This is a handy guide to setting up your Fender Stratocaster guitar. We will go through the most critical adjustments that affect the playability of your Stratocaster.
This setup guide is based on the American Stratocaster series.
Before you start adjusting:
Be sure that you take a measurement of all settings before you adjust anything. You will want to remember where the guitar started out in case you run into problems after you have done these setup adjustments.
I have a guitar that I setup exactly to the following adjustments and after it was adjusted I could not intonate the low-E string. So I had to move it back toward the starting point on the adjustments to get it to intonate properly.
You can go to our Factory Setup Adjustments page to look at what the adjustments were from the factory on a sample American Deluxe Stratocaster. Also, leave your factory measurements in the comment section of that page for others to use. Let’s get started!
Tools you will need:
- Set of automotive feeler guages .002″-.025″ or .05 mm-1 mm
- Ruler with 1/32″ and 1/64″ increments or 0.5 mm increments
- Lubrication such as Big Bends Nut Sauce
- Phillips Screwdriver
- Allen wrench for truss rod
If you want the best performance out of your Stratocaster you must lubricate. This is where our Big Bends Nut Sauce comes into play. The most important areas to lubricate are the slots in the nut, the bridge pieces, anywhere the string touches and the pivot points on the tremolo.
Whenever I change strings I clean the nut slots, bridge and tremolo slots and the pivot points on the tremolo. Then I use just a small amount of lubrication in each area. This greatly increases tuning stability and makes the guitar smoother to play.
The two most common types of tremolo found on Stratocasters are the 6-screw Vintage tremolo and the Two-Point Knife Edge tremolo found on the American series of Stratocaster.
Front Edge Tremolo Adjustment
You will first want to adjust the front edge of the bridge so that it is level with the top of the pick guard. I don’t like to have the front edge flush to the body as I don’t like it to dig into the finish of my guitar. So I set the front edge level with the top of the pick guard.
On the Two-Point tremolo simply adjust the pivot screws until the front of the bridge is level with the pick guard. To get a good view of this you can pull back on the tremolo until the bridge is flush with the body and then look at the front edge of the bridge.
6-Screw Tremolo Pro Tip
Here’s a good performance enhancing tip for the 6-point Vintage synchronized tremolo. To level the front of the 6-screw tremolo pull the tremolo arm up until the back of the bridge is flush with the body. Then loosen all six screws at the front edge of the bridge plate until they measure 1/16″ (1.6mm) above the top of the bridge plate. Then tighten only the two outside screws back down until they’re flush with the top of the bridge plate. This will make the bridge pivot on the two outside screws while leaving the four inner screws in place for tremolo stability. It’s a way to simulate the action of the more expensive two-point tremolo.
Back Edge Tremolo Adjustment
After you have the front edge of the tremolo adjusted you want to adjust the back edge of the tremolo. To do this, remove the plate on the back of your guitar to access the tremolo springs. Then adjust the screws that secure the tremolo claw to the body tighter or looser to change the gap at the back of the tremolo.
Fender recommends a 1/8″ (3.2 mm) gap between the body of the guitar and bottom of the bridge. You will have to adjust the spring tension with the screws on the spring claw, re-tune the guitar and then check the gap at the back of the bridge. It may take several adjustments and tunings to get the gap right. Remember, if you ever change string gauges you’ll have to perform this adjustment again.
Another good thing to remember is to lubricate the pivot points on the pivot screws at the front of the tremolo. Just use your Big Bends Nut Sauce for that.
Truss Rod Adjustment
Next you will want to adjust the truss rod. Most Stratocasters use a Bi-Flex truss rod which allows you correct neck curvature in either concave or convex positions. To check the adjustment make sure the guitar is tuned properly and then affix a capo behind the 1st fret of the guitar. Get out your feeler gauges. The adjustment specification is as follows:
|7.25″||.012″ (0.3 mm)|
|9.5″ to 12″||.010″ (0.25 mm)|
|15″ to 17″||.008″ (0.2 mm)|
Most Fenders use the 9.5″ to 12″ radius so you’ll be shooting for a .010″ (0.25 mm) gap. You’ll be using the “go”,”no-go” approach. So get our your .009″, .010″ and .011″ feeler gauges.
With the capo set behind the 1st fret, hold down the low E-string at the last fret on the neck. Then slide each gauge between the top of the 8th fret and the bottom of the sixth string. The .009″ gauge and the .010″ gauge should slide through with no resistance while the .011″ gauge will slightly move the string. If you need to adjust the truss rod do it in 1/4 turns and then recheck the adjustment.
Sometimes after you let the instrument sit overnight the adjustment will change slightly as the neck settles in. Remember to never force the truss rod! If you encounter excessive resistance during this adjustment your truss rod is maxed out. If this happens you’ll have to take your guitar to an authorized Fender Service Center. This adjustment will greatly increase the playability of your guitar.
String Height (also known as Action)
Following your tremolo height and truss rod adjustment it’s time to adjust your Stratocaster string height. String height, or action, is highly customizable on the Fender Stratocaster. That’s good because almost every player needs a custom string height to suit their own personal playing style. I am very aggressive with my lower strings when I play rhythm so I like my low strings set at a higher action to get rid of unwanted buzzing. I also like to play very lightly and quickly when I solo so I like my higher strings as low as possible for increased speed.
You can see the recommended Fender adjustment for string height in the table below. I would suggest using that as a starting point and then listen to the strings as you play the guitar unplugged. If you hear the strings buzzing and vibrating a lot, then simply raise the action on that string.
Adjusting String Height
At this point make sure your guitar is properly tuned. Then use your ruler to measure from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string at the 17th fret. Then, use the allen screws in the bridge saddles to adjust the height of the string. Make sure you adjust each side of the bridge saddle evenly so that it stays level with the bridge or tremolo plate. Then re-tune the guitar and listen to it while you play. Make any tweaks after you play it for a few minutes and listen for rattles or buzzing.
Bass side strings are the E-A-D string and Treble side strings are the G-B-E strings. I like to adjust each string a little lower as I move from bass side to treble side so they get a little closer to the fret on each string. Fender string height specs are in the table below:
|Neck Radius||String Height Bass Side||Treble Side|
|7.25″||5/64″ (2 mm)||4/64″ (1.6 mm)|
|9.5″ to 12″||4/64″ (1.6 mm)||4/64″ (1.6 mm)|
|15″ to 17″||4/64″ (1.6 mm)||3/64″ (1.2 mm)|
Now that your string height, truss rod and tremolo are all in adjustment it’s time to adjust your pickup height. If you have your pickups too close to the strings the magnetic pull will cause the strings to vibrate in an elliptical pattern instead of a circular pattern which results in problems with the guitars tone and loss of harmonics. You want your pickups close enough to have good output but not so close as to affect the vibration of the strings.
When you perform the measurement simply take your ruler and measure the distance from the top of the pole piece to the bottom of the string on the first (high E) and sixth (Low E) strings of the guitar. Then after you make this adjustment you will see that the pickup will be angled closer to the 1st string and farther away from the 6th. Finally, there’s no need to measure the distance of each pole piece as the pole pieces are not individually adjustable.
Pickup Height Table
In the table below you’ll find the Fender specs for pickup height adjustment but here’s a tip. Firstly I move the pickups quite far away from the strings and listen to how the string sounds through an amplifier without any influence from the magnetic pull of the pickups. Then I like to raise the pickups until they are very close to the strings and listen to how the magnetic pull causes tonal changes and loss of sustain. Then I back the pickups off until I can hear that they are no longer influencing the vibration of the string. This way I know I’m getting the highest output without any magnetic influence on the string. Here’s the table with the Fender specifications for pickup height adjustment:
|Pickup Type||Bass Side||Treble Side|
|Texas Specials||8/64″ (3.2 mm)||6/64″ (2.4 mm)|
|Vintage style||6/64″ (2.4 mm)||5/64″ (2 mm)|
|Noiseless™ Series||8/64″ (3.2 mm)||6/64″ (2.4 mm)|
|Standard Single-Coil||5/64″ (2 mm)||4/64″ (1.6 mm)|
|Humbuckers||4/64″ (1.6 mm)||4/64″ (1.6 mm)|
|Lace Sensors||As close as desired (allowing for string vibration)|
Lace Sensor pickups have little to no magnetic pull on the string. I would suggest putting them very close to the string but don’t let the string vibrate against them. I would also suggest pulling them away from the strings a little bit and listen to the difference in sound. You may like them a little farther away from the strings.
First of all you may be asking, “what is intonation”? Intonation affects how well your guitar plays in tune along the entire length of the fretboard.
Have you ever noticed that after you tune your guitar it still sounds off when you play chords or notes and the higher you go on the neck the worse it sounds? That’s because your intonation is not set correctly.
In theory, the distance from the inside of the nut of the guitar to the middle of the 12th fretwire should measure the same distance as the middle of 12th fretwire to the bridge saddle. But, if you do this adjustment by measuring with a ruler it will still sound off. So, we have to adjust the intonation with a good tuner or you can simply use your ear if you have a good ear.
Before you adjust intonation make sure all your other adjustments are done. That means truss rod, string height (action), pickup height and tremolo height all have to completed before you do intonation.
To adjust the intonation tune your strings to standard tuning. Then starting at the 6th string play the open string and then play the note an octave higher at the 12th fret. The pitch should be the same. Your ear, or tuner will tell you if the octave note is sharp or flat. If the note is sharp, use a Phillips screwdriver and move the bridge saddle farther away from the nut or toward the back of the bridge plate. If the note is flat, move the bridge saddle closer to the nut or the front of the bridge plate.
Adjust the bridge saddle to compensate for flatness or sharpness until the note at the 12th fret is in tune with the open string note. Finally, do the same for all six strings and your guitar will be properly intonated.
Once you have completed all the above adjustments your Stratocaster should play very comfortably and stay in tune very well. Whenever you change strings I would check all the adjustments and adjust any that are out. So, if you do these adjustments with every string change your guitar will always play it’s best. Leave any questions or comments in the comment section below.