No two guitarists are identical. They prefer different things from the setup of a guitar, and this process can change the action or the sound of a new or older instrument. Is a guitar setup something you can do yourself, or should you take it to a professional? What does this process entail?
This post goes into detail on whether or not guitars need to be professionally set up, whether you can do so yourself or even whether the way they are shipped from the manufacturer is sufficient.
As with a lot of different aspects of the guitar, there are different schools of thought and even debates about setup. Below, we explore some of the opinions out there and answer many of the questions you might have about setting up a guitar correctly.
Importance of Guitar Setup
Good guitar setup can impact every aspect of the guitar. It makes it sound better, feel nicer and generally play better.
Guitars, being made out of wood, are prone to changing shape. Wood can expand and contract or even warp as humidity and temperature changes, or if your guitar suffers knocks and bumps. In this case, the adjustments of a proper setup can be very useful.
A guitar which is set up properly will have no fret buzz and will feel nice to play along the neck. Also, you won’t have to apply huge amounts of pressure to play barre chords. By making the playing process more pleasant, it means that beginners are more likely to stick with the hobby.
If you are a professional or intermediate player, you will probably have a good idea of what feels ‘right’. You will want to adjust your guitar to suit your preferred action. You may also know when your guitar has become warped or isn’t in good shape and at this point you will know that a good setup is needed.
Broadly speaking, guitar setup is very important if you are serious about your guitar hobby.
What A Setup Involves
Guitar setup is not the same for every guitar. It has been described by many as a ‘balancing act’. You will likely need to find a delicate balance between playability, sound and intonation. The more experienced a professional is, the better they will be at this. This is one of the many arguments for taking your new guitar to a professional to get their assistance with the setup.
A setup involves checking that it is correctly intonated. This basically means checking that the notes follow the frets correctly, and that a string issue or fret spacing issue isn’t causing it to go out of tune in certain parts of the fretboard.
It also involves adjusting the action. This can be done via the truss rod, and it is more of a matter of preference than anything. It is generally accepted that a low action (meaning less distance between the fretboard and the strings) will be more straightforward to play. Other aspects of the neck and the ‘feel’ of your guitar are adjusted at this stage, such as the bridge height.
Ultimately, the most important aspect of the guitar is how it sounds. This is addressed in a setup. By having the correct settings on the neck, the guitar is less likely to buzz. The sound is impacted by the playability, too. The easier and more pleasant a guitar is to play, the less likely errors become.
Other things might be covered in the guitar setup, depending on personal preference. Fretboard oils can be applied to treat the wood, strings can be changed to suit personal preference and more adjustments may be optional, depending on the luthier or guitar technician involved in the process.
What a Professional Guitar Setup Involves – A Simplified List
- Changing strings
- Adjusting the action using the truss rod or bridge
- Checking and adjusting the nut height
- Checking the electronics (if you have an electric guitar)
- Checking and adjusting tuning pegs
- Oiling and cleaning the fretboard
- Polishing frets
- Adjusting the pickup height
- Checking the intonation and making adjustments if needed
Do They Setup A Guitar When It Is First Made?
A ‘factory” setup is standard for guitars.
If you are buying your instrument over the internet, the manufacturer will have packaged it and will send it out to you in a perfectly playable state. This is a big plus point, and for a beginner, the state it comes in can be fine to start to learn the basics. However, guitars being shipped and transported, moved around warehouses and sometimes even taken overseas can mean they are susceptible to temperature changes. A good quality wood helps, as will adequate packaging, but unfortunately, it might be important to partake in some maintenance just as soon as your guitar is delivered.
When you buy a new guitar, 99 times out of 100 it will have a standard set of strings on it. These will be a ‘standard gauge’ and tend to be a versatile set of strings for playing pop and rock music. An electric guitar will have the electronics set up, and in its essence, the instrument is ready to go straight out of the box, but this is a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Though there is some level of setup when you buy a guitar, there is only so much they can do without knowing the action you would prefer, and this may even be negated by the transportation process. The basics can be taken care of, but your guitar will not be suited to your preference. For example, intonation should always have been taken care of within the factory. The action of a guitar, however, is personal preference and therefore not something that can be addressed at this stage.
It is undeniably true that different brands have different reputations when it comes to their setup out of the box. There is some level of personal opinion, of course, but generally, some manufacturers seem to spend more time and attention setting up their guitars. Brands such as PRS and Ibanez have gained attention for their good setup. Perhaps surprisingly, Gibson, one of the larger brands, has come in for some criticism on this matter.
If you are going to a guitar store or a music store to purchase your guitar, then the setup can become part of a negotiating technique. If they are keen to complete the sale, you might be able to request that a guitar tech helps with the setup as part of your purchase.
Do All Types Of Guitar Require A Setup?
There are many types of guitar including acoustic, electric, electric-acoustic, bass and even other specialist guitar types. So how do you know if the type of guitar you are buying needs to be setup?
The simple answer is that all types of guitar can benefit from some form of setup. Most of the components of a guitar which are adjusted during a setup are the same whether you are buying an acoustic or an electric guitar, or any other variety! Most modern guitars have a truss rod, and aspects like the neck, bridge, fretboard and strings are universal. These are the ‘universal’ guitar features.
It may even surprise you to learn that in terms of setup, acoustic and electric guitars are quite similar. Though the necks and other components will look and feel different, the adjustments are similar in process.
Should Cheap Guitars Have Professional Setups?
This is yet another aspect that is open to some debate, but a good setup is helpful whether you are playing a $100 or a $1000 guitar. You probably won’t need me to tell you that spending $100 on a setup for a guitar worth roughly the same is probably not advisable, but a setup may not cost this much, and it really can help you to unleash the potential of a guitar.
Some people would even argue that cheap guitars may benefit from professional setups more. They are more likely to warp and require some level of maintenance. The question is whether you think it is worth investing this money.
Cheaper guitars can also provide a good platform to learn about your guitar and the way it works. If you have splashed out on an expensive guitar, you should probably ensure a professional is both setting it up and maintaining it, but a cheaper guitar can give you more of an opportunity to experiment yourself.
Should I Always Get A Guitar Professionally Setup?
We’ve talked very highly about setups here, and their benefits are hopefully very clear. However, it is not always the case that a professional setup is going to be required. This is where you can use your discretion.
If you have purchased a guitar from a shop, it may well have been taken very good care of, even if it has been on display. Many guitar techs who work in stores see the instruments as their babies (I can relate) and therefore keep them in very good condition, as well as maintaining a steady temperature and humidity in their store. Some stores will do a setup as part of a purchase, but even if they don’t, this doesn’t always mean you need to get someone to do so.
If you purchase a guitar and it plays nicely, feels good and sounds good then you may not need to do anything at all. A pro setup can be helpful, but you shouldn’t do it just for the sake of it. Check the intonation and get a feel for whether the action of your guitar suits your ability and playing style. If you don’t have any issues then you may be in the clear.
Can You Do It Yourself?
If you are a beginner, we definitely would not recommend starting to make your own alterations to the technical aspects of your guitar without knowing what you are doing. This is especially true if you have spent a significant amount of money buying the guitar of your dreams.
Though it isn’t wise to fiddle with a guitar blindly, there is no reason that the skills required for guitar setup cannot be learned yourself. Many guitarists do not like the idea of relying on others to get their guitar up to scratch. If you have the ability to do so then it can be a skill you find very useful for the lifetime of your guitar hobby (or career).
If you are technically minded and don’t mind using tools and making alterations, then setup may not be a huge step for you to take.
Some aspects of setup are far more simple and “DIY” than others. To be able to oil a fretboard, clean up a guitar and polish the frets are all simple tasks. Other tasks, such as changing the strings, are things you will probably need to learn to do at some point anyway. No guitarist wants to have to take their guitar to the store every time a string snaps or needs replacing.
Where things start to get technical is the more complicated tasks such as adjusting the truss rod, the height of the pickups or the bridge. This guide from Guitar Player has an in-depth list of the different aspects of setup and the tools you are going to need. It even has a DIY rating to show you how simple the process is for those who have never tried it before.
While some of the easier tasks might be suitable for beginners, don’t be too ambitious, especially with a guitar you want to keep in top condition.
Practicing Guitar Setup
If you do plan to go the DIY route, it probably shouldn’t be the first thing you do! Get familiar with playing your guitar and the way it works before you try to make any changes to it. A natural time when people start to practice these changes is often at the time they are thinking about their second ‘intermediate’ guitar. At this time, the guitar you learned to play on can become more of a space to experiment with maintenance rather than just playing.
Adjusting the nut, bridge and fretboard to change the ‘action’ of a guitar is a task full of danger! If you feel more comfortable getting a pro or tech to do so for you, this is nothing to be ashamed of. If you do want to learn, there are numerous tutorials and youtube videos, such as the one below, which can guide you through the process.
Another tip for watching and learning is to schedule one guitar setup with a pro at a time when you can watch them. They probably won’t mind, especially as you will have to be involved in setting the action, anyway. This can allow you to follow the steps or even ask questions.
How Often To Check And Setup Guitars
This is yet another area of some debate. Generally speaking, seasonality and temperature will play a part. If the guitar is your main guitar, and you play it regularly, getting it checked twice a year is a pretty standard thing to do.
How serious you are about the hobby plays a part, too. If you don’t play all that often then twice a year could be excessive.
This is also something you can work out based on the feel of the guitar and if it starts to cause any issues. If the action feels like it has changed, the strings need changing or the guitar just generally doesn’t feel as pleasant to play, it could be time to go back for a setup.
The setup of a guitar is something that gets ignored way too often. Beginners may not realize that these adjustments can be made, or perhaps you may just struggle to find the time and money. However, getting your new guitar setup in a way to suit your playing style can be a great way to make the instrument more personal and enjoyable.
How Much Does A Professional Setup Cost?
It does vary depending on where you take your guitar, but the setup can be anywhere from $50 to $100. It can even be more if, as a result of your checkup, you find you need more to be done to your guitar.
Why Am I Still Getting ‘Buzzing’ After Getting My Guitar Setup?
In rare cases, the process may not have been carried out properly, but more likely, this is just happening because you are a beginner. If you make mistakes in the way you are playing or don’t apply the correct pressure, fret buzz can happen. It doesn’t always mean poor setup.
A “setup” is regular maintenance that's done on the guitar that involves multiple services such as replacing strings, adjusting the neck, and raising or lowering the string height.Why do you need more than 1 guitar? ›
While a skilled, determined picker can make just about any guitar work for any tune, solo, or song, different guitar designs produce unique tones. And a guitar that's notably different from what you're used to can help you to develop your skills in a new way or adapt them more easily to a new style.Should I get my guitar professionally set up? ›
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 much does a professional guitar setup cost? ›
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.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 professionally set up a guitar? ›
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.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.How many chords should a good guitarist know? ›
The 7 essential most used beginner chords ALL guitar players should learn first are E major, E minor, A major, A minor, D major, C major and G major. With these chords, you'll be armed with the power to play literally thousands upon thousands of different songs. NO SHORTCUTS!How do you tell if a guitar is setup correctly? ›
The best way to check is to play a harmonic at the 12th fret (pluck the string with your fretting finger touching the string but not the fret) and then compare it to the same note fretted at the 12th fret. If the guitar is intonated correctly, the two notes will be the same pitch.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.
How Much Should I Spend on My First Guitar? A good ballpark cost for a decent, beginner guitar is anywhere between $200 and $800. Depending on your means, your previous experience, and your commitment to learning, this is different for every individual.How often should I take my guitar in for 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.How many guitars does the average player own? ›
Research suggests the average player now owns between seven and eight guitars (though the figures referenced here are, at best, anecdotal), meaning the guitarist with one good amp and electric is increasingly an anomaly.Can you play guitar without a setup? ›
Whether you're a regular player or not, your guitar will still need a regular setup because the wood of the guitar can still be temperamental even if you don't play it that often. Professional players tend to face different problems because they're playing their guitars so often.What is the first thing I should do with my new guitar? ›
- 5 Things You Must do with Your New Guitar. If you received a new guitar as a gift this year, it's important to know what to do with a brand new guitar. ...
- Make sure the guitar is in tune. ...
- Check for good intonation. ...
- See if you need to replace the strings. ...
- Adjust the action. ...
- Get a case.
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.How many months does it take to get good at guitar? ›
Depending on your commitment to practice you can become a good hobby player in as little as 6 months or as long as 4 years.How many hours do pro guitarists practice? ›
Most professional guitar players practice 180 minutes — 240 minutes each day.How many hours of practice does it take to get good 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. A devoted college student can achieve this much practice over the course of the summer break.Do you really need multiple guitars? ›
2) YOU MAY WANT TO USE DIFFERENT GUITAR TUNINGS
But, even if you're just playing on your own at home and enjoy playing using different tunings, having more than one guitar certainly helps and saves you time. Though, thanks to Gibson, now you don't really need to own many guitars to easily change between tunings.
1. GIBSON LES PAUL STANDARD. The Gibson Les Paul Standard is one of the best electric guitars for the money relied upon by professional guitarists all over the world. A selection of brands have tried their best to emulate this design, but there's only one Gibson Les Paul.What size guitar are most popular? ›
41" Full Size Dreadnought:
The most popular guitar size in the world. If you want bass, volume & power the full size dreadnought delivers the best overall combination of comfort, playability and sound quality.
Generally, adults are comfortable with full size guitars (40” Concert size and 41” Dreadnought in acoustic guitars). If you are small in stature consider a 40” Concert size guitar or smaller. If your are very tall consider a 41” Dreadnought size guitar.How long should a guitar last you? ›
The roughest estimation would be around 10 years for a cheap acoustic\classical guitar. On the other hand, even cheap electric guitars will be able to last a lot longer, 20-30 years. Of course, if we talk about expensive models, both acoustic and electric guitars will be able to last you for a lifetime.What is the hardest chord to play on guitar? ›
The six-string F chord is one of the hardest standard chord shape to play on the guitar. When many people try to play the F chord on guitar (and often succeed), it's with far too much struggle and effort than is actually necessary. Even extremely influential guitarists can have a hard time with barre chords.What every guitarist should know? ›
- Reading Standard Music Notation and Tablature. ...
- Open Position Notes. ...
- Essential Music Theory. ...
- Basic Open Position Chords. ...
- Strumming Patterns. ...
- Tuning By Ear. ...
- Barre Chords. ...
- Pentatonic Scales.
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.Why do cheap guitars have high action? ›
Some cheap guitars do have a high action because manufacturers don't put enough time into instruments, in order to make as much profit as possible. After all, time is money, and the less money spent, the better for them. Also, their quality control standards are low, so they sell products for a lower price.What order should I set up my guitar? ›
- Play your instrument. Plug it in and play. ...
- Evaluate the Neck and Truss Rod Adjustment. ...
- Adjust Bridge/Saddle Height. ...
- Check the Nut. ...
- Check electronics. ...
- Remove Strings, Tape off Pickups, Polish Frets, and Oil the Fretboard. ...
- Clean and fix any electronic issues. ...
Because there are two less frets, the neck pickup is usually further away from the bridge. This gives the guitar a warmer, more mellow tone than a 24-fret neck pickup can produce. If you are looking for a guitar that can deliver a nice jazz tone, then a 22-fret will be superior to a 24-fret guitar.
So how many frets does a Fender Stratocaster have? Most Fender Stratocasters have either 21 or 22 frets as standard. It depends on the model of Strat as to whether it's 21 or 22. There is also the Fender HM Strat that has 24 frets but that is very much the exception.How much is a 22 point setup at Guitar Center? ›
How Much Is A 22-point Setup At Guitar Center? In addition to a 22-point checklist, cleaning and polishing is included as well as the restring with a set of strings. In most cases, it ranges from $60-75, depending on the state of your guitar and the configuration.Does an expensive guitar make a difference? ›
For example, there is a HUGE quality difference between a guitar that costs $150 compared to a guitar that costs $500. This would include better build quality, electronics, playability, durability, features, and just about everything else.How many hours 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.Are more expensive guitars worth it? ›
The answer is yes, expensive guitars will most likely always be of better quality than cheaper guitars. The detail in which the guitars are made, the type of materials used and how well the adjustments are made is what increases the quality of a guitar, therefore the price.What does a guitar setup include? ›
A “setup” is regular maintenance that's done on the guitar that involves multiple services such as replacing strings, adjusting the neck, and raising or lowering the string height.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.How long does it take to get good at guitar if you practice everyday? ›
For someone who practices around 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week, with medium intensity, it'll take roughly 1-2 months to play beginner guitar songs, and approximately 3-6 months to confidently play intermediate and slightly more advanced songs with technical elements.What is considered a professional guitar? ›
High-end guitars are built using high-quality tonewoods, electronics, and components. Guitars in this category are generally crafted with the aim of producing the best tone and providing maximum playability and comfort. These are professional level instruments, but that doesn't mean only the pros should own them.Should I have my guitar professionally set up? ›
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.
- PRS SE Silver Sky.
- Fender Player Stratocaster.
- Fender American Professional II Stratocaster.
- PRS Silver Sky John Mayer Signature.
- Fender Player Telecaster.
- Gibson Les Paul Standard '60s.
- Gibson Les Paul Standard '50s.
- Fender American Professional II Telecaster.
- Jimi Hendrix.
- Eric Clapton.
- Jeff Beck.
- Chuck Berry.
- Stevie Ray Vaughan.
- Joe Satriani.
- Steve Vai.
- Yngwie Malmsteen.
A professional instrument plays better-quality sounds. You can expect clear, crisp notes that are just better than what you'll get from a beginner instrument, making it easier and more fun for a musician to play.How do you finish a guitar professionally? ›
A far easier and faster method is to simply oil or wax the guitar. There are many options available that provide a beautiful matte or semi-gloss finish. If using a product such as Tung Oil it's recommended you let the stain dry completely. Consider leaving it for a couple of days and be sure to remove any excess.How do you tune a guitar professionally? ›
- Start by tuning the low E String.
- Next, tune the A String.
- Tune the D String.
- Do the G String.
- Tune the B String.
- Tune the High E String.
- Play a chord to check that all of the strings are in tune.
- If any strings sound off, retune them.
- Get industry-quality every time (steal this framework)
- Tip 1 – Use a Cardioid Dynamic Microphone.
- Tip 2 – Position the Microphone Close to the Amp.
- Tip 3 – Find the Right Tone on the Amp.
- Tip 4 – Adjust the Position to Adjust the Tone.
The best beginner guitar is a steel-stringed acoustic guitar (because it's the easiest guitar to learn with). The body shape of your ideal guitar is due to your personal preference.Which guitar style is easiest? ›
Electric guitars are generally the easiest to play: the strings are usually thinner, the 'action' is lower and therefore the strings are easier to press down. The necks are generally narrower too which can help in the early stages.How long 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.What finish is best for guitars? ›
Acrylic and Polyurethane finishes are the most common kind of guitar finish. They are often applied thinly, give lots of protection, and have a minimal impact on the sound. Over a long period of time, polyurethane may take on a faded vintage tint. Polyester finishing is a cheaper alternative to Polyurethane.
- Start With The Basics Of Playing Guitar. ...
- Find The Best Guitar For You. ...
- Create An Ideal Learning Environment. ...
- Build Skills By Learning Songs. ...
- Pick Up Songs By Ear. ...
- Learn With Other New Players. ...
- Practice, Practice, Practice. ...
- Be Patient With Yourself.
- Standard tuning – it consists of the notes E, A, D, G, B, and E, from lowest to highest.
- Drop D – the lowest string is tuned down to a D.
- Open G – this is often used by slide guitarists.
- Half-step down – this gives the guitar a heavier sound.
You will want to start by playing a note on your low E string. Then, without fretting any other strings, play the same note on your high E string. If they sound the same, then your guitar is in tune.What makes guitars sound better? ›
The lighter and stiffer a top is, the better it will sound if everything else is equal. Most acoustic players are familiar with the reality that new guitars break in as they are played, and will sound better and better as they are regularly subjected to the vibration of the strings.How can I make my sound more professional? ›
- Experiment with Top-End Boost. ...
- Use a De'Esser. ...
- Remove Resonances. ...
- Control the Dynamics with Automation. ...
- Catch the Peaks with a Limiter. ...
- Utilize Multiband Compression. ...
- Enhance the Highs with Saturation. ...
- Use Delays Instead of Reverb.
Plucking the string harder will cause the string to vibrate more, making the sound louder. Using a guitar pick will also make the string vibrate more, resulting in a louder sound. The sound waves within the acoustic guitar resonate with one another.