Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (2023)

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Last Updated: July 27, 2022

I get a LOT of guitar questions from readers, Twitter followers, friends, and family. That’s awesome; it’s why I’m here! Their concerns range from minor annoyances like buzzy strings all the way to catastrophic issues like cracked headtocks. Of course, there’s everything in-between too. Here’s the most interesting thing though…

A Guitar “Setup” Solves Most Guitar Problems

I’d estimate that 90% of the guitar issues people write to me about could be solved by simply getting what’s called a basic “guitar setup.” Experienced guitarists already know what this procedure is, and how vital it is to making our guitars play their best. Some guitarists (like myself) do our own setups. However, until you know what you’re doing, it can be a long, frustrating process to try and tackle on your own. This is why most people opt to have setups done byamusic store or guitar repairpersoninstead.

Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (1)

Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (2)

What Goes Into a Guitar Setup?

For those out there who don’t know what a “setup” is, or whether your guitar even needs one, I’ll let Phillip McKnight (former owner of McKnight Guitar Company and now the YouTuber behind Know Your Gear) do the honors of introducing you to the procedure:

Tools Used in This Video:

I created a comprehensive list of guitar setup tools in one of my other articles: “Do Your Own Guitar Setups With the Right Tools.”

Is Your Guitar Set Up Properly?

As you can see, quite a lot goes into getting your guitar properly set up. Ordered your guitar online? Chances are it probably needs a setup. Not many new guitar owners understand that mail-ordered guitars rarely arrive properly setup. Even if the sender claims they setup the guitar before sending, the rigors of shipping tend to knock things out of adjustment. Best to take it to a pro for a good setup so that it plays and sounds its best.

Really, the only time a brand new guitar is properly setup is when you buy it in-person from a good music store. I say “good music store” because there are still a few stores out there that don’t setup the guitar as part of the sales process, which I consider to be sub-par customer service. Most stores, however, will include a full setup (and usually a fresh set of strings) as part of the purchase price.

Want to Learn to do Your Own Guitar Setups?

If you’d like to learn to do your own guitar setups, there are a few good books I’d recommend. The only question is: how deep do you want to dive into the topic? Do you just want straightforward, no-frills info on how to set up your guitar? Or, do you want to dive deep into the world (my world) of guitar care, repair, and maintenance?

Depending on which path you choose, here’s what I’d recommend…

Just Setups, No Frills (Electric Guitars & Bass)

For those of you who just want concise, to-the-point instruction on how to set up your electric guitar or bass, I highly recommend “Sketchy Setups.” Written by master luthier Gerry Hayes, these downloadable e-books contain only the information you need to get your guitar or bass setup and playing great. Their whimsical style and plain language makes them actually fun to read.

(Video) 5 Step Guitar Setup Every Player Should Know

Sketchy Setups

The Sketchy Setups series consists of friendly, straightforward guides that take you step-by-step through getting your guitar or bass playing its best. There are 4 guides available:

  • Sketchy Setups #1: The Fender Stratocaster
  • Sketchy Setups #2: The Fender Telecaster
  • Sketchy Setups #3: The Gibson Les Paul, SG, 335, Etc.
  • Sketchy Setups #4: The Fender Precision & Jazz Bases

Learn More About Sketchy Setups

Guitar Setup, Repair, & Maintenance – In Depth

For those of you who want to dive in… beyond just setups, there are two books that I recommend. These are the books that got me started back in the 90’s, and they’re the ones I still refer to today. These are the best in-depth books I’ve found, and they’re definitely not “light reading.” Buy these if you’re a big guitar repair geek like me, or are considering offering guitar tech/repair services professionally.

How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great

This book covers just electric guitar setups and some basic maintenance. It’s a bit leaner than the book below because it doesn’t cover acoustic guitars, and doesn’t venture as far outside the core topic of electric guitar setups (but does briefly touch on other basic care, maintenance, and repair topics). Includes DVD.

(Video) 5 Guitar Setup Tips & Tricks You NEED To Know

The Guitar Player Repair Guide

This is the grandaddy of guitar care and repair books. As the title implies, it’s a compendium on everything from maintenance to setups to serious repairs. This one is way morein-depth than any of the books above, and it also covers acoustic guitar setups. I bought my first edition back in the 90’s, and have bought every subsequent edition thereafter. Includes DVD.

Combine what you learn in those books with the tools listed up above, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an ace at doing your own setups. I also created a comprehensive list of guitar setup tools here. Just be patient–there is a lot of “feel” involved in doing guitar setups, and it can take some practice before you start to get the hang of it.

One Last Bit of Advice

If you plan to experiment with serious techniques like fretwork, painting, repairing finishes, etc. please PLEASE buy cheap, old guitar necks and bodies to practice on. Don’t “practice” potentially destructive techniques on any guitar that you care about. I’ve seen old guitar necks on ebay for as cheap as $20. I’ve seen old guitar bodies even cheaper.


Do you do already do your own guitar setups and, if so, where/how did you learn? Let me know in the comments section down below.

7 replies

  1. Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (6)

    Nethan Paul says:

    July 26, 2019 at 5:10 AM

    Nice tips have been shared about guitar set up. It has been well proven that proper setup can solve most of the problems associated with guitar. I have an old guitar and recently I have started to learn playing guitar. I have purchased some parts of guitar necks and in order to set-up these parts it is very important to know how to set up guitar. Thanks


    • Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (7)

      Guitar Answer Guy says:

      July 26, 2019 at 7:03 PM

      Thanks for the input Nethan!


      (Video) Getting the MOST Out of Your New Guitar
  2. Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (8)

    Gary says:

    April 3, 2019 at 11:33 AM

    Thanks especially for that video. I’m glad he also mentioned the items they would do for an acoustic. I’m guessing they would do basically the whole list for an acoustic-electric.


    • Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (9)

      Guitar Answer Guy says:

      April 3, 2019 at 3:11 PM

      Hi Gary. Acoustic-electrics follow the same core setup process as an acoustic-only guitar… at least when it comes to neck relief, action, intonation, etc. The only difference is that the piezo system and electronics may occasionally need a little maintenance, but otherwise there’s very little difference.


  3. Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (10)

    (Video) Want Your Guitar to Sound Better? Master These 6 Techniques!

    Denny Miller says:

    January 12, 2019 at 3:49 AM

    I am only interested in basic “safe” setups of quality acoustic guitars, especially Marrin, Taylor and Gibson’s like adjusting action


  4. Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (11)

    Jeff says:

    February 6, 2018 at 8:09 AM

    Thanks. Great video, imo you couldn’t have used a better video…phil is very knowledgeable and love his live streams.


    • Guitar Setups: What They Are and Why You (Might) Need One (12)

      Guitar Answer Guy says:

      February 6, 2018 at 12:04 PM

      Phil’s old music store… McKnight Guitars… was literally 5 minutes down the road from me here in Chandler, AZ. Unfortunately, it closed before I could really get to know him, otherwise we might’ve collaborated on something (possibly a video).


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(Video) Setup the Action of your Guitar in 3 minutes | Strings height


Why do guitars need a setup? ›

In short, a guitar setup ensures that your electric, acoustic or bass is performing at peak condition, keeps little things from going out of whack and personalizes the instrument to your preferences. Guitars are made of wood, an organic, sometimes temperamental, material.

How often does a guitar need a setup? ›

It's recommended that an electric guitar get a setup twice a year or every 06 to 08 months. At least one setup per year is recommended, although it can be less than enough for good playability. This is appropriate for players who practice on a daily routine and have a mid to high-end instrument.

Do all guitars need setup? ›

Although it would be great if all guitars sounded perfect and played like a dream straight from the factory floor, most guitars will require a “setup” before achieving their full potential.

What parts do you need for a guitar? ›

These core parts are the same across electric and acoustic guitars. The most important ones are body, neck, headstock, tuning pegs, machine head, nuts, bridge, sound hole, frets, and strings.

How much does guitar setup? ›

Generally speaking, a professional setup costs around $50, but it could be upwards of $100 if there's a lot of work to be done. New strings are usually part of the setup process, since the gauges of the strings affect intonation.

Are guitar setups worth it? ›

Is It Worth Getting A Guitar Setup? Absolutely! A good setup will give you a guitar that is easier to play, and as a result, it will also sound better. Every note you hit will be pitch-perfect, and in addition, will ring out for longer.

What is a professional setup on guitar? ›

A professional guitar setup is a series of adjustments that are made to the guitar that allows it to play and sound optimal. This is considered basic maintenance that could include adjustments to the neck, string height, tuning stability, hardware adjustments and more.

How long should a guitar setup take? ›

Generally speaking, a basic guitar setup will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, while a more complex setup could take several hours. If you're thinking about getting your guitar setup, or if you're just curious about how long the process takes, then read on for more information.

Does a new guitar come with a setup? ›

Still, many—even most—guitars arrive from the manufacturer needing additional setup work. There are a few things to consider when thinking about a setup. Understandably, different players have different expectations and needs when it comes to their guitars.

How long does it take to get good enough at guitar? ›

Using the chart above as a guide, we can estimate that achieving an introductory level of guitar proficiency (to perform simple parts and songs) requires a little more than 150 hours of practice.

Where should I get my guitar setup? ›

If you're looking for a guitar setup, there are a few places you can go. Your local music store is a great option, as they usually have someone on staff who can do a basic setup for you. If you're looking for something more specific or in-depth, you may want to go to a guitar luthier.

How many guitars do you actually need? ›

Generally, one electric guitar, one acoustic guitar, and one classical guitar are enough to satisfy your needs and cover all styles of music. If you have varied interests, you may want to add new guitars to experiment with different types of pickups configurations, body shapes, and different necks.

Do Taylor guitars need a setup? ›

In order to ensure proper acoustic guitar intonation, a complete set of strings and a full setup are usually required. If there is no fret wear on the Taylor guitar, the setup is frequently able to resolve intonation issues on acoustic guitars.

What is the most important part of a guitar? ›

The body is the central and most significant part of the electric guitar. It is where the strings are secured and the part that rests on the guitarist's body when playing the instrument.

What are the 3 main parts of the guitar? ›

Every guitar is a little different, but there are three fundamental parts — the headstock, the neck, and the body.

What are the three main parts of the guitar? ›

While guitars have different shapes, designs, and features, the three main parts of all guitars are the same: body, neck, and head. Strings come stretched across these three sections, tying the whole instrument together. We will dig deeper into each part later on.

What is a 22 point guitar setup? ›

A 22 point guitar setup is a comprehensive and customized adjustment of a guitar's intonation, action, and electronics. A typical 22 point setup includes a check and adjustment of the truss rod, neck relief, string height (action), nut height, nut slots, bridge height, pickup height, and intonation.

Will a setup help guitar stay in tune? ›

A good set up is important to playing in tune. If you don't feel comfortable doing a set up yourself, have a professional guitar repairman set up your instrument. It will play, sound, and stay in tune much better with a pro set up.

Is it worth getting a cheap guitar setup? ›

It is definitely worth getting a cheap guitar setup by an experienced guitar tech. This will correct the guitar's action, intonation, truss rodd, and saddle height, improving the guitar's overall playability and tone. A Budget guitar can convert into a highly playable instrument with a correct setup.

Are guitar setups free? ›

The cost of an acoustic guitar setup ranges from $50 to $100, depending on the condition of the guitar and whether new strings are included. The goal of a setup is to inspect, correct, and polish the intonation, neck relief, and action of the frets. You can restring your guitar at the Guitar Center as well.

Can you practice guitar for too long? ›

However, doing so can have some serious consequences. Results of too much practice can manifest in depression, burn out, and physical injury. In fact, overuse injuries are not only prevalent among professional musicians, they can occur from too much practice.

How long is too long guitar practice? ›

Consistency is key – try to practice guitar for at least 15 minutes per day, five days a week, but also follow these tips: Avoid long and unbroken sessions. Don't practice for more than an hour at a time. Set short breaks if you plan on practicing for more than 20 minutes.

How much does a pro guitar setup cost? ›

How Much Does a Guitar Setup Cost? Prices vary drastically by city, state and country. In America, the average rate for a setup seems to run between $50-$75 USD. This is quite a small price to pay to make sure your guitar is in good condition.

Is 1 hour a day enough to learn guitar? ›

One hour of guitar practice per day is more than enough to see rapid improvements in your abilities. But you won't get the best results with an unbroken one-hour practice session.

How many hours a day should I play guitar? ›

A beginner guitar player should try to practice for at least 30 minutes every weekday. If you are aspiring to make it as a studio musician or professional guitar player, you should try to practice for at least 90 minutes each day. Most professional guitar players practice 180 minutes — 240 minutes each day.

How many years does it take to master guitar? ›

On average, it takes about 300 hours of practice to learn the basic chords and feel comfortable playing the guitar. If you practice for two hours a day – every day – it will take five months to master the basics. If you practice for an hour every day, it will take you ten months.

How long is a full guitar? ›

You can generally expect a full-sized guitar to be 40 inches in length, a size that is best fitted to people over the height of five feet and three inches. For adults smaller than this height, the slightly smaller ⅞ size might be more appropriate.

What makes a guitar rare? ›

Rare Woods and Materials

Due to their endangered status and scarcity, certain prized tonewoods such as Brazilian rosewood are no longer used to build guitars. The same is true for tortoiseshell, ivory, and ebony inlays and embellishments.

Do Martin guitars come set up? ›

With the Factory Setup, your guitar will arrive in your hands the way it was setup by Martin and Saga Music (Blueridge guitars). We guarantee that it will be free from defects and blemishes, and it will be within Martin and Saga's tolerances regarding action (string height) and neck relief (amount of bow in the neck).

Do all guitars need shielding? ›

If you live in an area with a lot of electromagnetic interference, you might be in need of a shielded guitar cavity. Shielding the control cavity is one of the key ways you can get maximum protection from interference.

Does Guitar Center setup your guitar? ›


If you're getting anything short of perfect performance from your instrument, it's Guitar Center Repairs time. Generally, it's a good idea to have a setup done two to four times a year, just to keep everything running smoothly.

Is it hard to do guitar setup? ›

Electric guitar setups are generally pretty straightforward. You'll need a few tools, mainly Allen wrenches for the truss rod and the bridge, a screwdriver to adjust the pickup heights, and a ruler to measure neck relief and string clearances. You'll also need an electronic tuner for checking the bridge's intonation.

Can you do your own guitar setup? ›

While you may have to invest in a few simple tools, over the long haul, you can save a lot of dough doing it yourself instead of paying a luthier or guitar repair person. Better yet, you'll understand the factors that are involved in making your guitar play and sound exactly the way you like.

Is a professional guitar setup worth it? ›

Regardless of the value of your guitar it needs a professional quality setup to play properly. A proper setup will help you to get the most from your practice time and best results when playing. You will find it easier to play, and because the tone is accurate you'll be able to tell how much you are improving.

How long does it take to become very good at guitar? ›

More Arbitrary Ratings of Proficiency
LevelHours NeededDaily Practice Investment
Beginning625156 days
Intermediate125010 months
Advanced25001.8 years
Expert50003.5 years
5 more rows

What is the hardest way to play guitar? ›

1. Barre chords. We promise we're not winding you up when we say that barre chords are the hardest guitar technique. The reason most guitarists can do them is because they're essential, not because they're easy.

How many hours should I practice guitar as a beginner? ›

A beginner guitar player should try to practice for at least 30 minutes every weekday. If you are aspiring to make it as a studio musician or professional guitar player, you should try to practice for at least 90 minutes each day. Most professional guitar players practice 180 minutes — 240 minutes each day.


1. The Complete DIY Guitar Setup Tutorial
(Music is Win)
2. Make Your CHEAP Guitar Play Like a MILLION Bucks!
(Darrell Braun Guitar)
3. Why DOES It Take 2 Weeks To Buy a Guitar Setup To Perfection?
(Richards Guitars)
4. Basic Tools Guitar Players Need To Do Set Ups
(Phillip McKnight)
5. How to Setup Your GUITAR for Beginners (Strat Edition)
(Marty Music)
6. A Beginner Guitar Good Enough For A Pro
(Phillip McKnight)


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