on string gauge and tension, right hand technique, and most importantly on the quality of the fret work.

    I never used to think a bass would play with an almost flat neck and any reasonable string height until I got my fret dressing skills to a reasonable level. A well-dressed neck requires much less relief than a bass with a typical factory fret job, all other elements being roughly equal. I marvel at how little relief I can get away with after a good fret dressing. Next to flat works fine if you don't pluck like Godzilla and your frets are squared away.

    I use half as much relief as I did two years ago and I set string height 1/64-1/32" lower than I used to. The difference is an anal, OCD, work-until-it's-right-and-then-some-more approach to the fret dressing process. Currently, I start with about .006" of relief, and often get it straighter than that.

    It all starts with the fret job, that's the soul of the instrument, whether we like it or not.
  16. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    Necks that allow for dead flat to practically dead flat is best made kind. No reason for adding relief to yours.
  17. Sorry, the dynamics of a plucked string have been known for over 300 years. The motion of vibrating strings isn't a mystery. If you search the net I'm sure you can find video documenting this. No string on any instrument vibrates in only one direction. No matter how carefully you pluck it or in which direction your initial pluck is applied, all strings will vibrate in both directions, horizontally and vertically. Pluck a string however you want, and watch it's movement. It will always move horizontally AND vertically. A curved line (the string arc) can always be placed closer to a surface curved in the same direction than it can to a flat surface. Relief in the neck allows the string to be closer to the fretboard without contacting the frets. No matter how the string is plucked. It's not my opinion and it's certainly not "rocket surgery". Just basic physics 101.
  18. My link didn't work. Just go to youtube and put in "guitar string vibration filmed in high speed". Notice that the movement of the string, if viewed from the bridge or the nut, would form the shape of a circle. It always forms an arc which half of the time will always be moving vertically in relation to the fretboard. Can't be avoided no matter what you do. Now visualize this arc next to a flat surface. Compare this geometric relationship to another example where the string is next to a surface that has a curve in the same direction as the arc of the vibrating string. It is clear that the regardless of the intensity of the pluck, or the initial direction imparted to the string, the string can be mounted closer to the curved fretboard than it can to a straight fretboard. A string will contact the frets on a straight neck before it will contact the frets on the same neck with some relief. Every time. It's impossible for it to do otherwise. Sorry, the laws of physics haven't been repealed yet. :smug:
  19. PhatBasstard

    PhatBasstard Spector Dissector Supporting Member

    Feb 3, 2002
    Las Vegas, NV.
    I don't doubt that on paper all you state here is sound theory. I just know from (like you, years of) real hands on experience, with all things being constant other than the player's attack, it just doesn't all work that way consistantly.

    A Bumble Bee "on paper" is supposedly defying the laws of physics when it flies, yet it does.

    I'm a stickler for clean notes, no buzzing. Yet my necks are set with little to no relief with very low action. Soloed, my notes are nearly always clean. On the rare case they're not its because I either dug in a little hard or didn't fret cleanly.

    Anthony Jackson works with very low action and a supposedly straight, no relief fingerboard. Even on the live recordings where he seems to be more aggressive his notes are still very clean.

    How else can we explain this?

    Went and looked at a lot of slow motion string vibration videos and what I stated in previous posts seems to be true.
    For the most part the strings vibrate in the direction of being plucked, not a big circular motion as JB696 has stated.
    Is there any motion in an angling direction? Slightly, but it's miniscule in relation to the vibration in the direction of the pluck.
    This was true video after video. So, as a bassist the more your plucking is in a parallel motion to the surface if your bass/fingerboard, in theory, the less relief you should need on that particular bass.

    Even the sub arcs along the string's length were in a mostly matching direction. The only videos I saw of strings making full, equal rotations in their vibrating arcs were ones that were exited magnetically/electrically. Plucked strings tended to be mostly back and forth in the direction of the pluck release.
    There was a time factor involved also. Any vertical movement that did develop, developed later in the cycle at which point the string isn't vibrating as hard so there is much less range of motion than at the earlier point of the cycle.

    This does also seem to answer why on a particular bass you're more likely to get a buzz with a pick than fingers. Even though the pick motion may seem horizontal, the string is snagged by the pick and when released by sliding down off the edge it's like the release motion being more vertical and thus the string vibrates more vertically to the fingerboard. The fingers, being a very round, soft surface release the string much more gradually keeping more with the horizontal release motion.

    String vibration theory that is 300 years old is probably based more on being exited by a bow than plucking.
    I've yet to see a physical "law" printed that states a string (or anything) has to always vibrate in a circular pattern. I find this absolute ridiculous. Your "law" can't be repealed because I don't believe, as stated, it exists.
    How something may vibrate is determined by many angular factors and forces, many of them conditional and external. There is no absolute.

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