Removing a Truss Rod Plug and Adding Washers


Depending on how this went I was prepared with an alternate title: How to wreck your Strat in 5 easy minutes. Instead this method worked really really well.

I’m some kind of magnet for bad truss rods. I’ve had 3 Strats all with the same issue. Truss rod out of thread. When this happens you run out of adjustment and can’t correct a neck with too much concavity.

I have one Strat I’ve been playing for about 15 years. It’s one of the more deluxe models so I didn’t want to jack that one up. I took it to a respected guitar repair man and he fixed it to the tune of $700. (To be fair this was the total bill: Plek, neck fix, 3 new pickups, blendy pot, some other small stuff) Then I did some math. $1500 guitar I bought used for $580, put $700 into, and can probably only sell for $900. hmm.

I decided the approach to take on my “more affordable” strat would be different. I bought it used for $380. American Highway One Strat. I don’t consider myself an optimistic person but I was that day when I took a look down the neck and thought “Oh, I’ll just adjust the truss rod”. My new iron clad rule is: Never buy a guitar if you can’t adjust it there on the spot.

I did a bit of sleuthing about the process. You need to soften the glue that holds the truss rod plug in place. Then back the truss rod nut up. This forces the plug out. Remove the nut. Add washers. That way the nut does not run out of thread. Re-insert nut and see if you can adjust the neck to where it should be. Since strings will cause the neck to bow your final truss rod adjustment should take place with strings on and tuned.

I found varying ideas of how to get the truss rod plug out. I heard streamer, hair dryer, exacto knife, and a few others. The hair dryer method is supposed to be from Fender’s repair papers. My repair guy mentioned an exacto knife.

The exacto knife method seemed far fetched to me. Seemed you would butcher it trying to cut around that small radius hole. I scraped that idea right away.

I also had a hard time believing the hair dryer method would work. Here you shield the headstock with foil just exposing the truss rod plug like so.


Then heat the plug with a hair dryer until you see it start to sweat. Back the nut out pushing out the plug. I tried this and it did not work for me. Plug sweat fail. Softened glue fail.

The other method I thought about was inserting a soldering iron into the plug hole. This made a lot of sense since it would evenly heat the plug from the inside out. The heat gets applied uniformly unlike the hair dryer method. And if anything burns it will be the plug not the headstock.

Pressing on. Tape fail!


I taped the strings out the way. Don’t do this. I used painter’s tape. It’s not supposed to tear paint off or leave a residue. Not 100% true. Apparently guitar work is more exacting then painting. It left a very thin film on my fingerboard. I’m not going to sweat it that much. Will probably come off with some playing.


From left to right: Cheapo soldering iron, utility knife on top of tin foil, needle nose pliers, 1/8″ Allen wrench with ball end, wife’s hair dryer.

You can throw out the hair dryer, foil, and utility knife since they are for the hair dryer method. The rest is very useful.

Some notes:

Using a typical Allen wrench can be a real pain imo. This specialized Allen wrench can be used at a slight angle, has a very strong shank, and can be turned continuously.

This soldering iron is a low wattage model. But it loosened up the plug quite fast. I think a high wattage model may be overkill and start your plug smoking. My model came with an assortment of tips. I chose the one that best fit the opening for my plug. (Man, it’s hard to write this stuff with a straight face.)

Needle nose pliers were good for pulling the plug free. The nut will only back it out so far. They were also great for bending the lock washers and bending a paper clip into a useful tool. More below.

Here’s how things looked before.


Once the glue gets soft you want to back out the nut fast. So First I backed the nut out as much as I could. Then I inserted the soldering iron making sure it did not touch the wood of the headstock.


I didn’t want to heat things any more then I had to. I gave the soldering iron about 30 seconds then tried to back the plug out. Rinse repeat. Don’t force it. Once the glue warms up it comes out easy.


It took about 2 cycles of 30 second heatings and then … sweet success! Wow, that was refreshingly easy. And the plug hole is in relatively good shape.


Getting the nut out took a bit since it is almost the same diameter as the hole. This is where an unwound paperclip with a slight hook at the end may be helpful. Use the needle nose pliers to bend the hook.


Here is the nut.


After I got the nut out I cleaned the Allen wrench side of it with a needle and vacuum. You don’t want that gummed up when it’s time to adjust your truss rod. Then I added a very small dab of Chap Stick on the threads. I’ve heard of using oil, Vaseline, dry lubes. To me it made sense to use something that’s a solid at room temperature. That way it doesn’t wick into the wood easily.


Now comes the most time consuming part of the process. Finding washers. I walked into two large hardware stores. What an amazing assortment of washers that weren’t the right size. I guess it would kill Fender to make their guitars fit a readily available washer. Lots of people run out of truss rod adjustment. This fix is not rare.

I got washers that needed to be drilled out. I got washers that were slightly too wide. I got a nylon spacer that I wasn’t sure I could trust. Would nylon deform under stress? I didn’t want to find out.

If the washer is too wide it won’t fit into the plug hole. And if it’s center hole is too narrow it won’t fit over the trust rod’s threads. You don’t want those threads getting striped by a snug washer.

Useful fact: The truss rod is a #10-32 thread. When you go to the hardware store have your truss rod nut and a #10-32 machine screw in hand. It’s an exacting fit.


What was just the right size? A metric lock washer. I believe it was the lock washer for a M4 sized screw. I wish I wrote it down but that’s pretty close, maybe right. I didn’t want to stack 4 lock washers on top of each other. So I planned on twisting the “lock” out of them with two needle nose pliers.

If you can take some exact measurements it may be worth ordering the washers online from an automobile supply place like this.


It was pretty easy getting them flat. See.


I put 4 of these flattened lock washers down the hole for my truss rod. They fit perfect. Then I inserted the nut and screwed it back down. I don’t think I would ever put back a wooden plug. But I don’t want the hole to get filled with crude. So I inserted a bit of backer rod. It will maintain a crude-free zone and is easily removed. Not much for looks though.


I wish this was where the perfect ending occurred. I was able to adjust my truss rod better. Here is a shot of the gap at the 7th fret. There is a capo on the 1st fret and I’m pressing down on the last fret. That’s a good way to check the concavity of the neck.


This is a 1/16″ gap and way too much. After adjusting the truss rod with the washers in place I got it back to factory specs. That’s checking with a .011″ feeler gauge.

But after the strings went back on to tuning tension I lost some of that. I’m in a much better place, but still not Fender specs. Unfortunately the truss rod nut is turning very hard at this point. The next option is to apply some back bowing pressure to the neck and see if I can turn the truss rod a bit more. I only need a bit. But that’s another post (maybe)

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28 Responses to Removing a Truss Rod Plug and Adding Washers

  1. Ziggy, Boulder CO says:

    Why’d you need to plug that truss rod hole? Looks like a great place to hold an extra cigarette during the show.

  2. cporro says:

    ha. you said, “plug that truss rod hole”. the value of this post is getting people to use any combo of hole, plug, or rod. mission accomplished.

  3. John Carlo says:

    This worked like a charm. The washers are a #5 Metric size. You can buy the Walnut plugs from Fender in a 2 pack. Mine was a little scorched. The proper size allen is 1/8 for the American necks and be sure to clean out the allen hole as mine was full of finish and prevented the wrench from going in all the way in the first place causing it to strip out at the top. Once in all the way it gripped with no problem but I am putting a new nut in for sure since its out.
    I bought a neck straightening beam with clamps from the bay. A very useful tool to ensure the trueness and ease of setting the truss rod tension properly. I was going to buy a new neck but this saved me. Thanks for posting this info :’)

  4. cporro says:

    thx for the metric size info! #5 it is then. did you see where i found what appears to be the perfect washer in a later post? if you want some send me an addressed postage paid envelop. how is a neck straightening beam supposed to work? is it something to use when tightening fails? sounds like it.

  5. Bill, Greensboro NC says:

    Chris, this is a fantastic website. I followed your instructions exactly and so far having great success! I had to apply about 5 or 6 sessions of 30 secs each with the soldering iron before the plug finally gave way. Then I ended up breaking the plug a bit when I pulled it out with the pliers, but it is out and the hole in the guitar is not marred a bit. It was a trick getting the truss rod nut out. I found that once it cleared the threads I couldn’t get it out with the modified paper clip. However, I found if you put the allen wrench in and kind of push it to the side a bit so that it catches a little in the nut, then turn and pull gently at the same time it works well to work the nut out. I now have the truss rod nut out and the guitar in the clamp that you also detail how to make on this website and I’ll gradually put a slight back bow in the neck while I wait for the spacer/washers to arrive in the mail. I’m hoping the rest of the process works as well as it did for you. Thanks for taking the time to post this info, I think you saved me from having to buy a new neck.

  6. cporro says:

    that’s great. sounds like you had to deal with more gunk in that truss rod hole then i did. for me, once the plug was warmed up, i just backed out the nut and the plug came right out. it was too good to be true. you may not have to clamp the neck. i’d try adding the nut and see how that works. but be careful. as you know what goes in might not easily come out. i have 2…3 posts on this truss rod adjustment. heat is also an area i’m looking into since my adjustments did slip back a bit.

  7. Nicole says:

    Thanks for the great tips! That did not sound good though, about you going through all this, and then having that much upbow/relief still, and having the truss rod too tight to turn any more. I hope it worked out for you!

    Off to find #5 metric washers and I need a new truss rod nut, mine is all chewed up and even after filing down a 5.5 mm hex key to somewhat fit it, (tapered) I don’t really trust it. Btw, my stupid bass you need to take off the whole neck to adjust the truss rod, so I’m jealous about your nice neck adjustment hole there. I think it looks better bare than filled with some weird stuff though. Just my opinion. Or you might be able to buy or make a cover plate if it bothers you.

  8. cporro says:

    sure thing.
    the truss rod and washer fix only works for certain cases where the issue really is running out of adjustment. you may also an issue with the wood being bowed. i’ve been looking into using heat and some bending for that one but so far haven’t tried it. big picture if your neck has lots of issues it makes sense to look at a new neck. i spent $700 correcting (pro guitar repair shop) a neck on another guitar. although it is much improved a new neck would have been even better. though you couldn’t say the guitar was orginal anymore.
    you will know pretty quick if running out of adjustment was your issue. if after the washer is in place you still can’t adjust normally you have other issues. good luck and thx.

  9. Mark says:

    Hah! I’m buying a great sounding Highway One Strat that looks just like yours in about an hour. It also has neck adjusting issues, but thanks to you I know what to do! Thank you for putting this up!

  10. cporro says:

    sorry i missed your comment when it came in. you probably already bought the guitar…so i’ll just say “don’t buy it”. personally i’m done with strats. i’ve had 3 and each one had neck issues. i’m sure there are good ones. repairs can easily cost as much as the guitar itself. anyway let me know how it goes for you.

  11. Peter Mills says:

    I just had to do the same thing with an old Yamaha acoustic. Worked a charm. I found the hardest part was threading the spacer onto the truss rod–it’s down a really deep hole! For the spacer I used an old curtain roller that I drilled out. I’m pissed off they couldn’t have done this at the shop. Instead they just filed the bridge down to next-to-nothing and I had to replace that too. Just goes to show you: never trust anyone else with your guitar. I learned that the hard way with bicycles as well…

  12. cporro says:

    ouch. filing down the bridge does nothing to fix concavity. i get nervous taking my guitar in too. but my current guy really knows his stuff. it costs though. glad it worked for you. i think my troubles are deeper. looking into heating and resetting the neck.

  13. Emil says:

    You should put the plug back in ( and I mean glue it in) or order a new one from Fender. Those plugs are for back pressure; the fender neck design that has this bullet plug is bi-directional capable and the plug works as a stop for the nut to put reverse pressure and straighten out the neck (that is putting pressure opposite of the direction the strings are pulling; approximately 180 ft-lbs). The way you modded the neck it is more like a Gibson truss rod that can only adjust to add more bow in the neck. Read the link below by looking for the header “truss rod”

  14. Emil says:

    Here is a link to the fender neck schematic so that you can see what I’m discussing in the earlier post.

  15. Emil says:

    Also, you can read this post here on a Telecaster forum…the necks are the same in function.

  16. cporro says:

    if the truss rod is bidirectional they are talking about correcting a convex bow and how the plug is important there. yes? i’ve personalty never had one of those. but it’s handy to know that if i ever do with ones of fenders bi-flex rods. thx.

    from reading this i still think it’s fine, even convenient, to leave the plug off.

    in either case i’ve soured on fenders necks. : (

  17. Andy says:

    Worked for me guys! Thanks a bunch! I wondered what I was going to do when the stupid thing wouldn’t adjust! Ya boo sucks to Fender for such lame quality control. I ‘ve had a bunch of great MIM Strats and never a neck problem among any of them. The first US neck I own and it didn’t work properly Oi Vey Leo would be spinning in his grave!

  18. cporro says:

    glad it worked for you.

    i no longer assume necks can be adjusted. they gotta play great off the shelf. what a pain they can be. 🙂

  19. hlinton says:

    $700 to have a Fender neck fixed? Really? I have some land in Florida that you might want to consider. I broke a truss rod on a Tele and was charged all of $60 to have it completely replaced. $700?!? You got hosed BIG TIME, homey.

  20. cporro says:

    yeah i’m going to change that. that was the total repair bill which i still think is high! it included a plek (when they were less common), 3 new pickups, blendy pot, and some changes to electronics… maybe a few other things. it wasn’t just a set up which runs about 100 around here. probably everything can be had cheaper if you ship the guitar outside the bay area or have your pal do it. neither one sounds good to me.

  21. SWRWOOD says:

    HY DUDE…

    M4: 4.10 X 7.60 mm
    M5: 5.10 X 9.20 mm


  22. cporro says:

    here is what you want. the exact part number is listed and where to buy.

  23. Adam says:

    Today I did a trus rod adjustment on my fender custom shop tele, I backed off the nut quarter turn counter clockwise… And then heard a crack pop… I freaked out! I thought …. Shit I broke my guitar. Then as I was looking for the damage, I noticed the walnut cap came out of the trus rod hole. So my question is, to you cporro, is my guitar going to be ok? My strings were high off the 8 fret, using a capo and pressing the string on the last fret. So I gave it a quarter turn clockwise tightening the trus rod, and walah….! The strings were at a perfect height using the size 11 feeler guadge at the 8 fret. I am still a little worried about the cap coming out.

  24. niels says:

    thank you for this!
    ‘Add washers. That way the nut does not run out of thread.’ This did the trick for me. Fortunately I found washers that fit well. A new lease on life for an old but classy guitar.

  25. cporro says:

    i wouldn’t worry about that plug. those are cosmetic. when you backed off the nut it put pressure on the plug and popped it. that’s surprising. i had to use heat to get my plug out. also for most truss rods you can only adjust one way… to counter the bow from strings. so i think for your case you just turned it the wrong way to start off.

  26. Steve says:

    I just tightened the rod on mine, (new custom tele with a one way rod) and the plug pushed out instead… I swore loudly, then stumbled onto this site. My plug hole (lol) didn’t even have a washer in there to begin with. Seems like there should be one if only to evenly spread out the force of the nut on the cap, and in the very least to keep the nut from spinning the cap loose upon adjustment. Found by slacking the rod and pushing the plug in that there was a lot more room in there that didn’t need to be there. Crafted me a couple washers to fill 90% of the gap, pushed the plug and washers all the way in and tightened the rod pushing the cap out until the cap was flush, then removed and glued up the plug. Then I slacked the rod again for good measure in case the neck moved while the glue dried. Thanks for this.

  27. John Mc Auliffe says:

    Hi, Great article,
    Any ideas on how to shape a new walnut plug for my Strat. I have the Fender plugs but not sure how to get the same curve as the original one accurately.
    Cheers from Ireland

  28. cporro says:

    buy them from a guitar parts supplier. or…leave it open. that’s what i did.

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