Guitar Neck Relief | What You Need To Know 2022

Chances are you are either experiencing an issue with your guitar or looking to learn how to maintain it. You have probably heard the term guitar neck relief, but don’t know what it refers to.

You have come to the right place, as we are going to explore what it is in this article.

If you look at your neck from either side, you will notice it is slightly bowed from the head stock to the body. This is what is called guitar neck relief.

This bow is required to set the space between the fret board and the strings. If the space is too great, it will be hard to press the strings down. If it is too little, you will experience string buzz.

Guitar Neck Relief

Guitar Neck Relief

While there are measurements for neck relief, this is different for most guitars. Not only does it differ between instruments, but the condition is also part of the equation.

Not only that, but the neck radius dictates what the optimal measurement should be as well.

For example, if you own a Fender Stratocaster the measurement may be different based on the radius.

Neck RadiusRelief
7.25″0.012″
9.5″ – 12″0.010″
15″ – 17″0.008″

How Do You Put Relief On A Guitar Neck?

The amount of relief is set by a part called a truss rod. This is installed into a channel in the neck and mounted at both ends. The truss rod is usually made of steel, but other materials are used in some instances.

When your strings are tightened, they pull the neck into a bow. The tension would eventually make the guitar unplayable if there was not a truss rod. It is the force of the rod that compensates for the tension and sets the bow or relief.

Have you ever noticed the small cover on your headstock above the nut? Underneath is an adjustment for your truss rod.

Now there are many types and ways they are mounted, especially between instruments. But the idea is the same.

Guitar Neck Relief Or Straight

Some guitars have a neck that looks straight and others not so much. There are many factors that need to be considered. For example, the condition and setting of other parts of the guitar.

A properly set up guitar will look pretty straight, but will still have a slight bow. If the neck was perfectly straight, the chance of developing fret buzz is greater, among other things.

So you should always expect to see a slight relief for optimal results. A good guitar technician will know what to look for when setting up your instrument.

Guitar Neck action

How Straight Should a Guitar Neck Be?

For most guitars, the neck will need to be as straight as possible to allow for the correct string action. This can be different in some cases where a neck may not look straight at all but play perfectly fine. Some guitars will only get so close, depending on the quality of the instrument.

Turning the truss rod nut too much will mean that the neck may be too tight and bow the wrong way. And so it is necessary to use the right gauges to measure the relief and not depend on the straightness of the neck.

Of course this also heavily depends on the string tension and should thickness be changed, the relief may need to be adjusted as well. And so a straight neck doesn’t mean a correct relief adjustment.

Does Neck Relief Affect Intonation?

Intonation is directly affected by the action of your strings. The guitar’s action is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. Because the neck relief will also adjust this distance, it can impact your intonation.

There are a lot of people who set up their guitar intonation without considering the neck relief. But setting up the instrument has to be done properly in an order of operations.

All structural adjustments should be completed before adjusting things like string height or intonation. You want your guitar to play its best.

It’s like setting your string height before properly balancing a tremolo bridge. This simply does not work and will require you to do it again. So it’s best to start at the beginning.

How to Measure Neck Relief

You don’t have to know how to set the relief to do a check-up on your guitar. It is a very simple thing to measure. And because your guitar can be affected by environmental conditions, the first place you would notice this would be in the neck.

So it’s a good idea to learn how to check the neck relief and know when it might be time to take it in to see your tech.

To perform this measurement, you don’t need a fancy guitar neck relief tool that might be hard to get or be expensive. You can do this simply using a capo and some feeler gauges.

We recommend these feeler gauges at Amazon. Click Here if you need some.

To begin, put a capo on the first fret and hold the guitar comfortably in your lap or on a flat table-top.

Next, prepare a feeler gauge. We normally recommend using a .010” as this is sort of middle of the road for most guitars.

Now fret the Low E string at the 17th or where the neck meets the body. Measure the space between the string and 7th fret.

If the gauge lifts the string, it’s too close to the fretboard. If there is a lot of extra space between the gauge and the string, it’s too far away.

Now this measurement doesn’t have to be perfect, let’s face it, we are adjusting a wood neck with a feeler gauge. You are simply using this method to see if the distance is out considerably from the feeler gauge thickness.

Feeler gauge

Guitar Neck Relief Gauge

If you prefer something more robust and accurate, Stewmac has made a gauge that can help you make the adjustment with precision. The device sits on top of the neck and uses a dial indicator to measure the relief.

As you adjust the neck, the reading will reflect how much it is out. This allows for faster adjustments and accurate readings. If you change string thickness often or do many adjustments, it might be a worthwhile tool to have.

Guitar Neck Relief Specs

Manufacturers provide specs on how much relief their guitars should have. But when trying to align a piece of wood so accurately, you will not always get optimal results.

Some people also prefer their relief to be outside the recommended settings. But this is something you realize with experience. Until you develop a preference, you should stick to as close to the recommendation as possible.

There is a general rule of thumb for both acoustic and electric guitars. For an acoustic, the neck relief will be far greater. And so don’t try and set up an acoustic the same way you would an electric guitar.

  • The acoustic neck relief should be around .015” – .030”.
  • The electric around .010” – .012”.

These measurements are a rough rule of thumb, and so the uniqueness of the guitar may change these. If your measurement is any smaller than these, you’re probably too close and the strings will buzz

Adjusting Guitar Neck Relief

In order to adjust the neck relief, you need to turn the truss rod. If your measurement is greater than the size of the feeler gauge, you will need to tighten the truss rod. If it is smaller, loosen it.

The amount to turn the truss rod is the tricky part and the result will normally take time. When you make an adjustment, the neck will need time to adjust.

Remember, the wood itself has to adapt to the change. This can take a night or two to fully realize.

So we recommend you turn your truss rod ⅛ – ¼” and then leave it for the night. You don’t want to make any large changes.

And because there are many truss rods, be sure to find out what you have and how to properly operate it.

Guitar Neck Relief For Low Action

Anyone who plays quick solos or chord progressions knows that a lower action is not only more comfortable, but fast! If it is hard to press your strings, then it will slow you down.

In order to get the correct neck relief, you will need to acquire the right tools or have a technician set up your guitar. Without the correct adjustment, your strings might be higher than you would like. And so if you want low action, it might be a good idea to learn how to adjust your neck.

This is after all an adjustment that might need to be made more often, especially if you change string thickness often or have drastic seasonal changes.

A properly set neck relief will allow you to get as close to the frets as possible without creating buzz as you play. If you find that your strings are high, use the method we spoke of above with a tool to help measure the gap.

Once you find the correct adjustment, try getting a bit closer. If you find that your strings buzz when you play, then back it off. If they do not, then you know a lower action is possible.

If In Doubt Consult a Tech

Around here, we believe that part of your inspiration comes from a good instrument.

It’s hard to want to practice if your guitar is in bad shape and the strings are hard to press. And so if you are just getting started, we encourage you to find a good tech.

Setting your neck relief will also require you to adjust other things on the guitar. And it’s tough to know where to start when you’re a beginner. Many techs have years of experience and are willing to let you watch them perform their service.

In many cases, they will also teach you a few things you can do to maintain your guitar. This is a win when you’re just learning.

So if you perform the neck relief measurement and find its way out, leave it at that and call your technician. Performing the measurement and making the adjustment are very different procedures. Especially if your neck has dried out and shrunk due to lack of moisture!

FAQs

How much relief should a guitar neck have?

The amount of relief for both electric and acoustic guitars should be between 8-10 thousandths of an inch. This depends on how hard you play and if the strings buzz against the frets. If they do, consider increasing the amount of space between your strings and the frets.

The perfect amount of relief also allows you to press the strings without too much effort. And so getting this setting right is important.

Does neck relief affect action?

Yes, neck relief has a large impact on string action. This is because if the neck is too straight, the strings might be too close to the fretboard, which could create buzzing. If the neck is too curved, the strings will be too high off of the fretboard, depending on the direction of the bow.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!