Only 1 in 20 Guitars Correctly Set Up?

Posted 09 Jul 2008 in Electric Guitar, Hardware

Apparently, only 1 in 20 guitars that arrive from the manufacturers are correctly set up.  I’m not sure whether that claim is meant to be sensationalist or what the criteria is for being “properly set up”, but it does make a good point in that you should always make sure that you set your guitar up correctly once you’re purchased it.

Some people aren’t overly fussy with setups, but most will have some sort of preference. Things like the action (string height from the fretboard), string gauge, pickup height and intonation (how in-tune your guitar is across all frets) all affect how a guitar plays and feels.

Changing the action of a guitar can be a simple or complex, depending on what you are trying to change/rectify. Whether you get a friendly storeperson to do this for you, or you drop it off at a qualified technician or perhaps you’re comfortable in doing it yourself, here are a few things to consider:

  • Changing strings – it may be necessary to check your setup when moving to different gauge strings. eg. if you have your action set low and you move to a heavier gauge, you might need to raise the action a fraction to prevent fret buzz.
  • Bridge adjustments – most guitars allow you to adjust string height and intonation at the bridge by adjusting the screws. You can freely experiment with this without causing any irreparable damage to your guitar.
  • Neck adjustments – all guitars have a truss rod built into the neck. This allows you to adjust the amount of bow (curvature) in the neck with an allen key. WARNING! Truss rod adjustments should only be undertaken if you know what you’re doing, as over-tightening a truss rod can irreparably damage the neck of your guitar!
  • Pickup height – generally, the closer your strings are to the pickup, the fuller the tone, but the stronger magnetic pull of the pickups will decrease your sustain.

More importantly, one should make sure that it is best configured for your playing style and preferences so that you can get the most out of it. For example, Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time, preferred a high action and monstrously heavy (13’s!) gauge strings. He would also tune his guitar a half-step down (to Eb). This would not be (to me anyway) the world’s most comfortable guitar to play but no one can argue that his tone was out of this world!

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