How to Do a Guitar Set Up

In this article I will explain how to set up your guitar. I have only done set ups on my ESP EC 400 which has a Tune-O-Matic bridge, so keep that in mind as you read. Different kinds of bridges will make setting up your guitar a little different. So all of this article will be about setting up a guitar with a Tune-O-Matic bridge.

First off, I’ll tell you the basic things you will need for this. You’ll need a few screwdrivers, hex keys, wire cutters, a string winder, a tuner, a polishing cloth, an old shirt or piece of cloth, guitar polish and fret board oil. I have a little case I keep all of this in, just for safe keeping and when set up time comes around it is all in one place and easy to get to.

The second part I will go over is changing strings. I do this about once a month, more frequent players will do it every two weeks or so. I buy strings usually around the first of every month, then go home and swap the strings, and do whatever parts of the set up I need to do. I buy 10 gauge strings, but that really depends on your preference of strings. First thing is to slacken the strings. I usually unwind them a few times, this makes it so there is less tension when you cut the string. After they are slackened, cut the string at about mid length then just pull the one side out of the bridge, and the other side out from around the tuning peg. I cut all of the strings off at once, not one by one. With a Tune-O-Matic bridge it won’t matter if you cut them all off. Plus, if you cut all of them off it leaves a bare fret board, which is the easiest way to clean it. Anyway, get out your new set of strings and unwrap them carefully. The last thing you want to do is bend the string, so be very careful. Put the end of the string thru the back of the bridge and then up the neck and into the tuning peg. I usually leave about 3 inches or so of string out of the tuning peg, then make a sharp bend with that 3 inches so it will wrap around the peg. I usually wrap it about with my string winder 3 times or so around the peg. You want to wind the tuners so that the string will be facing inside towards the headstock, and not away. After all the strings are on, tune it up and you are ready to go!

Well, not quite ready to go. Next you want to set the intonation. To do this, you need to play a harmonic on the 12th fret, then play a fretted 12th fret. The notes should sound the same. If the note you played while fretted is sharp, you need to turn the little screw on the part of the bridge closest to the pickups back towards the tailpiece. If it’s a little flat, then you need to turn it the other way. After every time you adjust it, retune your string and see if it matches. If it does, move on to the next string. If not then keep repeating the steps until it’s correct.

The next thing to do is check and see if the truss rod needs to be adjusted. This is a very scary thing to do the first couple times, but after a while it’s an easy fix. You’ll want to put your guitar on the floor and stand it up. Tilt it towards you and look down the neck towards the body. I always close one eye and look down it, it makes it a little easier. You will see one of three things, the neck will be either bowed away from the strings, bowed in towards the strings or perfectly straight. This is where your hex keys will come into play. If the neck is bowed downwards, you will need to twist the truss rod to the left. The truss rod can be located where the headstock meets the neck. If it is bowed towards the strings, then you want to twist it the other way. NEVER twist the truss rod to much, do it very slowly. To much could break the neck. Keep that in mind!

The next part I’ll cover is cleaning. I always do this before putting the strings on, but that’s just what I do. First I put the fret board oil on. You can get this at any guitar store. Use very little, it goes a long way. Put it on the corner of an old t-shirt or bandana or something, and rub it into the fret board. Let it sit for a little bit then wipe it down. This cleans your fret board and helps the wood. I only do this maybe every 4 months or so, then I clean the body with guitar cleaner. Get a soft cloth and spray the cleaner onto the cloth and wipe down and buff your guitar for an awesome shine!

Nothing feels better than a freshly stringed guitar that’s set up perfectly. So now that you know how to achieve that, go out and rock!

Learn to Play the Guitar

I have known the joys of guitar playing for well over forty years. During this time I have taught the instrument, both privately and in group class situations and am always more than willing to share my experience with the aspiring guitarist. I have often given thought to writing an instruction book of my own, but there are already hundreds of these “systems” available through your local music store or on-line. When asked for advice on how to go about learning the guitar, I always review the points that every beginner should know. Here are the most important ones to consider.

1.Electric or Acoustic? For the beginner, I always recommend an acoustic guitar. At first an acoustic guitar is more difficult to play. Until the new player builds up some callouses on the hand that he or she fingers the neck with, practicing for a half hour will lead to painful blisters which can in turn leads to frustration. This applies to both electric and acoustic guitars, but electric strings are often less blister causing than even the lighter gauge strings on an acoustic instrument. However, after acquiring a good solid foundation of guitar basics on an acoustic guitar, making the transition to an electric is much easier than learning on an electric and than picking up an acoustic. Another reason that I recommend starting on an acoustic is the temptation for the beginner to let the range of electronic sounds and special effects that are possible with the electric guitar and amplifier to do all the work! Chaotic noise may be fun, but it really isn’t music and requires little dedication to master.

  1. It is essential that a learner’s first guitar be playable! There is a false economy in purchasing a cheap guitar for the beginner, be it acoustic or electric. The strings on a cheap guitar often sit so far above the fingerboard that not only is the guitar nearly impossible to finger, the tones that are produced are woefully off pitch. Cheap instruments are difficult if not impossible to tune, and once “tuned” rarely stay that way for long. Difficulty of play and improper tuning will definitely lead to frustration. The beginner often thinks that it’s them and not the instrument. “I’ll never be able to play!” How to avoid this? Fortunately, there are a number of decent low-priced instruments on the market today. The best advice is to get a guitar-playing friend to accompany you when shopping for your or the beginner’s first instrument. Have him or her check over any prospective purchase for the best combination of playability and economy.
  2. Pick a “system” As I said above, there are many, many instruction books available. Today quite a few of them come with a cassette or CD recording of the material that allows even the beginner to play along. The first cut of these recordings is often an aid to tuning the instrument that plays the proper pitch of each of the six strings one at a time. Virtually all of the beginner’s books start out with a brief introduction to musical notation, how to hold the pick, an introduction to each string, and a few basic chord charts that show where to place the fingers. Some books will teach songs using “tablature” which is a system of musical notation that does not require a knowledge of traditional notes, but uses numbers to indicate the string played and its position on the neck.
  3. Pick a tune! Once the beginner can play a few chords comfortably, the next step is to pick a favorite simple song. Remember, most popular music is based on a handful of chords within a key. Most blues tunes consist of just three! Pick up the songbooks of your favorite recording artist. Strum the chords and sing along with yourself! Better yet, get that guitar-playing friend to play along with you. This is one of the most important and joyous parts of guitar playing. Playing with others builds confidence and really accelerates the learning experience.
  4. Learn more than the chords! Playing “lead” guitar in a band or taking turns playing solos around a chord structure requires practice. Find a teacher to guide you through your chosen system. Take the time to learn some basic scales in different keys and in different positions along the neck of your guitar. Then, think of a simple melody such as “Old MacDonald” or the first few notes of “Hey Jude.” Find the notes on your guitar. Then, play it. If you keep on trying, you WILL eventually get it. Later, when your confidence is expanding, try a part of a favorite solo. As with any new tune you learn, start SLOWLY. Then keep at it until you can play it without looking at your fingers. The speed will come later. I Promise.
  5. Learn some theory! Get a book. Ask your friend or teacher. Learn the basics of keys and the “Circle of Fifths.”

    Learn to read simple melodies. Study fundamentals of chord construction. Learning basic theory will improve your playing and expand your musical “ear” and your ability to play along with others.

  6. Practice, Practice, Practice! At first, devote at LEAST twenty minutes a day, but do NOT over do it. No more than an hour per session. Pushing too hard when you first start the adventure can lead to serious injury of the fingers. Even ten minutes of intentional, deliberate practice accomplishes much more than an hour of strained playing.
  7. Patience, Patience, Patience! It is NOT going to happen overnight! It may take weeks to see any progress at all.

    But, HANG IN THERE! It may not seem so at first, but you make progress every time you pick up your instrument. Any good player will tell you this. After a few months, ask yourself, “Could I play like this a month ago?” The answer more often than not will be “No.” Sometimes the beginner gets stuck on a particular tune or scale and does not feel any forward motion. If this happens, try a different tune. Work on a different chord progression. Then after a few days, go back to what was frustrating you. Often you will find that what was once difficult, now comes a little easier. And finally:

  8. Enjoy! Love your music. Get to know the joy of improvisation. Make good music and share it. Put it out there. Experience the thrill of the energy exchange that is felt when playing with other musicians. As you learn, share your new knowledge with a beginner. Teach what you know. Open your ears and heart to new sounds and concepts. But always, every time you make music, above ALL, let it come from your heart. Feel the flow. Feel the love. Know the joys of the guitar!

Guitar Recording

Recording guitar is rarely ever as easy as sloppily plopping down whatever mic’s handy at the moment in front of the speaker grille and hitting record. Majority would even argue that mic choice and placement only play bit parts in a larger production that involves pre-amps, guitar amps, cable length, A/D D/A converters, tracking through a console clean vis-a-vis applying processing going in, and of course, the choice of guitar itself! Instead of writing a fully comprehensive work (and a very, very long discussion and debate), this article aims to address some basic guitar micing technique using a dynamic cardioid microphone (such as the venerable SM57) and a condenser (such as a Neumann u87).

1 mic technique

If the situation calls for using one microphone, you can position your dynamic mic either as close to the speaker grille cloth as possible (less ambiance) or 3-6 inches away, either pointing to the center of the cone or off-axis. Listen through your monitors how the speaker sounds like, and change cones if you aren’t satisfied (as in the case of a marshall 4×12). Once you’ve decided on which cone to record, fine tune the guitar sound by angling the mic towards or away from the center of the cone as it makes a difference in the tone coming into your recording. A condenser is generally placed a bit farther because of its higher sensitivity (and in some cases, lower clipping point with regard to SPL handling).

2 mic technique

Applying the technique above, one may also add another microphone such as a condenser (or a ribbon mic, if you prefer) to get a different flavor coming from the same guitar and guitar amp. When placing the second mic, be sure to keep in mind the 3:1 phase rule, wherein the second mic should be at least 3 times as far from the source as the first mic so as to minimize phase. One doesn’t necessarily have to follow this rule, and in some situations where an out of phase guitar is called for by creative considerations, just go for whatever fits the music and gets you the sound that you’re looking for.

3 mic technique

One can use the 2 mic technique above in conjunction with one more microphone placed at a distance from the sound source, serving as the captor of the sound of the guitar amp is it is being influenced by the recording environment. An omni-directional condenser mic is usually used for this situation because of its 360-degree pickup pattern.

One constant principle to remember is that in recording guitar, the overall tone is largely influenced by the guitarist’s technique above all. An unskilled guitarist playing a rare vintage Les Paul through a great sounding Mesa Boogie will still sound unpleasantly unsatisfying.

C-Tuning Your Guitar Heavy Metal Style

 

A lot of heavy metal and alternative rock musicians tune their guitars down to create a darker, deeper sound. Guitarists commonly tune their instruments in c-tuning, which looks a lot like standard e-tuning only a few notes down per string.

If you haven’t already, make sure your guitar is in perfect standard tuning. That means the fattest string on the bottom should be tuned to low E, and the second fattest string A, and the third fattest D, and the fourth G, and the fifth B, and the top string a high E, one octave above the lowest string. To make sure their tuned, hold down the bottom E string on the fifth fret and it should sound identical to the A string. Hold down the A string on the fifth fret to make sure it sounds like the D string. Hold down the D string on the fifth fret to make sure it sounds like the G string. Okay, now hold down the G string on the third fret to make sure it sounds like the B string. Hold down the B string on the fifth fret to make sure it sounds like the top E string.

Now, with the aid of a keyboard, you can tune the top and bottom E strings down to C.(Tuning each string a little lower and then up to where you want it will prevent the string from getting out of tune too quickly.) Now, adjust each string to accommodate the top and bottom strings. Tune them the same way you did in step one, so the strings from lowest pitch to highest will be C-F-B flat-E flat-G-C.

Now your guitar will sound just like your E-tuned guitar only a few notes down. Have fun!(If you miss E-tuning, you can always readjust the strings).

Tips: Try playing familiar songs that you would usually play in standard tuning in c-tuning. The song will sound very different and, probably, darker and more depressing.