Does My Guitar Need a Setup?

Does My Guitar Need a Setup?

When you picked up your guitar last, how did it feel? Could you still play the songs you usually do, and more importantly, were you inspired to continue playing when you picked it up? If your guitar doesn’t seem to have “it” anymore, now may be time to bring it in to get setup. 

What is a Setup?

A setup is a series of adjustments done to an instrument to ensure it’s functioning at an optimal level.  Generally, setups address three main areas that impact playability; action, intonation, and string buzz. The main adjustments done in a setup include changing strings, adjusting the truss rod, nut slots, intonation and lowering or raising string height as needed.

Even without knowing what a setup is, having a functioning guitar is preferred by everybody. The problem with that line of thinking is that it takes the human element out of playing. What is a good setup for one person is bad for another, so why should you get a setup?

Why Should I get a Setup?

Custom Shop Fender Guitars

If your guitar doesn’t “feel” right, it might be worth getting a setup. Making sure your guitar functions as designed is integral to your enjoyment of the instrument, but that can mean something different for every musician. Nobody knows your playstyle better than you, so you’ll know when it's time to get a setup. If you’re a newer player and don’t know where to start, here are a few common reasons people tell us they want a setup.

My guitar has been sitting around collecting dust.”

Sometimes, it’s hard to carve out time to play the guitar. On top of that, you’re less likely to pick up the instrument if it’s hard to play. If you haven’t played a guitar for a while, getting a setup might just be the spark you need to start playing again.

“My strings are really high off the fretboard.”

A common question we hear when customers ask about guitars in our inventory is “how is the action?” It's a shorthand version of asking how well the guitar is set up. Specifically, ‘action’ refers to how low the strings are to the fingerboard. 
Many players don’t even realize that this is something that can be adjusted on most guitars. A good setup can often fix this issue, as long as there aren’t any underlying mechanical issues with your instrument. If you’re not sure, you should bring your guitar in for a setup.

“I hear buzzing when I play certain frets.”

We hear it on a daily basis, “as low as you can go without any buzz.” A lot of players want low action, because in general it makes guitars easier to play. However, if a guitar is setup too low, then it may  lead to buzzing on the fretboard. 
This is commonly caused by excessive/insufficient bow in the neck or string height being too low. Setups can address most unwanted noise coming from your guitar, but sometimes buzz can be caused by other factors. If a setup can’t fix the issue, having experienced hands look at your guitar is a good place to start in diagnosing the problem.

“I’ve been experimenting with a new string gauge.”

Guitars are durable instruments, but they can also be temperamental. If you’re changing string gauge (thickness) you may want to get the guitar setup to account for the change in tension placed on the guitar.
A guitar tuned to E standard with a typical set of 10’s (.10 - .46) applies roughly 100 pounds of tension to a guitar. In contrast, a heavier set of 11’s  (.11 - .49) adds an additional 15 pounds of tension. The additional weight applied to the instrument can cause parts of the guitar to shift and move. 
The same rationale applies when you’re installing lighter strings. Any change in tension can impact the way a guitar plays, and may warrant some type of adjustment. A small change like 10’s to 9’s shouldn’t impact setup too much, but can certainly change the feel of your instrument. Usually, changing string gauge will result in needing to make fine adjustments to the setup of your guitar. 

How often Should I get a setup?

Blackguard Telecaster on Fender Amp

A setup should be performed when your guitar doesn’t have the same “feel,” or play the way you’d like it to. You can get your guitar setup multiple times a year as needed, but for most players, we recommend once every six months, or with the change of seasons. 

Getting a setup seasonally is optimal, because weather often has the largest impact on a guitar’s playability. Wood has a tendency to expand and contract depending on the climate it's in, and any type of shift can warrant a need for adjustment. 

If you gig regularly or do a lot of recording and require your instruments to be optimized at all times, getting a setup more regularly throughout the year is a good idea, but for most of us, every 6 months or during seasonal changes is optimal.

Can I do a setup myself?

Some repairs are best left to the experts, but a setup is absolutely something you can do with a few tools at home. It can be nerve racking on your attempt, but don’t let that scare you off. There are many great resources to show you how to perform a basic setup. In fact, a quick search online will yield thousands of results on the subject. Oftentimes the most reliable information will come from reputable brands that you know and love. 

Is a Setup Necessary?

Yes and no. A setup is for maintenance; making sure your guitar is playing as best it can for you. Your guitar may be playing perfectly fine, but if you feel like it could use a tweak, or  it’s not playing how you like it to, now is a perfect opportunity to get a professional setup.

Still unsure if you should get a setup? Stop in and talk with one of our techs! They’d be happy to take a look at your guitar, and help you decide if you should get a setup!

Still unsure if you should get a setup? Stop in and talk with one of our techs! They’d be happy to take a look at your guitar, and help you decide if you should get a setup!

1 comment

  • John

    I have a number of guitars that probably need a setup. An older Ultra V actually also has some shorting issues and a mini-toggle which has died. I’ve had a bad experience with another shop not taking proper care of my guitar. I think one shop may have actually spilled some liquid in my guitar case. So the biggest issue I have is leaving my guitar. Do you offer any appointment setups where I take my guitar home the same day?

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