So you want to set up your guitar

Discussion in 'Beginners/FAQ' started by Suitable, Jul 10, 2013.

  1. Suitable

    Suitable SS.org Regular

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    I have noticed a lot of threads starting up about basic set up issues/questions so I thought I would try and go into detail about how I set up mine, it works for me so it should for you too but feel free to correct me if I am wrong or missing something. If you’re unsure on something here ASK here before trying it or take it to someone that knows what there doing.

    PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS JUST A GUIDE ON HOW I SET UP MY GUITARS! IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE CONFIDENCE OF USING YOUR OWN DISCRESSION AND JUDGEMENT TO PERFORM ANY OF THE FOLLOWING TASKS, TAKE IT TO A GOOD TECH OR LUTHIER! I TAKE NO RESPOSSABILITY FOR ANY DAMAGES CAUSED BY FOLLOWING MY GUIDE TO SETING UP GUITARS!

    1. Always start with a fresh new set of strings. Restring your guitar with a new pack/set of strings and use the brand and size you will likely use with this guitar for a long time as changing string sizes, brands, tunings and changes in climate will affect the setup so either slight tweaking or another full setup may need to be done if any of these variables change. There will also be slight differences in strings from pack to pack of the same brand and size but 99% of the time you won’t notice it. String tensions and string lengths for each tuning will affect the setup of the guitar.

    2. Stretch the strings and tune your guitar. Tune the guitar to the key you want to play it in. With your bare hands, hold the guitar neck and strings around the first fret with one hand and grab each string (singly) around the 12th fret with the other hand and carefully pull up away from the fret board, stretching it as much as you can without cutting yourself, breaking the string or damaging the guitar, use YOUR JUDGEMENT for how hard to pull. NO GLOVES AS YOU”LL BREAK STRINGS AND MORE THAN POSSIBLY DAMAGE YOUR GUITAR. You’ll notice that the strings will go flat after doing this so retune and repeat the process a few times. You will get to a point where the tuning doesn’t get affected so much by pulling the strings meaning the strings have stretched. This is a definite must for guitars equipped with floating tremolos but I do it with all my guitars as I’ve found they hold the tune better for longer.


    3. Check the neck/fret board for straight or relief and adjust the truss rod. With your guitar fully in tune, hold the guitar up and look down the high E (treble) side of the fingerboard along the edge. You may see a slight bow from the nut to the last fret. If the neck bows towards the strings I call it “up bow”, if it bows towards the back of the neck I call it “back bow”. Depending on the bow it has affects which way you want to turn the truss rod. I like a dead straight neck/fret board on the treble side as the string tensions are usually less on the treble side than they are on the bass side with most packs unless I use even tension strings, this usually leaves me with a dead straight treble side and around 0.4mm-0.5mm relief on the bass side. Set the relief how you like it, everyone is different, this is what I like. If I notice it has “up bow” I have to tighten (clockwise) the truss rod, if it has “back bow” I have to loosen (anti clockwise) it. Only adjust it no more than a max ¼ turn at a time, retune the guitar, let it settle for at least 15 minutes, then retune it again. If it needs more after it has settled then do another ¼ turn etc… It may only need a tiny adjustment and not a full ¼ turn so use your discression. IF THE TRUSS ROD WON’T TURN, DON’T FORCE IT!!! TAKE IT TO A GOOD TECH OR LUTHIER!!! YOU MAY BREAK IT!!! I keep repeating this process until I can see that the frets are straight on the treble side of the neck. You can also check by holding down the high E string on the top of the 1st fret and on top of the last fret. If there is a gap between the string and the top of the 12th fret (“up bow”) I need to tighten the truss rod (clockwise), if I hold it down on the 1st fret and it frets out (hits the top of the 12th fret) before I reach the top of the last fret (“back bow”) I need to loosen the truss rod (anti clockwise). You’ll see what I mean when you do it. Simples :D


    4. Adjust the bridge/action. Again everyone differs with this so again use your own discression and what you prefer. On a fixed bridge guitar I like around a 0.8mm gap low to high off the last fret, it’s a nice, fast height for me and also leaves me enough room to grip for bends without fretting out too early. On a floating tremolo equipped guitar I like 1.5mm at the last fret for a little extra up pull on the tremolo before it frets out. Some people like for eg. A 1mm gap under the treble and 1.5mm under the bass so like I said you may want it different so it’s up to you and what feels best for you.


    a. Strat style bridges (non tremolo): On these you can adjust each strings height by the 2 little allan key grub screws on each saddle, be sure adjust both grub screws on each saddle so they are both touching the plate (use common sense :lol: ) and make sure that you follow the radius of the fret board by measuring the distance from the top of the last fret to the bottom of each string which will give you your action height also.


    b. Tune-O-Matic style bridges: Tune-o-Matic style bridges have fixed radius saddles (You can get some TOM bridges you can replace the saddles to change the radius, though none of mine do…) and have a 2 point height adjustment for the whole bridge. Before adjusting the bridge height, detune the guitar to take some tension off the bridge and loosen any locking screws around the posts. Be it a flat blade screwdriver or a thumb wheel, either raise or lower the height of your bridge till your height off the last fret for the first and last string is the height you want it at when its back in tune (since these bridges have fixed radius saddles you only have to adjust these two 2 points only. (I will say you can file them to suit the radius but I highly recommend that you a sure you know what you’re doing before you attempt any mods like that)) . Sometimes with these bridges you’ll have a metal stop bar where the strings are thread through rather than going through the body, if yours does, at this point I will check to see if the strings are hitting the back of the bridge as they should be on a straight plane from the top of the saddle to the stop bar. If they are, raise the stop bar until there is a ~1mm clear gap above the back of the bridge on all strings from the top of the saddle to the stop bar, I also check this again after intonating.


    c. Floating tremolos (Floyd rose, Ibanez Edges, Etc…): First I see what angle the tremolo is at in relation to the tremolo studs when it’s in tune. Different bridges have different angles to set it up properly so check with the manufacture to make sure you set yours up the way it is supposed to be. Eg, Ibanez’s Edge and Lo Pro Edge the bridge is set at right angles off the knife edges (you can see them on the sides of the bridge) to the studs, the (official branded) Floyd rose’s you have the body at right angles to the studs so each is different so it’s best you check with the manufacture as this will affect tuning stability if it’s not set up at the correct angle. If the trem is “leaning forward” too much, undo trem plate on the back of the guitar and tighten the springs by tightening the 2 screws that hold the spring claw and retune until its correct, if its “leaning back” then loosen the springs in the same manner, taking care to not damage the pickup earth wire that is usually soldered to the spring claw with either adjustments (note, if you reach the maximum for the screws, you may need to add or remove a spring). Once I have it set to the correct angle when I’m in tune, I’ll adjust the trems height (always detune your guitar before adjusting the height of the trem so you don’t damage the trem studs and knife edges). Note on all Ibanez Edge, Lo Pro Edge and some Edge Pros have locking studs! There is a little grub screw inside the stud that you lock or unlock with a 1.5mm allan key. Be sure to loosen the larger part of the stud first then adjust the locking grub to all the way anti clockwise before lowering the trem to height then lock these back down again. You can buy shims for the saddles so the trem will match the radius of the fret board though it’s not an absolute must you do so, you can have a lot lower action if you do shim the saddles. Another great trick is whilst your adjusting the trems height is to put some lip balm (vaseline, chap stick, etc…) where the knife edges meet the studs, I have found this helps tuning stability after the most knarly dive bombs to the highest of harmonic squeals! Pre stretching you strings also helps this heaps and this is a MUST with these bridges!


    5. Intonation: The fun part! :lol: nah it’s not that bad… For this you want a high quality tuner and fresh new strings (if you have stung the guitar the same day as doing the rest of the above then it’s all good). I start on the high E string and work my way back up. First, tune all the strings to tune by continuously plucking the string whilst adjusting the tuning pegs. Fret the 12th fret on the high E with the same amount of force you would use when playing it and pluck it continuously as you do normally when tuning, if it is sharp you want to move the saddle further from the nut lengthening the string, if it’s flat you want to move it towards the nut shortening the string. When doing this I loosen the string off completely then move the saddle to where I think it should be and then retune (on a trem Ill recheck the tune on all strings). Repeat this process until it’s perfectly tuned on the 12th fret to the open string, then check the 5th, 7th, 9th frets in the same manner until they all are as close as you can get them (the 12th is the most crucial). Then repeat this with the remaining strings. Remember that it’s near on impossible to perfectly intonate a guitar so going off those 4 frets as best as possible will give you the best possible outcome that the guitar can achieve.


    After doing all this I’ll go back and check all of the above to see if anything has changed or moved at all then re adjusting what has if any.

    So that’s how I set up my guitars. Take your time, don’t force anything (take it to a good tech or luthier if something doesn’t move the way it should or you are not 100% confident on doing any of this!) and don’t rush it. Happy shredding!!! :shred::metal:
     
    Nlelith, lukdawhoop, gorthul and 19 others like this.
  2. bnosam

    bnosam Ibanez Player

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    Good article, thanks for posting
     
  3. silent suicide

    silent suicide Winter is coming

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    Ow man, thanks for this..
    I have been looking for some way to intonate my guitars..
    It's the last thing I needed to learn to completely setup my guitar..
     
  4. Suitable

    Suitable SS.org Regular

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    If it helps 1 person and it keeps them playing for longer it was worth the time and effort to write it down :D
     
  5. thebunfather

    thebunfather Custom Monkey

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    Good info for every guitarist to have, man! I know too many players that have no idea how to set up their own instruments.

    The only thing I would add is another way to check neck bow. I was taught to fret the "D" or "G" string at the first fret and at the very last fret at the same time. Check the height at around the 7th - 9th fret. This should accurately show you the amount of neck relief. I usually aim for about the thickness of a business card, as I tend to play with a heavy pick attack. You can definitely get away with a little less or a little more, but a business card thickness should be a happy medium.

    My 2 cents, anyway.
     
  6. erdiablo666

    erdiablo666 I'm from Canada...and they think I'm slow...eh

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    I wish I had this thread 14 years ago. This stuff is gold. I had to learn all of it by trial and error, getting good and bad advice from different people and trying everything.
     
  7. Mattmc74

    Mattmc74 Contributor

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    Great guide! Thanks for posting.
     
  8. guitarfreak1387

    guitarfreak1387 squirrel chaser

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    quick question about the intonation bit.

    Iv heard from others that they get better results overall when using the 24th fret harmonic to check the intonation.

    Is there any benefit to this?
     
  9. Tyler

    Tyler SS.org Regular

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    Ive been wanting to learn how to set up my guitars for a while now without spending a fortune. Great read / advice!
     
  10. Shredderboy1658

    Shredderboy1658 string abuser

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    MODS PLEASE STICKY
     
  11. Suitable

    Suitable SS.org Regular

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    Yes you can if your guitar has 24 frets, but not every guitar has 24 frets. The more frets you can make it work off the better but the 12th fret is the main one which will give you the most benifit to the other frets as it is the center of the scale. Working on the 12th fret first will help the rest of the fretted notes fall into place the most on that string, though keep in mind you may not be able to get every note perfect. It comes down to action, relief and how the fretboard was slotted, the higher the action, the harder it is to intonate every fret.
     
  12. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    I'm glad you posted this. I must have written a dozen posts answering people's various questions about setting up a guitar. The only thing missing I think is adjusting nut height, because a lot of people have guitars that come with ridiculously high nuts, and try to compensate with bridge lowering, resulting in buzzing.
     
  13. Suitable

    Suitable SS.org Regular

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    That will work, but keep string tension in mind. Standard packs of strings are usually not balanced, so the neck will usually bow more on the bass side than the treble due to the higher tension, sort of warpped but nothing to really worry about too much. Going off the high e or treble string which usually has the least tension means that the neck will bow from there on upwards. Eg if you have a straight neck on the bass side you will most likely have back bow on the treble side which will cause fret buzz on the higher pitched strings from where it is straight if you know what I mean.?

    Also when you check for straight buy fretting the first and last frets, dont fret it as you would when you are playing, press the string to the top of the fret wire instead so that your not over compensating and getting a mixed reading, if you fret it normally your actually making the string go higher by forcing it onto an angle which will give you a larger uneven gap than going off the top of the frets.
     
  14. Suitable

    Suitable SS.org Regular

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    Very true. Ill add a write up on that but with extreme caution. I left it out because you can cause major damage to the guitar if you dont know 100% exactly what your doing on a fixed nut. Ill try to explain it as best I can.
     
  15. Poltergeist

    Poltergeist SS.org Regular

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    Very informative guide, and much appreciated for posting. Although, how would one best set their string action based on their neck radius? I've got a RG8 with a 27" scale length. My strings are Circle K's .061 .045 .033 .024 .018p .014p .010p (balanced 7 string set) and a single .090 gauge for my lowest E string tuned to EBEADGBe.... Popularly referred to as the "Tosin Tuning" . Any suggestions?
     
  16. Tommy

    Tommy Terribly Unlucky

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    Great info. Hopefully it will help a lot of people just starting out doing their own set ups. Proper info will save them some time and frustration.
     
  17. Suitable

    Suitable SS.org Regular

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    I dont have one but judging by photo's you should be able to shim each saddle like you would on any other edge trem. Rich at Ibanezrules.com might have a kit for it. Your string size doesn't matter as you're going off the bottom of the string not the top. Measure off the last fret and add the appropriate sized shim/s to suit the 400mm radius. That should do it. Double check your heights after intonating again :yesway:
     
  18. Santuzzo

    Santuzzo SS.org Regular

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    thanks for posting this!
    +1 on stickying this :)
     
  19. Kaickul

    Kaickul ΛTRΛMΞNTVM

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    thanks for posting this! very helpful stuff!
     
  20. tyler_faith_08

    tyler_faith_08 Strings of Chaos

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    Someone asked if they could use the 24th fret harmonic to set intonation. Short answer: no. You can use it in conjunction with the 24th fretted note, but not open and any harmonic.

    The reason for this is that when you do a harmonic on the 12th fret, the pitch goes up by an octave. With the 7th fret, by 17 half steps. With the 5th or 24th, it goes up a full 2 octaves. So on...

    This is useful, but setting intonation is a method of getting the same string vibration length between the bridge and 12th fret and the 12th fret and the nut. Since larger strings don't resonate at the extreme ends as well, this hinders their ability to vibrate as a smaller string, ultimately reducing the vibration length. This is why your saddle sits further back on larger strings (or strings with larger cores).

    Now, if you set the intonation based off of an open string and any harmonic, it WILL be off. That harmonic is supposed to be what the string sounds like at those frets. You can set the intonation with a straight line on the saddles and the open string and harmonic combination will tell you that you are spot-on.

    The best way that I've found to do it is by using 3 methods.

    Open string and high fret (any high fret works)
    4th fret harmonic and low fret (between the 2nd and 5th)
    And several notes that are an octave or more apart.

    Take care with larger strings because what I mentioned in the above paragraph about larger strings not vibrating as well at the ends is even more true as you increase the gauge. Now you may have to shave your nut (haha) to get it 100% perfect.

    With my DKMG with a DK2M neck, I had to file the locking nut down (down being toward the headstock) to get the intonation right. It would measure perfectly on a high/low intonation check, but would be off with an open string.
    I just got it right at the 5th and 17th fret and filed the groove in super small increments until it was perfect.

    An alternative to doing this is to cut the nut screw holes to where they can be angled. I tried this on my Wolfgang and it came out pretty good. Less filing was involved to get it right.

    Some people say that this is absurd, but my intonation is perfect across the board. Harmonics, open notes, and high notes are all in perfect tune.

    Also, if you're setting your guitar up and anything has to be fretted, fret it as you play it. Not as you should or as you feel like, no. Fret it like you fret it as you play.
     

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