How to do your own setups.

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by SeeU 22, Feb 28, 2005.

  1. SeeU 22

    SeeU 22 Member

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    Yeah I know. Everyone should know how to do their own setups what can I say I've been a little lazy.

    Can anyone point me to a good guide for doing setups. Online or other wise.

    Besides a tuner what other tools will I need to properly do this.

    Neil
     
  2. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    Dan Erlewine's book "How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great" is very good, as is his earlier book "Guitar Player Repair Guide." Plenty of pictures and detail, suggested tools etc.
     
  3. Hipster Dofus

    Hipster Dofus Member

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    +10000

    dans book is a must have
     
  4. GuitslingerTim

    GuitslingerTim Member

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    To measure action a short ruler is required that measures in units as small as 1/32 of an inch, 1/64 is better. I use an inexpensive 6" stainless steel ruler purchased at Office Depot.

    The most accurate way to measure relief is with an 18" straightedge and a set of feeler gauges that can measure thoudandths of an inch. Ideally the straightedge is placed on its edge between the third and fourth strings with one end at the first fret. The feeler gauges are inserted between the edge of the straightedge and the 7th or 8th fret.

    A set of nut files are important if tuning problems are caused by tight slots. A good set runs $50 or so, but a single file used properly can be used to open the slots up without making them any deeper. I saw a suitable set of steel files in the grocery store today that cost $3.00. Another option is a thin piece of metal or plastic with sandpaper attached to it.

    I set action by measuring the heigth of the strings from the 14th fret. My interpretation of action:

    High action: 1st string = 7/64. 6th string = 1/8.
    Medium action: 1st string = 1/16. 6th string = 5/64.
    Low action: 1st string = 1/32. 6th string = 3/64.

    Even though some players like the strings all the same heigth, most like the wound strings slightly higher than the plain. The strings should graduate in heigth across the fingerboard in instances of offset heigth between the first and last strings.

    Low action usually requires a very straight fingerboard with little relief in the neck. .005 of an inch is as low as I would go in the case of low action. A neck with a lot of relief and low action will probably be unplayable in the upper registers and exhibit considerable fret buzz.

    Medium action allows for a broader range of relief settings, usually between .007 - .010, but it all depends on how stiff the strings feel at a given relief setting. Scale length and bridge design are other factors that affect stiffness.

    High action usually requires the neck have considerable relief in it, otherwise the action so stiff that only people with extraordinary hand and finger strength can play on it.

    Pickup heigth at the bridge should be around an 1/8th, and slightly lower at the neck. The difference in heigth between the treble and bass sides of the pickup can only be determined through experimentation.

    Intonation is set by fretting each note at the 12th and making sure the tone matches the tone of the tuned open string. If the note pitches high the string length must be increased.

    1. Tune the guitar.
    2. Set the relief.
    3. Set the action.
    4. Adjust the pickups.
    5. Set the intonation.

    Play the guitar and assess the stiffness and how well the guitar plays in the upper registers, making note of any fretbuzz. If fretbuzz is present in the upper registers try decreasing the amount of relief. If fretbuzz occurrs inthe lower registers, add some relief. Any time a significant change is made to the action or relief, follow through with the remaining steps.

    Adding relief will raise the action slighly, and vice-versa for decreasing relief.

    If the action feels too stiff, add some relief. If adding relief causes fretbuzz or dead notes in the upper frets, increase the relief to the earlier setting and lower the action a little.

    Above all else it must be understood that every guitar has its limitations. Tuneomatic bridges for instance have so little saddle travel that broad adjustments in relief are almost impossible and still be able to set the intonation.

    I suggest you go to the Stewmac site and check out some of the books they have for sale if you're in the market for a publication.
     
  5. nateco

    nateco Member

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    The above method probably works best and you can get the same results every time...


    When I do a set up on my stuff...I go by feel.I get the action where I want...then adjust the truss rod to get the relief I like..the re adjust the action.....set intonation and presto....set up.


    The first few times it took a while but now I can get the set-up I like pretty quick.
     
  6. SeeU 22

    SeeU 22 Member

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    Wow Tim!

    Thanks for the in depth reply. I will print this one out.

    I have alway taken my guitar to the local tech to get work done on it. While he is real good at it, I find that I want a custom setup that matches my playing style. I figure it's about time I learnt how to do it myself.

    Thanks again.

    Neil
     
  7. MetalHeadd

    MetalHeadd Member

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    Go here and click on the Carvin Guitar Care link:

    http://www.carvin.com/manuals.php

    Though this is specific to carvin guitars, I find that it gives you all the information you need to setup just about any guitar. I thought it was really helpful, and now I do all of my own setups with excellent results.

    Jeff
     
  8. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    You absolutely do NOT need to measure anything to set up a guitar.

    The only measuring instrument you need is a tuner, to check overall pitch, and possibly intonation.

    All the other adjustments can be - and IMO are best - done by using only the instrument itself and the way you play it.

    All guitars vary, being made of wood. Players' styles vary too, which can affect what is the ideal setup. You simply need to adjust it so it plays and sounds right, not to a set of measurements that at best will be approximate for that particular guitar and player, and in some cases might not work properly at all.


    Apart from a tuner, you will need a set of small Allen wrenches, a couple of Philips screwdrivers, possibly a couple of flat screwdrivers (depending on the guitar), and your hands, eyes and ears.

    If you need to do nut work, you will need either a set of nut files, or some modified tools (hacksaw blades and small engineers' files) which are much cheaper, but require a little more care in use.

    Assuming that the guitar is structurally sound, the neck isn't twisted or humped, and the frets are not worn, this is how to do it (in this order):

    Relief: holding the guitar in the playing position (very important) fret the G string at the first fret and the first one that's over the body - the 17th on a Strat, for example. Have a look at the gap between the string and the 7th or 8th fret (about halfway). It should be roughly half the string diameter. It can be less, as long as there is some gap - if there's none at all, the neck is too straight or back-bowed, and you'll get excessive rattle. Too much, and the action will feel high. If you still get excessive rattle in the lower positions when playing (eg if you have a fairly heavy style), you may need a little more relief. There's no 'correct' figure though, it depends on the strings, the guitar, and you.

    Nut height: fret each string at the third fret, so it's resting on the second. Look at the gap between the string and the first fret. It needs to be about 1/4 of the string diameter - you may be able to judge it easier if you tap it up and down. Much more than this and you will get sharp intonation over the first few frets; less and the open strings will rattle. There is a 'right' range of heights here, but as before you don't need to measure anything very accurately.

    Action: play a note hard somewhere above the 12th fret, and bend it up a tone or more. If it chokes out or buzzes, the action is too low on that string. If it doesn't, you can try it lower. How low you can get it depends on how hard you play, and most critically, the fingerboard radius. A vintage Fender simply requires a much higher action than an Ibanez Jem - especially as (in general) Strat players tend to 'dig in' harder! Again, no 'right' height, it just depends on your guitar and you.

    Intonation: you can either use a tuner, or tune each pair (1/2, 3/4 and 5/6) of strings perfectly, and compare a harmonic on one string to a fretted note on the other - 12th fret harmonic on high string vs. 17th fret note on low string to set the low string, and 19th fret harmonic on the low string vs. 14th fret note on the high string to set the high one, for example.

    That's it... apart from adjusting pickup heights and the like. Tremolo bridges do make things a little more complicated though.


    The reason I do it like that is because it sets the guitar up in the way it will be played... so it will feel and sound right when it is played. I've been setting guitars up professionally exactly like that for nearly 20 years BTW :).
     
  9. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    Thanks for all the detailed replies. It'll be helpful for me at some point in the near future.

    Cheers,

    Dave
     
  10. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    +1 for the rackeet scientist.

    Another point not usually mentioned, many times you can have the electric guitars action set so low that it will buzz a little when played unamplified but once you plug in the buzz will not be there. I don't know why this happens but it does. I set the bow by sight only looking for a small space between the strings as John described above. I have had people say as long as you can slide a matchbook cover under it your good to go. Final point, are you heavy handed or do use a light touch, fingers or pick? Both these go a long way towards the final outcome.
     
  11. spaceboy

    spaceboy Member

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    Both awesome guides! geeze, what'd I do without this place??

    John, are there things you'd have to re-do after chaging something else? eg. Mightn't you have to redo the relief after changing the nut height?

    cheers folks!

    [edit] Oh, and how do you raise the nut...? would you need a new one?

    [edit 2] one more thing ^_^ do tremolo bridges still complicate things if it's blocked? (it's only blocked by screwing all 5 springs all the way down though)

    cheers again!
     
  12. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    Possibly, but that's the reason for doing relief, then nut height, then bridge height, then intonation - it's the order in which each adjustment affects the following ones the least. Still, you do sometimes have to readjust things after playing the guitar once it's finished - thoroughly - this is a critical part of the process and very often skipped, since it may seem like 'time wasting', but it isn't at all.

    It's usually best, yes - but sometimes (eg on a vintage guitar with its original nut) you don't really want to. Then, if the amount it needs to be raised is small, I'll remove the nut if it can be got out in one piece, and glue a strip of paper to the underside (with superglue, it's extremely strong for this kind of thing) - you don't see it once the nut is back in place. Very occasionally if it's just one or two grooves that are too low, I'll fill them (after cleaning and roughening) with a mixture of superglue and powdered bone or plastic pressed hard into place with a knife blade, then recut the groove. This actually works very well and isn't as much of a bodge as it sounds... :)

    Not so much, but you have to be careful how you do that - a common mistake is to tighten down the six (or two) screws at the front of the bridgeplate too far, which can cause all sorts of trouble. Leaving them too high does too - there's a very precise correct adjustment for them, when the bridge is just pulled perfectly flat on the top. Start with them all too loose, then tighten each one down until the bridge just starts to lift at the back, then back off a tiny bit. If you do the outer two first, it's easy to feel the correct point for the other four as they just hit the top of the plate. This is also the right height if you want the bridge floating, BTW - so you need to do it first in any case.
     
  13. spaceboy

    spaceboy Member

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    well, I didn't do anything to the Bridge screws... should I have then?

    I just screwed the two screws in the claw as far as they would go...
     
  14. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

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    They will probably be OK, but you should check it. Have a look at the bridge - from the side is easiest - and see if it's resting exactly flat on the top, with no gap under it at the front (screws too loose) or back (screws too tight). If it's not flat, in extreme cases the spring tension can crack the finish under the bridge, as well as it stopping you getting the bridge really fully in contact with the body, which will change the tone and may allow the bridge to move enough to cause tuning trouble.
     
  15. spaceboy

    spaceboy Member

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    aha, I see! excellent, will check that soon as I get home! (i have a feeling that there might indeed be a slight gap under the front...)

    thanks!
     
  16. angelo

    angelo Member

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    The most important thing needed to do your own set up is confidence!


    So get in there and do it!




















    ....and, even if you screw it all up, it can be fixed;)
     

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