Strat Setup Fun

NA little while ago I noticed my custom shop Strat was having a little fret rattle so I decided I would perform some adjustments. I started with raising the bridge saddles but couldn’t get the right compromise between comfort and sound.  So I decided to do it the “right way.”  The steps are fairly straightforward and are widely available. They are even outlined in the little Fender manual that comes with all new instruments and online:

1. Check the neck relief

2. Check the nut height (action at first fret)

3. Adust the bridge saddle height.

4. Adjust the pickup height.

5. Adjust the intonation (string length)

Pretty easy right? Well not exactly. Before anything you should realize that the desirable result will be different for each player depending upon style, whether you have a heavy or light touch, what gauge strings you have,  what kind and thickness of pick you use or if you use a pick at all. And slide could be a whole other thing though there are plenty of slide players that use a “normal “ setup. (Think George Harrison.)

And what about specs? Well take your pick.  As I mentioned factory specs are easily obtainable online. I’ll suggest you start there. And since every adjustment effects the others you really should follow the order described above.  Typically I used to shy away from messing with the truss rod especially on my vintage Gibson but with my Fender I felt a little more comfortable. It is a machine after all.

So I took the plunge and adjusted the truss rod to set the relief.  This really is a necessary step as too little relief will necessitate raising the bridge height above the comfort zone especially if you have a heavier touch.  Now as far as specs – the relief measured at the 8th fret (distance from the bottom of the string to the top of the fret) according to the manual should be 0.10″.  However, as engraved onthe little CruzTools kit ruler that came with my guitar, the setup specs specify .012″ measured at the 7th fret (though we are after all talking a difference of 2/10000 of an inch here!)  In any event, the starting point should be close to the factory spec and you can do your tweaking from there.  Turn the truss rod a very little bit at at time and re-check in a couple of days – the wood will have settled.

While we’re stuck on the subject of relief,  a lot of players like a perfectly straight neck, for example Eric Johnson.  I hear that Fender master builder Todd Krause sets up his guitars at .012 but who knows?  As they say, different strokes for different strokes.

Oh, and if you have an older instrument or one that’s been heavily used, you need to make sure the string height at the nut is sufficient or you might need to fill the slots to get the action where it should be.  You may want too leave this to a professional or again, check out the web.  I would recommend leaving this to a professional but I have heard a mixture of Super Glue and baking soda work really well.

I won’t go into detail on steps 3 – 5 as I think they are pretty straightforward and again the details are readily available.

One more thing – this whole thing gets trickier with a tremolo model.  Mine is a “hard-tail” (actually it’s an EC model which means it’s blocked (literally.))  In this case you will also want to check the tremolo spring tension and perhaps add or remove spring(s.) Mine came with  3 attached; I never changed that.

Also, be sure to listen to the guitar PLUGGED IN!  Rattles that drive you crazy otherwise won’t be noticeable through your amp.

And please, please change your strings before you begin.  Old strings will mess up your intonation big time.

Good luck!

-Barry