One of the most common problem that we all guitarists face is buying a brand new electric guitar and then realising after unboxing that the guitar is not sounding as good as it’s supposed to be. The first question that would come to anyone’s mind is that if they’ve received a defective product. With an experience of about a decade, of playing the instrument and having purchased and played numerable guitars, I can say that it’s not the case 90% of the times.
The guitar that you’ve ordered has traveled thousands of kilometers before coming to your doorsteps. Guitars come directly from the manufacturers warehouse then to local distributors warehouse then to the seller’s warehouse and then to you. At times these guitars are not properly set up before shipping from the manufacturers end, or due to immense variation in pressures and climatic conditions while shipping, the wood reacts to it and hence the problems. The good news is it’s just a matter of a few steps before your guitar is ready to rock.
Any guitar that you may have, no matter new, or old, needs few adjustments here and there every few months to sound at it’s best. Though it’s not recommended to do a complete overhaul yourself but there are a few Major tasks that you can DIY at home and that’ll make your guitar as good as new.
This is essentially the first part of the guitar setup. Truss rod adjustment is at most times necessary even if the aberrations are not visible to the naked eye.
To do this you first need to put a capo on the first fret. then take your finger and put it on the fret where the neck meets the body, usually on the 17-18th fret. Now take a small visiting card, roughly between 0.1 mm - 0.3 mm (perfectionists can opt for a feeler gauge), and try to slip in between the top of the fret and the bottom of the string (one by one) at the 8th or 9th fret while closely observing the string. If the string lifts a little then the neck is too straight, and if the card is moving freely then it must have more curve than it should.
In either case, go to the manufacturer’s website and see in which direction the truss rod needs to be adjusted. Generally tightening your truss rod will curve the neck towards the bridge, and loosening it will curve it away from the bridge.
It’s a good practice to first confirm if the truss is single action or double action. Single action truss moves only in one direction while a double action truss can move in both directions. To start with the truss always go in increment of only quarter of the turns and then observe the difference. If the problem increases than you are twisting the truss in wrong direction probably (what are the odds!).
As simple as it gets: Higher the bridge, greater the action; lower the bridge, lower the action (higher chance of fret buzz and rattling). So this necessarily means we need to find the sweet spot. The good news is bridges and saddles are highly adjustable. By adjusting the action of your guitar, the strings will be able to sustain all tones played on the frets and will sound natural and smooth.
Your guitar strings needs to be set at a certain measurements: the low E string at about 2.38 mm and the higher e string at 1.57 mm. The measurement is taken at the 12th fret, from the top of fret to the bottom of the string. If the string is too high, or too low then the saddle and bridge needs some adjustments.
To adjust the bridge height, first you need to figure out which kind of bridge your guitar has.
If it’s a tune-o-matic type of bridge then you need to turn the small screws on the bridge at the ends until the bridge is at desired height and then secure the bridge through the big screws below the bridge.
If it’s a Fender style bridge then the height can be adjusted by two screws on either side of the bridge (or if it is individual saddle bridge then two tiny screws on either side of the string does the job).
If it’s a flyod rose (floating type bridge) you’ll need an allen key to adjust the screws on either side of the bridge to get it to desired height.
Intonation is the overall tuning of the guitar. A well intonated guitar will have exact right notes coming out of all the frets across the scale. If the intonation isn’t set up properly, the guitar won’t stay and play in tune. A good practice is to check intonation every time strings are replaced so that the guitar always stays at it’s best.
To intonate your guitar, you’ll need an accurate tuner, and tune all the strings to pitch. Now play a note while holding the string at 12th fret. Essentially it should give an octave high pitch but if it’s flat or sharp, intonation setup needs to be done. To do so, take a screwdriver that fits the screws on the saddle. Now go to the end of the bridge and screw the saddle towards or away from the headstock.
Same quarter turn rule applies here. If it goes worse, start twisting in opposite direction. Finding the sweet spot may take some time and a few tries but the results will amaze you.
The pickup height is important to check and adjust to get the best sound possible. If the pickups aren’t adjusted correctly output will be filled with overtones and unpleasant sounds. Every pickup needs a need a different height setup which is easier to find on internet. However, a general measurement to be taken is about 4.5-5 mm between the pickup and the string. Too close a pickup, it will pick everything and will produce overtones; while too far away a pickup, it will sound dry and muddy. Pickup height can be updated by using screws on either side of the pickups.
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