New Guitar Setup - Why Am I Afraid?

FMA

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Apr 29, 2003
Posts
5,584
I can understand your apprehension. But every guitar I've ever acquired, either new or used, needed some set-up tweaks to be comfortable to me. I learned how to do it myself some years back, and it's not, as others have said, an exact science. That said, there is no shame in taking it to a trusted shop and having a tech do the set-up. I was lucky that I had a local shop whose tech, early on, walked me through the steps for doing a set-up and how to adjust it to my liking. (This was long before the advent of the internet and when such info wasn't easy to come by.)

An interesting side note, I've had guitars that I just couldn't get to play right, as far as I was concerned. One in particular, an old strat. I took it to the tech I knew and in a very short time, he had the thing playing perfectly. (Unbeknownst to me, as I was trying to set it up, it required some fret work, which is beyond my skill set.)
 

chris m.

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Mar 25, 2003
Posts
10,304
Location
Santa Barbara, California
If you have a bicycle, it needs maintenance such as adjusting derailleur cable tension, replacing disc brake pads, truing wheels, tightening a loose headset, bleeding hydraulic brakes/replacing fluid, adjusting shocks, replacing a toasted bottom bracket. The simplest and most common maintenance items are just pumping up tires, fixing flat tires, maintaining shock pressure, and replacing drive chains when they stretch/wear out of spec. Some maintenance things are pretty easy, and some things, like replacing a bottom bracket or truing a wheel, require some more knowledge and some special tools.

A guitar is the same- it needs maintenance. Some of the easy things are tuning it, changing strings, and adjusting intonation. Next level up is some very basic setup-- adjusting neck relief with the truss rod, adjusting action at the bridge, lubing the nut slots, and adjusting pickup heights. Next level up is fret level and crown, changing the electronic wiring schemes, and other jobs that require special tools and higher levels of finesse, with more potential to screw up.

My feeling with both bicycles and guitars is that as you get into it you should also learn how to do more and more maintenance stuff on your own. Even if it's the simplest things-- basic setup-- you save yourself a lot of time and money, and you also can keep the bike or guitar operating the way you like it. I knew a fellow bike racer who always had his Dad do everything so that even though he was a high level (Cat 2) bike racer he could barely fix a flat. Similarly, if you're no longer a beginner guitar player, I think it is almost embarrassing if you can't also do at least a basic setup. So dive on in there and do it. If you're nervous learn how to do it on a cheap guitar first.

Actually as a Dad I have to remember this. My practice has been to get all the bikes set up and good to go whenever we go on a ride...so my son is not getting the opportunity to learn how to do all that stuff. Now that he's 12 I need to start having him help me with the bike prep and maintenance stuff. At least he does know how to tune a guitar on his own at this stage. I need to teach him how to change strings next....
 

moosie

Doctor of Teleocity
Silver Supporter
Joined
Jul 18, 2010
Posts
19,800
Age
65
Location
Western Connecticut
I never dreaded it, but doing the work was made a lot easier when I dedicated some space, and tools, to the task. I didn't want to spend half my time looking for tools, and the other half worried that my guitar would slide off the bath towel pad, and on to the floor.

Start with a piece of MDF or smooth, flat plywood, 1/2" to 3/4" thick, 18" x 30". I had scraps, and used a nasty piece of 1/2" chip board for the support, and laid a matching piece of 1/8" hardboard (Masonite) on top. I used a couple big strips of double stick tape to hold them together.

Get a hard foam neck rest from StewMac and glue it onto the board. Pad the area where the body will rest. Ideally make it a fixed pad, so it doesn't get lost, slide around, etc. . If you're feeling creative, you can attach a few small, clear plastic organizer bins to the back edge, so your parts don't get lost.

Put all your guitar tools in a couple of clear plastic bins, shoebox size, with lids. If you currently use 'household' tools, like screwdrivers, etc, stop doing that. Get some simple tools, dedicated to guitar work. This way your screwdriver tips won't be all buggered up, and no one will need to 'borrow' stuff from your kit, so it's always ready to go.

When you're ready to work, clear off the coffee table, set down the board, grab the bins, and you're ready to roll.
 

fenderchamp

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Jun 17, 2008
Posts
2,984
Location
omaha
Just play it twice as much as usual, and you'll get used to it and think it's right, plus your hands will either get more beat up, or stronger?

Or if you really don't mess with it, and it's bugging you, take it to somebody give them $100 to completely tweak into perfection, realizing that you live in Ohio and that summer is coming, and it's going to change again.

Seriously, if the relief has changed a little bit, probably due to the Ohio weather, you probably don't have to do anything but give that nut a little tweak. If you liked it before, it should be about the same after you straighten it out again.
 

HolmfirthNJ

TDPRI Member
Joined
Mar 8, 2022
Posts
38
Age
122
Location
UK
Wow, lots of advice. I’ve just done possibly the opposite- having done my own, probably not very good, set ups before, I’ve just had my Telecaster set up by a professional. It’s come back really great, and I got to hang around and chat with the guy in his workshop, surrounded by guitars (I accidentally bought one). It’s great somehow to have someone else’s view of the guitar and give them free reign. Freed me up from wondering how it would be if I adjusted it a millimetre this way or that so I can just play… anyway good luck with whatever you do :)
 

tap4154

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Apr 14, 2009
Posts
12,103
Location
Southern California
Like others said, just watch some YouTube tutorials, read up on it, and do it. It's not that difficult, and it's better to set it up for your own preferences and hands, than to have someone else do it. I've had a couple of guitars that I had refretted and crowned, and the technician did a beautiful set up, for his style of playing, but when I got them home I had to change the setup back to my preference.
 

Dostradamas

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Apr 23, 2021
Posts
1,079
Age
49
Location
Oregon
I have embraced the fact I like my guitar set up my way.

New guitar (not likely) who cares.
Strings are gone and a new set of XL10's are installed.
Check the neck and maybe tighten or loosen a touch.
Drop all the saddles til they buzz
Raise all the saddles till they just don't buzz.
Check / adjust intonation
Plug in and set pickup / pole height

Once I am done it rarely changes much, and when it does I know what it needs.
 

giogolf

Tele-Meister
Joined
Jan 15, 2008
Posts
397
Location
Crab Country!
Get a good 64ths ruler, the appropriate tools and some cloth.. Watch some Fender adjustment videos and read some how to's... Go easy, go slow and protect the areas you are working around.

Honestly, this stuff is super easy.. Use common sense, dont force "anything" Yes you may hear some mild creaks or minor pops.. But this is wood after all.. Just use good judgement.. There are reasons why guitars that are over 60 years old are still in playable circulation.. As long as you arent a bull in a china closet your not gonna damage anything that cant be undone..
 

moosie

Doctor of Teleocity
Silver Supporter
Joined
Jul 18, 2010
Posts
19,800
Age
65
Location
Western Connecticut
Wow, lots of advice. I’ve just done possibly the opposite- having done my own, probably not very good, set ups before, I’ve just had my Telecaster set up by a professional. It’s come back really great, and I got to hang around and chat with the guy in his workshop, surrounded by guitars (I accidentally bought one). It’s great somehow to have someone else’s view of the guitar and give them free reign. Freed me up from wondering how it would be if I adjusted it a millimetre this way or that so I can just play… anyway good luck with whatever you do :)
Early on I did that, but found it waaaay to expensive with the twice a year minor adjustments needed with our local climate, and owning 20 guitars. It became a problem when I hit four guitars.

But different strokes. I'd much rather have the control and knowledge to do a thing myself.
 

Boreas

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Nov 3, 2019
Posts
8,680
Age
67
Location
Adirondack Coast, NY
I have adjusted my other Tele, my Strat, and my acoustic in the past. I am comfortable with the process. My Strat was the tough one - I had to loosen / partially remove the neck to adjust that. It came out fine.

It's just, it's just that, it's just that this one is new. Once I do it once, I won't be afraid or dread it anymore. It is just forcing myself to do it the first time.

The new Tele has a two-way truss that adjusts at the head. My other two were slotted adjusters at the heel - PITA. This should be really easy; I just need to force myself to quit dreading it and get it done. I will probably enjoy the guitar even more once I'm done. So why am I dreading this?

Welcome to my nightmare (Sorry Alice).
It doesn't sound like any emergency surgery needs to be done. Just keep playing it until it needs a string change. Keep track of what you would like to tweak, then start with a fresh pack of your preferred strings and the standard setup procedure a'la @Freeman Keller. What could go wrong??;) Perhaps by then you will have dinged it or spilled beer on it and won't be like dating a virgin.
 

JL_LI

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
May 20, 2017
Posts
8,844
Age
72
Location
Long Island, NY
Why?

So, how do you make yourself do something you are dreading / not wanting to do so that you can enjoy your time with that item?
First, get all the silliness I deleted out of your head.

You can have the vendor set up a guitar or do the job yourself. Either way, the job will never be finished. Seasons change. Temperature and humidity change, even indoors. Relief changes. Even the length of the neck changes with temperature and humidity. That means tuning changes. The conditions in the shop are different from home so you’ll still have a little touching up to do even after a good setup. New guitar or old, the job’s the same. I put the guitar down on a bath towel so screws and springs don’t roll off the bench. I support the neck, even on a Fender. And I do what needs to be done. Even my custom shop guitar needed a tweak a week after I got it home. And it needed a tweak again toward the end of winter and another tweak at the beginning of summer. And another in the fall. The E and B strings tell me when it’s time and the low E string tells me how much needs to be done. I can’t imagine taking a guitar to the shop for basic maintenance that anyone with rudimentary mechanical skills should be comfortable doing. But that’s me.
 

Toto'sDad

Tele Axpert
Ad Free Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2011
Posts
56,574
Location
Bakersfield
I got a new Tele back on October of 2021. I am noticing that as it settles in a bit, it needs some adjustments. The neck relief is a bit more than it should be, and then I will probably need to adjust string heights and intonation after the relief is addressed. I've done this before on my other guitars - but the Tele is new, so I'm afraid to touch it.

Why?

That is the question I ask myself. Why am I so afraid to adjust a new guitar? I think it comes down to the used car quandary - you don't want to inherit someone else's problems. New items should just work, right? I don't need more projects. Once I start adjusting things, my mind starts to obsess about "What else is wrong? Did I buy a lemon? Is this broken?" The answers are "Nothing, No, and No." But those questions still eat away at my brain in the back of my head.

This mindset of mine annoys me. Adjustments should not be projects. I could just leave my guitar alone, and it would be fine. My issue is more I don't find enough time to play, and when I do, I want to play - not work on my guitars. I could send it out for adjustments and setup, but it would take longer to drive it somewhere than it would take to just do it. I should not be afraid - these are quick and easy adjustments. I just have this mental block about getting them done.

So, how do you make yourself do something you are dreading / not wanting to do so that you can enjoy your time with that item?

Oh, that reminds me, I still need to do city taxes before the middle of next month. That is a properly painful process that is poorly documented and error prone. Yay.
Your problem is simple really. When you break it down, you're combining a weary feeling of adjusting the neck relief on your Tele, with your impending tax ordeal. Take one problem solve that and move on.

I used to have my real estate taxes, and home and auto insurance come all at the same time. Now I have it broken up to where I deal with the taxes in November, and the auto/home insurance in April. I have also regulated insurance companies to ones that will write for a year, and have a local office where I can PAY locally, and get a receipt.

When your mind is on too many things at once, you can't rest. Not everyone is that way, but for us OCB lads, we as Mr. Eastwood is wont to say, have to know our limitations. Simplify EVERTHING as much as possible in your life, that will make living life much easier.

PS:
Unless you are very strong, or the neck rod is rusted through, it takes a LOT of effort to break one, more force than you can probably generate with the small Allen wrench used to make the adjustment.
 

Toto'sDad

Tele Axpert
Ad Free Member
Joined
Jun 21, 2011
Posts
56,574
Location
Bakersfield
2.5lb hammer and a 2’ prybar are just a couple of the simple tools you will need. Things you probably already have

Tutorials are everywhere. Dan Erlewine has books with great information. As stated, document everything you do, make small adjustments, take your time. Everything you do is irreversible
I recommend the sledgehammer myself. It allows you to incorporate it into your other hobbies.

 

jays0n

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Jan 11, 2009
Posts
1,799
Location
San Francisco, CA
There are many many great suggestions and comments in this thread, I hope you feel more comfortable now. I got a brand spankin new PRS (not an import model) recently and changed the strings from 10s to 9s and noticed after a while that there was not great relief anymore. I was also feeling like .. this ain’t one of my rescued guitars or built guitars etc. So … should I? But I did the work and it was fine and played way better. I was just a little more careful. I cleaned up the fretboard and polished the frets while in there and it was like having the new guitar again. Have fun!!!
 

zatoichi

Tele-Holic
Joined
Jan 30, 2010
Posts
587
Location
Old South
Lots of good advice here!

Totally relate to OP’s situation - and the bicycle/engine analogies: I didn’t know how to approach things like this when I got my 500cc Yamaha. I tend to be a persnickety perfectionist, and too detail-oriented for my own good, so the stress I felt the first time I had to adjust the valves & set the timing made me change my approach. It works with cooking, too.

When I got my MIM STD Tele in trade I didn’t like the pickups, and I wanted heavier strings (blacksmith hands)…and since I already loved the thing otherwise, I decided to “make it mine”, and that was my first ever attempt to work on a guitar. I followed the procedure below (much of it mentioned already), and have not needed to mess with it since. The neck is and has been perfect; ditto the OV pair I wired in; ditto the intonation (which I was really nervous about!), the flattened bridge plate, the brass barrel saddles.

I’m no genius, I just made it simple and stress-free for myself & it all lined up.

- know *exactly* what you want to do
- for each step, watch as many videos of the procedure as possible *and take notes*: make *sure* you can step through each procedure in your mind
- prepare your workspace to prevent scratching and to support the neck
- set out the tools you’ll need for *every* procedure
- set out the tools you’ll need for *each* (individual) procedure IN STEP ORDER
- note all measurements, etc on paper, then…
- note target measurements on same paper, then…
- describe each step simply and thoroughly
- don’t be in a hurry, take a few DAYS (if you need them) to make sure you’ve thought of everything, added anything you forgot(!) and can easily step through the entire mission clearly in your mind.

Once you get to that point, you’ve already seen it done - and done it step by step in your mind - dozens of times. Pee first, be comfortable, remember to breathe.

Hope this helps!
 

aging_rocker

Friend of Leo's
Joined
May 8, 2019
Posts
4,186
Location
Aotearoa
I took the neck off my faux-p-bass the other week to install a shim (it wasn't really necessary, but the low E saddle was bottomed-out on the bridge-plate, and it annoyed me)

So now I can set it up exactly like it was before, but with some adjustment room that I don't need on the saddles.

The things we do...
 




Top