When the truss rod is loosened (i.e. moved towards the guitar's body), it allows the neck to bend slightly in response to the tension of the strings. Similarly, when tightened (i.e. moved towards the guitar's headstock) the truss rod straightens the neck by resisting the tension of the strings.
It is desireable for a guitar neck to have a slight relief in order that reasonably low action is achieved in the high fretboard positions, while at the same time, the strings ring clearly in the low positions. Improved action in the high fret positions also allows for more accurate intonation, to be achieved with less compensation at the bridge.
Truss rods are required for instruments with steel (high tension) strings. Without a truss rod, the guitar's wooden neck would gradually warp (i.e. bend) beyond repair due to applied high tension. Such devices are not normally needed on instruments with lower tension strings, such as the classical guitar which uses nylon (previously catgut) strings.
The truss rod can be adjusted to compensate for expansion or contraction in the neck wood due to changes in humidity or temperature, or to compensate for changes in the tension of the strings (the thicker the guitar string, the higher its tension when tuned to correct pitch).
Usually, the truss rod of a brand-new instrument is adjusted by the manufacturer before sale. Adjusting the truss rod is not recommended for a novice, as guitar necks can be easily damaged beyond repair in the process. Luthiers or more experienced players can adjust it when necessary (e.g. if strings of a very different tension are to be used). Turning the truss rod clockwise will tighten it, counteracting the tension of the strings and straightening the neck or creating a backward bow. Turning the truss rod counter-clockwise will loosen it, allowing string tension to act on the neck and creating a forward bow (higher string action).
Some guitars (notably Rickenbackers) come with dual truss rods that are more stable and not affected by seasonal climate changes, they are also more difficult to adjust and should be serviced by a professional. Though uncommon there are also left-handed truss rods that need to be rotated in the opposite direction of a normal truss rod.
The truss rod tension is usually controlled using an adjustment bolt (a hex nut or allen-key). Depending on the model of guitar, this bolt can be located:
Installing a truss rod in a newly constructed guitar requires woodworking capabilities. Special tools are required including a router with a variety of bits and ability to work with metals. Completed truss rods can be purchased through suppliers or manufactured according to specifications given in literature. Be sure of your measurements when constructing a guitar as they all play into the guitars full scale and playability. Consult a professional luthier or literature before constructing your own guitar.
A dual action truss rod can be adjusted for both upbow and backbow. The original design truss rod does not compensate for a lack of relief or backbow because in most cases guitars do not suffer from a lack of relief. It is important to note that dual action truss rods adjust the opposite way to a standard truss rod to compensate for too much neck relief.