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Setup Technical Talk: Sticky
Author
Post
Dave_E

Total Topics:
Total Posts:
Hi All,

After having set up my own guitars for a lifetime, I was watching the preview of the DVD available for setup, and he talks about setting the neck relief FIRST. This caught my attention. Maybe on a used guitar doing a tune up, but as we build new guitars, aren't we building a perfect straight neck with no turns on the truss rod (very neutral) and cutting the nut and saddle height very close to perfect and when you check the neck relief after that it's very almost perfect with no truss rod adjustment required. I know this is the way my Martin came out of the box, I checked it. Am I off base here? Disscussion?

Dave

Apr 08, 09 | 2:14 pm
Bill Cory

Total Topics: 158
Total Posts: 3584
Hi Dave -- I agree with you. Maybe there's something we're missing? Or, maybe not?

What was that DVD?

Bill

Apr 08, 09 | 2:23 pm
Dave_E

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
Kent Everett just put one out, along with a "voicing" DVD set. It's posted a couple down from this.

Apr 08, 09 | 2:25 pm
Ken Cierp

Total Topics: 58
Total Posts: 2262
I don't get that either -- in my kit instructions it is my recommendation to set the neck straight as possible, adjust the action/saddle height then if necessary crank in a very tineybit of relief. Here is a note I got from Fred Blum yesterday:

Hi Ken,


I have never had such an alive feeling guitar in my hands as this OM! Every note is clear even in the big full chords. I set the action to the .085" and the .070" for the 6th and 1st strings respectively as you recommend in the Success Kit Manual. The action is better than my Taylor 310 which was setup by the repair shop at the factory when I had a neck reset. There is absolutely no string buzz anywhere up the neck. Again, thank you so much for all your help and such a great design. I'm sending one picture for you. I'm a happy camper

Ken

Kenneth Michael Guitars est. 1978

Apr 08, 09 | 3:35 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Kent's right! Start with setting relief, everything else follows.

First, I hope your neck isn't straight -- it MUST have relief on the order of 0.020" in order to avoid back buzzes and overly high action. The ideal is for the neck to have a gentle, consistent curve from the nut to at least the body joint. Some fall off above the body may be necessary ... I'm unsure about that. But I do know that a long, smooth curve is essential to proper action and that only after you've established the relief can you set the nut and saddle heights accurately.

(Surprising -- I've talked to a fair number of builders, including some truly great ones, and few have thought about the purpose and effect of relief. It's more important than most think.)

Also, I like to send my guitars out with some tension on the truss rod. A loose or barely snug rod is a lot more likely to rattle and buzz, and has no ability to deal with back bowing. Basically, I level the fingerboard with the truss rod slightly tight. When the guitar's strung up, it will usually pull into about the right relief with the tension still on the rod. No rod rattle. It's good.

Apr 08, 09 | 3:39 pm
Dave_E

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
OK RD,

But here's where I have a problem with that philosophy. You must have a cut nut to proper height, and a saddle to proper height to even check neck relief correct? So how are you setting neck relief without having the nut and saddle done first? If you just swag the nut and saddle, get them close, then go moving the neck around, then you chase that with more nut and saddle adjustments... All the articles I've ever read from anybody, all say DO NOT set neck relief to compensate for a poorly cut nut or incorrect saddle height, which leads me to believe these must be set first.

Where am I going wrong?

Apr 08, 09 | 4:28 pm
Ken Hundley

Total Topics: 40
Total Posts: 2169
You can set neck relief by measuring across the frets (assuming they have been leveled already), not the nuts. You get a different value, but the overall difference from spot to spot is the same. Capo the first fret, then use your hand to fret at the body join, and measure from the 5th or 6th fret. Do this on at least the two e strings.

Apr 08, 09 | 5:32 pm
Dave_E

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
Just saw that on a site Ken. In fact I just visited 6 sites for acoustic guitar setup. They all tend to say the same thing, check neck straightness and relief. I'm OK with the first fret capo thing, but you STILL have to have a guitar with a saddle that is in the ballpark.

So from a BUILDERS perspective, you have to cut a nut (in the ball park, higher is OK for now) and make a saddle close to final hieght (can't be to high or your neck relief will be to high). See where I'm going here. You can end up chasing your tail.

I do not have (nor do most folks) special tooling to measure neck relief without strings on, that's the point. I also believe that after you string it up, neck relief as measured without strings can change... if it does, so starts the tail chasing.

Apr 08, 09 | 5:41 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Dave,

It's not a philosophy, it's a technique. Further, it makes sense and it works.

Why can't you set the relief before setting nut and saddle height? You set the relief by:
1) Tune up to pitch.
2) Hold the strings down, one at a time, at both the first and 12th frets. That essentially takes the action out of the picture -- by holding the strings down against the frets, you're measuring the amount the neck deflects just from string tension. Measure, by whatever means you're comfortable with, the relief around the 7th fret. Check each string. Ideally, you want a little less relief on the treble strings but unless you have one of the Gurians made with two truss rods, you can't really fix uneven relief. Still, it's good to know what it's like across the fingerboard -- you might have to use an average if there's serious twist.
3) Adjust the truss rod accordingly. You may want to "help" the rod by flexing the neck shaft as you adjust.
4) Re-check relief per #2, adjust more or less if necessary.

Now you can set nut slot heights by fretting at the 3rd fret and checking clearance above the 1st fret. I work by sight and feel here, not numbers. A bright "ping" when the string is tapped above the fret shows that it's clear of the fret but very close. Again, by fretting the string, saddle height is irrelevant (but relief is not!). Finally, set the saddle height by measuring at the 12th fret. Most of us use 64ths as the unit of measurement but whatever the unit, you can easily set the action by removing (or adding) twice the adjustment from the saddle. In other words, if the action at the 12th is 2/64" too high, remove 2/32" from the saddle.

Yes, definitely, changing relief will change action at the 12th and, to a smaller degree, at the first. That's exactly why you set relief first! Using relief to adjust the action is backward, results in less than perfect set up, and can cause serious problems with the neck.

Apr 08, 09 | 5:41 pm
Dave_E

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
For the builders here, do as Ken C suggests in his articles, can't go wrong.

Apr 08, 09 | 5:44 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Dave,

A follow-up, I just saw your new post.

No special equipment. The straightest line in your shop, or mine or anyone's, is a string under tension. Hold it down at the 1st and 12th (or 14th if you prefer, shouldn't matter), and check distance under it. Saddle height is irrelevant!! Try it -- it simply does not matter once you hold the string down against the frets.

I am a builder first and foremost. I do a set up on each guitar I make. That means, so far, around 180 set ups on new instruments. I do some repairs and set ups on the side, perhaps another 150. I do chase my tail sometimes but not in this case -- the procedure I described is, if not foolproof, damn close.

Also, I have found that many very good builders (including people for whose work I have tremendous respect) neither understand relief nor do good set ups. The repair techs who do set ups every day are the ones to listen to. Uniformly, they -- at least the ones who care about doing the best work -- set relief first. Re-read Cumpiano on set up -- he starts with relief once all the tuners, nut, and saddle are in place to hold the strings.

Try it. Once you do it this way, you'll see how the forces work and how good the results are.

Apr 08, 09 | 5:51 pm
Dave_E

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
Got it RD. Do you go by any other name?

Apr 08, 09 | 6:08 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Rick Davis, Running Dog guitars. www.vtguitars.com Building custom guitars since '92. Used to edit "Guitarmaker" magazine, ran ASIA for 6 years.

My mentors at different times and to different degrees are John Greven, Linda Manzer, Tom Ribbecke, Michael Millard (Froggy Bottom), Grit Laskin, Michael Gurian, Dan Erlewine, and many others who have all contributed to what little I know.

By the way, I rarely say "this is the right way" and only infrequently "this is the best way." For most of our work as guitar makers, I believe that there are many ways to achieve our goals. This happens to be an exception. I only wish I had the CAD skills to draw it properly and the linguistic and engineering skills to describe it better. Like I said, try it. Let me know.

Apr 08, 09 | 6:17 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Darn -- I forgot to mention Cat Fox as one of my mentors.

Cat is the luthier who is responsible for getting me think about relief and action in this new way. She's one of the best set up, repair, restoration, and overall skilled luthiers around. She has taught at ASIA Symposia, GAL conventions, Roberto-Venn School of (misspelled) Luthiery, the Crucible, and at many Seattle Luthiers meetings. She has published articles in "Guitarmaker." The Sound Guitar Workshop school is at least half her doing.

That I'm married to her is in no way responsible for my unqualified enthusiasm for her lutherie skills!

Apr 08, 09 | 6:23 pm
Ken Cierp

Total Topics: 58
Total Posts: 2262
Rick your method will work fine I am sure, but the simple truth is that relief is to make room for the 360 degree vibrating pattern of the strings, they do not vibrate side to side like many imagine, it did not take me 31 years to figure that out. When using the EASY method in the KMG instruction manual you put in just enough relief to get the frets out of the way --- just by chance I do have the engineering back ground and I do know how and why it works and could even put on paper if need be -- believe it -- it works too. Your methodology seems more of a pattern process using an arbitrary amount of bow -- by setting the neck straight applying the tension (every set of strings will exert a different amount of tension and therefore a different amount of bow (relief) is needed) So adjusting the truss rod allowing the neck to bow slightly (relief) after the string are set to the desired height can be done after there is a buzz detected will result in the minimum amount of bow (relief) required.

Ken

Kenneth Michael Guitars est. 1978


Apr 08, 09 | 7:35 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
Ken,

With respect, I disagree, even though disagreeing with an engineer can be dangerous. Once the math gets much beyond simple trig, I'm out of my depth.

So let me get this straight. I read your on-line instructions, which are quite instructive and very like the procedure for cutting the nut slots I learned from Dan Erlewine some years ago (depth, I mean; your system for laying out the spacing is far superior). You recommend setting the nut and saddle heights with a straight neck, right? Then you listen for buzzing and dial in enough relief to stop it. Is that right? Normally, that raises the action at both nut and saddle. So ... now you go back and do the nut and saddle again? And re-adjust relief because now you'll need more. And in doing so, raise the action again, and again ... that truly is chasing your tail! Or do you just accept the higher action and send the guitar out the door? I know that I did a number of times before I learned to set relief first.

What exactly is the problem with setting the relief first?

And by the way, even if the strings vibrated only parallel to the fret tops, you'd still need relief assuming that you've cut the nut slots precisely. Think about it -- or better, tighten that truss rod until the neck is dead nuts on straight and then try to locate the myriad of back buzzes!

Rick Davis est. 1949

Apr 08, 09 | 8:03 pm
Ken Cierp

Total Topics: 58
Total Posts: 2262
Well at no point do I recommend re-cutting the saddle slots in my final set-up procedure, if the instructions are followed that will not be necessary and in the context of this conversation has nothing to with relief. So now we are on the same page. Also, with the frets leveled properly, the neck straight, the strings tensioned and at the target heights at the 12th fret --- the "only" buzz will be caused by improper relief in the neck -- if there is a myriad of buzzes I am afraid that other things where not done properly in the first place. I certainly don't recommend nor try to develop a corrective action plan at this point in the set-up for things that should have been done right in the first place – “ do it right the first time, don’t try and repair quality into the product” --- it an engineering thing I guess ---- seems that you do? I see this mentality a lot in our craft. “Assemble it thusly and then go back and make it look or work like this”. So in the context of this conversation it’s about a "brand new build" not a repair job on an instrument we know nothing about -- perhaps that's where you have an additional disconnect?

And I am not sure about this comment:

And by the way, even if the strings vibrated only parallel to the fret tops,

As I stated above the whole idea behind the science is to put a slight bow in the neck because the strings are rotating around their axis in a 360-degree pattern NOT side to side. So when they get a little closer to the FB on the down swing they need a little more clearance.

Ken

Kenneth Michael Guitars est. 1978

[Edited by Admin: 4/10/09]


Apr 09, 09 | 1:24 am
moocatdog

Total Topics: 35
Total Posts: 302
Baloney. This is a forum, not a blog.

Apr 09, 09 | 6:32 am
Bill Cory

Total Topics: 158
Total Posts: 3584
Ken Cierp -- I am close to shutting down this thread, mainly because of your condescension toward another member. Instead, I have merely removed the portion of our post that I believe is over the line: Sarcasm is not welcome here.

I hope I am speaking directly enough.

This is an open forum, and while disagreements may be healthy, the kind of incendiary language you have used above is not.

If you wish to correspond with me about this, you know my email address.

Bill

Apr 09, 09 | 6:44 am
Kevin Sjostrand

Total Topics: 84
Total Posts: 981
Thanks Bill,
I respect all you guys and your opinions, but this one was becoming unpleasant to read, and I REALLY look forward to reading these threads.
I'm thinking enough has been said on the subject.

Kevin

Apr 09, 09 | 8:23 am
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
I'm happy to say that Ken C and I disagree about procedure -- what works for me apparently doesn't for him -- and let it rest. C'est lutherie.

What's important to me is thinking through each step of the guitar making process not only for good use of our time but for the understanding that comes from being open to and critical of others' ideas. Critical in the good sense of trying to understand and evaluate. We all know so little about how the guitar works that being close-minded or defensive is terribly counter-productive. I try not to fall into that trap but one's not perfect.

Rick

Apr 09, 09 | 8:51 am
Freeman

Total Topics: 27
Total Posts: 668
My dear old dad said that if you get in a pissin' match you just get wet and stinky. However, I've always felt this was a good read about the relationship between relief and other setup issues.

http://www.bryankimsey.com/setup/neck_relief_1.htm

Apr 09, 09 | 1:12 pm
Adaboy

Total Topics: 64
Total Posts: 509
Bill, thank you!

Running Dog, that was great information you provided. Thanks for writing it up for us.

Just an opinion but it seems your method would less likely get one in the "chasing your tail" scenario mentioned above. Seems setting the bow after making your bridge and nut adjustments could very well change the measurements used to adjust the bridge saddle......maybe not by a lot, but I don't see how it wouldn't change if you change the bow of the neck.

Apr 09, 09 | 2:56 pm
Danielb

Total Topics: 4
Total Posts: 22
I found this thread a fascinating read and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dan B

Apr 10, 09 | 12:28 pm
blues creek guitars Authorized Martin Repair Ctr

Total Topics: 52
Total Posts: 1011
I am in the same boat as Running Dog. Rick I knew that was you . Glad to see you here. As you will soon find there are many people here giving advice . Rick has very respectful credentials and his advice is worth following.
john hall


Apr 10, 09 | 1:09 pm
blues creek guitars Authorized Martin Repair Ctr

Total Topics: 52
Total Posts: 1011
For the Record , Rick Davis is a well known luthier and was the head of ASIA for many years. His credentials are indeed impressive and his presence here is appreciated. He had helped me in my early years and to that I am in his dept.
john hall
CF Martin Authorized repair center

Apr 10, 09 | 6:16 pm
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
John,

Thanks for the intro. You give me too much credit, though! What I did at ASIA was what I was hired to do and doing it for appreciative and dedicated people like yourself made it worthwhile. Hope all's well in PA! It's always good to see your name here and there.

Rick

Apr 10, 09 | 7:51 pm
Dave_E

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
WOW! I was gone for a couple days and look what happened! Aside from snippiness, this is what the forum is for; learning and sharing. I for one, did learn something, thanks Rick. After I chewed on what you posted, I've re-evaluted and don't mind saying I think that's the way I'll do it from now on. A person could get away with doing things all out of order here and maybe get away with it. But like Ken said, there are good ways, better ways and better better ways of doing everything! Thanks to all who jumped in on this, hope I'm not the only one who really got something from it.

Dave

Apr 11, 09 | 1:36 pm
enalnitram (Martin Lane)

Total Topics: 47
Total Posts: 332
I appreciate threads like this. Despite being an inexperienced, complete novice builder, ... I did work as a setup tech at Washburn for a while. My job there was to make crappy guitars play well, every day, all day. I'm not exactly following what the disagreement was here. I haven't put enough time or effort into figuring it out. But I could totally get behind RD's procedure. It's pretty much the way I did it, too.

Apr 16, 09 | 10:12 am
DonB

Total Topics: 20
Total Posts: 240
Very good information Rick! I hope you post a lot more here. We all could use an experienced hand who is willing to share.
Thanks.


Don

Apr 18, 09 | 8:35 pm
John B

Total Topics: 15
Total Posts: 76
(this is a question about leveling frets that I am copying this from another thread as it is more related to setup..)

Out of all this information I have researched, it isn't clear to me when you level frets with respect to the rest of the setup... Prior to truss rod relief adjustment I presume? Do you level without any releaf at all?, with a little tension?, etc?

I saw some information on leveling with simulated string tension (5 lb weight on the end) but it wasn't clear if this was just a check step or not.

Any clarification would help me out with this step.
Thanks,
John Butler

Jul 15, 09 | 10:36 am
Kevin Sjostrand

Total Topics: 84
Total Posts: 981
John,
The fretboard has to be flat when you are leveling the frets. If it is not attached to the neck yet, then clamp it flat on your work surface. If it is glued down on the neck, and is flat then level away. If it is not flat on the neck, then you will have to use the truss rod adjustment to flatten it out before leveling. Have your neck straight when you do your initial set up your nut and saddle, and then adjust the neck after it is strung up to compensate for string tension pulling on the neck, and make additional adjustments to the nut and saddle as needed.
Hope this helps. Others please chime in if I have mis-stated or missed something.

Kevin

Jul 15, 09 | 11:22 am
Running Dog

Total Topics: 1
Total Posts: 103
I level the fingerboard after joining to the body. Put a little tension on the truss rod (back bow it a small amount) so after it's level you can tighten or loosen it as needed.

Then I level the frets, crown and polish them. At that point, it's time to string it up and do the set up, relief adjustment, etc. Seems to work.

Jul 15, 09 | 11:54 am
Ken Cierp

Total Topics: 58
Total Posts: 2262
Hi John,

We do the fret levelling before assembling the neck to the body as presented here:
http://www.kennethmichaelguitars.com/fretdressing.html

Its a little different than Ricks' method but I certainly agree with the idea of using the truss rod to get the neck straight or in a very slight back bow. The point is, there is no need for any special weights or gadgets.

Personally, I don't think trying to level the frets before the fingerboard is attached to the neck would ever be a good idea. (I think I read that somewhere above)

Ken

Jul 16, 09 | 3:51 am
Laurent

Total Topics: 9
Total Posts: 109
Ok, I have a kind of stupid question: how do you get the allen wrench into the truss rod nut when the strings are put on, on a StewMac dreadnought? I don't see how to reach that nut, I can't get my hand past the strings far enough.

Jan 23, 10 | 6:29 am
Bill Cory

Total Topics: 158
Total Posts: 3584
That's not a stupid question at all. Stewmac just made it hard to do. I never found a way to do it until I was able to come up with a workable solution using an old tool. Here's a picture. Basicaly, you just need something long enough to get the truss rod wrench in there, and you have to hold it by reaching around or through the strings. It goes in the way it is shown. The 90º bend in the truss rod wrench is stuck into the hole of the hande of the other tool, then taped. I imagine any long piece of wood that wold extend the reach of the truss rod wrench would serve just fine.


Jan 23, 10 | 8:57 am
Laurent

Total Topics: 9
Total Posts: 109
Ah, it took me some time to understand how you made this, but now I understand! I'll try something like that then, thanks!

Jan 24, 10 | 1:47 am



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