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Help with questions about a basic setup

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by rabbuhl, May 16, 2011.

  1. rabbuhl

    rabbuhl Member

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    I have some questions about a basic setup:
    • How can I tell when the strings are at the lowest possible height?
    • When setting the intonation can I use a Korg GA-40 Electronic Guitar Tuner, a pedal board tuner such as Boss TU-2 or Korg Pitchblack, or a Korg Clip-on Tuner? I have all of these and am not sure which is best? Do I need a Strobe Tuner?
    • Is there a better way to adjust the intonation like using the harmonic on the 12th fret?
    • How low can I set the Fralin Blues Specials without string pull?
    Last month, I took my Stratocaster HSS to the Luther at Sacksioni Guitarshop in Amsterdam. He was supposed to replace my white Fralin Unbucker with a Zebra Fralin Unbucker and do a setup. He did a poor job by grounding the Unbucker to the pickguard rather than a pot, set the strings too high, and did not set the intonation properly. When I questioned the setup and how the pickup was installed they gave me a really hard time. The worst part was that they charged me 115 euros for the job. I am doing my best to correct their work. Jonah at RebelRelic in Amsterdam fixed the wiring by grounding the Unbucker to one of the pots. I corrected the setup myself since I have some basic tools for doing setups from StewMac and the Erlewine book.

    I first checked the truss rod and that was adjusted fine. I checked the height of the strings at the nut by holding down the strings at the 3rd fret and those were okay. The strings were set way too high (around 0.085”) so I lowered all of the strings to around 0.07" using the String Action Gauge. I verified each string height by using 9.5" Understring Radius Gauge. I like low string action but am not sure how to balance between low height and buzzing strings. Fender recommends a string height of 4/64" (0.0625") but I ended up using a setting of 0.07". After that, I adjusted the intonation by first tuning the string using a Korg GA-40 Electronic Guitar Tuner and then pressed the string on the 12th fret so both notes were the same. If the note on the 12 fret was flat or sharp I adjusted the string length.

    Finally, I set the pickup height on the Fralin Blues Specials and Unbucker based on Fender recommendations. Fender recommends for Standard Single-Coil the Bass Side 5/64" and Treble Side 4/64". For Humbuckers Fender recommend Bass Side 4/64" and Treble Side 4/64". I ended up lowering the Unbucker a little bit since it was louder than the other pickups. I called Fralin and asked for advice about the height of their pickups but did not get much useful information.
     
  2. Keyser Soze

    Keyser Soze Member

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    1. The obvious limit of low action is noticeable fret buzz. The less obvious limit is loss of tone/sustain from non-audible contact with the frets. This is why it is good to slowly adjust action over the course of a few days, with playing all along the way. Then you get to decide what is best.

    2. You do not need a strobe, but you will need to get a feel for what the other devices are telling you, and where you want to adjust from (attack, or decay.) There is no one answer, find what works best for you. See some of the other recent threads on intonation - there is no perfection to be had, it is all about making it sound good enough, so learn to use and trust your ears more than the machine. Do not be afraid to leave some notes a little flat on the meter (it is easier to sharpen them while playing than unsharpen.)

    3. The whole point of intonation is to make the fretted notes play reasonably in tune with each other. Harmonics tell you nothing about this relationship. To intonate compare open noted to fretted notes, or fretted to fretted.

    4. Much like item #1 there is only one way to find out, and it involves sitting down with your guitar, and a screwdriver...

    Edit: As a general rule humbucking pickups, due to the opposing magnetic polarity of each coil and the fact that the actual magnets are much farther from the strings than in a true single coil, are less likely to cause problems with string pull. Humbuckers typically can be set much closer to the strings than a single coil.
     
  3. Jan Folkson

    Jan Folkson Member

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    "Lowest possible height" can vary greatly depending on your playing style.
     
  4. rabbuhl

    rabbuhl Member

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    Thanks for the replies. My style is to play rythmn and lead parts. For rythmn I like the action fairly low and easy to make chords. For leads, I like low action as well since I like to play fast and bend the strings a lot. I often do 1 1/2 note bends which requires low action.
     
  5. EADGBE

    EADGBE Member

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    Do you live near a library? They may have some good setup books. I learned a lot from guitar books.
     
  6. Ronsonic

    Ronsonic Member

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    That one is up to the player. Your style, strings and you get to compromise it where you like.
    Again, it's a compromise. You'll find that if you start doing large bends you'll want a higher action to avoid fretting out over the arched fingerboard. Most people end up with it as low as it can go before the buzzing bothers them or the string bending is limited. Other people like to have the strings higher for easier bending. It's your call.
     
  7. rabbuhl

    rabbuhl Member

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    I grew up in California and now live in the Netherlands so I have limited access to english books. I was hoping to find a workshop, course, or dvd which teaches you do setups.

    The string height at 0.06" for me is too low for bends. At 0.08" it allows for bends but playing chords is not comfortable. So, 0.07" seems to be a good height. I tried my guitar last night at a jam session with this height and it seems to be good for both chords and playing leads with lots of bends.
     
  8. Ronsonic

    Ronsonic Member

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    There ya go.

    It's right when it's as good as it can be for you.
     
  9. blong

    blong Member

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    As for books, get the Dan Erlewine book "The Guitar Player Repair Guide." It comes with a dvd that shows you how to evaluate and set up a guitar properly.

    As for action height, I make the neck as straight as possible. I literally straigthen it by tightening the truss rod a little at a time until it is touching all frets, no relief at frets 7 - 9. Then I lower the action until it buzzes. I then back off the action until the buzz is gone and it does not fret out high on the neck with bends. Some guitars this is just right. Others, I might need to put a little relief back in the neck. For some reason, on my 22 fret guitars I seem to need no relief. On the 24 fretters I need a little relief (bow) in the neck to not fret out on the D and G strings at the 7-10th frets. You may need to re-evaluate over the next few days as the guitar settles in to the adjustments.

    I have about 20 guitars, from Squier teles to PRSi, to vintage strats and a Les Paul. I have been working on guitars for about 27 years. Most of my business is refretting guitars, or referbishing old, beat-up instruments. I found, through trial and error, that this is the best method of setting up guitars "for me." When I give them back to customers about 90% of 'em are happier than ever with the playability. A few want the action a little higher or a little more relief and I gladly to that on the spot.

    See what works for you, but those are my suggestions.

    Good luck, and enjoy the process.

    Bob
     
  10. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

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    erlewine's newer book "how to make your electric guitar play great" is what you want.
     
  11. rabbuhl

    rabbuhl Member

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    Thanks everyone for all of the help!!

    I have Dan Erlewine book "The Guitar Player Repair Guide" 3rd edition. I checked out "How to make your electric guitar play great". The table of contents seem to suggest that it has more information about setting intonation, etc. for an electric which is great.
     

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