by Angel Romero
- Fresh strings: Recommended for the Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Mustang and Jag-Stang .011’s and up. For dropped D tuning low E of at least .052. The higher the string gauge the less string buzz or slap.
- Straight edge ruler: an 18 inch metal ruler is adequate. If you buy it at an art shop they tend to have a very nice straight edge. A 6 inch metal ruler is also good to have.
- Mechanic’s feeler gauge set: If you can not get one, there is a simple way to build one. Glue the ends of the guitar strings you cut on a heavy board and label the strings’ radii.
- Dark furniture oil or lemon oil.
- Assorted screw drivers: flat and Phillips
- Hex key set: preferably metric
- 400 and 800 sandpaper wet/dry
- 0000 steel wool
- Electronic tuner
- Five 1/2”x1/2″x1/2″ foam rubber squares
Start by removing the strings. To relieve stress on the neck never cut the strings before fully unwinding them. I prefer unwinding in the following order D-G-A-B-low E-high E.
If you see string nicks on the frets or are having difficulty bending the strings, you might want to sand the frets. Completely cover the pickups with masking tape. Lightly sand the frets and fretboard with the 400 sandpaper. Run it up and down the whole length of the fretboard, never across, with even pressure. You want all the frets and the whole width of the frets sanded evenly. When the nicks are sanded place the guitar on its side and blow off the residue. Repeat the sanding with the 800 sandpaper and blow the fretboard and repeat with the steel wool. Blow the residue off the guitar’s body: do not wipe it as you will scratch the finish. Do not do this if you do not feel comfortable. If you want, practice with an old guitar you don’t like that much.
Put some oil directly on a clean cotton cloth and wipe it evenly the length of the fretboard so that it is all wet and shiny. Let it stand for a couple of minutes and wipe it thoroughly with a clean cotton cloth. Give it some elbow grease as you don’t want an excessively oiled fretboard since the wood may rot. The fretboard should end up with a satin finish with shiny frets.
If you only see the fretboard dry do the oil procedure alone.
With an Exacto knife or a razor blade clean the string slots in the nut. A clean slot will let the string slide and the tuning regained after bending or using the tremolo.
Wash and dry your hands. Excessive oil and dirt will adhere to the strings and reduce their life.
Replace the strings. I replace them in the same order I remove them.
Push the bridge back. This will make intonation a bit easier later and when using the tremolo, if you dive it and lose tuning, pushing the bridge back will bring the guitar close to tuning.
Tune the guitar as desired. If using alternate tunings it is recommended that you have a specific guitar for each tuning since altering the tension of a string will cause a loss of intonation.
Now for the juicy part. Checking neck curvature. There are two ways:
1) use the strings or 2) use a straight edge or ruler.
Place the capo on the first fret. If you have the 18″ ruler use the edge running the length of the fretboard to check the curvature of the neck. Measure the space between the ruler’s edge and the top of the 8th fret. It is more reliable at or near the centre of the fretboard between the D and G strings.
Measure the space with a ruler or better yet a feeler gauge. This standard distance for 7.25″ radius necks should be .012″. If the distance is greater you have to tighten, turn clockwise, the truss rod nut. If it is less or the ruler rocks on the eighth fret the truss rod has to be loosened. If you cannot use a ruler or straight edge press the string at the last fret and measure the relief at the eighth fret. Your string is your straight edge. In these guitars it is a pain on the butt to adjust the truss rod , since the neck has to be removed to access the truss rod nut. Loosen all the strings, remove the neck-plate screws and remove the neck. To remove the neck you have to pull or push it forward away from the body. If you pull it out, toward the headstock you might damage the neck’s heel, the body’s neck slot or damage the finish around the neck or body. Do not use any tool such as a screw driver to pry the neck as you may damage the neck or body.
Guess-timate the turn needed. A quarter turn at a time is more than enough. Replace the neck, restring and retune. Let it stand for about half an hour for the whole system to reach equilibrium. A lot of people are too eager to play their instruments and do not let the wood adjust to the new settings and end up with a lot of unnecessary string buzz. Measure and readjust as needed. For those of you who placed locking tuners, when replacing the strings do not cut the excess string because restringing without the excess is quite difficult.
Once the neck is adjusted we adjust the action. The Jaguar and Jazzmaster have height adjustable saddles. These saddles come set-up from the Fender factory with the required curvature so try not to fiddle with them. Height adjustments are done with the two hex set screws at the high and low ends of the bridge. The screws require a .5 mm hex key.
With the capo still on check the string height at the top of the 17th fret without pressing the string at any fret. The string height should be .078″ for the Low E and .0625 for the High E. Adjust with the bridge height screws as needed.
The pick up height is checked with the string pressed at the last fret. For single coils at the treble side the height is .078″ and at the bass side .094″. This is purely subjective since some people like the pickups higher for higher output and lower for better sustain.
Remove the capo and play your guitar. It should play really good. Some people like higher action others lower adjust to your preference.
To set intonation you need an electronic tuner.
Play your open string and tune exactly to pitch. Place rubber foam squares between the last fret and the strings not to be tuned.
After the string is tuned to pitch. Play the string pressing the string at the 12th fret. Verify if the octave is sharp, flat, or in tune. If the note is sharp you have to move the saddle back, if the note is flat you have to move the saddle forward. Retune the string to an exact pitch and recheck at the 12th fret. Repeat as needed until you get the open note and the higher octave exactly to the same pitch, an octave apart. Repeat with the other strings.
When adjusting the saddles, I personally prefer the bridge pushed all the way back since when adjusting it’s easy to push the bridge forward. If I start with the bridge all the way back I just push it back and recheck: sort of like a reference point. If you leave the bridge at the middle, you have to be very careful not to move the bridge as you will lose intonation of the other strings.
Once you’ve checked and double checked the intonation, you’re done! You should have a comfortable, perfectly in-tune guitar.
Remember this is just a guide to start with.
After about a week recheck the neck’s curvature and readjust as needed. If you change the string gauge, you will have to compensate neck and intonation for the extra or relieved tension. String height will not be an issue as long as you do not move the bridge’s height screws.
If you still have excessive string buzz that can be heard through the amp you might want to take the guitar in to a tech to check for uneven frets. You could check by putting the edge of the 6″ ruler near the frets that buzz. If the ruler rocks the fret it rocks on is too high or might have come loose. If there is space between a fret and the ruler the fret has worn too much or was pressed into the fretboard too hard. This should be repaired by a qualified tech.
Remember, some string buzz is perfectly normal as long as it is not heard through the amp.
Written by Angel Romero
(thanks to Angel for permission to use his write-up on jag-stang.com)