SETUP FAQ: What exactly IS a guitar setup?

SETUP FAQ: What exactly IS a guitar setup?

If you hang around with guitarists or bassists, you’ll probably hear them talk about setups. “I got my guitar setup and it plays great.” “I think my bass needs a setup.” “I think I’ll do my own setup on this one.”

Setups, setups, setups. From the time you start playing and hanging out with other musicians, you’ll begin to *absorb* the ‘setup’ thing. It’ll become part of the world. 
 

I get a lot of questions on setup so this is the first in a series of Setup FAQ. 

 

Intonation Problems? Look To Your Frets!

Intonation Problems? Look To Your Frets!

From time to time I’ll have conversations with players about intonation issues. Often, they’re worried about weird tuning inconsistencies that have crept in to their guitar or bass. Maybe, they’ll even have done the 12th-fret intonation check and found that it seemed ok but the problems persisted. 

Here's why you should consider your frets…

Hum and Guitar String Ground

Hum and Guitar String Ground

So here's the problem: 

You’ve got your guitar plugged in. You’re not playing it and there’s a noise. A hum. It’s not terribly pleasant. 

Thing is, you touch the strings and it’s gone.

The response: It's ok. It's not a problem. That’s all as it should be. Guitars pick up interference and that comes out the amp as a hum. When you touch the strings, it's supposed to get quieter. 

Because, 'grounding'.

Quick Tip: Tele Truss Rod Adjustment

Quick Tip: Tele Truss Rod Adjustment

Removing a neck to adjust the truss rod is a bit of a pain. 

Some Telecasters, however have a channel cut between the neck pocket and the front pickup cavity. Because the neck pickup is often mounted direct to the body, removing the pickguard on those Teles is easy. And, if you're lucky, you'll have a little notched channel to get at the truss rod.

Electric Guitar String Ground

Electric Guitar String Ground

In an electric guitar or bass, it's usually necessary to 'ground' the strings. 

By this, I mean that all the strings should have a path to ground — a wire that connects them to a ground point inside the instrument. Usually that ground point will be the back of a pot or the sleeve of the output jack. 

When it's properly grounded, you can touch the strings of your guitar and you'll usually hear the background hiss reduce. Yay.

There’s a common misconception that by touching the strings you are grounding the guitar.

Shaving an Acoustic Guitar Bridge

Shaving an Acoustic Guitar Bridge

This is an acoustic guitar bridge and there’s something wrong with this picture. Well, the picture’s ok, but there’s definitely a problem with the guitar. 

You can see how low the saddle is. The string’s have no ‘break’ angle over it—that first string sits almost horizontally on the saddle. 

This means the strings impart very little downward pressure to the saddle. No downward pressure means that much of the strings’ vibration is lost rather than being transferred into the guitar top (which is what provides most of your tone and volume with an acoustic instrument). Poor tone and poor sustain.