Has anyone here done a great setup on an inexpensive guitar?

fretknot

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Interested in what you're going to do there fretknot, I've some Classic Vibe pickups from the next Squier model up from the Affinity, I believe they are Alcino while the Affinity I think are Ceramic? I wonder if I need to change the pots?

Doug
I would change the pots if they don't give you the taper you desire. The stock pots are the small, dime-sized pots and are not true audio taper, so the roll-off is at the lower end of the dial. I prefer the audio taper for swells and quicker roll-off. Affinity pickups are ceramic. Alnico are fine. Ceramic pups tend to be more edgy, but that can be dialed in by adjusting the pickup height and using your tone control. I like them both.
 

fretknot

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Who knows how many guitars have been returned or left in a closet for want of nothing more than a setup.
90% of the guitars I've bought to mod and re-sell are neglected for that very reason. Many still have the plastic film on the pickguard and neck plate. A proper setup takes less than an hour in most cases, sometime longer if the frets need attention, yielding a playable guitar. I started playing in the 1960s, when cheap guitars were barely playable no matter what you did to them. We're living in some great times for inexpensive, yet decent quality instruments. CNC production has taken things to another level.
 

ChicknPickn

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90% of the guitars I've bought to mod and re-sell are neglected for that very reason. Many still have the plastic film on the pickguard and neck plate. A proper setup takes less than an hour in most cases, sometime longer if the frets need attention, yielding a playable guitar. I started playing in the 1960s, when cheap guitars were barely playable no matter what you did to them. We're living in some great times for inexpensive, yet decent quality instruments. CNC production has taken things to another level.
So true. For those of us who remember the guitar scene of the seventies and eighties, the availability of affordable and excellent guitars today is astonishing. We're spoiled, really. My $400 EART 335 came already set up precisely to Gibson specs, is a superb instrument. I have no intention of "upgrading" it. But knowing how to set up a guitar and perform some essential luthier tasks opens up the market for us even more.
 

TeleBackelaer

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Regularly!

Many of the new Indonesian Squiers and the Harley Benton/Glarry/Eart/etc brands have actually figured out if they do top-end fretwork that starting guitar players learn how to play guitar and then move up the price market buying more and more gear. They are competing against video games that have an easy first level and harder tenth level, old guitar days gave the kids a tenth level hard guitar to play and they soon quit, while the pro players bought the guitars that were easy first level playability. Look up the Glarry brand as they were selling Strat-like guitars for $75 including shipping on Amazon and getting great reviews.

Note: Squiers tend to have skinny necks and bodies while the clones copy Fender MIA neck carves and body thicknesses. I like chunky necks so I stopped messing with Squiers. Perhaps Squier can have two neck carve styles and mark them clearly to see in photographs on retailers and used market.





When buying cheap beaters off Craigslist/FB-MP/Pawn Shops, fix the obvious problems like broken parts but these are the only worthwhile upgrades you should pursue, the rest are wastes of time and money:

-Fretlevel/crown/polish (if needed, some are ok like noted above). Do the fret level with the neck under string tension (either actual strings or simulated). A regular fret level like you'll see on youtube improves a typical guitar from below average 'D' or average 'C' to 'B+' playability (which is a huge improvement). To get to 'A' you need the neck in tension. That's how the PLEK works, how the Stew Mac neck tension jig works, the Vinson neck tension jig works (that's what I use), and how the Sam Deeks 'banana' method works.
-Full setup including nut adjustments
-Set pickup heights by ear, not some factory spec.
-Swap Pots/Switches/Jack with the same branded parts as used in MIA guitars. Better feel, durability, reliability and fairly inexpensive.
-Push guitar tone around with pickup height/pickup bass or treble tip/screw pole adjustments and then measure and swap pots and caps. You don't need pickup swaps unless you want to change pickup type like single coil to humbucker.
-Deck the trems. They are just distraction devices to playing (either doing massive dive bombs to see where tuning goes out or searching why tuning goes out). Just play.
-Learn to string a guitar by bringing the string up from the bridge, wrapping 3-4 times on the post, thread the hole, tug tight. You are only a few twists from tuning up, just like those folks with locking tuners.
-Only 'tune up' a guitar, if you blow by pitch then drop a half note lower and 'tune up'. If you try to hit the pitch on the way back down you put slack in the system that comes out with the first strum and you complain the nut/tuners/saddles are at fault and players start swapping parts then toss the guitar. Tuning stability problems are always the nut or the nut tuning the guitar.

No pickup swaps to 'upgrade!', no bridge swaps, no tuner swaps.




The Frudua channel has good setup walk throughs, example here.


Last item: 'Upgraded!' cheap guitars sell the same or even less than factory working guitars (some players put expensive pickups in cheap guitars and those brands of pickups other players don't like so it's a down grade). Doing a full fret level on a cheap guitar hoping to sell it for more, while it plays well and easy, a buyer doesn't care and you won't 'get your money back'. They just see a Squier model X that sells all day long for $100 with or without your mods. Any new parts you put in a guitar are used parts when you sell them, so those $100 pickups are only worth $50 in the guitar or separate from the guitar. Often it's best to keep the original wiring harness and pickups so when you sell the guitar you pull your custom parts and put it back to factory.

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Completely agree. Compared to when I started out (late 90s) China and Indonesia are cranking out fantastic guitars now. Not even 'for the money', just fantastic guitars period.
I've got a CV 50s Tele that plays just as nice* as my USA guitars. Didn't even have to do any work on the nut.

* Well, almost as nice. But that's just because I don't really like narrow tall frets. Where did medium jumbo go? Seems like there are hardly any guitars in the Fender line that come with medium jumbos anymore 😟
 

nielDa

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Thanks everyone for sharing. I should clarify that I’ve been playing guitar forever, have a gaggle of great guitars and have also been doing my own setups forever. But not on the more recent inexpensive guitars. I also have three under-three children who would be great at professional guitar relic-ing, so I’m looking to add a non-precious couch guitar. (And, I know I could also buy an already reliced guitar - but why pay for that when I have that talent in-house!)
 

ChicknPickn

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Thanks everyone for sharing. I should clarify that I’ve been playing guitar forever, have a gaggle of great guitars and have also been doing my own setups forever. But not on the more recent inexpensive guitars. I also have three under-three children who would be great at professional guitar relic-ing, so I’m looking to add a non-precious couch guitar. (And, I know I could also buy an already reliced guitar - but why pay for that when I have that talent in-house!)
Yes - - rarely have I found that a great setup is wasted, even on an entry-level guitar.
 

stnmtthw

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As long as the guitar is structurally sound, yeah. I do a setup on even my expensive guitars because I know how I like it.

Whether you are driving a Honda or a Ferrari, you still have to adjust the seat.
 

arlum

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Sometimes the impossible happens. I've got an Ibanez GAX that cost under $200 brand new back in 2000. It came set up perfectly and I've continued to tweak it over the years. I modded it with a Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro in the neck and a Custom Custom in the bridge plus a pop up pot to switch it between humbucking and single coil. Why do all of this to a $200 guitar. It was and still is the fastest playing neck I've ever owned. I've compared it to multiple other exact models and they play and have the neck feel you'd expect on a $200 guitar. This one single guitar, through fate or whatever, came from the factory with the fastest, easiest playing neck I've ever owned. I've put it up against SG Standards, Les Pauls of all types, my Ibanez JEM and RG, Suhrs, Melancons, Gibson Custom shop ES-336, etc. etc. This oh so plain GAX plays faster than any of them. I keep it for recording leads I write but can't seem to quite pull off with my expensive gear. It looks cheap and was cheap. It's looks wouldn't impress a student three months in. Yet ..... I always keep it set up and ready to go. I must admit I've never used it in a public venue. Giggles hurt my feelings. Then again, I took it to my cousins house when his nephews band came over looking to play and pick up a few ideas. It totally blew them away.
 

bgmacaw

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Thanks everyone for sharing. I should clarify that I’ve been playing guitar forever, have a gaggle of great guitars and have also been doing my own setups forever. But not on the more recent inexpensive guitars. I also have three under-three children who would be great at professional guitar relic-ing, so I’m looking to add a non-precious couch guitar. (And, I know I could also buy an already reliced guitar - but why pay for that when I have that talent in-house!)

See my post on the $60 Monoprice Indio Classic I bought recently. It did need a little work but once that was done it was a lot of fun to play.

If you want an inexpensive acoustic/electric "couch guitar", you might want to consider the Fender Newporter. There are some really good "limited time" sales on them right now, like this just under $300 deal on Amazon...

 

Freeman Keller

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Has anyone here set up an inexpensive guitar to play great, as a practice guitar? I’m thinking of getting a non-precious solid body guitar (the guitars I see listed for $150-$200, new or used) just for a couch guitar - where I wouldn’t bring my good guitars - to grab it whenever. But only if I can set it up to play as well as some good guitars. No critical need to plug it in, that would happen rarely. And I can spend time setting it up, just curious about other people’s experience doing this, if there’s anything about those inexpensive guitars that would defeat the purpose.
I do a great setup on every guitar I work on, what's the point of doing a bad setup? I wrote a little article about how to do it


The discussion is available in pdf form and the spreadsheet is also available.
 

trapdoor2

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As has probably been said, this is a great way to develop set-up skills. I enjoy buying cheap and then making it sing. I have one banjo that is dedicated to the grill, that is, it hung just inside the garage door so I could pick while the grill heated up for dinner. Now, it smells like BBQ smoke...but it plays wonderfully. Cost $50.

For under $100 you can get instruments with a wide variety of problems. Broken headstocks, twisted necks, frets falling out, dead electronics, etc., etc. They're all great for practicing your resurrection skills...for when you might need it.
 

Wildeman

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I've done it lots of times. One of the best $200.00 I ever spent was on a set of nut files, crowning file and dressing file, with these things and a couple nice, big flat files I can whip a neck into shape pretty quick.
 

kuch

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I've done it many times. All guitars deserve a good setup.
I don't know what you call inexpensive but to me that means ~$400 or less....

inexpensive guitars I've picked up for my grandsons: mexi strat, epi lp's, martin 000-1R, martin 000-x1ae

on all of these guitars were bought used, and I did complete setups. on the martins I even filed down the nut and saddle to improve the action. They all play great and I do yearly maintenance on them if needed.

take the time and do it right
 

Thebluesman

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Has anyone here set up an inexpensive guitar to play great, as a practice guitar? I’m thinking of getting a non-precious solid body guitar (the guitars I see listed for $150-$200, new or used) just for a couch guitar - where I wouldn’t bring my good guitars - to grab it whenever. But only if I can set it up to play as well as some good guitars. No critical need to plug it in, that would happen rarely. And I can spend time setting it up, just curious about other people’s experience doing this, if there’s anything about those inexpensive guitars that would defeat the purpose.
How many have set-up POORLY an expensive guitar seems to be more relevant!
 

user name

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Apart from a guitar that is damaged or defective in some way, you should be able to make any instrument play really well. Basic set up stuff is essential knowledge for sure, but it's also a good idea to learn how to do a fret level and basic nut cutting too. You'll spend some money on tools, but less expensive guitars almost always need some fret and nut work before you can get them playing the way they should. I find it extremely rewarding and satisfying when I make it guitar play and sound the way it was intended.
 




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