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Guitar Setup

/Guitar Setup
Guitar Setup 2024-01-22T06:39:08-05:00
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Haywire Custom Guitar Shop Setups
We’re, “musicians working for musicians”

A guitar setup: guitars setup properly just feel great!

Acoustic and Electric guitars and basses are immeasurably improved when set up correctly. An acoustic guitar setup has specific differences as compared to an electric guitar setup. For example, even a very slight change can have a significant impact on the playability of an electric but not so much on an acoustic guitar. Online forums are filled with unskilled people offering faulty advice that can lead to more harm than good. Be aware.

Guitar Setup

I just bought a new guitar. But it’s just completely unplayable!

image: wrong guitar strings hurt fingers-guitarist-fingers-guitar hard to play and guitar action too high
The wrong guitar strings can hurt fingers. A guitar is hard to play when action is too high with a poor setup.

Well….It’s not unusual to buy a new guitar that is impossible to play. It happens all the time. Why? Simply because guitars like “fast food” are mass produced to make money. They are not produced to make guitarists happy. New guitars at music stores are pulled out of the box, hung on the walls without any attention to action, feel, comfort or care. That is where a great guitar tech or local custom guitar shop comes in handy. It’s our job.

We’ll make you happy! We’re musicians and we work for musicians. We set up your guitar perfectly, so that playing and tuning is a pleasure. A very professional guitar setup requires specialized tools, knowledge, experience and a good understanding of the parts of a guitar. It also takes into consideration the specific player that will be performing with it. It’s about you.

A Guitar Setup-Neck

Your neck setup must feel comfortable and consistent all the way up the neck for you to get comfortable with your best playing. You absolutely need to be pleased, surprised and very comfortable with the feel, action and performance of your instrument setup.  Are you thrilled with it?  You should be.  Find out what you’re missing and go get a great setup for your guitar to match your style,playing comfort and level of expertise. 

How We Set Up a Guitar at Haywire Custom Guitars

The truss rod is the first item we look at. If it’s bowed or humped it gets straightened. Next is the string margins all the way from the head stock area to the last fret. Are margins correct on both “E” strings. Do you have the same amount of space from the strings to the edge of the fret board? If not we correct it. Is the nut cut properly? Are the strings too high at the first fret? If so, it makes for action too high and hard playing. We’ll re-cut the nut. Are the string slots in the nut cut too low allowing the strings to “buzz” at the first fret when forming open chords? We’ll fix that too.

After Checking the Neck Alignment on Your Guitar…

The next step is to add your favorite strings and set the action as low as possible. Why, because it can always go up without any buzz if it plays great “low”. If low action cannot be achieved then we’ll level the frets. That will get it super low.

In order of Importance…

However once frets get leveled they must be crowned and then most importantly, polished. They need to be smooth for perfect glass-like string bending. At this point we can set the string heights and action. Why? Simply because in a great guitar setup, all strings must be the same distance from the top of each fret underneath and the action must be “custom fit” to the player. Next, the guitar is tuned and the intonation is checked and adjusted. Only after all of these operations have been performed in the exact and correct order can we now attempt a trial play and test for comfort, tone, overall in-tune and no buzz playing.

You need a Pro Setup!

Ultimately, a NEW acoustic guitar can look beautiful on the wall in the store it may need lots of work to get it where a player needs it to be. An acoustic guitar should play with ease and sound great. As a player, you shouldn’t need to think about the difficulty of playing but rather about the pleasure of entertaining and/or getting your musical point across.

All guitars need to be setup. About 95% of new guitars direct from the factory floor and/or purchased in a music store are not set up.  Why? Too time consuming for them. Music stores don’t make money setting up “your” guitar. So, they skip it and let you come back for service so they can charge more.

There are many parts on your guitar which require proper installation, service and maintenance. Without exception, setups, nuts and saddles are inexorably connected. Truss rod settings need seasonal adjustment to keep the neck straight. Constant pull of the strings and tremolo systems keep pressure on it and increases the tendency of the neck to “bow” and a truss rod adjustment will remove it so it’s straight again.

Haywire-Custom-Guitars-Custom Setups for guitar players
Haywire-Custom-Guitars-Custom Setups for guitar players

What is a Guitar Setup?

A good guitar setup includes a series of adjustments that leave the guitar playing and sounding its best. Over time, with temperature, humidity and use a guitars adjustments will regress. It should be checked regularly to keep it right.
In the Haywire Custom Shop, we’ll check the usual spots that need adjustment.
First the truss rod to make sure the neck is true and straight, then the action or string height, the intonation is adjusted for pitch of each note.

The pickup height is adjusted for balance. The saddles are checked to be sure they move properly. They need to be properly set for pitch.
Oil is used to keep the threaded parts and tuners from rusting. Volume controls, tone and switches are checked. We’ll open any string nut slots pinching strings. Check to be sure guitar strings are free to move easily in the slots of the string nut.
If the strings need to be changed, we’ll do that as well. All of these checks will help the guitar play better and help you perform better.

image Haywire Custom Guitars-Products Nashville Players #1 Guitar https://haywirecustomguitars.com/nashville-players/ guitar action is just right
Haywire Custom Guitars-Products Nashville Players #1 Guitar https://haywirecustomguitars.com/nashville-players/

Our Haywire Guitar setup and tune-up.

Gig-Ready Process ensures that each guitar is set to original or better specs:

Point 1: 4-Axis Alignment of The Guitar Neck

First of all, each guitar neck is checked and adjusted to be sure it is true and straight to ensure proper alignment on all axes. This step ensures proper action and allows for more accurate and easier guitar tuning, playing and set-up in the following steps. The outside string margins need to be close to perfect.

Point 2: Inspect and Lube the Guitar Tuning Gears

Before installing the guitar tuning gears, each one is checked thoroughly. Each tuning gear is adjusted so that there is no play in the mechanism. They are then lubricated to insure smooth and even movement to make your guitar tune accurately and easily.

Point 3: Potting The Guitar Pickups

We dip the pickups in hot wax to reduce squeal therefore, as a result, no unwanted guitar feedback.

Point 4: Prep The Guitar Body

Upon installing the guitar electronic components, while great care is taken to ensure that all wires are properly routed, spaced, and grounded. In addition, you’ll have many years of trouble-free service with your guitar.

Point 5: Level and Polish the Frets

Most noteworthy, this ensures that all of the guitar frets are level, eliminating any possibility of fret buzz due to unevenness.

Point 6: Radius the Guitar Strings

Since, most guitar necks have a contour over the top of the neck called the radius. We adjust the strings to make sure the height of each string follows the contour of the guitar neck radius.

Point 7: Adjusting The Overall Guitar String Height and The Action

Once we set the contour and radius of the guitar strings, it’s time to adjust the overall height of the strings from the top of the frets to the bottom of the guitar strings.

Point 8: Set the Guitar Intonation

This step is done twice. The intonation is set two times with a 24 hour “seat-in” period in between to allow the guitar to properly re-seat to the new adjustments.

NUTS– We make, cut, re-slot, and size nuts for any neck width. We’ll re-cut your existing one if necessary.
It needs to be correct for proper and comfortable action.
Any materials you’d like: Bone, Tusq, graphite, Graphtec, Earvana and more.

Guitar Setups require specific areas of attention

SADDLES– We ‘ll set adjust or repair your saddles and set intonation properly for all acoustics, electrics and basses,
ACTION: Any way you need it to be! What we do best is what you NEED.

We’ll upgrade electric guitar saddles to any low friction surface.
They’re available for vintage, modern trems, hard tail bridges, tune-o-matics and basses. We service and overhaul Floyd Rose type locking saddles and tremolos.

As a result of our service, you may expect:

A Faster playing neck
Improved access and hand comfort
Smoother note bending
Easier play with less stress on fingering hand
Cleaner, sharper notes
Improved, responsive hand-tapping
Effortless sweep arpeggios
Excellent for trills and hammer-ons
High-Speed pull-offs

You need a Pro Setup!

In spite of the value of your guitar, it needs a professional setup to play great. A good setup will help you to get the most from your guitar and best results when playing.

It will be easier to play, and because the intonation is accurate, you’ll be able to play “in tune” with others. A new guitar with high string action is not likely to have fret buzz thus generating fewer buyer complaints.

However, you know how difficult it is to play when strings are very high. A guitar setup fix that for you. Get the most out of your guitar. Get a professional setup. No guitar player ever said they regretted getting a professional setup. Bring out the real potential of your guitar playing skills.

image of guitar neck being checked for string buzz, action and intonation for guitar setups with fret notched straight edge
A fret notched straightedge for guitar setup when neck being checked for straightness to control string buzz, action and dial in intonation for guitar setups

A good guitar setup is……


When your guitar is setup properly it’s Gig-Ready and it sounds great and most importantly the feel is very comfortable and responsive. Every fret will be solidly in tune. With a fret level “string buzz” is eliminated with a good guitar setup because all of the strings are the same distance from the top of the fret, and thus the action can be set much lower with “no buzzing”. As well all strings will be uniform and able to overcome the next fret without touching the top of the next fret. Your guitar playing will be effortless. Guitar strings will last much longer because they wear evenly.

What you should experience…


You’ll experience exactly what pro players seek for their absolute best playing performances. Your performances will have the same feel as a pros guitar. Each note will be in tune with the entire guitar all the way down the fret board. The pressure on the strings to produce a note will be the same on each string because of the uniformity gained by a great guitar setup. There will be no need to treat any string differently because it requires no difference in technique or pressure to form a perfect note. When a guitar setup is completed properly, you won’t want to put it down! It just feels great.

Haywire Custom Guitars – We offer set-ups to your specs!A Few Words About Guitar Setups……

image Double cutaway guitar from Haywire Custom Guitars

When is it necessary to “set up” a guitar?

When a guitar is set up properly you’ll notice: The guitar will feel and sound its best all the strings will sound with exactly the notes they are supposed to. All notes will sound correct when played at each fret up and down the neck. The guitar will be easy to play. Strings will break less frequently. If a guitar plays easily and sounds its best then it’s easy for the player to feel the music and play well.

What difference does a guitar set up make? 


When a guitar is not set up properly you’ll notice: The guitar may not feel or sound quite right. Some notes may sound correct while some others may sound sharp or flat. The guitar may be difficult to play. Strings will break more often.

How is a set up accomplished?                                     

Adjusting action at the bridge:
Adjusting the action at the bridge for easier play makes a difference.  The bridge saddles should be lowered if the string action is too high, that is, the strings are too far up off the fret board. In some cases it may be desirable to raise the saddles for a higher string action.

Lower the saddles too much and the strings might rattle against certain frets (this may or may not be inconsequential on an electric guitar; listen through an amplifier). In more extreme cases, pressing a string against one fret might actually fret the string against a different fret, usually the one under the intended one. In both cases, filing the frets might alleviate the problem if the saddle really should be that low. Otherwise, simply raising the saddle a small amount on the side with the problem should be fine.

Filing frets
Fret filing should only be done by a qualified repair person and only to correct problems with frets buzzing or strings being pressed at the wrong fret (see “adjusting action at the bridge” above).

Nut Filing

Filing the nut should only be done by a qualified repair person. It’s used to reduce pressure at the nut to allow a heavier gauge of strings to be used.

Neck/truss rod adjustment


This particular adjustment has been known to ruin guitars when performed incorrectly, so here referral to a professional repair person is highly recommended. A guitar will need a truss rod adjustment if the neck is not straight. One way to check the straightness of the neck is to play 12th and 19th harmonics on the low and high strings. After sounding each harmonic, fret the note there and play it again: it should be exactly the same pitch. If it is not, the neck may be in need of adjustment. However, this may be indicative of an intonation problem as well, give the guitar to a repair person.

Adjusting Intonation

You may notice each string on the bridge sits in a “saddle”. Depending on your setup, you might notice the saddles may be in different positions: some might be pushed forward and others might be pushed back, sometimes slightly. The positioning of the saddle effectively changes the length of the vibrating string. Tune the guitar to concert pitch with the aid of an electronic tuner, making sure the open strings are perfectly in tune. Play the 9th and 12th fret harmonics, then play the fretted notes.

If the fretted notes are sharp, the string is too short and the saddle needs to be pushed back toward the base of the bridge. If the note is flat, the string is too long and the saddle needs to be pushed up toward the nut. Repeat this procedure for each string. Adjusting the intonation should be done every few months or at least twice a year.