Straight Edge and Feeler Gauge Method

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by RudyTardy, Apr 30, 2019.

  1. RudyTardy

    RudyTardy Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Forgive me if this particular question has been answered in a previous thread, I did do a lot of searching. I realize that this issue is perhaps somewhat OCD, but I am relatively new to setting up my own basses and I am trying to establish a baseline so that I can gauge relief with my eyes and hands eventually. That said, here's what I am trying to learn:

    1. When using a straight edge and feeler gauges, where on the neck do you place the straight edge? The radius of the frets seems to alter my readings a bit if I measure near the E string versus between the A+D. Do you press down at all on the straight edge at all to make sure its' flat side is perpendicular against the frets?

    2. What is considered a correct reading with the feeler? Should it barely touch the top of the straight edge? Should it drop through on its own if you let it go? I know this is probably considered common sense but when you get down to the difference between .012 and .015 its hard to assess the variance.

    I watched the video of the Lakland guy where he bent the end of the feeler and hung it on the neck and he mentions the edge "touching all three points" which I assume were the 12th fret, gauge fret and 1st fret. Is this the better method?

    FYI I am setting up a brand new custom shop P, so hopefully uneven fretwork and all that other business aren't impeding me.

    Thanks for your help!
  2. ProfFrink


    Jan 16, 2015
    Re 1 - I didn't get what you mean. Are you using a straight edge along the fretboard or are you trying to use a ruler to measure the height of the strings?

    Re 2 - There will always be one feeler that can go through without touching/pushing and and another exactly one size thicker that doesn't go through (or required some pushing). The real measurement is between the two. After you gain some experience you won't have to fuss too much and it becomes easier (and after some more experience you'll be able to tell by look/feel)
  3. RudyTardy

    RudyTardy Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Thanks Frink. I’m using a stew Mac 18” straight edge down the fretboard (starting at 1st fret). It’s beveled on one side and flat on the other and I’m using the flat side against the frets. So I guess I’m asking should I lay it down the middle of the neck or, say, against the E string? Also, I seem to get different reads if I don’t have the edge totally flush with the frets.
  4. James Collins

    James Collins Guest

    Mar 25, 2017
    Re 2: It doesn't really matter. If you figure out that you like 0.17mm of relief at the E string level. Just always measure and set that. If you measure 0.019" at the center of the fretboard, always do that.

    The idea behind doing your own setup is to be able to adjust more often AND to set it to your preference. Figure out what your preference is and do that.

    I think center of the fretboard is more sensitive to changes, but harder to read.
  5. RudyTardy

    RudyTardy Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Thanks James that does make total sense. I suppose I was hung up on referencing things like the Fender setup guide (which gives .012 at the 8th fret for my particular P bass radius) to understand where I stood with relation to all the advice out there. But as you say, ultimately, its learning what I like on my basses that counts. I'm quickly learning that with the different sets of strings I am using (DR Nickel Lo Riders on one bass, TI flats on another, etc) that the reference guides don't mean sh*t anyway!
  6. ProfFrink


    Jan 16, 2015
    You should put it along the same path a string would take (or close enough). Start with the dead middle all the way, then put right along the E string and the G string. The idea is to have it follow the curvature of the fretboard and not run across it (which would just make it "rock" on top of the curve).
    RudyTardy likes this.
  7. ixlramp

    ixlramp Guest

    Jan 25, 2005
    Exactly. Setting string action to a stated distance is pointless and backwards. The string action should be set as low as possible before problems arise, according to your own techniques, the rest of the setup, the string flexibility and tension. Any 'setup guide' stated distance will be wrong for almost all basses, it's only a very rough starting point so there's no point using gauges or measuring to be precise about it.
    lz4005 and RudyTardy like this.
  8. James Collins

    James Collins Guest

    Mar 25, 2017
    The only caveat that I would make is that lower action can sound less rich-lost sustain and overtones. Most people when given two options would prefer the lower action. I think the loss of tone is more noticeable on acoustic instruments and cheap instruments.

    My reason for preferring measurements is keeping all of my instruments consistent and being able to set the up very quickly instead of trial and error.
  9. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY

    I use the string as a straight edge. Trap the first fret with my left thumb or a capo. Put my right elbow past the end of the neck to trap the last fret. Use right hand to measure the gap.

    Advantage is you don’t have to mess with holding a big straightedge still AND hold the bass AND hold a feeler.
    JRA and Element Zero like this.
  10. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Straight edge and feeler gauge method:

    • Guitar in playing position. If at the bench, the treble side of the body may rest on the bench.
    • Straight edge in center of neck. On a five string, pick one side of the middle string or the other.
    • If using beveled straight edge, bevel against the frets.
    • Feeler gauge is inserted at the seventh fret.
    • One leaf will make it through the gap with a mild scrape. Read/record that number. That's the relief.

    This assumes a straight edge that spans the fingerboard from F1 to F14. If the straight edge is longer it may or may not yield and accurate reading, depending on how level the neck is from F14 to the end of the fingerboard.

    There can be different amounts of relief in the bass and treble side of the neck. Center reading is an average, best guess as to the relief at the seventh fret. It may be instructive to read the center and both sides, or in all of the string paths. But it's not necessary and will probably lead to more confusion.

    As far as string height goes, that's a personal choice. It can be based on tone, touch, or whatever you think is important. It is a personal decision and it's up to you.

    N.B. Be careful to NOT squeeze the neck between the thumb and the straight edge. That will change the relief and the reading will not be accurate.
    MK316, walterw and RudyTardy like this.
  11. RudyTardy

    RudyTardy Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Heroes do exist on the internet! Thank you @202dy this is answers every question I had with precision. I’ll get the hang of using the beveled edge eventually. Its hard to tell if I’m perpendicular to the neck while holding the bass, but I doubt it matters a ton.
    Joshua likes this.
  12. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown

    Feb 16, 2011
    Not sure what the 18” straightedge is for in simple setup.

    As for feeler gauges, the best way to insure accuracy is the “go no go” method.
    If your target is .012, break out your .011, .012, and .013 strips. When you can’t put the .013 in without lifting the string and the .011 will slide in without contact with the string, check with the .012 and if it does not lift the string but gets some drag, you are really close. As close as you will get with feeler gauges until you develop your feel.
    Rallypoint_1, walterw and bigbassmike like this.
  13. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician - Retired
    My eyes aren’t what they used to be, so it’s hard to tell if the string is deflecting as I slide a feeler gauge in there. So I use sound. I slide a feeler in position then lightly tap the string directly over it. If I hear a “tick” there’s a gap. I do the same with the next thicker feeler, and repeat until I find one that doesn’t tick. The real measurement is somewhere between the last one that ticked and the first one that didn’t.
    mdalamond, JRA, fhm555 and 2 others like this.
  14. Otis66


    Apr 29, 2019
    My straight edge fits in the first fret. Once the straightedge is in place The rest of the tool will fall into place. The only thing you need to do is use the correct edge(34” or 35”).
    I did have to cut a small notch to fit my straight edge into the first fret of my Music Man Stingray Bass. The nut of the guitar was preventing the edge from fitting into the first fret.
  15. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009

    if you're not just using the string itself you're supposed to use a 24" straightedge, enough to rest on the first and last frets. trying to use an actual 35" long straightedge is silly, it just hits the bridge and throws off the reading.
  16. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    Never seen the straightedge method. I just capo the first fret. Use my finger on the lowest string (in my case the low B string) and stick the feeler gauge at the 8th fret.
  17. Otis66


    Apr 29, 2019
    The straight edge I have is made for a bass with a 34” or 35” scale. The straight edge does not fit in the first fret of my Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray Bass. The straight edge hits the nut. I just cut a slight piece off the straight edge and the straight edge fits. All of my other bass’s don’t have this problem. My straight edge has two sides one for 34” and the other side is 35”. I will post a picture of m6 straight edge ASAP.
  18. Otis66


    Apr 29, 2019
    Not sure how long the attual straight edge is I never measured it. 34” and 35 “ is for fret spacing. Both gauges are on the same tool. The 34” side of the gauge will not fit on a 35” neck. Each slot on my straight edge fits perfectly in each fret spacing.
  19. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    wait, this is a notched straightedge? where it fits between the frets and rests on the wood itself?

    that's entirely the wrong tool! if you're going to use this method you need a regular smooth 24" straightedge that rests on the fret tops.

    the notched straightedge is for evaluating the fretboard wood prior to refretting, it's not used in setups.
  20. Otis66


    Apr 29, 2019
    Just measured my Straight Edge tool and it is 23-1/4” long.
    1) check frets to make sure they are seated, not sticking up or coming out of slot, make adjustments if needed.
    2)check neck for straightness and adjust if necessary. I start with a straight neck.
    3) Adjust string height using string height gauge. I set mine at .030 at 12 fret with minor adjustments also check neck radius with correct gauge. Can be done without gauge.
    4) I check/adjust the neck relief as needed
    5) adjust intonation.
    I notice that new straight edge tools have the notch already cut for the nut. My straight edge did not have a notch for the nut so I cut one myself.