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The Pinky

Adjusting action height

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Hi everybody,

I have an Epiphone Gibson Les Paul Studio 2, which in my opinion, is a lovely guitar for the price I paid and l love.  The only thing is that as I am becoming more proficient as a guitarist and playing the electric more I am getting some buzzes, which has been suggested to me could be that the action is too low.  That got me thinking could this be something I could do myself?  I have no knowledge about setting up guitars and only know a little the sort of issues that would make the difference between a good and bad guitar, therefore I"d like to ask what is involved in adjusting the action and is it something I could do myself?  I assume it is something fairly straightforward to do and if I do get it wrong could be easily rectified by somebody more proficient than me.   Attached is a picture for reference and for me to ask what would I adjust?  I assume it would be the screws closest to the pick up?  Which was would I turn them?  I have some engineering knowledge and make various models so think I have the skills to carry out what appears to me to be a fairly basic adjustment.  The guitar is currently fitted with a set of 10/46 strings and I do know a good friendly local Luthier who has done work for me before,  that can do this for me should I decide not to attempt it.

thanks in advance for your help.



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40 minutes ago, The Pinky said:

... I am getting some buzzes, which has been suggested to me could be that the action is too low ...


These buzzes could be because the action is a bit low, but there could be a whole lot of other reasons, too, such as a raised, or lowered, fret, a bit too much or too little 'bow' in the neck, imprecise finger placing... I could go on. The real solution would be to consult a competent guitar tech, or experienced guitar tutor, and find the real cause that needs addressing. Still, as you mention, it can't do too much harm to 'have a go' yourself, as long as you've a back-up plan if things get out of hand.  Yes, the string height is set, all other things being equal, by the screws at each end of the bridge holding the intonation adjusters. A good-quality flat-bladed screwdriver is required, to be a good fit in the screw slots. Turning clockwise will raise the bridge; I would suggest only very slight adjustment at a time, of maybe a quarter-turn at each end. This will affect the guitar's tuning, so it will need careful bringing back to pitch before playing it again, to see if there's any improvement. Go easy on doing this; these screws are not used to being turned, and are subject to the tension from the strings. Don't force anything. Use your engineering 'feeling' to judge whether it's doable or not. If it's successful, and your buzzing issues solved, 'well done'; if not, put the screws back to their original position as best you can, and get help. No, it's not rocket surgery, and most competent folk would gladly show you how to check this, and other potential issues, whilst they sort it out. You're unlikely to break anything if you're careful, but be gentle with screwdriver blades, as it's easy to slip and take a chunk out of the guitar's finish, or your own hand. In any case, a good set-up for any guitar is a worthwhile investment; the basics can be done by oneself, once they've been mastered with an experienced guide. Hope this helps. rWNVV2D.gif



Edited by Dad3353
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If you want to do it yourself, it's fairly easy when you know what to do and have a few suitable tools. Like everything, it is easy when you know how and if you are a guitarist, it is worth knowing how to do this, because it means you will get the best out of your guitar and also not have to pay somebody to do it. So - warning, long post ensues - if you read all this, you should be good to go...


There are several  possible causes for the fret buzz and they could be any one of the following, or possibly several at the same time:


The average ambient temperature in your house as the season has changed, has caused the neck relief to alter by virtue of the guitar wood and metal bits having cooled and contracted, or warmed up and expanded.


Your typical playing in the same spots on the neck has worn some frets down a bit in some commonly used neck positions, causing the next frets up from those frequently used frets to now be a bit higher up when you fret at the slightly worn down frets, causing string contact at the unworn frets when the strings vibrate as you play.


A fret, or several frets, have loosened a bit and raised up a small amount owing to a temperature shift.


Vibration from repeated playing has made things settle a bit and change.


Something hardware-related has vibrated loose, and this is making things buzz.


The strings are making contact with the pick up pole pieces.


So, first thing to check, is there anything which has worked loose? Check this by holding things such as the nut, tuning pegs, bridge, pick ups switches etc as you play. If it stops buzzing when you do that, tighten the offending thing up to secure it. Look to see it the strings are touching the pick up pole pieces when you play, if they are , lower the pick ups a bit or lower individual pole pieces by tightening them with a flat head screwdriver.


Next press and hold each string down at the high end frets and keep that held down, then move your hand halfway up the neck and tap the strings down onto the frets  at around the sixth fret position. You should hear a very slight tap as the string contact the frets, indicating that there is a suitable neck relief gap. The size of this gap is your neck relief amount.


To explain what this is: When you play, your strings swing back and forth, and they need some room to do this so they don't hit the frets and buzz, so contrary to what a lot of people think, your guitar's neck is not meant to be completely flat and straight, the neck needs to have a slight bow in it to give the strings some room to swing about as they vibrate. How much of a bow is needed depends on the string gauge you use, because thicker heavier gauge strings can swing around quite a lot as you play, whereas with light strings, not so much. This is the price you pay for having the better tone which thicker strings produce. So, if there is a sufficient gap you can observe and hear when you do that aforementioned tapping test, your truss rod does not need adjusting, but if the neck is more or less flat and there is no neck relief bow, you will need to adjust the truss rod a little. This is not hard to do. Here's how:


The truss rod in the neck of your guitar is actually a pair of steel rods, one of which is fixed to the neck, the other can move because is attached to the fixed rod by means of a threaded bolt at one end; loosening or tightening this allows this threaded rod to either push or pull against the fixed one, which then makes the neck either bow backward or forward, which is how the amount of neck relief is adjusted. On an Epiphone Les Paul, this is accessed by removing the three posi screws from the bell-shaped truss rod cover, then inserting an allen key (wrench if you are a Yank) into the truss rod's allen bolt and turning it either right or left. Be aware that you should always make fairly small adjustments and then give the guitar a bit of time to react to the adjustment before making further adjustment, because you need to give the wood of the fretboard time to move slowly as it is pushed or pulled by the truss rod. Large or sudden adjustments can weaken the glue join between the neck and the fretboard, so the golden rule here is to work slowly and only make small adjustments, then wait a while to see what effect that adjustment has had, and then if necessary make a further adjustment. So, the easy way to remember what to do is with the phrase 'righty tighty, left loosey' i.e., looking down the neck from the tuner end of your guitar, turning the allen key to the right will tighten the truss rod, and turning it left will loosen it. IMPORTANT BIT: You should only turn the allen key about a quarter of a turn, then wait a few minutes to see if it has done the job before making a further adjustment. So, if you need more of a bow in your neck to give the strings some room to move, you will be loosening (turning the key left), or if there is too much bow in the neck you will be tightening (turning it right). REMEMBER, GO SLOW, A QUARTER OF A TURN, THEN CHECK.


Don't be afraid to make this adjustment, if you follow the above guide, you won't break anything, you'd need to really be very hamfisted and seriously overtighten a truss rod enough to break it. The theory here by the way, is that if you loosen the truss rod a bit, it allows the string tension to pull a bit of a bow into the neck, whereas if you tighten it, the rod pulls back against the string tension and thus makes the neck flatter. Once you understand this is what is going on, it's fairly simple and pretty much common sense to make such an adjustment and it is worth knowing how to do it, because most guitars will probably need this doing maybe once or twice a year as the season changes and the ambient temperature varies.


So, that's how to adjust a truss rod. But, this might not be your problem. It could also be a few worn or high frets. This too is fairly easy to fix, but you will need the right tools to do it properly. Having a guitar technician set up a guitar will cost you about fifty quid, but you can buy the necessary tools to do it yourself for considerably less than that, and it is not rocket science, so this is the smarter choice. Your shopping list will be:


A fret file such as this. A fretboard levelling ruler and fret rocker set, such as this. A fretboard sanding beam, such as this. Some steel wool. Some fine emery paper. A copper or plastic faced fret hammer, such as this. A neck support such as this. Note that you might find these cheaper, those links I added were just a general guide to what you need to get hold of. You may have some stuff like this already, or tools which can be used which are similar enough to suffice.


With these tools, here's what you do:


Take the strings off and adjust the truss rod (if necessary) until the fretboard is completely flat (the neck may already be like this with the strings off. Use the fretboard levelling ruler to check this). The reason you want the fretboard completely flat when filing frets, is that you need the fret levelling beam to ride level across the frets when sanding them in order to get them at the same height. Rest the guitar down flat when working, placed on some towels to avoid scratching it, and be sure to support the neck with either a proper neck support stand, or you can if necessary improvise with something suitable such as a few paperback books or similar. When you are sure the neck and fretboard are totally flat, check to see if any frets are higher than they should be by using the fret rocker tool. You will hear it tapping as you rock it across several frets if there are any high frets. Be sure to check thoroughly, across the entire width of the frets. If you find any high frets, mark the top of them with a felt tipped pen. Check to see if these marked frets are high by virtue of not being properly seated and if this is the case, tap them home with your copper or plastic-faced fret hammer. DO NOT use a regular steel hammer, the steel face of a regular hammer is too hard and will dent the frets. Be sure the neck is supported when doing this and be careful not to twat the fretboard! Have a few practice taps with your fret hammer on something else first, to get used to using it.


If you are sure all frets are properly seated and you still have high frets when checking them with your fret rocker tool, you will need to sand some of them level. Some sanding beams are equipped with sanding surfaces, others are merely a flat beam which you can attach emery paper to. In either case, use this to sand the offending proud frets down to the level of the others. You don't need to go mental, a few passes will probably do the job. When you think they are fairly close to matching the other frets in height, now you need to 'crown them' again (give them a curved top like they had before you sanded them). This is what your fret file is for. Either tape off the fretboard to protect it, or if your fret file came with some metal fret masks (most of them do) use these to protect the fretboard and give the fret a few passes with the file to round the top of it off again. With all that done, you will need to polish them a bit. Actually, just playing the guitar will eventually do that, but they will feel a bit scratchy as you do that, so polishing them is something you will likely prefer to do. IMPORTANT: Get a plastic bag and put this around the guitar body and tape it closed at the neck. This is to avoid any steel wool shards coming into contact with your pick ups, as they will stick to the magnetic poles and if any shards go into the pickups, they can short circuit them, so you don't want to do that. Now, place your fret masks over the frets, and polish them across-wise with the steel wool. It won't need much. You can also get fret polish and fret rubbers for this purpose, but steel wool will usually do the job okay.


After you've done all that, check everything with your fret rocker and if all is good, you are pretty much done. BUT, whilst the strings are off, you might as well treat the fretboard with a bit of lemon oil to make sure the fretboard wood is not too dry. Don't over use that stuff; tip some on a tissue and then apply it from that. Too much lemon oil on a fretboard will make the wood damp and that can make frets work loose, and you don't want to do that, so use lemon oil sparingly.


Now, give it a good wipe off to make sure there are no metal shavings on it from all that filing and sanding, take off the plastic bag, string your guitar up, tune it and see if you need to adjust the truss rod to put the relief back in (remember you possibly levelled the fretboard to do all that sanding, and if you did that with the truss rod, simply adjust the rod back to where it was).


With all that done, you will probably find you can lower the bridge and get a better action. On an Epiphone LP, that's just a case of adjusting the two flathead screws on the bridge with a suitable screwdriver to lower it a bit. But you are not quite done yet. Having lowered the action, it is very likely that you will need to adjust the intonation (string length) by moving the bridge saddles either backwards or forwards a touch. The reason for this is that with the strings now lower down and closer to the frets, when you fret a string now, it won't have to stretch as much to make contact with the frets, so the chances are you may need to move the bridge saddles forward a bit to shorten the string lengths ever so slightly. Test the need to do this by tuning the guitar, then playing a twelfth fret harmonic, then fretting at the twelfth and seeing if that fretted note is sharp or flat compare to the harmonic. If it is sharp, move the saddle back to lengthen the string a touch, if it is flat, move the saddle forward to sharped the string pitch a little.


There are many videos on youtube which show you how to do this sort of thing, but be aware that there are some numpties out there who haven't got a clue what they are doing, so don't just watch one video, watch a few to get a good grounding on the correct way to do stuff. I can recommend watching this guy, he is very clued up and no nonsense about doing this kind of thing and watching his videos will give you the confidence to give this sort of thing a go. You can do it. Just go slow and you will be fine.


You are right by the way, I have 26 electric guitars, including some pretty expensive Gibsons Les Pauls, and my Epiphone Les Paul Studio is better than some of the Gibsons.

Edited by Musical Mystery Tour
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Hi guys, thanks for the advice and guidance.  Originally my thought was that I would perhaps have a go myself if it's fairly straightforward to learn more about guitars, however I have given it some thought and decided that  I will probably seek further advice and pay somebody else to do any required work.  I don't really want to spemd a great deal of time "tinkering" and then possile having to go to an expert after all.  I have a local guitar tech who is friendly and highly recommended, he has done some work on my guitar previously and has set up/serviced several of my sons guitars and basses, his rates are also very reasonable.  I don't know what I could have done to affect anything as all I have done is change the strings and cleaned it regularly, it is kept in a warm dry house only going out occasionally in a gig bag to jams etc.  I notice that will obviously affect the tuning due to temperature change etc, and it is transported in a gig bag.  Re playing it was not used very much until recently so wouldn't have thought it would be wear due to the amount of use. 

I have until recently largely been playing an old nylon acoustic and a 6 month old LagT88ac and have really only started to pick up the electric as my skills have developed,  so I am sure  that there maybe some credence in the observation that my playing technique may be contributing to the issues.  I am taking the occasional lesson every 2 or 3 weeks (with the Lag transported in a hard case for protection), so I may change the routine and take along the electric next time to get an expert opinion.


  I appreciate any further comments and Will update on my progress.




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4 hours ago, The Pinky said:

... I have a local guitar tech who is friendly and highly recommended ...


He may well be amenable to you sitting in whilst he goes through the check-up and rectification process, which could give some insight as to how to look after your (and your son's...) instruments. It might take him a little longer, to explain what he's doing, and enable you better to appreciate exactly what's involved in guitar upkeep. Just a thought..? B|

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