Professional Guitar Setup

by | Mar 19, 2021 | Guitars, Musical Instruments

A professional guitar setup may seem like a standard setup process, but there is more to it than meets the eye. 

It serves as the first primary step that shapes and changes the way your new or old guitar performs and sounds. 

A proper setup will assist you in getting the most out of your guitar and making it extremely enjoyable to play. 

Whether you are a new guitarist or an experienced one, a guitar set up by a professional will make a massive difference in your playing experience and also enjoy an optimum performance.

So you must be thinking, what are the processes in a  professional guitar setup? Is it worth the investment? 

Should you go for a professional? You won’t have to spend hours looking for answers. 

In this article, we will discuss all the essential aspects that you need to know before venturing into the professional guitar setup.  

What is a Professional Guitar Setup?

Professional Guitar Setup

When you hear about professional guitar setup, the first fundamental question that will cross your mind what it is actually. 

Basically, it is a long process consisting of tweaking and adjustment so that the guitar can offer the best playing experience and deliver optimum sound output. 

Unlike regular DIY setup, a professional installation goes through some crucial steps using specialized tools, and it is entirely done by experienced individuals.

However, if you are experienced enough, then you can easily do a professional setup, but in order to get a perfect setup, you must know how each part of the guitar works. 

A professional guitar setup goes through numerous minor maintenance and adjustment processes that include tuning, neck adjustment, height modification, hardware inspection, taking care of blister, thumb rest and many more.    

How is Professional Guitar Setup of Acoustic Different From Electric? 

How is Professional Guitar Setup of Acoustic Different From Electric?

When it comes to professional guitar setup, you can’t make the same approach for both electric and acoustic guitars. An acoustic unit comes with a different type of frame, wood type, and bridge, and it is not easy to set it up in the first place.

You need a professional who understands the acoustic’s mechanism, and if the setup is not done correctly, then it can lead to severe damage. 

Unlike the electric guitar, the acoustic setup process is quite complicated and gives unexpected results. The professional has to go through a lot of trial and error before achieving that perfect setup.

On the other hand, the electric guitar’s setup process is slightly more straightforward than acoustic, and a professional luthier can comfortably do the setup without much hassle.

Although most of the electric units come with different wooden built, most of them get a solid or semi-hollow built that makes the installation easier. However, the overall process is quite lengthy and needs a lot of adjustments and inspections.  

Main Processes In A Professional Guitar Setup

Main Processes In A Professional Guitar Setup

Now you know what a professional guitar setup is, and you must be wondering what those processes involved in a complete guitar setup are. 

A guitar setup is a lengthy process, and the professional luthier performs various activities to bring the best out of your six-string instrument.

The entire setup process depends upon the playing style, condition, and guitar model, and each model incurs a different approach.

Generally, the setup process consists of modification in truss rod, action, string height, and intonation. 

But the luthier might also opt for tremolo adjustment, fret cleaning, fret dressing, etc. if your guitar requires further improvement.  

So without further ado let’s check all the essential processes; 

Truss Rod Adjustments

  • Almost every guitar, whether electric and acoustic, requires truss rod adjustment when they are put through professional guitar setup. 
  • The truss rod is basically a metal rod that is present on the neck as well as the body and counters the tension from the sstring
  • Before adjusting the bow, the luthier first inspects the neck and opt for truss rod modification depending on the neck’s relief. 
  • If there is a lot of relief on the neck, then he/she will have to loosen it; otherwise, it would create a concave bow and cause high action. 
  • But if your neck doesn’t have sufficient relief, then the luthier has to tighten it, or else it will lead to a back bow and bring the string closer to fret. 
  • Basically, the truss rod will be adjusted in such a way that it will make the neck entirely flat with a certain amount of relief.

Adjusting The String Action

Adjusting The String Action

  • Another process that serves as a fundamental part of the setup process is string action adjustment.  The string depicts the gap from the fretboard to the string, and this gap not only affects your playability but also the tonal output of the guitar. 
  • With time, the string action changes, and the luthier will adjust the action based on your playing style either by adjusting the truss rod or screws on the bridge. 
  • You will either have a higher action or lower action. In higher action, the string maintains a large gap from the fretboard, and you will have to press the string hard to play a note. 
  • It may be challenging to play, but you won’t get fret buzz, and it will cause the tone to sustain for a long time. 
  • If you go for lower action, then the string will keep close to the fretboard and will make it easier for you to play notes. 
  • Even though it is easier to play, low action often leads to fret buzz and ultimately deteriorating tonal output.

Modifying The Tremolo

  • Well, this process is only applicable when your guitar comes with a floating tremolo. During the adjustment process, the professional will try to bring a balance between the tension of tremolo’s spring and string.
  • An accurate adjustment in the tremolo will give you stable tonal output even if you use the tremolo arm to play the tricky notes of the legendary song “For The Love of God” by Steve Vai.
  • This modification requires a little bit of accuracy otherwise heavy usage of tremolo arm can lead to frequent out of tone issues.

Inspecting The Nut Height

  • In every professional guitar setup, the six-string instrument goes through nut height inspection as the improper height can cause a buzzy or shrill tone. 
  • Nowadays, the nuts are engineered in such a way that the chance of any nut height is low. 
  • But heavy usage can cause the nut to slip when the nut slot is designed too high or too low. 
  • If the nut height is low, then the luthier has to deepen the height, or else he/she will adjust the height of other nuts to maintain a balance.

Fine Tuning The Intonation

  • A professional guitar setup is incomplete without the fine-tuning of intonation because it plays a vital role in deciding the tone output. 
  • The intonation tells you the pitch accuracy, or in simple words, it describes the string’s tuning through the fretboard. 
  • Adjusting the intonation is quite crucial because after tuning a guitar, you might get out of tune in the higher octave of the fretboard.
  • The open notes may be tuned, but when you play fret notes on the 12th or 14th fret section, the guitar will seem out of tune. 
  • So during the setup, your professional will match the 12th fret tone with that of the open string. 
  • If it doesn’t match, then he/she will adjust the saddles to keep all the octave in the same tune. 
  • However, the tuning of intonation is quite tricky, and if you aren’t well versed with the tuning, then you should leave it to a professional hand.

Modifying String Radius

Modifying String Radius

  • Every guitar brand has its specific fretboard radius, and it is one of those factors that decide the tonal output. 
  • To get the optimum playing experience and tone quality, you need to align the string to the same radius of your guitar’s fretboard. 
  • Adjusting the string radius is not a difficult task, and it can be done using the adjustment screw located on the bridges of electric guitars. 
  • From the bridge, neck fretboard to string radius, you have to align every properly to get the best result. 
  • However, if there is any mismatch in alignment, not only will you uneven string action in different fret but will also experience fret buzz.

Inspecting the Tuning Hardware

The tuning knobs may seem perfectly fine when they are attached to the strings. But if you have heavily used your guitar, then there is a chance of loose screws and nuts once you detach the strings.

  • During the setup, your luthier will thoroughly check whether the headstock has any loose nuts because a loose screw can hamper the tuning.
  • These screws can be tightened using a standard screwdriver, and the luthier will gently tighten it; otherwise, it can damage the fine-threaded part. 
  • You will also find a small screw behind each tuner that can be used to modify the tension of your tuner knobs.

Polishing and Hydrating the Wood

  • To keep your guitar in their best shape and form, every luthier polish and hydrate the wooden parts during professional setup. 
  • Every guitar is made from wood, so professionals need to hydrate them during setup because it will ensure the optimum condition of the construction. 
  • However, if the guitar hasn’t been hydrated for a long time, then low moisture can cause a severe crack in the body. 
  • So your guitar, whether electric or acoustic, needs to be hydrated from time to time. 
  • However, the hydration process doesn’t involve the simple use of water. Instead, your luthier will apply a unique polish and fretboard conditioner to hydrate the guitar’s wooden parts.

Assessing Structural Issues

Assessing Structural Issues

  • Heavy usage often leads to numerous structural problems, and they mostly get discovered when you take them for a professional setup. 
  • Over a period of time, the guitar often gets cracks and loose joints, and if you don’t repair them quickly, then it would permanently damage the guitar.

Fret Dressing

  • It is probably one of the essential processes where the fret of your guitar gets leveled and reshaped to get the ideal form. 
  • However, this process is applicable to old guitars that wear outs due to fretting with metal strings. 
  • In fret dressing, the luthier fills up rough edges, dents, and uneven surfaces in the fret and brings out the pristine look. 
  • However, it is quite a lengthy process as the luthier had to find out all the damages and precisely dress them. 
  • But if your fret has gone through numerous dressing processes, and still, there is damage, then it would be better to replace it with a new one.

The Main Reason For Professional Guitar Setup

The Main Reason For Professional Guitar Setup

Whether you bought a new guitar or playing your old guitar, a guitar needs a professional set up so that it should sound the way it should and offer optimum playability comfort. 

When you get a new guitar, there are high chances they have lost their setup due to shipment and use by various other people. Since most of the guitars come from overseas manufacturing hubs, they lose touch and won’t give you the feel and sound they should. 

Moreover, they are tuned according to factory standards, which might not suit your playing style.

So a professional guitar setup will help you to tune the guitar in their best form and negate issues like fret buzz, out of tune strings, intonation problem, etc. 

Basically, it helps you to bring out the best from your guitar and assists you to play it comfortably.  

The same goes for old models, and you should take them for a professional setup after a specific time period. 

The guitar suffers various deficiencies when you use them regularly, and you need to treat them so that it can stay in the best condition. Fret buzz, dents in a fret, wear and tear in the body, neck warping, and dried fretboard are common problems that appear over time. But the occasional professional setup, along with maintenance, will help your guitar to stay in the best form and deliver optimum tonal quality.   

Can I Set Up The Guitar By Myself? 

The Main Reason For Professional Guitar Setup

Yes, it is possible to set up your guitar by yourself rather than taking to experts, but it entirely depends upon your technical understanding, maintenance skill, and overall know-how. 

Even though the steps of professional setup are simple, you need to study a lot and spend time practicing each step to get the right level of proficiency. 

You can study the setup process on YouTube or any other website and practice them on your old guitar. 

You need to understand every function, joints, parts, and knobs of your guitar. 

During the setup, you must be precise with screws, knobs, and other settings because a slight mistake can ruin the whole effort. 

However, it would be advisable to take your guitar to a professional artisan if you have recently bought a new guitar. 

Since it is a new unit and you don’t have the proficiency, a small mistake can lead to severe damage in your guitar. 

Setting up strings won’t be a problem, but as a beginner, you shouldn’t try to set floating tremolo by yourself because they are quite tricky to install.  

What is the Cost of Professional Guitar Setup? 

What is the Cost of Professional Guitar Setup?

Well, the cost of professional guitar setup varies from place to place, but the price mainly depends upon the type, luthier, and guitar’s condition. 

Generally, the installation may cost you somewhere from $40 to $200, but it may increase if your guitar is in the worst shape. However, the price also varies depending upon the type of setup processes it requires.

The cost of setting up a new guitar is typically low since they require much maintenance, and a little bit of work brings it to the best shape.

But it is not the same with old guitars since they wear out over time and the cost of maintenance is quite high. 

Most importantly, if you have an expensive guitar like Stratocaster or Hummingbird, you can’t simply take them to normal music shops for setup. 

A reputed luthier will cost you a lot of dollars, and moreover, they use high-end tools and equipment for configuration, so the cost would automatically go high.  

If your guitar requires fret dressing and other repairings, then it would cost you some extra dollars. 

Generally, the professionals charge around $100 for fret dressing, but it might go up or down based on the time and work needed during leveling and polishing. 

However, you should avoid the cheap guitar setup offered by certain stores as they would do no good for your guitar.  

How Often Should You Opt For Professional Guitar Setup?

How Often Should You Opt For Professional Guitar Setup?

In general, a guitarist should have their guitar professionally set up at least twice a year based on the playing condition. 

Although if you have bought a new guitar, then for the first year, a single professional setup in a year would do the trick. 

The main thing is that you should opt for tweaking and maintenance throughout the year as it will help your guitar to stay at optimum condition. 

However, if you have an old guitar and not in good shape, then you might have to take it more often to keep it running.

Whenever you notice that your guitar isn’t sounding the way it should, then you should immediately take it for a professional setup.

Apart from tone issues, if you find any structural problem or dents on your guitar, then it would be best to take it to an expert luthier. 

However, you should avoid getting your guitar unknown or cheap technicians; they might not be able to set up the guitar the way a top-notch luthier will do.  

Conclusion

Conclusion

A professional guitar setup is an essential requirement for every guitar because it will keep the 6 six instrument in optimum condition and sound like they should. 

Every guitar, whether new or old, should be taken at least once for a professional setup. 

The setup process is not very complicated, and you can even try it. 

But for the best result, you should take it to a professional luthier because they can bring the best out of your guitar.

You can easily find a highly skilled artisan in reputed music stores, but those are slightly expensive. 

However, you should avoid getting them to novice technicians who may cause irreversible damage and ruin your entire investment.  

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