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!