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Guitar Setup: The Tap Test

Not sure if there’s too much or too little neck relief on your electric guitar? The Tap Test will allow you to feel and see how much relief your neck has. Over time, you’ll be able to see this by simply sighting the neck but the Tap Test is fast and easy way to get an idea of what your neck is doing.

Performing the test

Let’s put what our eyes are seeing to the test. We’ll do this by holding the guitar in playing position and creating a straightedge with the low E-string, or, the highest string in relation to your body.

Tap Test performed without capo.

  • Depress the strings at the first fret. You can do this with your hand or a capo.
  • Next, depress a fret on the opposite end of the fretboard close to where the neck joins the body. Use the pinky finger of your picking or strumming hand to do this. The string now acts as a straightedge. More on this later.

Tap Test performed with capo.

  • Now, let’s see how much or how little relief we have by extending our pointer finger to one of the frets in the middle of the neck. The mid point between your pinky and the first fret (usually around the 7th fret) will reveal the maximum amount of relief across the entire fretboard. Take a look and see if there is any gap between the top of the 7th fret and the bottom of the string. If you tap the string above the 7th fret, can you hear the string click against the top of the fret?
  • If the string doesn’t click at all, you’ll either have a very straight neck, or, it could potentially be backbowed as well. If you were experiencing abnormal fret buzz on any of the lower frets near the nut, this was likely the cause and you’ll want to loosen the truss rod in order to add some relief.
  • If there is a barely visible gap between the fret and the string, your truss rod may be set correctly and there’s probably no need to adjust it -don’t ruin a good thing. Most players want a bit of neck relief to avoid fret buzz.

Over time you’ll get a feel for how much relief you prefer so don’t be afraid to experiment. For a more accurate measurement of relief you could get out a set of feeler gauges and check your manufacturer’s specs but what matters most is that your guitar is comfortable for you.

 

Helpful Links

Guitar Setup Part 1: Adjusting the Truss Rod

Guitar Setup Part 2: Setting Action

Guitar Setup Part 3: Intonation

Guitar Setup: What is neck relief?

Guitar Setup: How much string buzz is normal?

 

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