After saving, scrimping, and creative budgeting, you finally buy the guitar you have always dreamt of from one of the leading manufacturers of high-quality musical instruments.
Understandably, you are excited to head on straight to your studio, plug your new axe to your trusty amp, and shred some licks.
But before you do that, there is one critical thing that you should do first: bring your guitar to a trusted luthier.
Why your guitar needs to be set up
In an ideal scenario, you should be able to play your new guitar straight out of the box without any hitch.
But reality is often far from the ideal. Even the leading guitar brands at Music Majlis acknowledge that different factors affect the condition and playability of an instrument after leaving the manufacturing plant.
First and foremost, guitars are made of wood. This means that it is susceptible to changes brought about by varying temperature and humidity. If you compare a guitar straight off the factory and one in a music store, you will see a subtle difference in the instrument’s shape. The wooden parts of a guitar contract and expand as it makes its journey from the factory to your home studio.
You should bring all your guitars to a trusted luthier from time to time for maintenance. But a visit to the luthier for a guitar set up is essential whenever you buy an instrument, whether new or secondhand.
What to expect
What exactly happens when a luthier sets up a guitar?
That will depend on the type of set up you choose. There are two options available: traditional and PLEK setup.
In a traditional setup, the instrument is inspected, tuned, intonated, detailed, and given a fresh set of strings. Depending on the current condition of the guitar, your luthier may also adjust the neck, pickups, string action, saddle heights, and bridge angle if your axe has a floating tremolo.
A PLEK setup is often done with premium guitars and entails the use of a computer attached to a leveling tool. This gives the luthier unparalleled accuracy in leveling frets.
Here’s a brief look at some of the services involved in a standard setup:
With their experience and expertise, luthiers can see if anything is amiss with your brand new axe. It can be as simple as a few missing screws or something more complex, like neck and body issues.
Your luthier will also check if all of the guitar’s components are working correctly.
● Truss rod adjustment
A truss rod is a metal rod embedded in the neck of your guitar. Almost all guitars have a truss rod, except the cheap ones.
Guitars naturally have a curvature, which can change over time. Your luthier will adjust the truss road in order to ensure that the neck has a good string action, which makes the guitar easier to fret while eliminating fret buzz.
The luthier will ask you how you like your string action and make adjustments based on your preference.
● String replacement
As you hone your guitar playing skills, you begin to find your personal preferences, including the type of guitar strings that you like.
Your luthier can replace the strings that come along with the guitar with those that match the gauge you prefer. Aside from that, he may also modify or replace the nut and make a few adjustments to prevent fret buzz and tuning issues.
● Saddle height adjustment
Unknown to some guitar players, their instruments have a natural curvature. This curvature or string radius may not always be visible, but it is there. Furthermore, the string radius affects the playability of the guitar. Your luthier will match the string radius with an instrument’s natural curvature.
● String height adjustment
String height refers to the distance between the strings and the frets. This distance affects the playability of your guitar, as well as the absence or presence of fret buzz.
Typically, a luthier will set the string action to standard height and make adjustments based on your preference. This is done by adjusting either or both the truss rod and saddle height.
Take note that a lower string action facilitates faster playing, typical in styles like metal. However, a lower action can result in frequent fret buzzing. On the other end of the spectrum, a higher action makes it challenging to press down on the strings. The advantage of a higher action is that you can make notes ring longer and prevent fret buzz.
To help you achieve a perfect sound, your luthier will adjust the intonation through tuning. Intonation also involves checking the harmonics, adjusting the saddles if necessary.
After you leave the luthier’s shop, your guitar should sound not only good but also look good.
As a final step, the luthier will thoroughly clean and polish the guitar. He will also treat the neck for a smoother feel.
Go to a trusted pro
Although it is possible to DIY a guitar setup, it is highly recommended that you go to a trusted professional for this crucial task. This ensures that the job is done correctly so you can avoid costly mistakes that can ruin your prized instrument.