1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Neck Relief

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by phaneo, Oct 20, 2005.

  1. phaneo


    Mar 14, 2001
    Fort Worth TX
    Just wondering if it's a good idea to check the neck relief with all of the strings off the bass. I've got a new set of flats on the way, and thought it'd be a good time to do this. I've always taken one string off at a time and then replaced it. I was told way back that this kept the tension on the neck and prevented it from going out of wack. I've had a little relief problems in the past, well a little buzz and have adjusted the tension a few times. So is it a good idea to take all the strings off and check the relief? Do I want it to be pretty straight with all the strings off, and then check again once there is tension? Any advice.........
  2. In a word, no. A relief measurement with no tension on the neck is meaningless because you play with tension on the neck. Capo the bass at the first fret and press down on the string at the highest fret, this eliminates the nut and the bridge from the equation. The string is your straightedge and you can see the amount of relief in the neck.
  3. WillBuckingham


    Mar 30, 2005
    If you don't have a capo, just use your hands. Fret the first and last fret, and look at how much space there is. Make sure you know what you're doing before attempting a trussrod adjustment.
  4. It's hard as hell measuring the relief with the ruler in your mouth because both hands are occupied. :D
  5. zombywoof5050


    Dec 20, 2001
    For relief, I just hold the string down with my left hand at the first fret and then use the inside of my right arm (above the elbow) to press the strings down over the pickups until the strings rests on the highest fret. Then I use a finger on my right hand to press the string down in the middle of the neck around the 9th or 10th fret to check for a slight gap between the string and frets.
    I just eyeball it...as long as there's a small gap (but not too big) between the string and fret (with the string pressed down at the first and highest fret), then it's fine. No need to get all technical and measure it, IMO.
  6. duckbutter


    Mar 30, 2005
    any difference for doing this with at fretless?
  7. zombywoof5050


    Dec 20, 2001
    I do it exactly the same on my fretless basses, holding the note down where the first fret would be and pressing the strings down over the pickups with my arm until they are resting on the end of the neck, then checking it somewhere in the middle. I like about the same relief on both my fretted and fretless basses.

    Edit: One thing I forgot to mention about doing it with your arm over the pickups....Be careful not to pull back on the neck when holding the note down at the first fret, or this will bend the neck back and give you an inaccurate reading of the relief. Just pinch it between your thumb and finger when holding the note at the first fret, keeping the neck in a totally relaxed state.
  8. WillBuckingham


    Mar 30, 2005
    Well, since I don't use a ruler when I'm playing bass, I don't use one when I set it up either, I set it up to sound good. I use my right thumb to fret the last fret, my middle finger to push the middle of the string against the board to see how much space there is.
  9. zombywoof5050


    Dec 20, 2001
    Do you just leave it on the nut, or do you fret the string on the first fret or elsewhere?
  10. You have to hold it down at the 1st fret otherwise it will look like you have more relief than you actually do because the nut is higher than the first fret.

    When I first get a bass I use a ruler and use the manufacturer's set-up specs to set it up. After that initial set-up, it's all about eyeballing and the feel and sound. I was just joshing about the ruler in the mouth, by the way.
  11. zombywoof5050


    Dec 20, 2001
    Yeah, I know.
    I was just asking him how *he* did it, because he didn't mention holding down the string anywhere other than the last fret.
  12. phaneo


    Mar 14, 2001
    Fort Worth TX
    One thing I was wondering that hasn't been addressed is "doesn't the neck need to be straight without tension(strings on) first, before you worry about relief?" I'm holding my bas right now and when pressing down at the first and last frets, there is space begining on the third fret and ending on the seventeenth. It's a Fender Jazz with twenty frets.
  13. ddnidd1

    ddnidd1 Supporting Member

  14. jetsetvet

    jetsetvet Banned

    Mar 24, 2005
    I am very picky about my setups and neck relief, and I do my own adjustments....and I do these often and without reservation on several basses I own. I cringe a bit when I hear about someone taking their bass to a tech and paying $50 or whatever for a "setup". A basic setup is SO freakin' easy to do, that I don't think any bass player with a few basic tools, a good tuner (one with a strobe is helpful) and a basic comprehension of the physics of a vibrating string should be confounded by it. For a bass that has no predisposing "problems", such as raised or excessively worn frets, a warp, a twist, a nut with poorly cut slots, or a neck (bolt on) that is out of alignment (or in need of a tilt adjustment or shim) with respect to the bridge saddles, a set up shouldn't take more than an hour to do.

    There are three things to realize and just accept about most basses. First is that on wooden neck basses, if you live in a place where the relative humidity changes noticeably over the seasons, you are very very likely to need to adjust the truss rod at least a couple of times each year if you want to maintain a certain amount of relief. Second is that every time you change a string, if you want to maintain good intonation, you will need to adjust (or at least check) the position of the bridge saddle for that string.....even if you are replacing the string with another that is the same gage and brand. It should be noted that when new strings are correctly intonated, after they are played a bit and broken in, the intonation will change, and is best rechecked, and saddles readjusted accordingly. Third, is that when you adjust the truss rod, use your head! Don't just tighten or loosen the adjustment nut with the strings at full tension, because you are imposing twisting and friction on the truss rod/threads when they are under tension/compression and this is a good way to break a truss rod or strip threads. Instead, first loosen the strings a bit and position the bass so that you can flex the neck back slightly (away from the pull of the strings) and ease the tension on the truss rod, and on the interface of the threads on the rod and inside the adjustment nut. While the tension is eased in this manner make the adjustment...no more than a quarter revoltion at a time (and often less) clockwise to tighten, or counter-clockwise to loosen. This is especially important if you are tightening the truss rod, but also a good idea when you are loosening it. Just think about it.....it is really just a matter of common sense (like most stuff in life is).

    There are a few decent setup guides on line, but the one that Gary Willis wrote (as referenced above) is quite good:


    Article about Sadowsky's set up guidelines that is good too:


    Also.....you may note that some set up guides recommend that neck relief be measured by fretting (or placing a capo) at the first and last frets. In bolt on necks especially, I have found it better to fret at the first and the 17th frets (as Fender recommends) and then setting relief so that the bottom of the E string is approx. 0.015" from the top of the 7th or 8th fret. In this way any "ramping" (elevation of the fretboard/neck) at the last few frets that are over the joining area is eliminated from the calculation. This subtle ramping is very common on older Fender (and similar bolt on) basses. If the relief is checked fretting at the first and last frets, it is easy to end up with the central portion of the neck too flat (or even humped up) and thus a situation where string height has to be higher than desired in order to eliminate fret buzz.

    I realize that what I have said here may make this seem to be a lot of trouble, but I assure anyone that after you have done this once or twice (and thought about what you are doing and why you are doing it), it is all second nature......to use a worn out analogy.....like riding a bike. Go for it.
    MrRobert and The Nameless like this.
  15. Excellent post.
  16. zombywoof5050


    Dec 20, 2001
    All great info/advice in your reply!
    I told of my using the last fret because I haven't had the 'hump' that you speak of at the higher frets, but it's very good that you mentioned it.
    Thanks for all the good info.
  17. duckbutter


    Mar 30, 2005

    JJBACOOMBA Commercial User

    May 31, 2005
    San Antonio, Texas
    Lecompte Bass Owners Club Member #2
    cool thread. I have fret buzz from the 1st through 7th frets.Lossen the truss rod? thanks
  19. What's interesting is that the Warwick manual tells you to fret on the 1st fret and the 12th fret, and then measure the largest gap (usually between the 4th and 8th frets".

    I can't think of a reason why Warwick basses would require a different philosophy for this, or if it's just another way to do it. Any thoughts?

    Edit: I just tested it on my bass, using the 1st/12th fret technique, the gap was almost nil. on the 17th or 26th fret that gap is a bit greater. Warwick tells you to adjust your truss rod so the string barely has any gap at all when using the 1st/12th fret technique.
  20. pkr2


    Apr 28, 2000
    coastal N.C.

    Either way will work because the actual measurement is only meant to be a starting point anyway.Just because a spec is given in the factory setup procedure doesn't mean that it is the actual ideal relief adjustment. Set it to the specs (if you have them) and then adjust for minimum fret buzz on the first few frets. Then adjust the saddle heigth for mimimum buzz on the higher frets. You may have to go back and forth a couple of times until you can't get any further improvement.

    One setting for all doesn't work well because each different set of strings will usually call for a different amount of relief. Going from old to new strings calls for a check and possible adjustment because of the difference in tension.

    I've never seen anyone with much setup experience even bother to measure the gap with a rule. The divisions are so wide that you cannot get anything close to an accurate measurement anyway. If a particular string heigth is called for, a dial indicator is the only way that I know to get an accurate measurement. Just put the feeler on the top of the string, zero the indicator,push the string to the fingerboard and read the gap.

    And there you have it- more than anyone wants to know about relief. :) :)