Author Topic: Setup. A DIY guide  (Read 44374 times)

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Offline Tourniquet

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Setup. A DIY guide
« on: January 19, 2009, 09:53:55 pm »
Assesment: (Suitable for all)
This guide should tell you if a full or partial setup is warranted or beneficial, it's designed to be simple enough for a beginner to carry out at home or in a store. You will need three 1mm picks. Ensure the guitar is correctly tuned to the intended pitch

  • Truss rod: Hold down 1st and 14th fret of each string and look at the 7th fret side on. it should be very close (1 pick should not slide under) but most importantly not touching, if it does touch or there is a large gap the truss rod may need adjusting
  • Action: Pluck each string open and at every fret, it should not buzz. if there is buzz action may be too low
  • Stack 3x1mm picks together (or a pound coin if a UK resident) and place them next to the highest fret, it should not slide freely under the strings. If it can, action may be too high
  • Bend the strings in several places, If the note dies during the bend the action may be too low for the radius of the fretboard.
  • Pickups: Hold down the highest fret, the pole pieces of the front pickup should be roughly the thickness of one pick from the bottom of the string. the back pickup roughly two picks. closer and the pickups may sound muddy and affect sustain (and rattle against the strings). lower and the pickup may sound thin and tinny
  • Intonation: One string at a time, Fret the 12th fret and play the note, now play the 12th fret harmonic of the same string. compare the note that you hear, if they do not sound exactly the same (IE one is sharp or flat) Intonation is off.
  • Nut: Each string should sit snug in it's slot. try to push the strings side to side at the first fret, it shouldn't move in the slot or pop out. Movement indicates an overcut slot, popping out indicates an undercut nut.
    Next fret the third fret and look at the first. The string should just about touch or have a very slight gap.
  • Frets: Look at each fret side on from both sides, look for gaps between the fret and the board and compare each fret to its neighbor for comfirmation. Indicates poorly seated frets
  • Tremolo: Look at it side on.The back should be either flat/parallel to the body or floating roughly 3 picks high. Higher or lower and the springs are not balanced to string tension.



Remedy: (Suitable for those willing to have a go)
This guide will explain what each adjustment does and how to do them, use the above guide for measurements.
They are listed in order of importance, If you Adjust something on the list you may need to adjust (or at very least check) everything below it.
You will need
flat blade and cross blade screwdrivers (a few different sizes), set of allen keys (ideally with a long arm), a good tuner,  a clear work space (table or the floor at a push), peace and quiet for a while

You will need to retune the guitar often between and during each step.

Truss rod: (this assumes a headstock adjuster, some adjusters are at the heel end which requires removal or loosening of the neck to access)
If there is a cover plate over the Truss rod adjuster remove it. Just inside this cavity is a hex head bolt (Allen key). Turning this bolt clockwise tightens the truss rod and bows the headstock back, this counteracts the pulling force of the strings.
The truss rod seems much feared among guitarists, wrongly in my opinion. It is a simple mechanical screw and bar that creates an expanding force when turned.
turn it counter clockwise first to loosen the screw and only turn 1/4 of a revolution at a time. It should turn smoothly, if it seems to stick or lurch save it for a pro

Tremolo: (skip this if you have a hardtail)Unscrew and remove the panel on the back of the guitar that covers the tremolo cavity. You will see the underside of the tremolo connected to several springs that connect to a bar connected to the guitar with two long screws. Turning these screws clockwise increases the spring tension and draws the tremolo down (it also increases string tension so take care to detune as you go to prevent the strings from breaking)

Bridge: Gibson style bridges have a bolt on either side that lifts the entire bridge, Fender style bridges have small grub screws in the saddle that raise each saddle individually. The aim is to get the strings low to ease playing but not so low that they buzz against the frets. With Fender style bridges be sure to take the fretboard radius into account (the g&d saddles are usually higher than the E's)

Saddles: Usually just a simple carriage on a sprung screw. Turning the screw clockwise will move the saddle away from the neck. The aim is to correct the drift in the scale length caused by all the other adjustments. Simply put, the 12th fret is the calculated middle of the scale length, the 12th fret harmonic is the current middle of the scale length, get them the same. This can increase or decrease string tension more that you might expect so you may need to retune to save the string.

Pickup height: Either side of the pickup is a sprung screw that lifts or drops the whole pickup. The measurement I provide is the highest advisable setting, go further and the string will buzz on the poles or the magnetic field will seriously hit sustain. As the last item on the list, playing around with the pickup height is a simple way to experiment with subtle changes to your guitars output.
Pole pieces: most humbuckers allow fine tuning of each pole piece with a screw (unlike single coils where each pole is a magnet humbuckers tend to use screws that are magnetised by a common bar magnet). in the first instance these should mirror the curve of the fret board, from there they can be fine tuned (If for example you find the bass strings overwhelm the trebble strings in a chord you can lower them to reduce their output)


What about the frets and Nut?
If the frets are poorly seated there is nothing you can do about it DIY (the proper tool is a bespoke press), a hammer will do more harm than good, save this for a pro.
If the nut needs to be filed for bigger strings this also needs to be done with a specially designed set of files (your common toolbox variety won't cut it properly), if the string needs to be filled or replaced to take smaller strings you also need to cut new slots... same problem.. save it for a pro.

What about acoustics?
Acoustics tend to be much less forgiving than electrics in this reguard. the Saddle/bridge is often a single piece of wood meaning each string cannot be individually intonated. Lowering the action requires careful sanding of the underside... if you go too far you can't put the wood back on and would need to replace the whole thing or glue new material on. The truss rod can also be harder to access (and on occasions non existant, some use plain metal strip inserts to brace the neck)

Think that covers most things... Might add pictures if the descriptions aren't enough.

Edits:
added section on pickup pole adjustment and acoustics
« Last Edit: January 20, 2009, 08:12:27 pm by Tourniquet »
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gibbduncan

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2009, 10:12:10 pm »
Wow, sticky this. Awesome stuff, thank you so much Tourniquet.

Offline bluepingu34

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2009, 05:42:35 pm »

Quark

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2009, 05:58:56 pm »
Very Nice T!

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Offline bluepingu34

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2009, 06:15:51 pm »
Just noticed this has become a sticky. Thanks to whoever did that ;D

Offline Tourniquet

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2009, 08:13:45 pm »
Glad Y'all like it ;)
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jwenting

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2009, 02:53:51 pm »
As to acoustic saddles, you can change the intonation gradually from side to side by sanding the saddle at a (very slight) angle instead of equally across the width.
Of course extreme care should always be taken as it is a destructive process.
Care should also be taken to ensure that the saddle doesn't become so low the attack angle of the strings on it from the bridgepin holes isn't too shallow (a too shallow angle here can cause the bridge to crack in extreme cases).

Unless it's a cheap instrument and you're experimenting or you are a highly experienced woodworker, bridge/saddle adjustments on acoustic instruments are best left to professionals.

Offline Tourniquet

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2009, 04:38:52 pm »
Alternative Intonation:  I discovered this method recently. I believe it to be superior to the standard method in most cases.
Fret the 12th fret and play the note, now fret the 13th fret and pick the string at the 7th fret. the notes should be the same.

While the standard method works I find this method offers a few advantages and disadvantages in comparision.
Advantages: More than twice the accuracy (explained below for those with an interest). Easier to hear than the Low E harmonic.
Disadvantages: Pickups and soundholes won't amplify the neck note, poor neck relief can cause the neck note to buzz or ring at an earlier fret.

Accuracy
Here's a little mathematics to highlight the difference.
Let us say a guitar uses a 25" scale (roughly accurate, the result will be the same whatever the scale length)
Let's also say that it's current settings make it a 25.5" scale
A:The 12th fret sits at half the scale. 12.5"
B:12th fret to saddle will be 13"
C:Harmonic sits at current half scale 12.75"

The traditional method is a comparision between B and C with a 0.25" difference between the two notes
This method is a comparison between A and B with a 0.5" difference between the two notes
While the difference in length is doubled the difference between the audable notes is greater than double (if this seems odd just compare the length of the first octave (0-12th fret) and the second octave (12-24th fret))
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Offline TB-AV

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2009, 06:30:35 pm »
You really should be using as accurate a tuner as possible to set intonation.

Open string and fretted 12th.


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Offline Tourniquet

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2009, 07:37:33 pm »
I have a fantastic tuner built into my cube. Don't need it, I've learned to trust my ear.
If you don't have the luxury of a good tuner or down want to take it with you when you go guitar shopping trusting your ear is rather important. If you trust your ear you really don't need a tuner for this.
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Offline TB-AV

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2009, 10:18:55 pm »
10-4, I thought this was a set-up guide.


I can't really figure the advantage of your second method. When I fret my 13th fret and pick at 7th, my strings more easily fret out. Plus I would rarely play the guitar that way. So if the intonation is off, I want it to be off in a manner in which I most normally play the guitar, then tune and adjust to correct it. Much the same way you will tune a guitar to specific chords you are likely to play.

More power to you though if it works for you. I still would not recommend it as a valid method for DIY Setup. Intonation is rarely off more than a very few cents and being able to discern that one note at a time is not easy if even possible for the average person.



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Offline Tourniquet

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #11 on: February 19, 2009, 08:52:06 am »
10-4, I thought this was a set-up guide.
It's more intended to be part of the assessment section. (would have spliced it in if edit were still enabled)

I can't really figure the advantage of your second method.
The advantages are as described. a greater tonal variation between the two audable notes than the standard method.

When I fret my 13th fret and pick at 7th, my strings more easily fret out.
It is a potential issue, are you sure your neck relief is sufficient

Plus I would rarely play the guitar that way. So if the intonation is off, I want it to be off in a manner in which I most normally play the guitar
How you play the guitar is irrelevant for the purpose of intonation. The aim is purely to ensure the designed scale length matches the actual scale length.

More power to you though if it works for you. I still would not recommend it as a valid method for DIY Setup. Intonation is rarely off more than a very few cents and being able to discern that one note at a time is not easy if even possible for the average person.
The results of the adaptive pitch test suggests that most would discern even small variations.... perhaps it's not for everyone, just putting it out there as another option. ;)
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TerryBullock

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My 2 cents re: intonation (acoustic)
« Reply #12 on: February 19, 2009, 09:59:58 am »
I recently bought a cheap electro-acoustic (have posted elsewhere about this at some length...) and the intonation was way out, but especially bad on the low E string.  I mean the 12th fret (fretted) was about 30-40 cents sharp compared to the open string.  I did lower the action (by filing the bottom of the saddle) to bring the strings about 3mm above the 12th fret, and then I changed all the strings (thanks to Justin's lesson on string changing) to much lighter ones (11's).  It is now only about 5 cents sharp.  I can live with that while I get my real guitar (Fender Squier) off layaway.

Just thought I'd mention that for the sake of about £7 for a set of strings you can get a big improvement (in some specific cases, probably ;o) )

TerryBullock

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A useful web link...
« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2009, 08:39:37 pm »
I found the articles on this site invaluable.  Hope it's of some use to someone...

www.fretnotguitarrepair.com

HenrikWL

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Re: Setup. A DIY guide
« Reply #14 on: February 27, 2009, 11:43:42 am »
Excellent information!

I'm determined to learn how to do this stuff myself, if nothing else then for the sake of being independent of others and in control of my instrument.

However, being reluctant to practice all of this on my $1500 LTD Viper, I was wondering if you think it'd be worhtwile to pick up some cheap/used (or both) guitar at a more modest price (say, around $100) to practice setting up on? Or will such a guitar be of such low quality that one shouldn't be bothered? Maybe I'm being a wuss and should just get cracking on my LTD?



 

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