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Neck relief as a function of string gauge

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by MicG, Aug 17, 2012.

  1. MicG

    MicG Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2006
    Garden City, Michigan
    I want to make sure I understand this correctly for future set-up purposes:

    The lighter the string gauge, the more neck relief is needed (bowed neck) for string travel to avoid buzzing.

    The heavier the string gauge, the less neck relief is needed (straightened neck) for string travel to avoid buzzing.

    When I say "more" or "less" I don't mean wild differentiation of measured values or anything, but there is some difference.

    Does this thinking make sense?
  2. ahc


    Jul 31, 2009
    No. Virginia
    Not necessarily. It's not a "hard and fast" rule. Set up your bass for the particular strings it has. If you use the same type and gauge all the time then not much needs to be done other than an occasional seasonal adjustment (maybe). If you change gauges it will depend on the particular new set you put on. A skinny set of bran x may have more or less tension than a thicker set of brand z.
  3. boynamedsuse

    boynamedsuse Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2010
    By lighter and heavier do you mean lighter and heavier sets (.040 - .100 vs. .045 - .105) or lighter and heavier strings (E vs. G)?

    I suspect it is as you stated for the former, and the opposite of what you stated for the latter.
  4. MicG

    MicG Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2006
    Garden City, Michigan
    boynamedsuse: by lighter and heavier I do mean lighter and heavier sets.

    I have recently been experimenting with going from heavier gauges (45-105) to lighter (45 or 40 to 100), both with a set of Chromes and regular rounds. IME the lighter sets have allowed me to better dial in a set-up that's easier playing- which is anti-intuitive since you'd figure the heavier sets would allow one to achieve that same type of low, easy playing set-up (due to less vibration of the string). Again IME...
  5. Marton


    Sep 20, 2005
    Depends on a lot of factor. I play with light strings and a very straight neck, because I have a light touch and like very low tension. Works great for me.
    organworthyplayer337 likes this.
  6. klaus486


    Jun 27, 2009
    portland or
    sales geek Portland Music co.
    I find that while neck relief may change when going from one gauge to a different one. The end result is that you "usually" want the neck as straight as possible without excessive buzzing for maximum playability.
  7. FunkRenegade


    Jul 7, 2012
    I used to set my necks as straight as possible without buzzing. I can get real straight with low action without buzzing, but having some relief sounded better for some reason. I'm not talking about excessive relief like a bow, but just the right amount seems to make the notes "bloom".
  8. VicKevlar


    Apr 15, 2012
    Yes. Lighter strings have less tension, so an equal pluck from your finger will cause it to deflect more and need more clearance. Consider your own experience, if you tune the G string to low E, as if it were a very light E string, doesn't it flop around and hit the frets? That's an extreme form of buzz.

    Lighter strings will also provide less tension on the truss rod meaning you'll have to back it off a little. That is in addition to the little bit of backing off (more relief) for the lower tension (lighter) string. The reverse it true for heavier strings on both counts. Either way it shouldn't add up to too much turning, maybe a quarter turn.

    Ultimately, the instrument will tell you how much relief it needs. Every guitar is a unique and special snowflake, so factory spec is just the starting point for adjustment. Regardless of the strings I'm using, I set it to the relief and string height I prefer, play all the notes and make minor adjustments to get the best I can out of a particular instrument. For some people and some instruments that goal is zero relief.

    Check out the sticky "ALL BASIC SETUP QUESTIONS ANSWERED HERE", the Lakeland videos linked there will give you an idea about listening to the instrument and making adjustments. I also would suggest the Carruthers videos if you haven't seen them.
  9. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    My Labella 760n nylon tapewounds are gauged .115 - .060 but have lower tension than other lighter gauge strings so I'd say it's more a factor of string tension than just gauge. However for similar string sets from the same manufacturer, heavier gauge strings generally means higher string tension at pitch.
  10. ddnidd1

    ddnidd1 Supporting Member

    The OP's question is excellent and VicKevlar has your ultimate answer. Also, check out Gary Willis' Setup Guide

  11. PlungerModerno


    Apr 12, 2012
    There a a bunch of factors like everybody said - but the general trend is for thicker strings to need more truss rod tension.

    Flats generally need more tension than rounds. The saddle height, neck relief and angle (eg. tilting/shimming) should allow you to get most basses in playable shape with a range of strings.

    You will not be able to move up or down too many gauges without doing nut filing etc. but + or - 0.10 should be easily accommodated. See how it goes. ;)
  12. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    Id never vary neck relief based on string gauge. Neck relief allways being set to minimum that one can get away with. As close to dead straight as possible for neck. Then action as low as can get with no strings fretting out.
  13. Bassamatic

    Bassamatic keepin' the beat since the 60's Supporting Member

    It is a combination of tension and gauge (weight). You just have to play with it for your preferred strings until you get it right.
  14. MicG

    MicG Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2006
    Garden City, Michigan
    Let me ask this: when people say they "eye-ball it" with regard to set-ups, does that involve more intuitive "feeling" while playing or do some people actually watch the vibration of the plucked string and make adjustments based off of that, or is it both?
  15. eyeballkid

    eyeballkid Supporting Member

    Jul 19, 2009
    it means they have me take a look at it and set it up. eyeballkid, better than a PLEK!
  16. socialleper

    socialleper Bringer of doom and top shelf beer Supporting Member

    May 31, 2009
    Canyon Country, CA
    This will also depend on your tuning. However if you are using standard EADG then by most accounts a heavier gauge string will but more tension on the neck, so you need to counteract that will the neck. As an example, if you had some light .100s on your bass and the neck is set perfect, and then put some .115 strings on it in a standard tuning, that will put too much tension on the neck and cause it bow forward too much. Here you would want to tighten the trust rod to straighten out the neck. If you are doing the opposite with the strings you would want to loosen the trust rod so the strings aren't on the fret board.
    With that in mind some necks have more natural bend than others, and the thickness of the neck plays a role in its stiffness as well. A thin neck like a Ibanez is affected more by string tension than say a thicker Warwick neck.
  17. ddnidd1

    ddnidd1 Supporting Member

    MicG, as I mentioned, check out the Gary Willis Setup instructions. He's not only a monster player, he's very savvy technically. This should answer all of your questions.

  18. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    I balance betweenst measured values and feel. I'm pretty good at visual confirmation but will stick a capo and pocket rule on the fretboard to see where I am. Then again, I adjust my truss rod and bridge height adjustment screws 1/6th of a turn at a time, play, and re-adjust as necessary. I like a medium-low action but factor in the aforementioned "bloom", fret noise, and response to left & right hand muting techniques.


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