The Workbench

Generally specific technical question re: Rickenbacker 4003 bass setup


Like...what should I expect for action at the 12th fret with no more fret buzz than would be tolerable on the average P-Bass?

Neck on this one appears nearly dead-straight. Frets have zero wear. Action is higher than I think it should be (5/32" on bass side, 3/32" on treble), and still more fret buzz than I'd like.

No experience setting up Ric basses. I've heard a few of them, though, and they don't all sound like bass sitars.


Those double truss rods take some getting used to. Those tiny frets can have buzz probs. You can get a decent bass sound outta the neck pickup.


Adjusting a Rickenbacker dual truss rod instrument has driven many mad. It is very easy to induce a twist to the neck, so beware of casual adjustments.

You mention the string heights, and for string heights at the 12th fret, your number for the bass side is just a tad high. Normally, when setting up a 4001 or 4003, I aim for 4/64" at the 12th fret. I'll go a little higher for heavier strings, but all that is adjusted at the bridge.

One thing to check would be the neck relief. For a bass, depending on string gauge, I aim for .014 to .016 relief measured at the 7th fret (or 9th fret for a long scale), measured in the usual neck relief measuring way.

Them big ol' strings on that long ol' neck do some major league swangin' when they do what they do. Not having adequate neck relief brings out the Ravi Shankar in 'em.


Yes, 12th fret.

I don't detect any neck twist, and I'm going easy on the adjustments.

As for relief, that has to be adjusted with the rods, no? I gather that there's lore that a Ric neck should be dead straight; others allow as how the same physics that obtain in the rest of guitardom also apply to Rics, and a touch of relief is called for. Right now it's pretty much straight. Relaxing the bass rod for any more would leave the adjusting nut loose.

I'd be thrilled with 4/64".

I'm starting to think I could squeeze this thing till the juice runs down its neck and it will still be a lemon.


I've heard the same thing about Ric necks for years, but the rules of string physics apply to Rickenbacker just like they do for all the others. Strings need room to vibrate, and vibrating strings is kind of the point, ain't it?

You are correct that the truss rod is the primary adjustment for neck relief, although string tension figures in as well. The dual truss rod system allows the long thin necks the Ric is so famous for, but adjusting them is a matter of balancing the inputs of the two rods. Those made before '84 operated a little differently than those made since. Is yours before or after that date?


It's 2012. You can see pics of possible bridge "tail lift" in my whiny NBD thread here:

When I mic the strings, I find the Ric-factory standard .045 - .105, so assume they're at the standard tension as well.

This bass appears to have no fretwear, and the finish cosmetic damage is all consistent with careless handling and not playing. It may have been a clunker from the git-go and just passed along the feeding chain.


So, being post-'84, you have two truss rods, but they each work just like a normal truss rod.

The only difference is that they're threaded on both ends, so one of the issues that you can encounter is the rod having backed out of the internal nut. You mention that the rod on the bass side is pretty loose, will it tighten? As long as it does, the possibility of a backed out or broken truss rod can be eliminated.

Is the rod on the treble side very tight? Normally, the goal is to keep the tension on each of them roughly equal, as a way of preventing neck twist. You might try backing that one off, checking the neck relief measurement before and after to see if it's an improvement.


They both work normally, yes. Can be tightened or loosened. I don't know how to tell if tension on them is equal...short of a torque wrench - which I probably should have but don't. My impression is that the treble side is pretty tight and the bass side pretty loose.

But if they can't have unequal tension, that obviates some of the perceived advantage of having two - ie, that you can use differential torque to overcome wood wackiness. (Though I wouldn't think one chunk of wood would vary much in its susceptibility to string tension over less than 2" in width.)


Tim, on Monday, I had an almost two-hour long riveting phone conversation with a fella that worked at Rickenbacker back in the 70’s. He said that the single truss rod didn’t work because of what they were making them out of, so they were ordered to start putting in the second one because “since one didn’t work, maybe two would.” There goes the mystique. It was just a punt.


No, they can have unequal tension, in fact they will in the end because the heavier strings have higher tension, so the force would twist the neck if they were both equal at the end.

However, in a case like this, the starting point is to have them both roughly equal so that you can adjust each in turn to achieve the proper neck relief while preventing a twist.

A torque wrench wouldn't really be necessary, although I'll have to try that next time. It's more a matter of "feel" as to whether one is tighter than the other. Since you tighten them to counteract string tension, having one loose and one tight can work to prevent proper neck relief.

Again, I'd loosen the treble side either 1/4 or 1/2 turn, measuring neck relief before and after, and see if that helps.


You can’t just tighten the truss rod or you’ll snap it!

It’s a two person to tighten or take relief out. You need to clamp the fretboard at the nut then have someone hold the body as the truss rod operator presses down at the headstock to give some backbone then snugs up on the nuts.


If you don’t clamp the fretboard it’ll come apart at the seam.


It’s a simple process don’t get sucked into the minutia.


Use your eyes and fingers and put the ruler back in the toolbox.


No ruler, all eyeball-measuring here.

I tightened the treble side less than a quarter-turn, just enough to feel it's tight. I've loosened the bass side probably half a turn, and just barely see any beginning of relief.

The tone is fabulous. The buzzing is making me crazy. To complicate the thing, the nut feels like it's not slotted deep enough. Pretty stiff fretting from 1-3 (and minimal buzzing up to 5). From 5-10 or so, especially on the E & A, it's a buzzfest.

It doesn't play nearly as well as the Falcon bass. It's a struggle to get around the Ric. It just doesn't feel like it's right. It actually feels like there's too much relief. You know how a guitar fights you in the middle register when that's the case, like you have to work for every note. Then to have them buzz when you get them...


I tightened the treble side less than a quarter-turn, just enough to feel it's tight. I've loosened the bass side probably half a turn, and just barely see any beginning of relief. - Proteus

By tightening the treble side, and loosening the bass side, you're using the tension of one against the other. I still think that the next step would be to loosen the treble side 1/4 to 1/2 turn.


I can do that.

To be clear, though, at present I see nothing that even starts to remind me of twisting - or any odd geometry at all. That’s what’s maddening: everything looks right. Just doesn’t feel it. It’s got me stymied.


Your eye can lie to you, that's why I use a ruler (a scale, actually), and a feeler gauge. What looks good and feels good now can seem just the opposite the next day. If you don't know how it was set up when it was good, it's harder to tell what has changed when it's not.

In short, you want the string tension to cause the neck to bend more toward the strings, and to do that you want to loosen the truss rods. Once you get the neck relief set properly, then you snug up the truss rod nuts. At that point you sight down the neck from the body and adjust the nuts to relieve any twist, and you check occasionally to ensure that it doesn't begin to twist later. Sometimes, wood moves slowly.

With the bridge base lifting, even the small amount you show in your other thread, you're losing some of the string tension that would be acting on the neck normally. It is entirely possible that you'll find yourself with both truss rod nuts loose and still not enough relief with the strings tuned to pitch.

A seven year old bass with no fret wear may, as you suspect, be telling you something.


I’ll add that I’ve never seen a naturally occurring twist on any Ric, that’s a driver issue.

The dual truss rods are there because of the thin neck and the crazy small rod stock they use. The actual neck, the maple part is scary thin so the strength comes from the fretboard. Make sure the board hasn’t separated from the maple in the first few frets which would allow a hockey stick bend early.


Speaking of undersized systems, a Gibson Bass V walked in with a neck bend that was ridiculous. It too had an undersized truss rod so I thought a bigger one would solve the problem, it didn't. Then I went to one of those large dual action things and it didn't work. Finally I went with the biggest dual action units made, routed out the channel to almost no wood then added a carbon fiber channel.

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