Guitar Truss Rod Adjustments – Do It Yourself!

Samick Greg Bennett ASMJR-CE -Truss Rod Adjustment

DIY Truss Rod Adjustment

Most guitar players are very reluctant to use the truss rod adjustment tool that comes with their guitar. It seems that there is an unspoken rule that truss rod adjustments can only be performed by professionals with years of experience. If this was the case then guitar manufacturers could probably be sued because they are supplying you with a truss rod adjustment tool when you buy a guitar.

Actually, Taylor is the only electric guitar manufacturer that I know who does not give a truss rod adjustment tool. When I questioned this with the dealer I got the following reply: “Taylor don’t supply truss rod keys with guitars. It is to discourage people from tampering with truss rods themselves.”

This is wrong! I think that every guitar player should be able to adjust the truss rod on their guitar whenever it is required and not just when you bring it to the shop or the luthier for the ‘annual’ setup.

If you wait for your annual setup then you may be playing most of the time on an instrument that does not perform at its optimal capacity.


Low Cost Guitars Need Frequent Adjustments

This is especially true if you play a budget beginner instrument made in China. I have found that necks of low-cost Chinese made guitars are extremely prone to requiring adjustments almost every week. This is most likely because of the use of inferior materials and a manufacturing process that does not allow for the wood to be properly dried and cured. Some of these instruments should not be fitted with a truss rod cover because the truss rod needs to be adjusted almost every other day.


The Truss Rod Strengthens The Neck

The truss rod is a metal rod inserted in the neck of a guitar. Its first purpose is to reinforce the wood in the neck to handle the pulling tension of the strings. Modern day truss rods also come with a mechanism to adjust the strength of that tension. This is needed because the guitar neck is not entirely rigid. Even with the metal rod the necks ability to withstand the pulling tension of the strings can still be influenced by changes in temperature and humidity.

Over the turn of the seasons the guitar neck will move and without truss rod adjustment you will notice higher than usual action when the neck slightly gives in to the pull of the strings resulting in what is called a “Bow” or concave neck. At other times you will notices that the lower frets start buzzing when the neck contracts resulting in a “Hump” or convex neck.


Adjust The Truss Rod And Not The Bridge

Because guitar players do not dare to use the truss rod adjustment tool they normally start messing up a perfect bridge setup when a simple truss rod adjustment could have done the trick.

Modern truss rods include a mechanism that allows to equalize the movements of the neck quickly and effectively leaving all other aspects of the guitar setup in perfect condition.


To counteract a “Bow” or concave neck you need to turn the nut of the truss rod in a clockwise direction. This is tightening the nut. It is the same direction as when you tighten a screw with a screw driver.

It takes only a very small adjustment to achieve a noticeable lower action at the twelfth fret.

To fix a “Hump” or convex neck you need to turn the nut of the truss rod in a counter-clockwise direction. This is loosening the nut. It is the same direction as when you loosen a screw with a screw driver.

It takes only a very small adjustment to give the neck enough relief for the buzzing to stop.


Get The FREE Truss Rod Adjustment Guide!


Use Screw Driver Directions

The above instructions remain the same no matter whether the truss rod adjustment nut is accessible from the head-stock or from the body. Turn the guitar so that you look straight at the nut and then use the truss rod adjustment tool as if you were using a screw driver. Clockwise to tighten (counteract a “Bow”) and Counter-clockwise to loosen (fixing a “Hump”). The video below shows what I am talking about in more detail.


There is no need to be scared! You will not destroy your guitar by making truss rod adjustments. Just follow these basic rules. Make small adjustments, one quarter turn at the time.Make small adjustments, one quarter turn at the time. Allow time for the wood to follow the truss rod and settle before checking and also before making further adjustments. Remember to retune between adjustments as the tension of the neck will change the pitch of the strings. Stop and take it to a professional if you cannot easily turn the nut with the truss rod adjustment tool.

You can use your strings as a straight-edge to test the result of your adjustment. Press the 3rd string on the first fret with a finger of the left hand and press the fourteenth fret of the same string with a finger of the right hand. Your neck has a “Bow” if you see a gap between the string and the sixth fret. If there is no gap then your neck is either straight or has a “Hump”.

While some manufacturers suggest to leave a small “Bow” of the thickness of a business card, I prefer my necks to be straight.I prefer my necks to be straight. I normally adjust until I get that very small “Bow” and then tighten the nut a tiny bit to make the neck straight.

Most guitars come with a basic truss rod adjustment tool. While higher end instruments come with proper tools the ones that come with some budget guitars are not very handy if you have to do the job every other day. I use the Ball-End Hex Keys sold by Stewmac. For Chinese and most Korean made guitars you will need the ‘Metric’ set.

You will also need to buy a tool if you own a Taylor guitar. You can get a ¼” Truss Rod Wrench from Stewmac, on eBay or on Amazon.



I Really Like Guitars!

PS: What are your experiences with truss rod adjustments? Any dramas?  – I’d love it if you share it in the comments below!

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Beat Wettstein

I Really Like Guitars ..... a lot! Come find me on Google+.

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