Should Guitar Strings Be Parallel to the Fretboard?


acoustic guitar | Sandy Music Lab

Tuning a guitar can be complicated, especially if you’ve just decided to start playing and invested in your first guitar. One of the most challenging aspects is figuring out string action and the ideal distance between your strings and the fretboard.

Your guitar strings should ideally be parallel to the fretboard. In most traditional setups, there’s a slight curve in the strings near the neck, but for the most part, the lines run parallel to the frets.

While most factory instruments arrive with a predetermined setup, it’s crucial to examine the distance between your strings and fretboard and readjust if necessary. In this article, we’ll go over how to adjust the length and why it’s essential to do so.

Why Strings Should Be Parallel to the Fretboard

The quality of sound generated by your guitar depends on various factors, one of which is the distance between the strings and fretboard. If you want to learn the right notes, you must spend considerable time setting up the strings.

There’s a straightforward method to figure out whether your strings are too near or far from the fretboard. 

When you strum, the resulting noise should be undisturbed. If you hear a buzz while strumming, your strings are too close to the fretboard, and you’ll need to loosen them up. If you’re unable to press down onto the frets, your strings are too far and need to be tightened.

Setting up your strings at the proper distance is crucial to ensure superior sound quality and a more enjoyable playing experience.

Here’s how you can ensure your strings are at the ideal distance from the fretboard.

  • Measure the distance between your string and the twelfth fret. You’ll use this fret as a measure for adjusting your lines and ensuring they’re parallel and at the ideal distance.
  • The distance between your strings and the twelfth fret should be about 1.6 mm (0.06 in). To ensure it’s the proper distance, use a ruler to measure between the fretboard and strings.
  • If your strings aren’t roughly 1.6mm (0.06in) away from the fretboard, you’ll need to raise or lower them using an Allen wrench. Most guitars have small holes on the bridge to insert an Allen wrench and adjust the strings.
  • If your strings are too low or touching the fretboard, you’ll need to turn the Allen wrench counterclockwise and vice versa if your strings are too high or away from the fretboard.
  • Set aside some time to absorb yourself in this task and keep taking measurements to ensure you’re getting the proper distance of 1.6mm (0.06in).
  • Play each string while holding down the twelfth fret to check if you’ve got it right. 
  • If you hear a buzz while strumming, your strings are likely too close to the frets. On the other hand, if you’re unable to push down on the strings, they’re likely too far away from the fretboard. 

Using this process to set up the strings, you can ensure that they’re parallel to the fretboard and at the ideal distance to reproduce the right sounds. 

While most guitars have strings running parallel to the fretboard, some traditional setups come with a slight curve near the neck. This curve is popularly known as a concave bow, and as long as you don’t hear buzzing when you strum, it shouldn’t cause much of an issue, so you don’t need to worry about it.

What To Do if You Still Hear Buzzing

When the strings are hard to press down on, you’re likely to notice soon enough and resolve the problem by tightening the strings with an Allen wrench. However, it can be tricky to get rid of buzzing when the strings are too tight.

In some instances, buzzing may occur even when the strings are appropriately adjusted. If this is the case with your guitar, you will need to determine where the buzzing is coming from so you can resolve the issue. 

Here are a few possible reasons why there may be buzzing, even after adjusting the strings.

Your Using Different Strings

While it’s not too common, your guitar may be buzzing if it’s not used to the strings being used. For example, if you usually use 0.9 to 0.42 lines, but you’ve decided to go with 0.10 to 0.46, there may be buzzing.

This is because in some guitars, changing the strings can inadvertently affect sound quality and even cause buzzing on occasion. So, before you change your strings, make sure to gauge what string to use first.   

Your Frets Aren’t Levelled

One of the prime causes of buzzing, aside from inappropriate string height, is when the frets on the guitar are at different levels. 

Ideally, the frets on the guitar should be the same height throughout to ensure that the strings have ample space for vibrating and producing the right sound. 

However, in some guitars, the frets are unintentionally designed unevenly, which contributes to the buzzing noise. 

For example, consider two frets placed next to each other. If one of them is taller, the string is sure to come in contact with it even when you play a note on the different fret. 

This unwanted contact can cause a buzzing sound. And if the fret is too high where the string is constantly touching it, strumming may not even create sound, leading to a dead note.

Now, consider if the frets are the same height, and you’ve adjusted your guitar strings in a way that there’s enough space between them and the fretboard. This ensures that when you pluck the strings while pressing down near fret one, there’s ample space for the string to vibrate without coming into contact with fret two. And for the string to produce a sound, it needs enough space to vibrate without getting blocked by the frets.

Not Enough Neck Relief

The neck of a guitar should be straight with a bit of a dip near the middle, around the eighth fret. This dip can be measured and is known as neck relief. In most cases, buzzing occurs when there’s not enough neck relief, which results in the strings coming into contact with the fretboard at various intervals.

A guitar neck with a dip in the middle is usually referred to as a forward bow, and it’s the ideal setup as it gives your strings ample space to be plucked. However, some guitars have no relief in the middle, and this setup is known as a back bow.

Back bows cause the strings to buzz even when you play on the first fret, as there’s not enough relief to give the strings ample space to reverberate.

To measure the amount of relief in the neck, press and hold down the first and last fret of the fourth string. Try spotting a gap between the bottom of the fourth string and the top of the eighth fret to check the relief. 

Once you’ve determined whether there’s ample relief, you’ll need to adjust the truss rod accordingly to ensure there’s enough of a bow to play appropriately. However, before adjusting the truss rod, ensure your guitar is strung and tuned to pitch so you won’t have to change anything else once the neck has been fixed.

FAQs

How Should You Set Up Your Guitar Strings Properly?

To set up your strings properly, you’ll need to measure the distance between your strings and the twelfth fret and ensure they’re roughly 1. 6mm (0.06 in) away from each other. Use a ruler to measure the distance – this will allow you to ensure it’s consistent throughout.

If your strings are too close or too far, you can use an Allen wrench to turn the bridge to the right degree and ensure the strings are at the ideal distance.

If you don’t have an Allen wrench at home, I recommend the REXBETI Hex Key Allen Wrench Set from Amazon.com. This set is made out of heat-treated S2 steel, ensuring you don’t have to worry about it breaking while you’re using it. This 26-piece set has all the Allen wrenches you will need around the house, not just for your guitar.

What Causes Buzzing When You Strum?

The buzzing that you hear when you strum is often the result of the strings being too close to the fretboard, as there’s not enough space for the strings to vibrate without touching the frets.

However, buzzing can also happen for other reasons, including:

  • Using strings that are different from what your guitar is used to.
  • Not providing enough neck relief, causing strings to touch the frets.
  • When frets are at different heights.    
  • The truss rod isn’t adjusted correctly, causing strings to rub up against the frets.

Is It Possible To Buy a Guitar With the Proper String Distance From the Fretboard?

While buying a guitar with the proper adjustments is possible, each factory will define the right distance differently. So to avoid confusion and ensure a smoother experience, it’s best to check (and, if necessary, adjust) your strings after buying a guitar.  

Final Thoughts

While it may seem technical, it’s quite a straightforward process to adjust your guitar strings based on the fretboard and ensure they’re running parallel. So if you’re investing in a guitar, take some time out to set it up properly so you can enjoy a more wholesome playing experience.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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