Handmade Fender style 'casters

Telecaster / Stratocaster setup guide

Basic guitar setup procedure and values, in order of how one ought to proceed.

Set Preliminary intonation

Adjust the first-string (high “e” string) bridge saddle to the approximate scale length (25.5 inches on a Fender Tele or Strat), measuring from the inside of the nut to the point where the string contacts the bridge saddle. Now adjust the distance of the second-string saddle (‘b’ string), moving it back from the first saddle, using the diameter of the second string as a measurement. For example, If the second string is .011″ (0.3 mm), you would move the second-string saddle back .011″ (0.3 mm) from the first saddle. Move the third saddle back from the second saddle using the gauge of the third string as a measurement. The fourth-string saddle should be set parallel with the second-string saddle. Proceed with the fifth and sixth saddles with the same method used for saddles two and three.

Fine tuning of the intonation will be set after the rest of the setup is complete.

Adjust Truss Rod


Adjust the truss rod so that the neck is perfectly flat while unstrung, a fretted straight-edge just barely touching the fretboard at the eighth fret. String the guitar and tune to pitch. The Fender specs for the neck relief are:

Neck RadiusRelief
7.25″      .012″ (0.3 mm)
9.5″ to 12″.010″ (0.25 mm)
14″ to 17″.008″ (0.2 mm)

My own preferences is (with neck strung and tuned to pitch) to measure the height of the fifth fret in comparison to the first and twelfth frets. If the fifth is higher the neck has some amount of backbow.


I use this instrument to measure backbow, from Stewmac.

Adjust the Action

There are two aspects to adjusting the action. First, measure the string height above the first fret. Suggested starting values:

E, A  .020″
D, G.018″
B, e.016″

If necessary, cut the nut slots to spec, using a feeler gauge to measure relief. If you are cutting the nut slots, make sure to use nut slot files of the appropriate width and please do this very carefully! There is no recovery from cutting too deeply so best to file a bit and re-check relief, over and over, until the string is at the correct height. The nut slots need only be adjusted one time for the life of the neck.

The second part of adjusting the action is to first measure string height at the 17th fret.

The Fender specs for string height are:

Neck Radius   String Height, Bass Side (“E”)Treble Side (“e”)
7.25″   5/64″ (2 mm) 4/64″ (1.6 mm)
95″ 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 adjust the height of the middle four saddles so that the string height matches the neck radius at the last fret. I use a Stewmac string radius tool to adjust the saddle height, as in the picture below. For compound radius necks, the radius should be one or two sizes larger than the neck radius at the last fret.

Pickup Height

Depress the strings at the last fret. Measure the distance from the bottom of the first and sixth strings to the top of the pole pieces. A good rule of thumb is that the distance should be greatest at the sixth-string neck pickup position, and closest at the first-string bridge pickup position. The Fender official specs are below.

 Bass SideTreble Side
Texas Specials8/64″ (3.6 mm)6/64″ (2.4 mm)
Vintage style6/64″ (2.4 mm)5/64″ (2 mm)
Noiseless™ Series8/64″ (3.6 mm)6/64″ (2.4 mm)
Standard Single-Coil5/64″ (2 mm)4/64″ (1.6 mm)
Humbuckers4/64″ (1.6 mm)4/64″ (1.6 mm)

Final Intonation

Adjust intonation using saddle intonation adjustment screws. I use an electronic tuner and adjust until the string has the correct pitch both open and when lightly fretted at the twelfth fret (one octave higher).