What You Need To Know About Your Guitar’s Truss Rod

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When looking at a typical metal (genre) guitar – their finish, look and sound – sometimes almost make you feel that they are really made of metal.

However, that is not true. A great majority of guitars are actually made of wood.

Sidenote: I didn’t say all, because some guitars are made of a mix of carbon fiber and composites. To learn more, look up brands like Rainsong, Emerald, Blackbird, Composite Acoustics.

See, in order for your guitar to function properly – it needs to maintain its shape (not bend / twist / warp).

But here is a problem – wood doesn’t have a good reputation for keeping its shape very well.

In this article you will learn what truss rod is and what it does.

Sounds interesting?

Stay tuned!

Wood warping

Here is the deal.

Wood is a hygroscopic material – it will release or absorb moisture until it reaches an equilibrium with the surrounding environment.

If too much moisture is released – the wood can contract and crack. On the other hand, if wood absorbs too much water – it can swell.

Another important factor is string tension.

Steel strings apply a lot of tension on a guitar neck. Nylon strings, however, cause much less tension and for this reason classical guitars usualy do not have truss rodes in the neck.

The pull created by steel strings is strong enough to eventually bend (warp) a wooden guitar neck and this would make it impossible to play a guitar like that.

A minute of history

In 1921 Thaddeus McHugh, an employee from Gibson, was the first one who applied the idea of a “truss rod”. It was actually a big step in the history of guitar guitar manufacturing.

See, before guitar manufacturers had to use heavy, rigid and expensive wood types and achieve relief by laboriously planing the fingerboard. A truss rod allowed guitar builders to use cheaper and lighter materials for the neck – which is why there are so many high-quality, yet affordable guitars on the market today.

It also allowed the builders to make the neck thinner – which improved playability of the instrument and made it available for people with tiny hands and fingers like Angus Young, Stevie T or me.

What is a truss rod?

truss rod
How truss rod works

A truss rod is a steel or graphite bar inside your guitar’s (or other steel-string instrument) neck, beneath the fretboard.

It stabilizes the lengthwise forward curvature (relief) of the neck by countering the tension applied by steel strings on the neck wood (as well as natural tendencies in the wood).

Or shortly – it keep guitar’s neck from warping.

Why is it useful for a guitarist to know how truss rod works?

While it’s great to know that truss rod keeps guitar neck’s shape, you might ask “And what?”

Good question.

Here is the deal.

Improperly adjusted tross rod can cause issues for your guitar’s playability.

It can make your guitar uncomfortable for playing and you will sound like crap (assuming you DON’t sound like crap normally. If you do – adjusting a truss rod won’t help you, you can stop reading stuff on the internet and start practicing some guitar).

If normally people aren’t asking you to stop when you’re playing guitar – keep reading.

When you buy a cheap guitar  – sometimes it may not be setup well and it will have either fretbuzz issue or action being too high.

If you don’t know how to adjust the truss rod – you may need to bring it to a guitar tech, which will add up a little to the cost of the guitar.

How to adjust a truss rod

How to Loosen Truss the Rod?

If you need to loosen the truss rod and move the neck TOWARDS the strings (LOWER action) – you need to turn it to the left – counter clickwise.

How to Tighten the Truss Rod?

If you need to move the neck AWAY from strings or (HIGHTEN) the action – you turn the truss rod to the right – clockwise.

How Often Should You Adjust The Truss Rod?

It’s not a regular procedure and normally it should only be done once. However, if you need to adjust it frequently – it most likely means that the neck is not good.

Additional Tips

  • Don’t wrench too much at once. As a rule of thumb, use 1/4 of a turn at a time untill you notice changes.
  • Always re-tune the guitar before checking your adjustment.
  • If you feel any accessive resistence – don’t force it. There is a potential of breaking your instrument, so instead bring your guitar to a professional technician.
  • If you feel that you’re loosening the truss rod and it isn’t making any adjustment, you may have a dual-action truss rod. Check your instrument’s specifications. If you do, your truss rod will eventually catch and you’ll be able to make the proper adjustment.
  • Adjusting the truss rod doesn’t always take effect immediately. Sometimes it may take up to a few days.
  • You shouldn’t adjust action only using truss rod (more about it here).

Alan Jackman

Meet Alan, the guitar-slinging, blog-running, lesson-giving machine. By day, he shreds on the six-string like a rockstar, and by night, he shares his knowledge with the masses on his online blog. With Alan, you'll learn how to play the guitar like a pro!

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