OK. After the last one, which was a biggie, this one’s a bit shorter and sweeter. It’s still useful to know, though.
Sometimes a customer will drop their guitar in for a setup but I’ll recommend against it.
Sometimes I’ll advise that a customer not spend money on a setup.
I’ll usually do a bit of a basic assessment of the instrument while I’m talking to the owner. One of the things I’ll check is the condition of the frets. If I think the frets are worn or pitted too much, I know that a setup is frequently not a good idea.
We’ve talked about this a few times before. The ‘intonation point’ on a worn fret gets shifted slightly (more here). Because all of the frets don’t wear evenly, it’s difficult to get a consistent intonation along the neck. Some players never notice this but many are more ‘pitch-sensitive’ and it bothers them (sometimes that’s even the reason they show up for a setup).
If I know that I can’t get the guitar to intonate as well as possible, I might recommend against forking out for a setup.
The dreaded buzz
As the frets wear, fret buzz can start to creep in. And, as I tweak the tolerances of action and relief, there’s a good chance that the fret wear will make itself more evident with an increased likelihood of fret buzz.
Now, I know that I often speak about a bit of fret buzz not being the end of the road and I stand by that. Two things, though: (a) sometimes fret wear makes buzz evident to the point that it’s too intrusive for most players, and (b) why spend money on a setup when there’s a good chance it will make your guitar buzz more?
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that I can setup a guitar to minimise that fret buzz.
Since the majority of players don’t want me to raise their action during a setup, this route isn’t typically a runner. And the intonation issue still exists (it may even be worsened depending on action and relief settings).
So what do we do?
Don’t setup your guitar right now
If I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by setting up your guitar — or if I feel that you’ll actually be less happy after any setup work — I’ll recommend against it.
Usually what I’ll do is explain the fret wear situation and tell you that, right now, I don’t recommend a setup because you won’t get your money’s worth. I advise keeping the setup money and putting it towards sorting out the relevant fret work first (most of the the time that’s a fret level). Then the instrument can be setup well. I build in setup costs into all of my fret work so any fret job will include the relevant setup steps after the frets are in perfect shape.
The bottom line
Sometimes a setup isn’t the right decision for a particular instrument. Sometimes your tech might recommend against a setup. Sometimes it’s necessary to address other issues first to get the best from that setup.