Guitar Set-Up

For guitarists this is a super-important topic. While you may not have the patience to learn how to set-up your own guitars, it is so helpful to understand what’s involved. A guitar that is not working correctly can be very frustrating. It can sound badly, be very hard to play, and play out of tune. (i.e. Not Fun)

I remember when I was starting out , I had a Guild D-40 that sounded great when I bought it. Over time it seemed not to play as well: it made warbling kind of sounds, didn’t vibrate properly, had fret “buzzes” and generally didn’t play or sound right. Back then I thought maybe I had only imagined that it ever sounded right.

Now that I know better, I realize that this guitar needed to be set-up, again. Experience notices that guitars are made of wood and are subject to changes over time, often created by shifting humidity and being subjected to all that string tension.

Luckily for me, my good friends (and expert guitar techs) Harry Becker and Bill Cumpiano took it upon themselves to teach me the concepts and skills involved with setting up guitars. (So I probably really didn’t need to burn my Guild D-40 after all. Apologies to Jimi!)

Also it’s important to note that even when buying a new guitar the set-up can be way off. I notice, for example, that on most production-line guitars the ‘nut height’ is usually completely wrong, which can make playing really kind of miserable. Particularly for beginners.

I will attempt to explain how to assess and possibly set-up guitars. Luckily I’ve spotted a number of YouTube videos on this that are quite helpful. It seems like in the early part of these videos you will be shown how to assess your situation; if you hang in there they will show you what to do.

After playing a guitar, the first thing I personally look at is the “nut height.” Often the nut height is high, and will be hard to play in the first couple of frets, and can play noticeably out of tune.

Here is a collection of videos from various experts on YouTube that can serve as a quick checklist for you to gauge the health of your guitar, assuming that the frets are in good condition:

1) First check the nut height:

2) Next, assess the truss rod ( which can affect the nut height):

3) Next, check the string height:

4) Finally, adjust your intonation:

I hope these are helpful! I found learning how to assess and fix set-ups to be really interesting, yet took me really quite a while to get the hang of it. These videos, at the very least, will help you to know when it is time to bring your axe in to a good guitar tech.

Best wishes, Joe

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