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Thread: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

  1. #1

    Default Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    I have two nice F models. One has a small amount of neck relief, and plays, sounds and intonates perfectly. Placing a metal straight edge on top of the frets resting on the first fret (under full string tension) there is visible gap at the center frets approx 1/32", thick business card.

    The other F is perfectly flat the same straight edge placed on the frets shows it's flush with the frets for the entire length of the board. It plays good, but becomes weak and close to buzzing at the 9 - 12th frets.

    I also remember reading about pressing a string down on the 1st fret and the 15th and should observe some relief at the middle frets.

    On my F with the flat no-relief board, the truss rod nut quickly backed off tension with just a 1/4 turn left, so looks like it doesn't possess the ability to be adjusted to create some relief even if you wanted to. I'm leaving it slightly backed off for a while to see if the neck will slowly move.

    My question then is some small relief desired and correct? Thanks for the insights.

  2. #2
    Registered User amowry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    Some will say that mandolins don't need any relief, but I prefer to have a little bit. If there's none at all, you risk having back-buzzing (buzzing of the string between the fretted note and the nut, because the string is laying flat on those lower frets). You also need to have the action set higher if there's no relief.

    However, 1/32" is more than you need (that would be a very thick business card (?)). Typically, around 0.005" is plenty. Pressing down the string at the 1st and 15th frets is just using the string as a straightedge, so either method works for checking the relief. I would aim for a thin business card, or two sheets of writing paper.

    Necks do often take some time to respond to trussrods, so I'd give it at least overnight to see if there's any change. It doesn't hurt to leave the nut loose as long as there's no rattling, so you could just leave it loose for a while and check the relief occasionally.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    Like Andrew I like a slight relief, but I don't measure. I fret at the first and 12th and if I can notice a slight movement of the string around the 6-7th fret that is all I want. I will say my mandolin can be driven hard without consequence. Some tops will move more than others, when driven hard, and I think they need slightly more relief. It also depends on the gauge of strings, I use 11-41, with a very low action. A lighter string set will vibrate more and you may need a higher action and more relief.
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  4. #4

    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    Thx guys, much appreciated

  5. #5
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    There is no "ideal" amount of relief. Some players play Bluegrass and play hard, some players play classical and play with a lot of dynamic range, some play many other types of music, some use light strings, some use medium to heavy strings, some scale lengths are longer than others and on it goes. Considering this, how can there be an ideal amount of relief?
    Even considering carved, arched instruments with f-holes (to narrow it down) there are many different players of many different types of music requiring mandolins to be set up differently, so there is no ideal relief for similar mandolins. (This is why many of us prefer adjustable necks (truss rod) rather than stiffened, non-adjustable necks.)
    My preference? Much like Andrew, I like a small amount of relief, preferably centered around the 5 to 7 fret area. With my preferred relief, the neck will look straight or nearly straight when sighted, but a string used as a straight edge will show a little clearance over the frets. (I don't measure so I can't state an amount.)

  6. #6

    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    Jerry Rosa had a video recently where he stated his preference for straight necks. He said if you can see relief you probably have too much. Well my mandolin was indistinct on the higher frets, so I sighted down the neck and could see relief, so adjusted the truss rod. My mandolin plays cleanly with lower action now. Ten months worth of being strung up and then going to heavier strings caused more relief than was good.
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    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    Dillion just to ask a dumb question and make sure --have you tuned to pitch after loosening truss rod neck? I wouldn't leave the nut backed off much and tuning to pitch should bow neck in just a couple days if not immediately.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    Mandoplumb - I was able to access the TR nut with the strings at tension and in their proper nut slots. So, when I found the nut got loose with only about 1/4 turn, I just loosened it up a little more, about 3/4 turn and will leave it there for a few days and watch for any signs of relief showing up. Hopefully over time, it will develop just a small amount of relief. Taking it slow and not allowing too much slack for any movement . . . definitely don't want to create any stress.

    My next thought is if no relief will form, could some be created with fret filing?? The frets are medium width and quite beefy in height?

    If that's not a practical option, then as amowry points out, I can simply adj the string height a bit, which I can live with. But my other F with the relief plays wonderfully up and down the neck, and it sounds much stronger when played on 7 - 12 frets.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dillon View Post
    My next thought is if no relief will form, could some be created with fret filing?? The frets are medium width and quite beefy in height?
    It's a little early to get into this (waiting for relief to show up after all), but yes, relief can be added. The rod can be tightened to cause a very slight back bow, the frets can then be leveled, the truss rod relaxed, and there's your relief.

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  11. #10

    Default Re: Is there "ideal" neck relief?

    Good tip, John!

    Another old trick at least with guitars is that some acoustics will buzz with 12's, but won't with 13's due to the added tension giving a slight relief.

    Also, a lot of short scale electrics will buzz with 10's and not with 11's, not so much due to relief, but just "tightens things up" slightly......

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