Setting Up Your Electric Guitar

A definitive guide for beginners and advanced alike. The basics for setting up and prolonging your guitar is here!

Ultimate Guitar
Hello and welcome to the guide to setup and maintain your guitar. I hope you find this article informative and fun. Before you start: If you are a beginner or an advanced player, you may feel uncomfortable with some of these procedures. If this is the case, have it done by a pro, it may cost a bit but it will be worth every penny in terms of feel and playability. What you will need: 01. Cleaning oil 02. Lint free cloth 03. A capo 04. Relevant truss rod hex key/ allen key/ wrench 05. A set of your preferred strings 06. Cross head and flat screwdrivers 07. Set of small allen keys 08. Feeler gauge (avaliable from DIY shops) 09. Snips/Pliers 10. String winders 11. A tuner 12. A small cleaner brush. Utilisation of these pieces of equiptment will make the job a lot easier.

Step 1: Clean Your Guitar

First up, remove your old strings. If your guitar has a vibrato unit, you made need to use the appropriate block/spacers/ to keep in in place when the strings are removed. Wipe off any finger marks, sweat residue etc from the body and neck. Pay particular attention to build ups of grime and sweat etc (these are usually found close to the frets and pick ups.) Remove all dust from around the hardware, pickups and controls using a soft brush (a shaving brush works well.) If you want to do this quicker, use a can of compressed air to blow away dust, hair and other small objects that may scratch when you wipe it over for the final time.

Step 2: Fit New Strings

For standard machine heads:
  • Run the string through the bridge, over the saddle and then pull it through.
  • Thread the string through the peg, pulling the ball end/bullet as far as it will come. Leave some slack between the bridge and the peg.
  • Keeping the slack tension with your right hand, wind the string on so that each succesive wind goes underneath the last (use your thumb and index thinger to the guide the string whilst keeping tension with your other fingers.) For Locking pegs:
  • Just pull the strings through tight then either tighten the locking mechanism or just wind on and let the peg tighten itself
  • Trim off the excess For slot head pegs (on some fenders):
  • Pull the string through the bridge until the ball end/bullet will come as far as it will come. Pull it relativley tight and line it up with the correct machine head.
  • Trim the string leaving about 3 inches behind the relative machine head.
  • Insert the string into the peg slot, and push the end right into the post. Then bend the string down and around the bottom of the post. Then simply wind, trying to keep one coil above the other. Tune your guitar using the tuner. After you have replaced your strings, remember to stretch them after tuning and then tune up again.

    Step 3: Neck Relief And Truss Rod Tweaks

    Guitar necks should have a slight curve to them. So it curves slightly away from the strings.
  • On cheaper guitars, necks seem to need constant adjustment, even expensive ones too, but usually some never need it.
  • With you guitar in the playing position, put the capo on the first fret, then hold down the 6th string at the 16th fret. Measure the distance between the bottom of the string and the top of the fret at the 8th fret. You can use a feeler gauge, but if you dont have one, you looking for approximately the width of the high E string which is about 1/64 of an inch.
  • If it is not at 1/64 inch, the you will need to adjust your truss rod.
  • If the distance is greater than the desired measurment, tighten the rod for less relief.
  • If the distance is less, loosen the rod for more relief.
  • Dont make any single adjustment of more than one quarter turn at a time before re measuring. When you think its right, strum a couples of chords, then re check. Please note that truss rods, unlike strings, do not need to settle.

    Step 4: Setting The Action

    The playing action is the gap between the underside of the string and the top of the fret. It determines how much you push the string down. Some dont like it low because, it makes buzzing noises! Some like it low as it is effortless to fret notes. And vice versa. But if you dont like how your action is..... adjust it:
  • For Fenders: Measure at the top of the 17th ftet. Fenders suggested action are as follows: Neck radius - 7.25" Bass side - 5/64" Treble Side - 4/64" Neck radius - 9.5" - 12" Bass side - 4/64" Treble side - 3/64
  • For Gibsons: Measure at the top of the 12th fret Gibsons reccomended action is: Bass side: 5/64" Treble side: 3/64" To adjust these, Fender saddles require a small allen key, whilst gibsons sport a tune o matic which you only need to rotate a thumb wheel. Remember to slacken the strings first.

    Step 5: Pickup Height

    Something over looked by may plays is something that helps get the best tone from you guitar. Standard single coil - Bass side 5/64" - Treble Side 4/64" High output single coil - Bass side 7/64" - Treble Side 6/64" Humbuckers - Bass side 4/64" - Treble Side 4/64" Thats about it! Hope it helped. Thanks for reading.
  • 25 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Havent tried it out yet but sounds good. Does this make your guitar sound better. I no changing the strings will, but will any of the other stuff?
      Damn I just restrung my JACKSON which isnt mentioned iether. I think I am going to try this stuff next time I restring, I constantly struggle with bridge height and intonation. Any info on that?
      I've seen a few questions from people having issues with pickup height, and thought I'd share a tidbit I learned a while back... On my Strat, after some general maintenance (setup/tune up), I noticed a strange "harmonic" on my low E String. I fiddled with intonation settings, action adjustments, and the whole 9-yards, but never got rid of it. I spoke with a Luthier about it and it was such a simple trick, I couldn't believe it... I had apparently set my neck pickup a bit too high. The magnetic poles were interacting with the string, causing a secondary vibration ("harmonic"). The solution? Just lower the pickup a smidge, until it goes away. No real difference in tone/sound (lace p/u's)from the adjustment, but no more harmonic! Since then, I've re-examined all my guitars and make sure all the pickups are low enough not to cause interference with any of the strings. Just an FYI that some of you may find useful. Rock on! (Good general "how-to" guide on setups, btw)
      jon3782001 wrote: Sorry, I based the article on the main brands. Anyone want me to re write?
      well you assumed for the restringing bit that everyone plays strats... but that includes me so nah i wont rewrite it. little voices in my head telling me i should give this to someone who knows what they're doing, but then it would feel kinda weird taking a squier to the music store to get the action raised so lower action is if your lazy and dont care about tone too much, high action for if you do care? I spent hours trying to get rid of fret buzz before I found out it was my setup thats wrong
      Hi everyone ! I'm using Ibanez with Joe's pick ups ( Di mazio Paf and Fred), sound warm and cool, but the problem is the 1st and 2nd string are much annoying louder than the other strings. Does anyone know how to adjust the pick ups to get the balance sound? How many inches (or cm) should I adjust the distance between pick ups and strings? Please drop me some guide lines. Thank you very much guys!
      Hi everyone! I'm using Ibanez guitar with Joe Satriani pick ups (di mazio fred and paf), and I have problem that the 1st(e)and 2nd(b) string sound annoying louder the others. Does any one know how to adjust the distance between pick ups and strings. How many inches (or cm) should I adjust to get the balance sound. Please drop me some guide lines. Thank you all very much.
      Sorry, I based the article on the main brands. Anyone want me to re write?
      Good instructions. It's impossible to mention each and every make of guitar. Most are based on Gibson or Fender designs anyway. Why is it that so many guitar players can not spell?
      ok thats how you start the guitar how do you get the amp to sound write i cant get it to sound rite with the 2 low 2 med. and 2 highs and 2 post gains how do you do that
      ya, very vague article. missed a lot of wonderful points, such as lubing the nut as to not snap your truss rod, or not to bottom out the rod... unlike the article says - TRUSS RODS DO NEED TO SETTLE! thats just how a compression truss works. to those who get confused about owning different guitars, most systems are the same. with the exception of double acting rods and floyd rose styled bridges, but the physics remain the same. but if you can't tell the difference I don't suggest you go fiddlin with your truss rods. especially a dry factory set rod. its when people go nuts with the truss is when they come crying to me and then I have to go through the time consuming motion of ripping off the fingerboard to replace the broken truss. always spin off the nut first, and oil it. double acting rods - the nut cannot be removed. so there are tricks to getting that one lubed. long winded I am, i am done fer now.
      1,You didnt mention Ibanez 2, Dont remove all Strings! When youre board is under tension it may sound crappy after removing the strings, one by one should be changed. But at the rest: Good Article.
      i have done this before and it made my guiatar sound perfect so yea this helped and is a good explanation of how to do it
      Yeah, "fender's and gibsons". Not everyone has one. I'm assuming you meant a 25.5" and a 24.75" scale? Well. I have a 26.5" scale. BOO. Not helpful.