Proper Guitar Setup

The proper setup of your guitar can not be overstressed. A properly setup instrument is a joy to play. A poorly setup instrument is an awful experience and can be just frustrating enough to make you give up on playing guitar altogether. Okay, so how do you know if your guitar is setup correctly. Do any of the strings buzz or sound "fuzzy" when strummed/plucked? Are your strings so high off from the fretboard that it hurts your fingers to push down to make chords? If you answered yes to either of the above questions, you have an instrument which is not setup properly.

A properly setup instrument needs a straight neck. You can determine if your guitar's neck is straight by holding it up like you were purchasing a 2x4 piece of lumber. Close one eye and look down the neck to see if it is straight. If it bows (has a high spot) you need to loosen the truss rod. If the neck is warped (has a low spot) you will need to tighten the truss rod. If you have never purchased lumber and do not know how to "site" a 2x4 then I suggest you go to your local Home Depot and ask one of their friendly sales associates to show you how to check a 2x4's straightness. Then purchase one 2x4, so you don't look like someone with a purpose, take the 2x4 home and nail it to your living room wall as a reminder to check your guitar's neck for straightness.

The Truss Rod.

Tightening the truss rod really isn't as scary as it may first seem. In all my years of working with hundreds and hundreds of guitar I have never broken a guitar tightening and loosing the truss rod. If you follow the next few steps, you should do just fine. First, do not take the strings off from the guitar before adjusting the truss rod. I have seen information on the web and in some books that would have you remove or loosen the strings before making adjustments. I believe this to be a mistake as taking the pressure of the strings away from the neck will make for an over adjustment of the truss rod. LEAVE THE STRINGS ON THE GUITAR and leave the guitar tuned to standard tuning. Next, find the correct tool to use. Most guitars should come with the correct wrench to make the adjustment, if you don't have one you can get one from the guitar manufacturer or, even, just your local hardware store. To tighten the truss rod (correct a warped neck) you turn the nut to the right. To loosen the truss rod (for a neck that is too tight and is bowed) turn the nut to the left.

IMPORTANT: Before making any turn to the truss rod nut, take a pen/pencil and mark the nut's current position should you need to adjust back to your starting point. ALSO: Only turn the nut about 1/4 of a turn and then check the neck's straightness. It usually only takes about 1/2, or so, of a turn to correct most neck problems. Okay, turn and check (looking down the neck like a piece of lumber you are checking for bow/warp).

After getting your neck straight it is time to check your string height. I like my strings at about a medium height. If you play slide guitar or are a really heavy-hitting rhythm guitar strummer, you might want your strings a bit higher. How high you like your strings is a personal taste matter but remember, THE HIGHER THE STRINGS the more pressure you will have to apply with your hand, fingers.

Setting your strings' height is, usually, an easy adjustment on an electric guitar or an archtop guitar with an adjustable bridge. If you have a fixed bridge, like most acoustic guitars, you will need to make changes to the bridge and/or nut height by shaving/sanding down the bridge saddle or nut. This can be a bit tricky and, if you aren't willing to take the time to make a mistake and redo a saddle, or two, you might want to have this adjustment done by a guitar tech. Making your own adjustments to your guitars will ensure you will have the guitar exactly setup exactly the way you would like and if you can't afford your own guitar tech it is just part of being a guitarist. There are some good guitar techs who can do this for you and if you find one, send me their name and contact info and I will include them on the site. I have found the best way for me to keep my guitars playing the way I want them to play is to learn how to make all the setup adjustments myself.

If you are serious about your guitar playing I believe you need to be serious about learning how to make setup adjustments to your instrument yourself. The setup of your guitars will be a skill you will acquire over time but I believe they are skills that are just as important to your playing as learning how to make chords or play solos.



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