Care & Feeding
Action/Truss Rod Adjustments The action and neck relief of a new guitar is expected to shift a bit in the first few weeks or months of the guitar’s life. Unless a custom action was specified, we set our new guitars at 2/3, so 3/32nds on the bass side, and 2/32nds on the treble side, prior to shipping. Our dealers will keep the neck and action of their guitars in inventory in proper adjustment before they find a home.
When you first get your guitar, we recommend playing it! You can count on it changing some and you will want to take it back to the dealer or your local luthier to have it adjusted when you notice that the action has risen or that the neck has excessive relief. This is normal, and recommended, as every player has their own playability requirements that can be easily dialed in with a few routine adjustments. If you feel confident making these adjustments yourself, or would prefer to do your own diagnostics, it is fairly simple to perform these adjustments. You will need:
– 6″ long, 1/2″ wide stainless steel ruler (about $3), graduated in 1/32″
– An average business card, or a set of feeler gauges from an auto parts store
– A ratchet socket wrench, a three inch drive extension and a 3/8 inch deep socket (for guitars made before April 2011) or a 5/16 inch socket (for guitars made after April 2011)
– A capo
You can always reference the truss rod adjustment card that came with your warranty card in the guitar case to see what size socket your guitar requires. These tools are available from any hardware or auto parts store.
Begin by tuning the guitar to pitch. Take the capo and install it so it holds the strings down between the nut and the 1st fret. Then, with your right hand, depress the low E string at the body joint fret until it touches the body joint fret. This effectively makes the string a straight edge which we can compare to the curvature of the neck. With the capo on the first fret and the string depressed at the body joint, string action is not a part of the equation. We are only looking at neck relief. To evaluate the current neck relief with the capo installed and the string depressed at the body joint, slide the business card or a .012″ feeler gauge between the 6th fret and the low E string. There should be just enough room for you to slide it between without pushing the string up. This is a delicate procedure and should be done with the guitar in playing position. If the card/feeler gauge goes in with lots of room to spare, the neck has too much relief and the truss rod needs to be turned clockwise to straighten the neck. If there is no room to slide the business card/feeler gauge between the 6th fret and the string, the neck is too straight. Generally, you will want between .005″- .012″ of relief in the neck at the 6th fret. It is normal to have slightly less relief in the neck on the treble E string compared to the bass E string.
The amount of neck relief and string action height is a matter of personal preference/playing style/pick attack. Consider that the harder you pluck the strings, the wider the strings’ vibrational path over the frets will be. A powerful pick attack causes the strings to vibrate closer to the frets which may create string rattle/buzz. It may be necessary to increase neck relief and set the string action higher if you have a heavy pick attack to avoid fret buzz. Conversely, a gentler touch will not set the strings in such a wide motion, meaning the strings will not move as closely to the frets, thus avoiding string buzz. A player with a lighter pick attack may be able to set the neck relief straighter and use lower string action since the strings will not be vibrating as closely to the frets. Traditionally bluegrass/flat pickers (heavy pick attack) may prefer slightly higher action and more neck relief whereas a finger style player (lighter pick attack) may prefer lower action and a straighter neck. These are general guidelines… however, the popular player’s request for “action as low as possible without buzzing” is not a universal measurement but unique to each player. Your Santa Cruz guitar is built to accommodate your personal set up preferences.
Adjusting The Truss Rod
The truss rod adjustment is located in the neck block, and accessible by reaching through the sound hole. To adjust the truss rod, spread the D and G strings and insert the ratchet down between the strings. Slide the socket forward to the Mahogany neck block until the socket drops into the access hole and engages the truss rod nut. To straighten the neck, turn the rod clockwise. To add relief, turn counter clockwise. Note that guitars made after April 2011 will have a much more sensitive truss rod, therefore a small adjustment will yield bigger changes in neck relief.
How much is too much to turn the truss rod? A handy way to envision how much to turn the truss rod is to think of the numbers on a clock. An adjustment from 12 to 1 o’clock should produce a noticeable change in relief, especially on guitars made after April 2011. Proceed with small incremental adjustments and reevaluate changes in neck relief as described above. On many of our truss rods, there will be a neutral area between the clockwise and counterclockwise where you will feel very little resistance to turning the rod. This is normal and the amount will vary a little depending on which generation rod you have. Generally, you will want to finish the adjustment with a clockwise adjustment on the clockwise side of the neutral area. This will ensure that the truss rod adjustment will hold. We do this for the same reason that you always down tune and then finish tuning by bringing the string up to pitch. Doing so takes up the lash in the truss rod threads so that the pressure is held firmly against them. It is possible that you will have to leave the truss rod engaged in the counter clockwise direction on an extremely stiff neck in order to keep the amount of relief you require in the neck. If this is the case, you will eventually be able to reverse this after the strings have pulled against the neck for an extended period of time. You will find that the relief in the neck will increase if this becomes necessary. Just repeat the adjustment procedure.
You may find that you will have to make slight adjustments of the truss rod with seasonal or humidity changes. It is important to realize that the truss rod is not the primary action adjustment. Its purpose is to maintain the proper relief in the neck for your playing style. Action adjustments being made as a result of the top coming up from string pull or humidity changes should be made at the saddle by a professional luthier. After determining that the neck is adjusted correctly, action adjustments can be made at the saddle or the nut. The nut will slowly wear over time so if you decide to have it slotted lower, be aware you may end up paying someone to cut you a new nut in the future. As a rule of thumb, if you fret each string between the 2nd and 3rd fret, there should be approximately .005″ clearance between the bottom of the string and the top of the 1st fret. If there is any movement at all when you press the string down onto the 1st fret, it will generally be a good nut height. If there is much more than .005″ clearance, then the nut slot is higher than it needs to be and the strings will feel harder to press down with your fretting hand.
After assuring that the neck is adjusted correctly, you can measure your action at the 12th fret. Use your steel ruler to measure the distance from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the string. We consider low action to be 3/32″ at the bass E and 2/32″ at the treble E. Medium would be 7/64″ at the bass E and 5/64″ at the treble E. If you have high action, you should be sure that your guitar is not grossly over-humidified before you lower the saddle. If the action is very low and the top has dropped, humidify the guitar before putting in a higher saddle. Consult a professional luthier for nut and saddle action adjustments. In areas where the humidity varies a lot from summer to winter, or where you are touring and going from dry to humid areas or vice versa, you may want to have several saddles cut to give you the ability to quickly adjust the guitar to the varying conditions. Of course it is better to insulate the guitar from long exposure to greatly varying humidity conditions, and as discussed before, the easiest way to do this is to keep the guitar in the case and control the case environment as much as possible. As always, do not hesitate to contact us with any specific questions. We wish you comfortable action and proper relief!
Cleaning, Oiling and Polishing After playing your guitar, it is wise to take a soft polishing cloth and clean off the instrument. Pay special attention to areas where you may have accumulations of sweat, such as the area where your arm rests on the guitar. Sweat will etch the lacquer and will cause permanent hazing of the finish, which can only be repaired by a talented technician. Once a month or so, you can use a polish, wax, or a commercial guitar cleaner to remove any buildup that was left behind from the clean cloth.
Always be sure to confirm that whatever product you are using is safe for nitrocellulose finish. We recommend Santa Cruz Fine Instrument Wax to protect the gloss lacquer finish of your guitar. Wax can be ordered through the Accessories Section of this website. To use the wax, we recommend applying it to a clean, dry cloth and then to the guitar. Rub it in a circular motion, and follow up with another clean, dry cloth to remove any access wax. Do not apply it to the fingerboard, and do not get it too close to the pickguard, heel cap, tuners or fingerboard extension, where the wax might get lodges and not be easily removed. Only apply the wax to the back of the neck if it has a gloss finish (not a matte finish). Virtuoso Polish and Green Liquid Turtle Wax are acceptable alternatives that are readily available at music shops (Virtuoso) or hardware and auto supply stores (Turtle Wax). It will clean and protect your guitar safely. Be careful not to get any Turtle Wax inside the sound hole, cracks in the lacquer, or edges along the fingerboard extension or around the bridge. It will dry leaving a white line that can be nearly impossible to remove.
There are other commercial specialty cleaners and polishes on the market that may be benign to the finish and work well. However, as we have no knowledge of their formulas, we cannot lend our recommendation to any particular brand. For oiling fingerboards and bridges, we recommend Dr. Duck’s Axe Wax. It is safe for use on finishes, so it is acceptable to have it touch the finish when applying it to the ebony parts. If your neck has a satin finish, it was applied to make the neck faster by reducing drag. Don’t use wax, polish or oils on these necks, as it will diminish this benefit. Use a scratch free cloth dampened with warm water to clean the neck, followed by a dry cloth. Avoid any wax or polish in areas that have cracked or worn finish. Avoid any wax or polish that contains silicone. Silicone resists lacquer adhesion and complicates any finish repair in the future.If you are ever unsure about cleaning products or how to apply them correctly, always contact a professional luthier or repair tech, or feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.
Temperature and Humidity The most important factor in protecting a solid wood acoustic guitar is to understand the effects of temperature and humidity. The best way for you to be able to protect your guitar from damage is to understand what factors affect it and how best to control these factors. Many of us who grew up in dry, cold climates believe that dry, cracking lips in the winter are just a part of life. In working with wood and instruments, we discover that when the correct precautions are taken to stabilize the woods, our skin is healthier too. In general, the conditions which humans find most comfortable are the best for a solid wood instrument. So instead of defining a humidification regiment that could never properly address all situations, we recommend that you buy a digital hygrometer and sensitize yourself to the conditions required to protect your acoustic guitar.
Once you have purchased a hygrometer, it is imperative to understand what you are measuring. A hygrometer measures the amount of Relative Humidity, or RH, in the air. RH is the amount of moisture in the air relative to the amount of moisture the air can hold before it reaches the saturation point. As the temperature of the air rises, so does its ability to hold additional water. In the winter, when people are artificially heating their homes and studios, three things happen:
– As the temperature increases without an additional source of moisture in the house, the RH drops.
– The air you are starting with before you heat the room is very cold. Because of it’s low saturation level, it carries very little moisture, even when the RH is very high, such as in a snowstorm. By the time that air in the room is warmed up to 75 degrees, the RH will be extremely low. The saturation point of air at higher temperatures is very high, so the RH in the room will be low, unless significant moisture is added to that air.
– The actual mechanics of heating, especially when using wood or electric methods of heating, further dries out the air. If you live in a dry area, such as the notorious Rocky Mountains, or in any area where it gets very cold, you will have to be careful to protect your guitar from low humidity damage.
Dealing with Low Humidity Conditions If you generally keep your guitar inside your house and prefer to keep it out of the case, you should have a room humidified to around 47%, and a hygrometer monitoring the RH of the room. Many reasonable room humidifiers are available from between $50 to $200, and remember, it will make you and your family more comfortable too. If you don’t have a humidified room, or are traveling with the guitar a lot, you will need to humidify and monitor the RH of the guitar in the case. The case is designed to insulate a guitar from rapid changes in humidity and temperature, as well as from physical damage, so even in a humidified room, it is best to have the guitar in the case whenever possible.
Install the hygrometer on the outside of the accessory compartment of your case, on the body side of the guitar, next to the heel of the neck. Humidify by placing the humidifier in the accessory compartment. This way, the hygrometer will only read what moisture is available to the instrument, not what is coming out of the humidifier. There are many good brands available, but keep in mind we don’t recommend putting any of them in the guitar. Put the humidifiers in the accessory compartment and use two, if necessary, to get the reading up on the hygrometer. This way there can be no chance of leaking, which will destroy the instrument. If you can’t get the reading up having the humidifiers in the accessory compartment, try installing one under the headstock as well. One final point: If you live in a hot, but dry, area, you might consider using a swamp cooler instead of air-conditioning. This will result in adding humidity to your environment.
Low humidity, below about 40%, can cause cracking in both the wood and the lacquer. The top will drop, lowering the action to the degree that the strings will buzz, sometimes rendering the guitar unplayable. Lacquer checks will develop along the purflings, bindings and at the glue seams. The fingerboard will shrink, leaving the fret ends protruding beyond the edge of the binding. This makes the instrument uncomfortable to play. Usually the first symptom to develop will be a slight dropping of the top and lowering of the action, followed by the possibility that a hairline crack may develop along the bridge pin holes. This is an excellent early warning symptom. It is easy to fix and lets you know that you are headed for trouble if the humidity problems continue.
High Humidity Conditions If high humidity is your problem, it will be harder to deal with, but it is also a safer condition than low humidity. Air conditioning will really help you keep the humidity at a reasonable level. As the temperature lowers, so does the saturation point of the air. Water will condense, and the RH will decrease. Do not use a swamp cooler in an already hot, humid area, as it will almost certainly spell out problems for your guitar by causing high humidity conditions. High humidity, 65% and above, causes the top to rise, making action high or unplayable. It can cause lacquer to check, and impressions of the bracing may appear on the top. Puckers may also appear where the top is glued to the internal structure of the guitar, such as at bridges, bracing, head blocks and tail blocks. It also restricts movement of the top, resulting in a guitar that may sound tight or restricted.
Avoid Rapid Changes Rapidly changing humidity is the most damaging condition for your guitar. Having a guitar go from an environment of 85% humidity to 35% humidity immediately could easily cause severe damage to an instrument. If the same instrument were kept in its case, moved into a drier but humidified environment of say, 65% for 2weeks, then 45% for a few weeks and finally 35%, any damage sustained would likely be far less severe. Your guitar’s case is your best tool for insulating your guitar from extreme conditions and rapid changes in conditions. Keep it in its case whenever possible, but try and avoid these rapid changing conditions at all costs.
Stabilization The most critical time for an acoustic guitar in terms of humidity is the first 3-5 years. If it has been well controlled and stabilized during that time, then it is far less likely to ever have problems. This is why most vintage instruments are less likely to respond to humidity changes than a new guitar. At SCGC, we go to great lengths to assure that we are building with completely dry tone woods. We run our tone woods through a specially designed dehumidification kiln. By slowly increasing temperature in small increments while blowing air dehumidified to 40% RH over the wood, we are able to dry the wood gently over a 2-3 week period. During this process, the top wood can shrink as much as 3/8″ or more. This gives you an idea of how much wood moves as it responds to humidity changes. With the bound moisture gone, the wood stabilizes a great deal and the problems associated with humidity changes are minimized. This does not mean that the guitar will not move or respond to humidity, but it does mean that you have the best chance possible of keeping your guitar safe by understanding and responding to the factors affecting it.
Restoring Moisture Once a guitar has been dried out, the humidity needs to be restored. To do this often, humidifiers such as a Dampits must be put into the guitar and the sound hole must be sealed off. Be very careful in doing this; all of the excess moisture must be wrung out and the guitar should be put in the case for about 3 days and then rechecked. It will help to also have a humidifier under the headstock to make moisture available to the bridge and fingerboard, both of which should be oiled. Expect this to take about 2 weeks before the action is restored and the guitar can be assumed to be re-humidified. After this process, you may find that not all of the symptoms are completely resolved. Some problems, such as sharp fret ends, may need further professional attention, but this is a relatively inexpensive procedure that can be done by any competent repairman. If you are not familiar with these methods, we highly recommend taking the guitar to a professional to restore the proper moisture levels. In the case that your guitar’s humidity is unable to be properly restored by you or a local luthier, please call us and we can talk you through the procedure or help you to resolve the problem. In extreme cases we can authorize you to send us the guitar.
Temperature Damage High temperatures, generally above 100 degrees, can cause glue joint failure and softening of the lacquer, making it susceptible to damage. Low temperatures, generally below freezing, can cause lacquer to craze and check. One very important point to remember: rapid changes cause far worse damage than exposure to the extremes. If temperature and humidity changes take place slowly, the nstrument is given proper time to acclimate. When, for instance, an instrument has been transported or shipped in the winter, it may well have been exposed to extreme cold. It is best to wait overnight before opening the box. We have seen guitars arrive at a destination, get checked for damage, find none, and then the next day found the lacquer checked and crazed. In these cases the guitar was very cold to the touch when examined. This wouldn’t have happened if the instrument hadn’t been subjected to thermal shock. It should have been left insulated in its case within the shipping box for at least 12 hours, and then it could have been opened without damaging results.