Basic Acoustic Guitar Setup and Adjustments - How to adjust your Truss Rod
Author: Lachlan Bush Date Posted:18 November 2020
What adjustments do acoustic guitars have?
Usually? Not much. When it comes to set up, the only thing you can usually do is to adjust the truss rod, without major modifications to the saddle and nut. Let's talk about that and go through it.
Tune your Guitar
This is always the first step, no matter what. Get your guitar in tune, and stretch those strings out as much as possible. If you've never done that, check out our blog post here: How to stretch your strings
Measure your Action Height
Firstly, you need to measure your action height. Action height is the measurement in mm between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the string. A good measurement for an acoustic guitar is between 2.5-2.75 mm. looking below, you can see two different measurement types. First, we are using a standard ruler. You should use a metal ruler, that starts at 0 with no gap so that you can get an accurate measurement.
You can see that this string height is slightly more than 2.5mm. Alternatively, you can also pick up an action height measurement tool, which tells you exactly the height required. You can see in this image, that the line just slightly shows below the 2.5mm. this gives a measurement of slightly more than 2.5mm
If your measurement is out of alignment from this, you now need to:
Adjust your Truss Rod
To adjust your truss rod, you firstly need to look down the neck. If you look from the nut down, you can see which way the neck bends. If it is bending towards the blue line, the guitar neck has too much relief. if the neck is bent towards the red, it has too much tension. Once you have an idea of which way the neck is having an issue, there is another step to check it.
Next, you need to place one finger on the 1st fret, and one finger on the last fret. You can use a capo for the 1st fret if you want. If you now look at the 8th fret, you can tell which way the neck is bending. If there is a large gap at the 8th fret, with the string held down, that means the neck definitely has too much relief. If the string is touching the fret, or even being bent by the fret, the neck has too much tension. On a truss rod, when adjusting the neck, you turn the Allen key anti-clockwise to add relief and clockwise to add tension.
Please note, you should never turn the truss rod more than 1/4 of a turn at a time. Making big adjustments can break your guitar.
When you have added the required change, retune the guitar, and recheck the neck. If the neck is straight, check the action height.
If your action height is still too far out of adjustment (not between 2.5-2.75mm), the bridge/nut needs to be adjusted. Bridge adjustment is when overall action height is too high, whereas Nut adjustment is only when the strings are too high at the Nut only. Bridge and Nut adjustment can only be done manually, and this is probably something better left to a luthier. If your neck is adjusted and your guitar is tuned, that is usually as far as you need to go.
Check out our video below by Artist Guitars founder and CEO, Ian, on how to adjust your truss rod.
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