HAVE GUITAR, WILL PLAY:
Before you rock out, set up your guitar li ke t his.
1 DO YOUR STRETCHES
Before trying to get everything else perfect, it’s good to get a fresh set of strings on and tuned up. If you don’t have a tuner app on your phone yet, get one. There are many free options available. Strings need some stretching before they settle in, though, so get them tuned up, then pull on each string till it’s out of tune, then tune up again. Don’t yank the strings, or they may break. Repeat till the tuning remains stable.
2 GET YOUR NECK STRAIGHT AIGHT
The guitar’s neck should be either dead straight, or slightly concave (up-bowed), but never convex (back-bowed). You can tell how straight the neck is by fretting the thick E string at the first fret and another fret where the neck meets the body – the 18th, say. Now, look at the gap between the string and the top of the eighth fret. If there’s no gap, the neck is back-bowed and needs adjusting; if the gap is bigger than about 0.5 mm, it may be a little too up-bowed, but that will depend on you. A bigger gap – more relief – typically suits the more aggressive players, but too much and the action ( see #3) becomes inconsistent.
To set the bow of the neck, adjust the truss rod – the metal rod that reinforces the neck. It typically adjusts at the base of the headstock, sometimes under a cover, and you’ll probably need an Allen key (typically 5 mm) for the job. Some adjust at the base of the neck, but the same rules apply. If the neck is too up-bowed (big gap), turn the nut clockwise to straighten it out. If the neck is back-bowed (no gap), turn counterclockwise. Always adjust in small increments, no more than a quarterturn at a time, and if it feels like you have to force it, stop: a busted truss rod is no joke.
3 AND ACTION
The guitar’s action is how w high the strings are above the fretboard. On most electric guitars, there re will be six individual saddles on the bridge over which the strings travel, the height of which can be adjusted with th a 1.5 mm-ish Allen key – clockwise for higher, anticlockwise for lower. You want to set the open thick E string to have a gap of about 2 mm between it and the top of the 12th fret. On the skinny E string, get it to about 1.6 mm, and have the other strings somewhere in-between. If you play slide, you’ll probably want the action higher. If you want to play super fast, you may prefer it lower.
For precise measurements, use feeler gauges you can buy from a hardware store, or an engineering ruler.
Some Telecaster-style guitars may have only three saddles, but it’s the same idea. With Gibson Tune-o-maticstyle bridges, the saddles are there for intonation only – you’ll adjust the height of the whole bridge as a unit.
4 BACK IN THE SADDLE
Correct intonation is getting every fret to line up with the right pitch at every point on every string. It’s easier than it sounds. Get the tuner out. Play any string open, then at the 12th fret. The fretted note should be exactly an octave higher than the open string. If the fretted note is sharp, turn the intonation screw or bolt clockwise to move the saddle and lengthen the string. If the fretted note is flat, simply turn anticlockwise to shorten the string. Make small adjustments, and re-tune and test after every one. Do this for every string. A floating vibrato (you may know it as a tremolo), such as a Floyd Rose or Ibanez Edge, is a bit more complicated; go find detailed instructions online.
5 PICK IT UP
Pickup height is a quick one: turn the adjustment screws clockwise for higher, anticlockwise for lower. Not the pole pieces in your pickups. Don’t try to turn those.
With the thick E string depressed at the highest fret, th the gap between the string and the top of the neck pickup should be about 3 m mm. At the skinny E, try 2.5 mm. Aspic pickup height affects volume, you can a adjust the bridge pickup to be the sa same volume as the neck, or have it closer to the strings and always have a louder pickup to switch to for soloing. Play around. Just don’t get them so close that the strings buzz against them.
Got a back-bow? Turn left to loosen Up-bowed? Turn right to tighten