How can I set up my electric guitar?

A question that we get asked a lot is “How can I set up my electric guitar by myself?”. Doing guitar set-ups takes a good bit of practise, determination, patience and an eye and ear for accuracy. Our guitar technical specialists have been setting up guitars of all makes and models for over 30 years, so here we will give you the best self-help guide, tips and advice for setting up your own guitar.

Glossary:

  • Action: The distance between the strings and the frets of the guitar or bass. This is usually measured at the 12th fret.
  • Frets: The pieces of ‘metal’ that separate each semitone on your guitar or bass. Frets are usually made from about 20% nickel and about 80% copper.
  • Fretboard: The wood on the neck of the guitar between each fret. This is where you hold the string down when playing a note.
  • Truss Rod: A steel bar that runs inside the neck of most guitars (not classical guitars) that allows the adjustment of the curvature of the neck, sometimes known as the relief.
  • Nut: The area at the top of the frets where your strings lie in slotted groves. Usually, these are white or black and constructed from plastic or graphite.
  • Saddle: At the other end of the strings from the Nut, at the bottom of your guitar, each string will sit on a/its saddle. This differs from guitar to guitar. Electric guitars have spring adjustable saddles either for each string or in three saddles, each holding two strings.
  • Tuning pegs: The tightening and loosening mechanism for tuning each string on the guitar.
  • Pick-ups: These are the rectangular objects that are fitted into your guitar’s body underneath the strings. They are magnetic and pick up the sound when you strike a string or play a chord.

A few tips from the guitar repair technicians

  1. Most guitars need a set-up to each player’s particular specifications dependant on the style of music that he or she is playing. You would be right in thinking that your guitar will already be set-up if it is brand new. However, factory setups are done quickly and are essential (as they know that most players will then alter the parameters to suit their playing). Generally, people prefer to have action on their guitar as low as possible as it makes playing the instrument much more comfortable as you don’t have to press the strings down as far or as hard. However, if you set your action too low, the strings will buzz against the frets. There is a fine line between having low action and having buzzing strings; this is where science meets the art!
  2. There are a few different places that need to be altered on your guitar or bass depending on what area of the neck you would like to adjust. For example, the truss rod will generally move the action at the top of your guitar neck, whereas modifying the saddles will move the action lower down the neck. In many cases, both need to be carried out for an excellent set-up.
  3. Guitar strings vibrate at different frequencies. For example, your thick ‘E’ string will move up and down at 82.4 times per second, whereas your thin ‘E’ string will vibrate at a rate of 329.6 times per second. This is why each string needs to be adjusted individually at the saddles. If you have your thick ‘E’ string to low, it will vibrate against the frets and cause a buzzing sound. Whereas, on the thin ‘E,’ you can generally get this slightly lower without this issue occurring. The strings are of different thicknesses also, the thicker the string, the more likelihood of buzzing if adjusted too low.
  4. All guitars need maintenance and looked after, and that means changing the strings, cleaning your guitar, doing set-ups and generally treating your instrument as you would your car.

For more advice, book an appointment with one of our technicians who will be more than happy to talk guitars with you, and what can be done to make your guitar the absolute best that it can be. In our gallery, you can see some guitars that we have already worked on, although we are not the best photographers.