Setup and changing string gauge?

Discussion in 'Tech-Talk' started by drneilmb, Jul 5, 2019.

  1. drneilmb

    drneilmb Squier-Meister

    Jun 8, 2019
    Iowa, USA
    HNGD to me! I got my first-ever second guitar today, an LTD EC-256 from @vinbur. I'm wanting to set up the guitar to best effect before I spend too much time noodling around on it. In reading online about guitar setups, they usually say (1) truss rod, (2) action, (3) intonation and they suggest NOT changing the strings before doing those steps.

    But I WANT to change the strings to something lighter (and newer) than it has right now. Should I ignore the warnings online and change the strings, tune them up, give them some hard stretching, then do the setup steps? Or should I do the three setup steps with the current strings, then change the strings, then tweak the setup AGAIN if necessary?

    I don't have any experience adjusting truss rods or changing string gauges (to 9-42s), so I really don't know how it will affect neck relief and intonation after the change. Thanks in advance for any help you enablers can offer! And thanks after the fact for making me feel good about buying a second guitar!

    BlueSquirrel and Biddlin like this.
  2. Bob the builder

    Bob the builder Squier-Meister

    Feb 25, 2017
    Rhode Island USA
    Always do a set-up with new strings.
    Caddy, JurnyWannaBe, drewcp and 2 others like this.
  3. otma

    otma Squier-holic

    Nov 4, 2012
    Owen, Wisconsin
    It really depends on how picky you are about things like intonation and such. You can't end up with an unplayable, damaged, or totally crap sounding guitar just by trying a different string gauge. If exact intonation and identical, optimal action are important to you, these tips may be relevant. Don't let the internet scare you into thinking that changing string gauges is rocket science, or that it requires a guitar tech though. I put a set of strings that was .080 - .017 on a Bullet. My setup consisted of very slightly widening the bottom slot in the nut. Of course, I played guitar for decades not knowing that intonation was a thing, and never noticing, so I just don't worry about it now.
    dbrian66 likes this.
  4. dbrian66

    dbrian66 Squier-holic

    Jul 14, 2017
    Maryland, USA
    I always put new strings on before I do a setup. I thought you were supposed to. But like @otma said, don’t be scared. You can always do the setup again after the new strings become old strings! ;)
    drewcp likes this.
  5. Chubbles

    Chubbles Squier-Meister

    Mar 6, 2018
    Philadelphia PA
    Intonation is effected by string Guage. Change them first.
    dbrian66 likes this.
  6. lespaul1968

    lespaul1968 Squier-holic

    Jan 26, 2019
    Then noodle
    That's what Ron Thorn (principle master builder for the fender custom shop) does. In that order
    Eddie and dbrian66 like this.
  7. drewcp

    drewcp Squier-holic

    Dec 14, 2018
    Saint Paul, MN
    The new strings are going to be important first because the neck relief adjustment is a factor of countering the effect of the pull of the strings. If you go to a thinner or thicker string gauge the tension will change.

    If you have the relief set really low and then change to lighter strings, once they’re tuned and stretched, and settled in, you may notice it fretting out all over. Putting on thicker strings would make the relief greater.

    As others have already said, it’s definitely best to change the strings first.
  8. Biddlin

    Biddlin Squier-Meister

    Apr 15, 2019
    SACRAMENTO. Ca usas
    No, intonation is effected by moving the bridge saddle and changing the length of the string. It may be affected by string gauge, however. :)
    Chubbles likes this.
  9. Biddlin

    Biddlin Squier-Meister

    Apr 15, 2019
    SACRAMENTO. Ca usas
    With new strings, stretched and tuned to your normal pitch, i.e. E standard or double drop C, whatever you play in, begin by setting the saddle height for frets 17-22 so that the strings play buzz free at the lowest possible height. (Lower the saddle until it buzzes, raise until clear.) On your style bridge, I adjust the bass side first, lowering the bridge until the low E buzzes and then raising it by fractional increments until it's buzz free. Then do the same with the high e and if you do bends up there make sure to try those until they don't buzz or fret out. When all strings are clean go to the lower frets and neck relief. Play the high e string from fret 1 to fret 16, decreasing relief (tightening trussrod) until it buzzes, then increasing relief(loosening trussrod) to raise the string height, so tighten, by fractional turns, until it buzzes and back off until it doesn't. Once you have acceptable relief, i.e. no buzz and easy action, set your intonation and you're done.
    This is the opposite order of most setup directions. It is based on performance and not measurements, hence, I don't take any. It works because the neck is immobile between frets 17 and 22. The trussrod only affects lower frets. By setting the upper end first, you know any buzzes are coming from too little relief. This method works for most guitars, with trussrods.
    oldtimer and drneilmb like this.
  10. Chubbles

    Chubbles Squier-Meister

    Mar 6, 2018
    Philadelphia PA
    Exactly. If my intonation is set for my fav strings/gauge, then I change strings but to a different gauge, my intonation will be off. That's what I was attempting to say. I did a poor job of choosing my words. (I have a big mouth. It makes it easier to put my foot into it)
    Biddlin likes this.
  11. BlueSquirrel

    BlueSquirrel Squier-holic

    Dec 21, 2018
    It depends on your string gauge. Going up or down a string gauge doesn't make a big difference, if you check your intonation very often you realize it hasn't really changed or it has changed very little and you can keep the same setup.

    However, going down or up more than one step (i-e going from 9s to 12s) would make a bigger change and you would have to adjust intonation and before that possibly adjust the saddles' height and trussrod.
  12. oldtimer

    oldtimer Squier-Nut

    Jun 23, 2015
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    Hi Biddlin, a little over four years ago, I started a thread describing the same procedure. You might be interested in reading it. Search for "Setup Method" by oldtimer.
    Biddlin likes this.
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