Winter Weather & Truss Rod Maintenance

Brian Hoover

There's a golden rule that a lot of guitarists starting out either don’t hear about, or don’t want to hear, and that is, your guitar is going to need regular maintenance. Guitars are instruments, carved from wood, and because of this they are going to face some issues that are very specific to that medium, namely, shifting and warping. Now don't get scared newbie guitarists, those words aren’t scary, it just means that the wood moves with temperature and humidity. Luthiers (the people who build and craft guitars) are aware of this and long ago figured out a solution for dealing with that, namely the truss rod. Now there is a myth that some other big name guitar stores like to spread around, that you shouldn't ever mess with your truss rod, because it will ruin your guitar, which simply isn’t true. Thanks to the oft present modern two way truss rod designs, and a little bit of patience, and studying one or two Youtube videos, you can adjust it just as well as any $50 an hour guitar tech from those big chain guitar stores.
All you need to do is eye ball down the neck and see how close to being flat it is, you never want it totally flat, or at a negative degree, because both of those make your fretboard either buzz or start fretting out, which is a bad thing. But having the truss rod too loose can make your action too high which makes the guitar difficult to intonate, and worse, difficult to play. So, like I said earlier, read, and watch a Youtube video or too and you will get the basic idea, left loose, right tight, tighter brings the neck bow back away from the fretboard, and looser lets the strings of the guitar pull it forward. I like to keep my E,A, & B,e strings tuned up, while slacking the D and G strings, and then adjusting on whichever side of the neck the truss rod can be accessed from (electrics are usually on the head stock and acoustics are usually through the sound hole, although some can vary) and I tighten it just a bit too far, so that the added string tension (and I tend to use heavier strings) will pull it up to where it is just shy of perfect, so that I can go without touching it for as long as the weather stays similar to where it is, and I do that about once every 3-4 months or so, give or take.

A lot of times we run into an issue here at WMS when we ship out a great guitar to someone, and they claim it doesn’t work, or is broken, and literally 98% of the time, it’s just the truss rod. We are located in Muncie Indiana, and right now it is about 19 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and all of our guitars are kept in a heated and humidity controlled warehouse, but when we ship them, they are put in the back of a Fedex truck, or a US mail truck and driven around for days in cold weather.  What this does it can cause the neck on the guitar to “bottom out”, because cold makes the cells in the wood shrink, and this issue can cause a lot of first time guitarists, expecting this new guitar to feel just like the one they played at a music store that had been set up by a tech within the last 72 hours, to just assume it’s broken. I remember my sister was the same way the year she got her Jazz bass from our mom for Christmas, and my mom was totally bent on getting it fixed immediately talking about how you know "we got a broken this" and "a defective that." I grabbed the bass, sat down on the couch, turned the truss rod two and a half times and boom! like magic that bass was perfect, still is too. This isn’t a bad business practice, a poorly made guitar, or a shoddy sales company, it's just science. We get so used to everything we own being injection molded and die cast that sometimes we forget that some things, like wood, just change sometimes, and it's up to us to fix them.


Related Products