What is a Guitar Setup? May 14 2014

So what exactly does having your guitar setup mean?  The principles are the same no matter the stringed instrument - guitar, violin, banjo, mandolin.  Essentially, setting up an instrument means making it as comfortable and playable as possible for the musician.  Guitar setup is a subjective thing. For example, I may setup the same guitar completely differently for someone who is playing metal versus someone who is a rhythm player or a flatpicker versus a fingerstyle player.  No matter the player, or the instrument, I strive to adjust my setup for the type and style of player you are.


What does a setup include?  For an acoustic guitar, the first thing is to adjust the relief or bow in the neck so playability between the 1st and 12th fret is comfortable.  Then I adjust the depth of the nut slots where the strings sit with special rounded files that fit your gauge of strings precisely.  This makes playability comfortable particularly in the first position or first four frets. At that point I check the action, which is the height of the strings at the 12th fret.  The action may need to go up or down depending on the situation.  You want low enough action so that playing is comfortable but you don't want it so low that the strings buzz on the frets.  After the action is set and I'm happy with how the guitar is playing, I will remove the old strings and clean the instrument.  That means polish the body, clean and oil the fingerboard and polish the frets.  This is the time that I will oil and tighten the tuners as well as any strap buttons or other nuts and bolts.  After that it is time to restring the guitar, give the strings a quick stretch and tune them.  I finish with checking the pickup balance from bass to treble with the new strings to ensure the instrument sounds as good as possible.


How about an electric guitar setup?  In addition to everything mentioned above, electric guitars get their electronics cleaned if the pots are scratchy, the pickup heights adjusted for optimal tone and the intonation set so the guitar plays in tune.  You can tune the individual strings to your hearts content but if the intonation isn't set properly, your guitar will always sound out of tune.  It is important to do this step last as the magnetic pull of the pickups is affected by the distance of the strings to the pole pieces.  Some electric guitars have a floating tremolo and that is set to level at the correct height as well.


What does it cost and how long does it take?  A standard setup is usually $50+gst.  If you have a 12 string or a Floyd Rose bridge, setup cost is $60+gst.  Depending on how busy the workshop is, I can typically get your instrument back to you in 1-3 days.  If you live out of town or are a working musician, give me a call and we can schedule an appointment to ensure you have your guitar back to you as soon as possible.


Happy Strumming!