How to adjust your guitar's truss rod
Choking or buzzing notes can be caused by dead or dying strings, worn frets or, dare we even suggest it, bad playing technique. If your guitar’s neck is dipped (in other words, lower in the middle than at either end), then a string could hit a higher fret when you play it.
While adjusting the truss rod is a simple task, you do have to treat it with a certain amount of respect - overzealous tightening can break the rod in two - so pay close attention to our step-by-step guide.
Introduction to the truss rod
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, a truss rod is a metal bar that runs through the centre of a guitar neck. Adjusting the truss influences the ‘straightness’ of the neck.
Before you eyeball the neck, confirm that your guitar is tuned up to pitch, or your preferred alternate tuning, with fresh strings. If the tuning isn’t right, it can affect the straightness of the neck.
Hold the body, not the head
Hold your guitar’s body. If you hold the guitar by the headstock, you’ll put slight pressure on the neck and this will give you a false reading of the neck’s straightness. You have been warned!
Eyeball the neck
Look down the bass side of the fingerboard. Try closing one eye as you do so. You’ll look like Popeye, but it helps you focus. You should now be able to tell if the neck is straight or warped.
Find the adjuster bolt
If the neck needs adjustment, find the truss rod adjuster bolt. On most modern guitars, you’ll find the bolt in a hole or under a plastic plate next to the top nut on the headstock.
Allen key or box wrench
Most modern guitars have an Allen bolt that’s adjusted with, you guessed it, an Allen key. Some guitars, such as Gibson Les Paul and SG models, have a nut that’s adjusted with a box wrench.
Some guitars and basses, like our Tokai Hard Puncher, have a truss rod bolt at the body end of the neck. You may have to remove the scratchplate, or the neck itself, to access this bolt.
Over-bent? Turn anticlockwise
If, when you’ve eyeballed the neck, it’s ‘over-bent’ (higher in the middle than it is at the headstock and body ends), use the Allen key, wrench or screwdriver to adjust the truss rod bolt anticlockwise.
Dipped? Turn clockwise
When you’re faced with a neck that’s ‘dipped’ (lower in the middle of the fingerboard than at either end), simply increase the tension on the truss rod by using your tool to adjust it clockwise.
The Allen key, wrench or screwdriver should be seated firmly in or over the truss rod bolt or nut to avoid damage. Chewing up the nut or bolt creates a big problem for future adjustments.
Turn, tune, check
Even small adjustments of the truss rod can make a big difference to the straightness of the neck. With every small turn, retune the guitar and peer down both sides of the neck to check your progress.
Now that the neck has been adjusted correctly, you should find your choking notes are just a bad memory. The truss rod isn’t really intimidating at all – you just have to treat it with respect.