Luthier Shop: Setting Up Your Guitar


You don’t want your guitar to be off key or hard on the strings, right? Most guitars require a set-up to hit peak performance, so it’s important to know the right way to get this done. Allen Eden sets up your guitar for you so that it arrives ready to rock, but it’s a good skill to have to keep your instrument in top shape. Let’s look at each step needed to get your guitar all set up. 

Polishing the guitar

  1. Detune the guitar.
  2. Tape the strings to the body of the guitar, making sure that the neck is exposed. Cover the pickup and around the neck pocket with tape to protect the finish.
  3. Rub the fretboard with a sanding sponge to remove any grind or buildup.
  4. Clean all the frets individually with the sanding sponge. Make sure to clean the frets thoroughly after cleaning the board.
  5. Clean off any work dust from the board, and wipe it down with general lemon oil.
  6. Take the tape off of the strings, then wipe down the body with a microfiber cloth.
  7. Once that’s done, tune your strings to pitch.

Dialing in the setup

  1. Use a string stretching tool to pull the strings. This will allow the strings to maximize their tension potential for reliable tuning. 
  2. Check the truss rod curve of your neck. This can be done in two steps:
    1. Place a capo on the first fret.
    2. Fret down the string where the neck meets the body and divide the fretboard in half then subtract by 1. That fret would be the number you’d use a feeler gauge to see the distance between the fret and the string. This distance should be .25mm.
  3. If the string is too low, use an allen wrench to the left to raise the strings. The right tightens the truss rod and lowers the strings. 
  4. Be sure to tune back to pitch after each step.

Adjust the string height action

  1. Use a thick piece of leather to protect your headstock prior to starting this step.
  2. Use a shop ruler that can measure 4/64ths of an inch down each string on the 17th fret.
  3. Use the ruler to feed tape underneath the strings before you work on the nut.
  4. Measure the string thickness using calipers. 
  5. Cut into the nut at a slight downward angle making sure each indent is exactly the size of each string.

Intonation

  1. The idea of intonation is to be in perfect tune all the way up the fretboard past the 12th fret. 
  2. Pluck the open string, and keep it in tune. Tap the harmonic on the 12th fret for more accurate readings.
  3. If the note is sharp, turn the saddle screw to the right to further the distance between the saddle and the nut. If it’s flat, turn to the left to bring it closer.
  4. Your open string and your 12th fret should ring the exact same pitch.
  5. Once that’s finished, your guitar is ready to go!
Setting up your own guitar can be a strenuous, time-consuming project. However, the reward of bringing your guitar to perfect tune makes it worth the hassle. If you don’t want to take on this project, we provide a full set-up when you purchase a premade guitar. Visit our website to see our full collection of electric, acoustic, and bass guitars.

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