If you’ve recently purchased a new guitar, the first thing you should do is get it professionally setup to ensure that it performs at its best.
You’ll learn everything you need to know about a professional guitar setup in this article, including what it entails, how much it costs, and whether you actually need one.
In summary, if you’re new to the guitar, you should get your guitar set up by a professional. A correctly set-up guitar will provide a better playing experience and allow you to get the most out of your guitar.
What is the definition of a “professional guitar setup”?
This is how a professional guitar set up works. It’s a series of changes to the guitar that make it work and sound its best.
This is called “basic maintenance,” and it could include things like neck adjustments, string height adjustments, tuning stability changes, hardware adjustments, and more.
What Is Involved in a Guitar Setup?
When you take your guitar to a professional luthier or guitar tech, they will most likely change the string height, intonation, truss rod, and action.These are the basic components of every guitar setup.
In some cases, there may be more complicated tasks that need to be done before you can play your guitar. For example, fret dressing, filing the nut, changing your guitar’s tremolo, or cleaning the frets may be necessary.
Adjustments to the Truss Rods
The truss rod is a metal rod that runs through the neck and into the body of an acoustic or electric guitar, regardless of whether it is acoustic or electric.
Because guitar necks naturally warp over time as the environment changes, this allows you to modify the amount of relief in the neck.
He will look at your guitar’s neck to see whether it has too much relief, which makes it bow, or not enough relief, which makes it bow back.
Extremely high action or fret buzz can be caused by either too much or too little relief in the neck.
The idea is to keep the guitar neck nearly straight with just a little relief.
If your guitar has a floating tremolo, you’ll need to do some additional setup to ensure that it stays in tune.
When the strings and the tremolo’s spring mechanism are balanced, the tremolo can move back and forth at the same speed.
This will let you do insane dive bombs and whammy bar stunts with your tremolo arm without your guitar going out of tune.
Choosing a string action String action refers to the
distance between the strings and the fretboard.
Higher action means that there is a lot of space between the string and the fretboard, which means that you will have to push more on the frets to play a note.
Lower action indicates that there is less space between the frets and the strings, requiring less force to play a note.
Because every guitar player has their own preferences, you’ll need to have your guitar technician adjust the string action to match your playing style.
Some people like their guitars to have a low action, while others like their guitars to have a high action.
action to eliminate fret buzz and allow the strings to vibrate and ring for extended periods of time. However, because it needs you to press down on the fretboard with more force, it might be difficult to play.
It is much easier to play if the guitar’s action is substantially lower with regard to the fretboard, but it can also cause fret buzz in rare circumstances. Most people like to play games with low action.
When you bring your guitar in for a professional setup, the string action is usually adjusted in one of two ways. They’ll either tighten the truss rod to straighten out the neck or adjust the screws or saddles on your bridge to modify the motion.
Setting the Intonation on the Guitar:
Adjusting the intonation on a guitar is one of the most critical components of the setup. The intonation of a guitar relates to how well it stays in tune throughout the entire fretboard.
As an example, let’s say you tune your guitar as usual. You’d tune each string one at a time, fretting nothing and strumming the string open.
When you get all of the strings in tune and start playing, you’ll find that the guitar sounds out of tune as you proceed down the neck, even though the open strings are still in tune.
This is due to the guitar not being properly intonated, and no matter how regularly you tune your guitar or how well you play, it will completely damage your sound.
When you take your guitar in for a professional setup, the guitar will usually check the intonation by strumming the open string and comparing it to the 12th fret (octave). Depending on whether the note at the 12th fret is sharp or flat, he’ll alter the saddles at the bridge.
Because the 12th fret sits halfway between the bridge and the nut, if the open string and the 12th fret are in tune, the rest of the notes on the guitar will be in tune as well.
It’s difficult to get it right the first time, but it’s crucial. Even if you play every note correctly, if your guitar isn’t properly intonated, you’ll sound terrible.
If you’re a beginner who isn’t sure how to tune your guitar’s intonation, taking it to a competent luthier is probably worth it for that reason alone.
Polishing and hydrating
Wood is used to make guitars, which comes from trees. Trees, according to science, must be hydrated in order to survive.
After the trees are cut down to generate wood, which is then utilized to make the guitar, the wood needs to be hydrated for the instrument’s health.
If this is not done, your guitar is at risk of cracking and other irreversible damage. The lack of moisture is to blame for this.
Your luthier will often apply a special fretboard conditioner and polish to keep your guitar hydrated when you bring it in for a setup.
It is the process of restoring frets by leveling and bending them.
The metal frets will wear away over time as you rub your metal strings against them.
Dented frets, rough fret edges, and uneven frets are the result of this. If the frets on your guitar are dented or uneven, fret buzz will result.
If you just bought a new guitar, this shouldn’t be a problem because frets can endure for years without wearing out to the point where it becomes a problem. If there is a problem with your new guitar, it is most likely a factory defect, and you should return it.
Fret dressing isn’t usually included in a standard guitar setup because it takes a lot of time to file down each fret one by one to ensure they’re all level.
This procedure is normally only required for much older guitars.
You can also have a luthier fully remove the frets and re-fret your guitar if the frets are unrepairable or have been treated too many times in the past to the point where they are too small.
Setting the String Radius on the Guitar
Contrary to popular belief, the fretboard of a guitar is not perfectly flat.
The radius of the fretboard varies depending on the guitar maker. Fender guitars, for example, often have a rounder fretboard radius. Gibson guitars have a much flatter fretboard radius, on the other hand.
A wonderful guide on guitar fretboard radius can be found here, which talks through this topic in further depth.
In conclusion, your guitar’s strings must have the same radius as the fretboard. String radius adjustment screws are found on the bridges of most electric guitars.
To make sure that everything is in the right place, make the changes that are needed based on the bridge of your guitar and the fretboard radius of your neck.
If not, fret buzz and strange string action with some strings too high and others too low may ensue.
What Is the Purpose of a Guitar Setup?
If you buy a brand new guitar, it will almost certainly be brand new from the factory. Almost no new guitars are set up to perform ideally right out of the box.
Because most guitars are made and sent overseas before arriving in a guitar store or warehouse, there are nearly always flaws during transportation.
When you buy a new guitar, the action will almost always be very high, and there will be some fret buzz.
Even if there are no obvious flaws, it will not be set up to suit your playing style.
A professional setup will guarantee that your guitar is comfortable to play and sounds great, allowing you to get the most out of your investment.
Even if your guitar isn’t brand new, it will require some routine maintenance from time to time.
Your guitar’s neck will warp, the frets will wear down, the fretboard will dry out, and fret buzz will occur with time.
This is perfectly typical, even if your guitar is well-maintained.
How much does it cost to set up a guitar?
A professional guitar setup will typically cost between $40 and $100, depending on the guitar and where it is set up. This will cover the fundamentals, such as action setup, intonation, and neck relief.
If your guitar has a Floyd Rose floating tremolo that needs to be set up or you have worn out frets that need to be dressed, they will charge you more depending on how much work is required.
Due to the time and effort required to file down each fret one by one to ensure they are balanced, fret dressing can cost anywhere from $80 to $150.
Keep in mind that prices can vary significantly depending on where you travel (local guitar shop vs. corporate chain, like Guitar Center).
How Frequently Should Your Guitar Be Setup?
Take your guitar in for a full setup at least twice a year on average. You can also make some modest modifications to your guitar on a more regular basis throughout the year. This could entail making changes to the motion and intonation as needed.
If you get your guitar professionally setup twice a year, you will only need to make minor modifications the rest of the year.
Between the cold and warm seasons, that is, winter and summer, I make it a point to get my guitar setup.
Because the severe change in weather is when the wood in your guitar reacts the most dramatically, this is usually the best time to have it set up.
You can also consider your guitar to be a machine with a lot of moving parts.
Your guitar, like your automobile, will require regular maintenance to keep it running well. If you play your guitar four times a week, it’s possible that you won’t have to wait a year to get it set up.
If you haven’t played your guitar in about six months, though, you may need to have it professionally set up to restore some functionality.
People who know how to set things up may be able to help if you keep having problems with the sound while you play the game.
It’s a good clue to get a setup if you visually inspect your guitar’s physical condition and find that anything is worn out. In summary, it is recommended that you have your guitar set up by a trained technician at least twice a year. Any other moment you consider necessary, though, should suffice.
Is it possible for you to set up your guitar on your own?
Yes, you can certainly teach yourself how to tune your guitar. Many of the steps are straightforward.
If you’ve just purchased your first guitar and don’t feel confident making these changes, I recommend taking it to a professional luthier to avoid permanently harming it.
This is especially true if you use a Floyd Rose or other floating tremolo on your guitar. If you’re a newbie, don’t try to set up a floating tremolo on your own.
To ensure that all of the major changes are handled properly, I recommend having your guitar set up by a professional once or twice a year.
You can next learn how to make some fundamental modifications on your own, such as altering the guitar’s string action and intonation.
If your guitar was recently set up by a professional, you shouldn’t need to make any significant alterations.
While you wait for your next full setup, you can make these modifications as needed throughout the year.
Everyone who owns one of these magnificent instruments needs a professional guitar setup. However, you should be cautious about who you entrust with the task of setting up your guitar. Your instrument may be irreversibly damaged by a quack. Not only would this be inconvenient, but it would also be costly. Especially if your guitar is expensive.
When looking for a professional to set up your instrument, you should go to a well-known guitar store. Finally, you shouldn’t wait for your guitar to develop a slew of problems before getting a full setup. The wisest policy is to avoid problems in the first place.