Saddle Height Adjustment
Important: before you attempt to do any of the following procedures,
please carefully and thoroughly read the entire page, then
read each section as you do that procedure of your set up.
For best results, do your set up procedures in the same order
that they are found on this page. If you have little or no
experience setting up guitars or working with hand tools,
I suggest that with exception of changing strings, you first
learn do set ups or any other maintenance and modifications
on an inexpensive instrument.
It is best to change strings one at a time to avoid a major
change of tension all at once on the neck. You will need
a pair of diagonal cutters or a string winder that has a
string cutter on the end.
the old string from the tuning peg.
it the best you can and then carefully remove the string.
You might want to save it as a backup in case you break
the new string.
Put your finger under the ball end of the string you are
removing, as you start to push the string out, so the
ball end doesn't scratch the end of the body.
push the old string through the tailpiece holes as you
pull from the rear side can help get it out easier.
When the strings are out of the way, it's a good time
to clean the areas of the neck, body and bridge that are
hard to get to when the strings are in place.
Installing New Strings:
a very slight bend in the leading end of the string before
you push it through the hole of the bridge.
the string through the hole with the bend up so you can
grab it easier and it doesn't go under the bridge saddles.
your bass guitar is designed so that you can load the
string through the back, bending the leading end won't
be necessary and just pass the string through the ferrule.
either case, carefully guide the string through the hole
and over the bridge saddle. Hold the string, especially
the ball end away from the body so not to tear up the
the string is completely through, cut the leading end
approximately 3 inches past the intended tuner post.
Installing New Strings continued:
a needle nose pliers, make a 90° bend in the string
approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the leading end.
the bent end of the string in the hole in the in the center
of the slot of the tuning post.
string should be wound from the side of the tuning post
that makes it look most parallel with it's direction over
the fingerboard, which with most bass guitars is usually
the side opposite the key of the tuner.
the leading end down with your thumb and the rest of the
string up with your index finger as you wind the tuner
key to bring the string to pitch.
best results, the string should neatly wind around the
post 2 to 3 times.
New Strings continued:
the leading end down with your thumb and the rest of the
string up with your index finger as you wind the tuner
key with your other hand to bring the string to pitch.
want the first winding of the string to be at the top
of the post, the last winding at the bottom of the post.
the string from crossing over itself on the post.
the slack of the string is taken up, be certain that the
string is positioned in its saddle and nut slot.
you bring the string up to pitch, position the string
under its retainer or string tree on the headstock, if
there is one for it.
not tighten the string too quickly, you can break or damage
the string if it goes past its normally tuned pitch.
the same procedure for the remaining strings.
TRUSS ROD ADJUSTMENT
Truss rod adjustments are something I advise a player who
has had no experience at this, to learn on an inexpensive
instrument. Improper adjustments can wind up in a costly
trip to a repair shop visit with your nice bass. Most basses
have the truss rod adjustment at the head, where you might
have to first remove the truss rod cover. Some adjust at
the body end of the neck and the neck might have to be removed
on some cases, like Fenders made before the 80's. Turning
the truss rod adjustment to the right (clockwise) reduces
forward bow, no matter which end of the neck the adjustment
is made. Turning the truss rod adjustment to the left (counter
clockwise) reduces back bow, no matter which end of the
neck the adjustment is made. The truss rod adjustment should
never exceed more than 1/8 turn at once.
It might take two or three days to get your neck to the
proper adjustment. Never force the adjustment to turn. If
you can't turn it, it may already be at the end of it's
traveling distance on the rod. Forcing it can break the
truss rod and /or pop the fingerboard off the neck.
To tell if your neck needs an adjustment, using the tuned
strings as a straight edge, get a guitar capo and capo the
strings at the first fret. After putting on the capo, holding
the string down at the last fret, you should be able to
slide a piece of loose leaf paper between the string and
the 9th fret, with the string barely moving at all. Or you
can hold the string down with your first finger on your
left hand and hold the string down at the last fret with
your other hand. With your pinky on your left hand go to
the furthest fret you cab reach with it and tap down on
the string. It shouldn't move much, just enough to hear
a tiny plink noise. If there was no sound, your neck is
too straight or has a back bow and the truss rod adjustment
has to be loosened (turned left). If the string has to be
pushed down a bit and the plink is loud, the truss rod adjustment
has to be tightened (turned to the right). Exactly how much
relief the neck of your bass should have, will depend on
the strings you use and your playing style. If your strings
are buzzing against the first few frets, your neck might
need a little more relief
Truss rod adjustments on Rickenbacker 4000, 4001 and 4002
basses need to be performed differently and is covered on
the Rickenbacker bass maintenance page. Rickenbacker 4003
and 4004 basses can have their truss rods adjusted as described
above. Rickenbacker basses have 2 truss rods in the necks
for more accurate adjustments. Some manufacturers will also
put two truss rods in the necks of their multistring basses,
especially basses with 8 or twelve strings.
The Fender Precision made in Mexico Fender Precision has
the adjustment at the head and takes a 3/16" Allen
wrench (below, left). The Musicman basses have a very cleverly
designed truss rod adjustment wheel. You insert an Allen
wrench or thin screwdriver into one of the holes to turn
the wheel (below, right).
SADDLE HEIGHT ADJUSTMENT
Adjusting the bridge saddles is usually done by turning screws,
one on each side of the bridge saddle. The screws are usually
adjusted with an allen wrench usually a 1/16" allen wrench
is the right size. Many guitar manufacturers will supply a
bridge adjustment allen wrench with a new instrument. Turning
the screw clockwise raises the bridge saddle, therefore raising
the string height. Turning the screw counterclockwise lowers
the saddle, therefore lowers the string height. The height
of the strings are usually 3/16" from the bottom of the
E string to the top of the 12th fret. The first string can
be slightly closer to the fret. The overall string height
as well as the string to string height on your bass should
depend on your style of playing, type of strings used and
the radius (curvature) of the fingerboard. After you have
changed the string height, you will have to retune the string
since lowering the height of a string will loosen it and raising
the height of a string will tighten it.
This is a procedure for bolt-on neck instruments only! Shimming
the neck is done if all of the above steps are performed
correctly and string height is still unsatisfactory.
the strings and remove them from the tuning posts. Completely
removing the strings from from the instrument is optional
and not necessary if you work carefully.
and remove the neck mounting screws at the back of the
body. Some instruments have a neck plate that goes between
the srews and the body. Some instruments will not have
the neck plate and instead have screws counter-sunk into
thebody with a specialized washer in between.
separate the neck from the body.
There may already be a shim in place that might have to
be added to if the string action is too high or removed
if the string action is too low. If you need to add a shim,
cut the end of a match book cover approximately 1/4 to 3/8"
from the end and place it in the neck pocket. Depending
on exactly where you place it in the neck pocket can increase
or decrease the desired effect. In the deepest part of the
neck pocket, the shim will have a small effect on the neck
angle which is most likely all you'll need, but you may
need to move it a little closer to the center a bit for
more effect on the neck angle. Centering the shim between
the front and rear neck mounting screws will give no effect.
Placing it towards the front neck mounting screws will change
the neck angle the opposite direction and increase string
your instrument doing the opposite order if the procedure
above the perceding paragrah.
If you are having trouble keeping the shim exactly where
you need it, a tiny bit of glue stick can help keep it in
place until you mount the neck back on the body. When mounting
the neck back on the body, and you realize that your instrument
that does not have a tight neck joint, make sure the neck
is lined up well before completely tightening the mounting
screws. With the neck mounting screws only slightly snug,
use the reinstalled strings with barely any tension of them
to judge the neck alignment. When the alignment looks correct,
tighten the neck mounting screws.
The neck mounting screws are only screws on your instrument
that should be very tight when you are done. Then reinstall
your strings on the machine heads and tune them to pitch.
Shimming the neck too much can cause the strings to buzz
against the upper frets. After shimming the neck, you may
have to re-adjust the height of the bridge saddles.
Pickup height is adjusted by the screws on the sides of the
pickups. Single coil pickups usually have one screw on each
side. Humbucking pickups usually have two screws on each side,
but some may have one screw on one side and two on the other
side. Turning the screws to the right (clockwise) lowers the
pickup. Turning the screws to the left (counterclockwise)
raises the pickup. There are usually springs that on the shaft
of the screw between the pickup and the body to hold the pickup
to the height that is set by the screw. As a reference point
you should set your pickup height to 5/32" between the
top of the pole pieces and the bottoms of the strings. Some
pickups, like those made by Bartolini or EMG do not have exposed
pole pieces. So set the 5/32" height from the top of
the pickup to the bottoms of the strings.
Depending on your playing style and music you play and the
type of pickup, you might want to lower or raise the pickup
slightly to get the sound you want. The closer the pickups
are to the strings, the louder the output from your bass will
be, but if the pickups are too close, your notes will have
less sustain and you can have unwanted distortion and the
notes might sound odd, especially when playing on the upper
This step is done last in a set up procedure since all of
the previous steps can affect intonation. After changing
strings, and your bass seems to not need a set up, you should
still check the intonation of the strings, especially if
you've changed gauges, brand or construction type. You'll
need a dependable tuner, small screwdriver and an instrument
your instrument into a good tuner using a high quality
all volume and tone controls to almost maximum if the
electronics are passive, about ¾ of the way full
if it has active electronics.
your instrument in playing position and play the first
sure the string is perfectly tuned and then play the first
string at the twelfth fret.
the tuner shows that the 12th fret note is sharp when
the open note is in tune, you must increase the length
on the string by moving the bridge saddle in the direction
away from the headstock.
the tuner shows that the 12th fret note is flat when the
open note is in tune, you must decrease the length on
the string by moving the bridge saddle in the direction
towards the headstock.
loosen the string, and then turn the saddle intonation
adjustment screw (clockwise to increase string length,
counter-clockwise to decrease string length).
and repeat the previous steps as necessary with all of
How much you will have to turn the screw depends on how
much adjustment it needs. Approximating will come with
experience. Bring the string back up to pitch and check
the note at the 12th fret again. It might take several
tries to get it perfectly intonated. Repeat the same procedure
with the rest of the strings.
The picture on the left shows a Fender Precision bridge,
the picture on the right, a Musicman StingRay5 bridge.
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