Last post we talked about guitar setup and maintenance.  Now I am going to talk about the various adjustments that are made to guitars to keep them playing well.  Let’s have a look!

Changing Strings:

This is certainly the most basic and common type of adjustment to do to your guitar to keep it playing well.  When setting up a guitar, I will usually put a fresh pair of strings on to keep things consistent.

How often you should change your strings depends on how much you play and how you treat your guitar when you’re not playing it.  The two most important things that you should do is to #1 wash your hands before you play and #2 wipe the strings down after you are done.

All of the oils and bacteria that are found on your fingers are probably the biggest creator of dirt and grim that collects on guitar strings.  If you don’t pay attention to this, your strings will get old and grimy very fast, but if you do take care of them, they should feel and play like they are brand new for quite some time.  I recommend Dr. Stringfellows as a good guitar string cleaner to use.

Adjusting the Truss Rod:

Just about every single type of steel string guitar has what’s know as a Truss Rod.  This is a long metal bar that goes through the middle of the guitar neck.  It is used to keep the neck straight and even.

When a guitar is tuned up, there is a very large amount of stress that is put on the neck.  Sometimes the neck will bow, creating a dip around the middle of the fret board.  This leads to higher action and more tense playing conditions.  The truss rod can be used to correct this bow and keep the neck straight.

It’s usually a matter of preference as to how straight to make it, but most guitar players will keep just a tiny bit of bow in the neck to prevent buzzing.  The adjustment for the truss rod can either be found on the headstock, usually under a little plate, or lower down on the guitar where the neck meets the body.

Setting the action (string height)

The action is the measurement of how high the strings are from the fret board.  This is probably the most important aspect of a guitars setup that a beginning student should check because it can make a huge difference as to how comfortable the guitar is to play.

I have seen and played many guitars in my teaching career and I always start off a new student with checking their guitars action because it’s usually something that they do not know about.

The adjustment for setting the action depends on what type of guitar you are playing and what type of bridge it uses.  You will most likely see either two main adjustment screws to set a general height on all of the strings or an adjustment screw on each saddle to set each string individually.

It’s best to use a ruler to measure this adjustment because most string heights are setup to around 4/64ths. This is a very small increment and it is hard to set this accurately without the proper ruler.

Setting the Intonation:

The intonation is the last step that I do when I am setting up a guitar.  This adjustment sets the actual length of the string from where the string crosses the nut to where it hits the saddle.

When you pluck a string it vibrates.  Having the intonation set correctly is what ensures that the string vibrates at the right frequencies.  If a guitar is not intonated properly you will tune each string perfectly but the strings themselves will be out of tune with each other.

The reason why this is a problem is because anytime you play more than one note at a time, it will sound a little bit out of tune.  If you strum a full chord and the the intonation is off, you will most likely get a few pitches that sound like the guitar was not tuned correctly.

The adjustment for setting the Intonation is usually located at the back of each string saddle or at the end of the string before it gets to the bridge.  Again, it depends on what type of guitar you are playing and what type of bridge system it uses.

These are the most common things to look for when setting up your guitar.  If you are uncomfortable working on your guitar, then take it to a local repair shop and have a qualified technician set it up.  I do offer a full set of videos on guitar setup and maintenance that are free with any purchase of Rock Guitar Power so check that out if you have not already done so!