DIY Guitar Setup

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been learning how to use relatively inexpensive luthier tools to do your own guitar setups, and it works great. I want to share these tips. Measurements are the personal preferences that I settled on after a few hours of experimentation.

Start with new strings, stretch them in so that they hold a tune, and tune up to your preferred tuning.

(1) Truss rod setup. I bought and used this gauge. https://www.amazon.com/MusicNomad-Precision-Truss-Relief-MN600/dp/B08M42Z1P8 Instructions are at https://youtu.be/WefITUoyl-E and various places around the web. I mostly followed the Music Nomad instructions but with three differences. (i) I used a standard capo at the 1st fret. (ii) I made the neck relief measurement by depressing the string where the neck joins the body (a more common approach, as I understand), rather than at the 12th fret suggested by Music Nomad. I measured the relief using the gauge at the 7th fret. (iii) With this approach, I found that 0.010" of relief was best for me to eliminate fret buzz and play comfortably. Music Nomad’s suggestion of 0.006" of relief using their method (string depressed at the 12th fret) made the neck feel super fast, but there was too much fret buzz for my taste. I might have too much fret wear to set it lower without buzz.

It was kind of hard to decide on which gauge “fits” because the differences are so slight, but I just inserted each one between the string and the fret multiple times until I could decide which gauge only barely touches, and used that as the measurement.

(2) Set the action height. I bought and used https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HG29EYI/ref=dp_iou_view_product?ie=UTF8&psc=1. It’s simple to do with a Gibson tune-o-matic bridge. Just turn the thumb screws at either side of the bridge. (Actually Epiphone makes it easier to adjust the height because it takes a flat head screwdriver in addition to the thumb screws. You might need to detune temporarily to lower string tension with the Gibson bridge, but make sure you’re in tune when you measure the action). Capo on the 1st fret and measure the string height at the 12th fret. You can google search for factory specs for Gibson anywhere. For my taste (with 11s), I liked 4/64" on the high E string and 5/64" on the low E string. 3/64" on the high E feels faster, but then I find it harder to bend because neighboring strings get stuck under my finger too. 4/64" is a good compromise between easier legato and easier bending and it gives a very clear tone with no fret buzz. Note that you might have to adjust the tail piece height too if the strings contact the back of the bridge in addition to the saddles. Also not difficult. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RlRKoTYpJ0.

(2b) For Fender and other style bridges where you can individually adjust the action for each string, you also need understring radius gauges. I got the set of 9 gauges at https://www.stewmac.com/luthier-tools-and-supplies/tools-by-job/tools-for-necks-and-fingerboards/understring-radius-gauges.html. Watch their video on how to use them. You start by setting the action on your first and sixth string as above in (2) and then measure the radius of the neck. Next, you pull the gauge lightly upward from underneath the strings as you adjust the action of strings two to five. You can start with each string too high and lower it with plucking occasionally until it just touches the gauge, when you’ll hear a slight buzz when the string is plucked. This makes it straightforward to exactly match the action to the curvature of the neck.

(3) Adjust the intonation by using virtually any instructions, such as https://www.sweetwater.com/sweetcare/articles/guitar-setup-part-3-intonation/ and the best tuner that you own.

(4) Optionally adjust pickup heights to factory specs or your preferences and balance their output.

I pieced this together from multiple online forums and youtube videos and the Guitar Player Repair Guide by Dan Erlewine. After a few hours of experimentation and settling on the above procedure, I like the results more than anything I’ve recently gotten back from a pro luthier. I found this not too difficult, very precise, and the best part is that you can experiment and then apply your favorite setup to all of your guitars with precise measurements.

Enjoy and please share other tips!

Hi Byron, welcome to the Music Joynt! I recently setup my guitar as well and after few hours had it down. My summary is here. The difficult part for me was setting the intonation with the floyd rose but once I got that down i was set. Thanks for the post and look forward to more of your insight.

Welcome to the boards Byron! I think your post is incredibly informative. I’ve gone ahead and purchased the materials you linked too, I’m going to try these setup tips on some of my guitars.

Mainly my Ibanez RG550 Frankenstein, the first guitar I ever owned. That’s a post for another day!

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Thanks, rpekrul, and for your really great info on how to handle a Floyd Rose. I should get a guitar with one of those some day, but I already have too many guitars.

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Hi everyone, I was playing around with my setup a little more and found that I could improve it. Using the same approach to measurement as above, I set the relief to just barely over 0.010" (i.e. the lowest I could get where I could super carefully slide the gauge under the string sometimes without contact). This let me drop the action to 1.5 mm (just a hair under 4/64") on both the high and low E strings. It plays faster than before and bending is still easy. For my fingers and personal style at least, I’m not sure that I can get it much better.

Some of my guitars took a few days to settle in after adjustment and benefitted from a slight tune-up. So check it again after a day or two and you might need to do some fine tuning.

I personally was able to play on about 4 of these guitars and I have to say…having played as long as I have and never took the time to dive into the “setup” aspect of the guitar, I was impressed by Byron’s measurements! I’m going to attempt to set up my own instruments using those tools.

This is a post I’ll probably have to refer back to when I get a guitar without a Floyd Rose. It made me realize I probably need to be more precise with my setup and measurements.

@ianbassett have you tried setting any of your guitars up using this as a reference?

I have not! But I am going to. I’ll start with the fixed bridge guitars and eventually move up to the Ibanez project…(my current big project that skeletoned out)

Byron -

Awesome post! I’m about to spend some cash getting the stuff you recommended. I’ll report back here when I set up my Epiphone Jotun Les Paul!!

SB

Cool! Let me know, Sean, if you end up with some different preferences or have some new / better setup tips!