Setup method

Discussion in 'Tech-Talk' started by oldtimer, Aug 6, 2016.

  1. oldtimer

    oldtimer Squier-Nut

    Age:
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    713
    Jun 23, 2015
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    I've posted this setup procedure in other's threads in short form before, but here it is in full - and updated (very slightly). This procedure is not meant to be definitive. There are many approaches to setup which are capable of producing excellent results, but I believe that this one is the most efficient.

    Manufacturers often stipulate "magic" numbers for setup. I don't believe that setup should involve any such numbers. They're reasonable and time-efficient for average, factory settings on stock guitars, but they may not be suitable for you, your playing style and choice of strings. The only tools required here are the hex wrenches for the truss rod and bridge saddle grub screws and nut files. No feeler gauges are required and certainly no crude practices involving business cards and the like are present here. No measurements of any kind are made or are necessary. There is only one simple criterium involved at each stage and that is to be ONLY JUST FREE of fret buzz when you play normally. This setup method will deal automatically with any natural resonances particular to your guitar which can result in some notes being more prone to buzz than others.


    STRATOCASTER-TYPE VIBRATO SYSTEMS ONLY:

    If you're setting up a guitar with a Stratocaster-type vibrato, you first need to decide whether you want the system to float or be decked. If decked for flattening only, then tighten the spring tension screws to achieve that snugly with the guitar in tune. If the vibrato is never to be used, then there are several effective methods of hard decking.

    If it's to float, then you need the bridge plate to be temporarily held firmly in a tilted position. This is most easily done by placing a suitably thick piece of wood between the bottom of the inertia block and the rear part of the routing at the back of the body. Remove a spring so that the piece of wood is held firmly in place when the guitar is in tune. Once the whole setup procedure is finished, the spring can be replaced and the spring tension screws adjusted so that the hold on the piece of wood is only just loosened. Later on in the general setup procedure below, setting the intonation on a floating vibrato Stratocaster will involve unavoidable bridge height adjustments due to the slope of the bridge plate. Also, remember that there are overall bridge saddle height differences between decked and floating positions which can necessitate a change in the amount of neck shimming required.


    THE GENERAL SETUP PROCEDURE:

    Assuming that ...

    1: The frets are level.
    2: The guitar is fitted with your preferred gauge of strings.
    3: The guitar is in tune,

    ... then this setup procedure will result in the very lowest action which is buzz-free everywhere. This may or may not be the final action that you want, but it's a crucial setup waypoint which will eventually benefit everyone.

    In this setup method, three distinct playing zones of the neck are considered in turn and in such an order to be least dependent on one another. When setting up each zone, make sure that the guitar is in tune and that you play as you normally would - that's important.

    The first zone to consider is that of the very highest frets. There is ONLY ONE adjustment that can affect playability in this zone and that is bridge saddle height, so adjust the saddles to give a just buzz-free action here. I'm talking about frets roughly from around the 15th on up. The neck in this zone is usually overlapping the body and unaffected by truss rod adjustment. The overall action and the situation at lower positions can be completely ignored at this stage. You need only concern yourself with being just buzz-free at these highest frets. Bridge saddle height adjustments will very likely require you to re-tune, so do that before continuing.

    The nut slots should then be cut so that there is a barely visible gap between each string and the 1st fret when each string is held down lightly between the 2nd and 3rd frets. If your guitar has a vibrato system, then you may prefer to allow a tiny bit extra for future wear.

    The next adjustment is that of neck relief. It makes most sense to leave this adjustment until the string heights at the bridge and nut have been set. The truss rod should now be adjusted to give just buzz-free playing from the open strings to around fret 15. The neck profile should not be straight, but slightly concave to follow approximately the envelope shape of fundamental string vibration modes. If you get buzz anywhere in this extensive zone, then loosen the truss rod until it just clears. If the action is completely buzz-free in this zone to begin with, then tighten the rod until you get the very first fret buzz occurrences and then loosen it until the buzz just clears again. My experience is that truss rod effectiveness can vary widely from guitar to guitar, so very fine adjustment can be problematic.

    Finally, set the intonation on each string to be correct at the 12th fret. Remember that moving a bridge saddle forward or backward will affect the tuning, so make sure that you're always making a valid test on a correctly tuned open string. It's a good idea to set the intonation on the 1st and 6th strings first and then provisionally adjust the bridge saddles for the inner strings to the familiar staggered pattern. This will get you very close and involve less re-tuning when making the final tweaks.

    At this point your guitar will be set up with the lowest possible buzz-free action. If this action is too low for you, then simply raise the bridge saddles to give the action that you prefer. Whichever action you finally settle on, be assured that you have a setup capable of the widest possible range of actions that are free from fret buzz.

    With playability dealt with, all that's left now is to adjust pickup heights and/or string balances. Moving a pickup (or polepieces) closer to the strings increases non-linearity (distortion) of the response as well as the output and vice versa. There are no rules, it's just a matter of experimentation and preference.
     
  2. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    72
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Thanks for sharing that Oldtimer. Many just getting started and perhaps afraid to dig in may find encouragement to do so with your straight-forward, damn the measurements, approach.

    -don
     
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  3. TeenageShutdown

    TeenageShutdown Squier Talker

    51
    Aug 1, 2016
    NJ
    Actually, there is "rules" when setting pickup height. Too high & there will be warble, throw off intonation, & jumping tuner needle. Too low & again there will be warble, as well as unbalanced volume among pickups.

    Step 1:
    Start with the neck pickup. Hold the 6th string down at the 12th fret. Pluck the string. There should be a clean note. If there is a warbling note sound, adjust the bass side pickup height until the note is clean. Now hold the 1st string down at the 12th fret, pluck, & apply the same method for the treble side pickup. When done, play the strings open & chorded. The strings should sound balanced in volume, bass side equal to treble side. The treble side of the pickup may need to be lowered if too bright. Again, adjust while still having a clean tone.

    Step 2:
    Adjust the middle pickup next (or bridge pickup, if there is only 2 pickups.) Strum the 6th string open while the neck pickup is on. Now switch to the middle pickup. The volume should be equal. If not, adjust the bass side middle pickup height until it is. Apply the same method to the treble side. Now play strings open & chorded. The strings should sound balanced, bass side equal to treble side. Now switch between the 2 pickups. The volume should be equal to one another. Make adjustments to the middle pickup if needed. When done check for warble as mentioned above with the middle pickup on. However, the neck pickup is more prone to the warble phenomenon & shouldn't be an issue with other pickups.

    Step 3:
    If guitar has 2 pickups see Step 4. For guitars with 3 pickups, apply Step 2 to the bridge pickup.

    Step 4:
    Check & adjust intonation if needed. Done.
     
  4. Wizzer

    Wizzer Squier-holic

    Jul 12, 2010
    Scottsdale, AZ
    Great info, sir!
     
  5. Guitarmageddon

    Guitarmageddon Squier-holic

    Sep 27, 2014
    Offline
    The truss rod needs to be adjusted BEFORE bridge height / action height / nut slot height...
     
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  6. oldtimer

    oldtimer Squier-Nut

    Age:
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    Jun 23, 2015
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    As I said in my original post, it makes more sense to leave neck relief adjustment until bridge height and nut slot heights have been set. How would you know how much relief is needed to JUST avoid string buzz if you've still to adjust bridge heights and/or nut slot heights?

    The method I proposed has to be taken as a whole and in sequence in order to work efficiently.

    Absolutely! Too high pickups with strong fields can seriously affect the natural vibration of the strings, but why should a too low pickup causes "warble"? If that were the case then every acoustic guitar would exhibit that problem.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2016
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  7. pkevinb

    pkevinb Squier-Nut

    526
    Sep 30, 2012
    Western Pennsylvania
    You are absolutely correct. Old-timer posted this once before. He just doesn't seem to get it.
    But the the height of the nut comes before the truss rod.

    It really bothers me that someone would post something that a beginner would see and attempt a guitar set up incorrectly and then have trouble.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2016
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  8. Wizzer

    Wizzer Squier-holic

    Jul 12, 2010
    Scottsdale, AZ
    I skipped over the nut part because I make sure the nut is the right height before I even put tuning machines on a neck.

    However, I'd look at the title of the thread again. It says Setup "Method". If it works for the OP, then he isn't "wrong".

    More than one way to skin a cat...
     
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  9. Guitarmageddon

    Guitarmageddon Squier-holic

    Sep 27, 2014
    Offline
    I measure relief by putting a capo on first fret and pressing down with finger at last fret - taking bridge/action height and nut height totally out of the equation - and needs to be about .010" - it's a concrete exact measurement I use, because if I get buzz when it's set there it means the frets have an issue, I'm not going to play with the truss rod nilly willy until buzzing stops to compensate for an issue with unlevel fret work...
     
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  10. oldtimer

    oldtimer Squier-Nut

    Age:
    73
    713
    Jun 23, 2015
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    Who's to say that any setup method is "incorrect"? I certainly wouldn't. I said in my OP that my one wasn't definitive. However various methods will result in various results. The difference (which is all it is, really) in mine is in the criterium for every adjustment and the necessary order for it to mean anything. I employ a single criterium throughout (being JUST buzz-free) at each stage and not a dogged adherence to fixed measurements or (heaven forbid) the thickness of a business card. I also believe that it's very efficient and (apart from a possible final action setting of the bridge) there should be no need to go back and re-adjust anything if each stage is completed properly.

    I realise that it may contradict conventional practice in many respects, but as I said earlier, it has to be taken as a WHOLE in order to make sense and for the logic behind it to emerge. Saying that something should come before something else does not apply here. It may belong to some other setup method, but not in the one that I outlined. The adjustment order here is fixed by the use of the single criterium.

    Any beginner would do well to weigh up all the alternative methods of setup before even thinking about performing one. All I can say is that this one has served me well since 1973 when I bought a secondhand 1968 Telecaster badly in need of a setup.

    Then why not level the frets before you attempt a setup? :rolleyes:
     
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  11. Guitarmageddon

    Guitarmageddon Squier-holic

    Sep 27, 2014
    Offline
    I only determine if a guitar needs a fret level by doing Frudua's setup method first....

    Probably half of the guitars that have passed through my hands have needed it...
     
  12. oldtimer

    oldtimer Squier-Nut

    Age:
    73
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    Jun 23, 2015
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    Try using a steel rule.
     
  13. Guitarmageddon

    Guitarmageddon Squier-holic

    Sep 27, 2014
    Offline
    without a notched straightedge you won't get a true accurate measurement to see if the neck is completely straight before checking for fret rock....

    I guess we just have our own methods...
     
  14. oldtimer

    oldtimer Squier-Nut

    Age:
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    Jun 23, 2015
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    If you first check that all the frets are seated fully along their length and not springing, then you need only concern yourself with the fret surfaces. I've never felt any need for a notched straight edge. Use an ordinary long steel rule to check that you've got the surfaces generally straight and then a short rule to check for local problems - rocking and gaps.
     
    willhowl likes this.
  15. willhowl

    willhowl Squier-holic

    Age:
    67
    Dec 19, 2011
    Houston Texas
    I'm munching popcorn on this one....Keep going, ya'll......willhowl
     
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  16. Conghaille

    Conghaille Squier-holic

    Age:
    49
    Jul 12, 2016
    Chicago
    Couldn't find the meme with Michael Jackson eating popcorn? This is why I leave most social media sites.
     
  17. willhowl

    willhowl Squier-holic

    Age:
    67
    Dec 19, 2011
    Houston Texas
    Well..........."Couldn't find the meme with Michael Jackson eating popcorn? This is why I leave most social media sites."

    OK.........willhowl
     
  18. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    72
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Friendly differences -- all thoughtful I should add -- is all I am seeing here. The fact that there are differences in method, or for that matter thinking, seems to me to be healthy.

    Each of us who has worked at this has found tricks that work for us. If pushed we likely have a thought through "yes but" for each question.

    My own deals with the use of the straight rule. How perfect that'd be if it weren't for relief. But people who fully understand the need for relief -- and who set it with care -- still find a way to use that straight edge.

    I assume they simply take it for what it is and use their eyes to see breaks in the pattern where a fret is too high or too low.

    Others (me!) do something similar re nut height and even relief.

    I think the OP's thinking was helpful. No, he does not do everything just as I do. But he does set forth a method that increases the confidence and understanding of someone new to all of this, and gives plenty for the more experienced to consider. Thus, from me at least, kudos.

    :)

    -don
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2016
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  19. Biddlin

    Biddlin Squier-Meister

    Age:
    66
    121
    Apr 15, 2019
    SACRAMENTO. Ca usas
    Ah cannae mind whin ah learned this, bit it's a safe bet 'twas a roadie wha taught me. Ah stairted posting it a while back tae. Then ah juist hauld yer horses fur th' blatherskites 'n' numpties wha spend mair time polishing th' wood than playing guitar tae poap up, "it's nae th' fender way." or "how wull dan erlewine pay his mortgage?" ah weel, we ur wha we ur. Cheers fur sharing yer thread.
    ;>)/
     
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  20. Afrika61

    Afrika61 Squier-holic

    Aye Kuhptan,...
    JamesDoohan.jpg
     
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