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DIY: How to Set Up a Fender Stratocaster Page 1 of 3

Step 4
Adjust the Truss Rod

With the guitar strung to the clients specs and tuned to D standard, I was ready to tackle the neck

1. Locate the correct tool for your guitars truss rod (the size and type of nut can vary according to
Strat model, year, and manufacturing origin) and insert it into the truss-rod nut (Photo 4).

2. Adjust the truss rod. Turn the wrench clockwise to tighten the rod and reduce forward bowing,
or counterclockwise to loosen the rod and reduce back bow. Go slowly, making very small
adjustments (1/8 to 1/4 a turn at a time). Check the results each time you move the rodand be

By tightening the truss rod, I reduced relief from .022" to .015". This was the proper amount of
relief for the owners playing style. Any less relief and the strings would be likely to rattle against
the frets.

Earlier, I mentioned that the custom pickguard was obstructing the tremolo (Photo 5). This is one
of those little surprises that can and will occur with any guitar. To allow the trem to tilt forward,
there needs to be a small space between the trem base plate and pickguard. To create this
clearance, I determined that the guard had to be trimmed by about 1/8".

The process involved removing the pickguard (Photo 6), examining the plastic to see where it was
contacting the trem (Photo 7), using a mechanical pencil to mark the material I wanted to remove
(Photo 8), and carefully scraping away the unwanted plastic with a precision tool (Photo 9).

For this type of job, I use stainless-steel scraper blades (available from that are
designed to smooth plastic bindings and contour wood surfaces. Scraping takes time and a lot of
patience. If youre not confident in your ability to do this, consult an expert. Even with more than
25 years of experience, it still took me three tries to get it right. Ultimately, I was satisfied that
there was sufficient space between the base plate and guard to allow the trem to tilt forward freely
(Photo 10). 06/04/2017
DIY: How to Set Up a Fender Stratocaster Page 2 of 3

4. When tightening or loosening the truss rod to control neck relief, go slowly and make very small adjustments. 5. Because its butting up
against the tremolo base plate, the custom pickguard is obstructing trem action and needs to be removed and trimmed. 6. To prevent a
screwdriver from slipping out of the screw head and scratching the finish, use your free hand to guide and secure its tip. 7. If you look
closely, youll see two indentations at the edge of the pickguard where it was pressing against the trem posts. 8. Using a mechanical pencil
to mark about 1/8" of material to remove from the pickguard. 9. Scraping the pickguard to create a space between it and the trem
assembly. 10. Now the trem can tilt forward without hitting the pickguard.

Step 5
Adjust the Tremolo Spring Tension

Now its time to adjust the trem unit. I noticed the tremolo claw held five springs, and their
tension was holding the bridge base flush to the body. Before going any further, I needed to adjust
the springs and claw to allow the trem assembly to float. Heres the process:

1. Tune the guitar to pitch, then check the tremolo base plate to see if its floating, flush against
the body, or lifting up too much at the rear.

2. Turn the guitar over and rest it on a soft surface, such as a towel. Remove the trem cavity cover.

3. Using a medium Phillips screwdriver, equally adjust the two screws holding the claw to the
guitar body (Photo 11). Loosen the claw to create more float on the tremolo. Tighten the screws
to pull the tremolo closer to the body.

Always retune after every adjustment and check your progress frequently. This process is very
painstaking and will require at least several attempts to get the trem adjusted parallel to the body
with the tension the way you like it.

I removed two springs from the claw and re-aligned the two outside springs to attach toward the
center of the claw. After adjusting the claw several timesand always retuning whenever I 06/04/2017
DIY: How to Set Up a Fender Stratocaster Page 3 of 3

tightened or loosened the springsI finally got the tremolo floating parallel to the body with just
enough clearance to pull the tremolo up a bit and raise the pitch slightly, as the owner requested
(Photo 12).

11. Adjusting the spring tension to allow the tremolo to float parallel to the body. 12. A floating trem has sufficient clearance from the body
to both lower and slightly raise string pitch.

Step 6
Adjust Basic Bridge Height

Once the trem base plate was parallel to the

body, my next task was to adjust the overall
bridge height by raising or lowering the two
screws located on either side of the bridge
(Photo 13). Note: Vintage Strats or vintage-
style reissues use six screws, rather than the
modern two-post system, but the principle of
adjusting the bridge height remains the same.

1. Tune the guitar to pitch. Then using the

appropriate screwdriver (this will be a Phillips
or flathead, depending on the model), adjust the
bridge plate to provide enough clearance to
operate the tremolo.

This is a balancing act: In the next step, youll

adjust the six saddles to set the action. But if
you raise the bridge too high at this point, even
with the saddles set flush against the plate, the 13. Adjusting the overall height of the bridge to allow the trem to
Strat wont be playable. But if the plate is too move up and down, while also providing enough leeway to fine-tune
low, the trem will hit the body as you gently string action by raising or lowering the individual saddles.
raise the strings pitch. The trick is to find the sweet spot that allows a floating trem and gives you
ample room to raise or lower the saddles to get the action the way you like it.

2. After adjusting the bridge height, retune the guitar and inspect the tremolo to determine if it
needs more adjustmentit probably will. Again, the goal is to keep the trem parallel to the body.
Tightening the springs pulls the trem tail down toward the body, loosening them allows the tail to
lift up. 06/04/2017