Public service announcement: how to set up your own guitar/bass and not pay for others to do it...

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To start with, I'm not some asshat spouting off, but a guitar tech w/15 years experience. Not boasting, just saying...

Here's what you need, tool-wise.

1) small tape measure
2) set of feeler guages (available at most hardware stores/automotive stores)
3) machinists ruler
4) capo

Intonation: First, you need to know what scale length your guitar has. No idea? Don't worry. Measure (with the aformentioned tape measure) from the contact point at the nut to the 12th fret. Double this measurement = your scale length. Take yer tape measure and set the first saddle so that the contact point of your high E string (G for the bass players out there) is exactly this distance. Now, set your B string saddle so that the distance between the contact point of the first saddle and this saddle is the width of the second string. Repeat for the G string (wrt the width of the G string this time). Set the D string at the same contact point as the B (why, you ask? Because the core wire underneath the winding should be the same.) Set the A saddle back to the DIFFERENCE in thicknesses between the D and the A. Set the E back to the difference between the E and the D.

Bass players - do as above, but keep using the difference rule, because all of your strings are wound, right? OK.

Acoustic types - you don't have movable saddles, so you can ignore this part and hope that your guitar was built with this in mind.

This is the part where most people start objecting to the fact that we aren't creating perfect intonation at the 12th fret...bad news for y'all. Perfect intonation isn't possible on a multi-gauged stringed instrument w/o tempered tuning. What we're trying to do is mathematically average the overall intonation so that we are as close as possible across the entire fretboard, rather than perfect at the 12th fret and nowhere else...

Neck Curvature/Truss Rod: First things first - don't be afraid to adjust your truss rod. People (like me) that work in guitar stores tell you how dangerous it is to adjust your truss rod because it makes guitar adjustment seem like some sort of alchemical procedure best left to the experts, which it isn't. Here's the overall rule of consulting an expert when doing your own adjusments. If you have to apply significant force to tighten a truss rod, stop. If you loosen a truss rod to the point where it turns in a floppy "I'm not doing anything of use" manner, stop. Outside of that, you're fine. Remember, turning your truss rod clockwise equals tightening/straightening your neck/lowering your action. Couterclockwise? The opposite.

Now, here's step two. You place your capo at the first fret, and press your finger down at the last fret. Why? Because we're eliminating the nut and the string height at the bridge. If you still have problems after we finish all the steps there, you probably have a problem with your nut or your bridge angle, and we're going to skip those for now...

Now, take your feeler gauge and pick one of the following measurements according to the chart below (borrowed from my Fender setup guide, all credits due..)

Neck Radius

7.25" - .012" (0.3 mm)
9.5" to 12" - .010" (0.25 mm)
15" to 17" - .008" (0.2 mm)

Not sure what your neck radius is? Well, fuck it, use .010. It'll work for most...Ibanezy speed necks are generally .008, vintage stuff might end up being .012. Bassists, try .012.

Now, slide the feeler guage between the low E string and the 8th fret (still capoed and pressed down at the last fret, right? Good.) The feeler guage should slide between the two with just a bit of lift on the string, just enough to know that it's touched it. If it doesn't fit, turn the truss rod counterclockwise until it does. If it doesn't touch, go clockwise...

String height: Bored yet? At least you're saving money...and we're almost done. Take off the capo. Take your ruler and measure from the top of the the 17th fret to the bottom of the low E string. Raise the saddle until the distance here is 1/8" (If you are one of those fortunate enough to know what your radius is, cheat a bit high for the 7.25 vintage types, a bit low for the speed neck 15/17"ers.) Repeat for each string, realizing that as you cross the neck, the radius will be compensated by the curvature of the fret, so you don't really have to think...just measure.

Bass players: Use 5/64".

Ta-dah! Your instrument is now set up (within reason). The obligatory fine print - string guage and playing style will affect this...if you are getting buzzing, increase your truss rod/string height in small increments (retuning each time) until it works for you. Fingers bleeding? Lower until you are comfortable. Questions? Ask away.


John Justen (johnjusten), Wednesday, 13 July 2005 07:01 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

two months pass...
I've got a probably quite dodgy way of doing this, and not knowing a great deal about guitars let me know why I shouldn't do it this way. Basically I have a chromatic tuner and just kind of work by trial and error, adjusting here and there until each fret is more or less correct.

Chewshabadoo (Chewshabadoo), Friday, 7 October 2005 10:06 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Hey, if it works for you, that's fine. Two reasons to give the way I described a shot.

1) It'll get you closer overall, even if it doesn't exactly nail the 12th fret...
2) It's really fast. Once you get used to it, it should take about 5-10 minutes to do a full setup.

John Justen (johnjusten), Friday, 7 October 2005 15:45 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

you know who should post here? martin mushrush.

Roxymuzak, Mrs. Carbohydrate (roxymuzak), Friday, 7 October 2005 16:59 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

When's the last time Martin posted anywhere on ILX?

k/l (Ken L), Friday, 7 October 2005 17:11 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...
I take really long breaks... sorry.

But anyways I'm back.

martin m. (mushrush), Thursday, 3 November 2005 21:29 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

John, i found a similar thing on the internet a while back and it works well. you've added a load more stuff on top on my (very basic) setup which just about gets me away with it for recording. i try to sort out intonation but don't fine tune the action - not a virtuoso player you understand - my action is ok and playable for me.

within the bounds of your advice and proceeding carefully, if you do make a mistake and go a bit over with a truss rod adjustment are you gonna do any permanent damage?

when i get my jaggy (reissue, relax) i'm gonna have to get a lot more detailed on this. at the moment my main is a semi which doesn't have a truss rod.

but shit, thanks for this.

John Clarkson, Thursday, 3 November 2005 22:08 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

truss rods should have enough room on both sides that if you adjust it too tightly it shouldnt be a problem. just make your changes gradually, giving a bit of time for the wood to adjust if you're going to go a long way or back and forth.

AaronK (AaronK), Friday, 4 November 2005 13:51 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Yeah, the only really nasty possibility is loosening it too much (when the truss rod gets floppy) because in some cases you can actually fully unscrew the rod from the nut and then have a very difficult time getting it back into the threads. Of course, if you are on the other end of the spectrum (and I'm talking two handed banging the truss rod wrench with a hammer stuff here), you should probably not proceed any further.

John, how old is yer semi-hollow? Seems odd it wouldn't have any trussrod unless it's a 60's Harmony, Kay, or the like. Let me know what it is, if you get the chance, just to satisfy my curiosity.

John Justen (johnjusten), Friday, 4 November 2005 19:57 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

nothing vintage i'm afraid John.

2002 Dean Electro Jazz Stylist. about £500 new. fat-bodied, lovely sound, wiped the floor with similarly priced epiphones and such in the shop. does bluesy filth just perfect, humbuckers, feedback, right up my alley.

i might be being dim but i've looked everywhere for the truss rod nut and i can't find it.

john clarkson, Friday, 4 November 2005 21:57 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

No cap at the top of the headstock? Does it have a center soundhole, or f-holes?

I'm thinking there must be a truss rod somewhere...I'll do some research when I get the time.

John Justen (johnjusten), Friday, 4 November 2005 22:48 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

one year passes...
bump. everyone should read that. great advice, cheers john!

george bob (george bob), Tuesday, 30 January 2007 10:22 (twelve years ago) Permalink

There's a rod there, dude.
Gotta be.

Lukewarm Watery G. Tornado Is Sicker Than You (The GZeus), Tuesday, 30 January 2007 17:13 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Re-reading that post, I realized that I kept thinking that you were referring to a "Dan Electro", not a "Dean" "Electro Jazz Stylist", which would explain why I couldn't find the damn thing anywhere.

Everything I find seems to indicate that the truss rod adjustment should be under a truss rod cover up at the headstock, but I haven't found absolute verification yet. This is only useful if you're still reading this out there somewhere, I suppose.

And, George Bob, thanks, and I'm glad it helped.

John Justen waitin to get his W2s back so he can file his tax and ball out (john, Wednesday, 31 January 2007 23:43 (twelve years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

brief addendum to clarify something that a guy who linked to this mentioned to me.

If you have a tunematic style bridge, it is likely that the 3 low strings will have the saddles reversed (angled side towards the neck). if this is the case, you can't do the setup described above. I'm going to go out on a biased limb and suggest reversing those saddles, at which point you will be able to do proper intonation. (note: this can be a pain in the ass at times. also, don't lose the little wire they use on the vintage style ones, you need it to hold the saddles down in position.)

also, remember that if the tunematic is angled, you have to figure that into the mix, so your saddles may seem to not follow the standard double stairstep in spots, because the angle creates more distance wrt the nut.

SHOT INTO A FAN LIKE A CHRIS ROCK ROBOT (John Justen), Monday, 22 September 2008 17:32 (ten years ago) Permalink

B-b-but John, what about teh Buzz Feiten system?

Retrato Em Redd E Blecch (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 24 September 2008 02:26 (ten years ago) Permalink

I just got a new guitar (copy of a tele thinline by this company called Xaviere and it is really awesome and really incredibly cheap) and this thread reminded me to finish setting up the action/neck. A few days ago I had put a different bridge plate on and just eyeballed the saddle placement for the time being. Checked the intonation, sounded dead on to my muck ears. Tried measuring nut to high E like John recommended, holy shit, EXACTLY 25.5"!!

RabiesAngentleman, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 09:50 (ten years ago) Permalink

So no helpful hints on adjusting the nut? I mean they never come set up very well from the factory, I always set em up myself. Then again that involves irreversible filing and is a little less DIY.

RabiesAngentleman, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 09:52 (ten years ago) Permalink


RabiesAngentleman, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 09:52 (ten years ago) Permalink

not as irreversible as you think. bumping to remind myself to finish that thought once i get to work.

SHOT INTO A FAN LIKE A CHRIS ROCK ROBOT (John Justen), Wednesday, 24 September 2008 14:35 (ten years ago) Permalink

ok, so if you want to step up to recutting your own nut slots (yeah i know), try this:

1. capo at the first fret, use your feeler gauge and measure the gap between the string and the top of the second fret.
2. now, capo at the third fret and measure the distance between the string and the top of the first fret. the goal is for these two measurements to be the same. cut slot until this matches the gap from step one.

a few things - you need decent files to do this right. in a perfect world, they would either be sized to your string gauges, or you would be very good at using round and edge files. if you aren't, maybe think twice about attempting this. Also, if you end up notching deeply into the nut, you are going to want to sand down the top of the nut to avoid binding etc. (the string should sit so that half of it is above the nut surface). also, the nut slot should angle backwards toward the headstock. i can get into this in more detail if people care.

sound scary? well, it kind of is, and every so often, it will be a nightmarish pain in the ass. so don't tackle it unless you have a high frustration threshhold, or are fairly comfortable doing gradual, machinist-like tasks.

now, the good news i alluded to above. if you cut the slot too deep, all is not lost. filling a nut is easy, and odds are you already have the stuff to do it sitting around. all you need to do is fill the offending nut slot with baking soda. make sure it isn't above the top surface of the nut, and take the time to brush away any of it that is protruding from the sides of the slot. now, take liquid (NOT GEL) superglue and drop one drop onto the baking soda, and let it solidify. the glue and baking soda will form a substance that you can file, and that has the same structural properties as the original nut material (this doesn't apply to bone or brass nuts obv.) i'm sure i don't need to say this, but be careful w/the superglue, if you put too much on, it will run down the nut and glue the nut to the neck, which you do not want.

i'm sure i forgot a few clarifications there, but i'll get to them later.

SHOT INTO A FAN LIKE A CHRIS ROCK ROBOT (John Justen), Wednesday, 24 September 2008 16:10 (ten years ago) Permalink

oh yeah, here's one - make sure that the string is up to pitched tension when you do the measurements for the slot cutting, and preferably not horribly out of whack setupwise.

SHOT INTO A FAN LIKE A CHRIS ROCK ROBOT (John Justen), Wednesday, 24 September 2008 16:12 (ten years ago) Permalink

While you're at it, any recommendations for refilling screw holes? (have pickguard that fits, screw holes slightly off and too close to the previous holes...) I'm thinking of trying a similar thing to your nut fixer (lol) with glue and fine sawdust.

RabiesAngentleman, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 16:15 (ten years ago) Permalink

that can work (as with all things guitar related, i'd use elmers white glue, not wood glue). Normally I just use dowels for all that sort of jazz, just size it to the screw hole, cut to length, sand the tip to a blunt point to get into the end of the screw hole, sand the sides to rough the contact points, skin with glue, and insert.

SHOT INTO A FAN LIKE A CHRIS ROCK ROBOT (John Justen), Wednesday, 24 September 2008 16:20 (ten years ago) Permalink

problem with the sawdust/glue thing is that if you mix it too sawdusty, it's hard to get it packed in there witout ending up with voids, and if you mix it too glueheavy, well, you're basically filling a hole with glue.

shouldn't matter for pickguard screws though, it isn't as if they're load-bearing or under any real tension, so i'd do the sawdust thing because it's easier. when yer filling strapbutton holes, it starts to get a little dicier.

SHOT INTO A FAN LIKE A CHRIS ROCK ROBOT (John Justen), Wednesday, 24 September 2008 16:23 (ten years ago) Permalink

two years pass...

bump because goole and i were talking about this so now he can find it

O_o-O_0-o_O (jjjusten), Wednesday, 10 November 2010 18:32 (eight years ago) Permalink

it was useful!

though i ended up having to half-ass it a little. the bridge pieces are off-center (the string runs over the right side of each at about the 1/3rd mark, not directly through the middle) so each one is pulled a little at an angle which makes measuring harder. plus the height posts and length screws on my saddles are old and pretty rusty. and the hex-size was even smaller than the wrench you gave me. it must be 1mm? or something? anyway i had to stick an eyeglass screwdriver in there to turn them and probably stripped a couple irrevocably. but, it plays better now.

i need to think about a new bridge, and getting the electronics looked at (mad buzzy) and at that point it's probably worth thinking about a new guitar altogether.

goole, Wednesday, 10 November 2010 19:29 (eight years ago) Permalink

i know a guy

BIG MUFFIN (gbx), Wednesday, 10 November 2010 19:30 (eight years ago) Permalink

i have heard of that guy and that guy sucks

O_o-O_0-o_O (jjjusten), Thursday, 11 November 2010 21:17 (eight years ago) Permalink

three months pass...

i set my guitars up this way and it seems to work well enough but i get wonderin'. in the intonation portion above, why is there no need to compensate for the thickness of the first string when determining it's position? why would the distance on the first string of a 25.5" scale guitar, hypothetically, be exactly 25.5" regardless of whether my first string is .008, or .013, or a spider web, or a brake cable? or because we are talking about just a single fraction of a millimeter on most guitar strings, the effect is negligible? or is it all somehow just relative to whatever the hell the first string happens to be? this sorta thing i assume will be explained to me with some amount of rigor once i begin school but i need to know now. there's probably just some weird hole in my thinking/understanding as to theoretically why that is/how that works.

(i was bored today and going totally stir crazy and was trying to figure out, on that regvlvs bass i posted in that one thread one time, how deep into that metal coned bridge cover the bridge might approximately be by copy/pasting the string length up to the 12th fret, and, weirdly, it got ~nowhere near~ the bridge cover. and then the question dinged.)

arby's, Wednesday, 2 March 2011 03:50 (seven years ago) Permalink

nb i'm home sick and haven't left my bed in nearly 30 hours except to eat or piss. i think i'm losing grasp on reality already. @_@

arby's, Wednesday, 2 March 2011 03:52 (seven years ago) Permalink

I will totally attempt to respond to this tomorrow when I am not birthday shitfaced btw. But now is def not the time

O_o-O_0-o_O (jjjusten), Wednesday, 2 March 2011 06:17 (seven years ago) Permalink

three years pass...

Now, set your B string saddle so that the distance between the contact point of the first saddle and this saddle is the width of the second string.

I've used this thread as a reference for years - bought all the feeler gauges and everything - and I've had the stupidest problem when it came to the intonation section. When following the sentence above, I was trying to measure the string with a ruler and then try to set back the contact point on the bridge again using the ruler. It was so frustrating. I mean, it's a great ruler, but the difference between 0.014 inches and 0.018 inches is kinda tough to discern with the naked eye! So I just now realized that you should use a section of the string itself as a measurement device.

how's life, Thursday, 11 December 2014 13:46 (four years ago) Permalink


a strawman stuffed with their collection of 12 cds (jjjusten), Thursday, 11 December 2014 20:20 (four years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

I've got two g&l tribute models: an asat classic and a fallout. According to the guitars by Leo forum, the necks on these guitars should be swappable, as far as their specs go. If both of the guitars are currently well set-up, should I expect to set them up again after changing the necks out?

how's life, Wednesday, 27 January 2016 01:32 (three years ago) Permalink

Possibly/probably. But just minor tweaks in both cases I'm guessing.

a strawman stuffed with their collection of 12 cds (jjjusten), Wednesday, 27 January 2016 04:36 (three years ago) Permalink

hot damn. thread bookmarked for future use. thanks mr. justen!!

lute bro (brimstead), Wednesday, 27 January 2016 04:42 (three years ago) Permalink

I can sort of kind of follow the original instructions here but as someone who still knows dangerously little about his guitar, is there a video or webpage with some diagrams that illustrates the setup steps as jjjusten described them?

its subtle brume (DJP), Wednesday, 27 January 2016 05:18 (three years ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...

Correction (my bad) on the question from how's life re:the neck swap - the answer is absolutely yes and possibly quite a bit because the radius on the two necks is different. So mainly the saddle height thing, possibly some truss rod stuff, but probably nothing intonation wise.

a strawman stuffed with their collection of 12 cds (jjjusten), Tuesday, 23 February 2016 15:03 (two years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I still haven't done that yet, but good catch. At the moment, I'm trying to sell the ASAT, so I may never find out.

how's life, Tuesday, 23 February 2016 16:07 (two years ago) Permalink

OK, so I decided to keep the ASAT and give this a try, but I've run into a couple issues with the neck swap. I should probably be asking this over at the G&L forums, but I figured I'd check in with you first.

Initial pic of both guitars:

1. I moved the Fallout neck over to the ASAT, but there is a pretty prominent gap at the bottom of the neck. That can't be good, right?

2. The ASAT neck doesn't fit into the Fallout neck pocket. I've seen some talk online about giving the neck pocket a couple passes with sandpaper. Obviously, it's gonna be tough to tell from pictures, but any idea if this is pertinent in my situation?

I'm doing this because I really like the ASAT's maple fretboard and satin finish, but prefer the pickups on the Fallout as my main guitar. Planned on using the ASAT for alternate tunings or something idk. I just got the idea to cobble this together out of Tribute models because my budget isn't ready to get my own choice of USA yet. Should I just reattach the necks to their original bodies and enjoy what I have?

how's life, Saturday, 5 March 2016 14:06 (two years ago) Permalink

oh shit. sorry if those are displaying as huge as they are for me.

how's life, Saturday, 5 March 2016 14:07 (two years ago) Permalink

Update: Managed to patiently and gently wiggle the ASAT neck onto the Fallout, but the damn screw holes didn't line up (which makes sense considering how the Fallout neck fits on the ASAT.

how's life, Sunday, 6 March 2016 01:16 (two years ago) Permalink

Had a revelation and realized that the Fallout neck does in fact fit onto the ASAT without a gap, but then the screw holes don't line up. So what I'm looking at here is maybe plugging and redrilling the screw holes on the necks. Going to dive into how-tos I guess. Dicey business, but after seeing both necks on their opposite bodies I'm even more determined to do this.

how's life, Sunday, 6 March 2016 17:41 (two years ago) Permalink

Have reached out to a local luthier as well, because it seems like so much could go wrong if I attempted drilling on my own.

how's life, Sunday, 6 March 2016 18:25 (two years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

do i need to get one of those special made files for fret ends or can i use something similar from hardware/art supply store

am0n, Tuesday, 6 February 2018 19:01 (one year ago) Permalink

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