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Setting up a guitar need not take a lot of time, if you do it in the right sequence. Otherwise you repeat operations and the time drags on.
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Setting Up an Electric Guitar

My sequence to get it right the first time

Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz

Posted – 10-11-2012
Whenever one of my guitars starts playing differently or I get a new guitar that needs to be set up to my liking I use this procedure. Each of the individual steps is logical but the order in which I do them comes from experience and having to repeat steps way too often just because one task compromised one I had done earlier. I don’t mind working on my guitars but I really would rather play them.

While I will list the procedures in the order in which I do them in the text below I will let the video do the bulk of explaining them because you can actually see them done. I feel that we can get more information across in a clear, fast-paced manner in the video, more so than with photos and text alone.

The Sequence

I start by checking the string clearance at the nut to be sure it has not worn, tilted or cracked. Then I check Neck Relief. Because we fret the string in two places we take everything else out of the equation making this a good time for this check. When satisfied with the Neck Relief I move on to string action (height). The manufacturer of your guitar will have a base spec for the string action or if you are more experienced you may have your own ideas but this is the time to set that.

Video Tutor

With the string height complete we can check the height of the pickups in relation to the strings. This is an important step as the magnets in the pickups can change how a string tunes or Intonates if it is too close. Here again there are factory specs for pickup height but you may develop your own settings with experience.

Only now can we tune the guitar, for the first time in this session. It will get tuned again more than likely before we are done. After tuning I go over Intonation. Any change to the Neck Relief or string height can impact both tuning and certainly Intonation. The saddles in many bridges can pivot as they rise and lower and that changes their position on the string slightly but enough that you will usually have to re tune that string after making the change.

After the Intonation is adjusted you can go play the guitar. When my guitar meets my expectations in all of these checks it always plays just right. The good news is that modern guitars don’t lose their setup very easily so this is only an occasional task for most of us.

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