You’ve a shiny new guitar and you’re wondering why you’d immediately start adjusting things. Isn’t it perfect right from the factory?
Well… In most cases it’ll be fine and serviceable. It almost certainly won't be perfect though. There are a few factors:
- When you’re a giant guitar company making thousands of guitars a week, it’s not really possible to have someone spend the time necessary for to minutely adjust every parameter so it’s juuuuuust right. This isn’t a failure on the guitar maker’s part, just a necessary reality.
- When you’re a giant guitar company making thousands of guitars a week, leaving some parameters at the higher end of their tolerances might mean that fewer problems are evident during quality control. Now, this feels like a very cynical way to think about things but, in this game, sometimes you see things that make you wonder.
Note: I should say that I don’t think this is necessarily the case, and certainly not for all companies or all times. I doubt there’s really a conspiracy.
- If you change string gauge from that installed in the factory, it might be a good idea to get things adjusted. If you go up a gauge, for instance, it probably makes sense to adjust nut slots so the larger strings don’t bind there. If you’ve a trem-equipped guitar, changing string gauge will often require the trem to be rebalanced.
- Lastly and most importantly, setup is a very personal thing. Or at least it should be. Setup should be the end result of a chat between you and your setter-upper. It should reflect how you like your guitar to feel and play. Clearly that’s not possible when you’re taking a thousand guitars off the line and into a shipping container.
In general (all things being equal, probably), budget instruments will have seen less setting-up in the factory. See point number 1 above — again this isn’t a failure but is a way to keep the instrument’s cost down.
However, even when you spend more (or much more), the instrument will, almost certainly, still benefit from a setup.
It is, unfortunately, a mistake to assume that, just because a guitar cost three grand, it’s going to be perfectly set up. If you’ve a boutique instrument, it’s probably going to have had more care taken over its setup (although you still might want to get it just right for your particular preferences and style). If it’s a factory instrument, there’s a pretty good chance a setup will get the best from the guitar for you.
The bottom line is this: There are players who can pick up an instrument straight from the factory and be quite happy. Many of those (and everybody else) will probably feel that a setup has been a worthwhile investment of either time or money. If you've got a new guitar, live with it for a week or two and get a feel for how it plays and sounds. Then make a call that's right for you.