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Edge guitar services

Eltham Jones, guitar repair and technical services :Bristol : Cardiff : Bridgend : Tel. 07971 240296

I'm often asked what the most common service I'm required to provide is and I think that in terms of numbers the set up is the winner, hands down. However what takes people by surprise is that a lot of this type of work is actually of a corrective nature and often more complicated than it needs to be on account of the previous efforts of others whose enthusiasm for the task far outstrips their skill, knowledge and experience. Those hoping to learn from this section how to set their own guitar up and thus avoid the cost of having the thing worked on by a skilled professional are likely to find themselves slightly disappointed. I do not encourage anyone to work on their own guitars for the same reason I wouldn't advocate teaching yourself to drive; you will almost certainly get there in the end but not without causing a certain amount of chaos on the way. Nevertheless the fact remains that however good a technician you select to work on your guitar he cannot second guess the way in which you approach the guitar so all we can do is take out of the equation all the tricky stuff that requires the skill. When it comes to deciding the finer details of the set up however, there is really no-one better placed to know what is needed than the player themselves which is why a conscientious technician will spend some time with their client before and after undertaking the work; before, to assess the client's style and technique, and after, to establish whether they have got it right or whether more work needs to be done.

In-between times however, there will be occasions when a guitar moves out of adjustment, perhaps because of seasonal or random climate changes; perhaps because you have changed the strings, or you are working a cruise ship and have no access to professional services. It's for these occasions that this guide is intended. It's a technique I used at Hohner to set up as many as 30 guitars a day and, provided your guitar has no major flaws such as a bent neck, loose frets or a badly cut and fitted nut then it'll work as well for you as it does for me.

Begin by getting the neck as straight as possible. You will have read in various publications, and on the 'net, that the fingerboard has to have a shallow curve in it. This is called arc relief and you may have heard that it should be no more than .010" or .015" or 0.5mm or many variations on this theme. None of this is wrong, but don't worry about it for now; the arc relief will be determined by how you play the guitar.

For now, get the neck straight as a die using the low E string as a guide to the straightness.

Now put a capo on the first fret and play the guitar up the high end of the fingerboard. Bend the top three strings across the fingerboard's camber to see if they "choke". If they do, you need to raise the action at the bridge/saddle until the choking stops. If the action feels stiff and uncomfortable you may need to lower it until it feels right for you. If you want the lowest action possible then lower it until the string starts to choke across the fingerboard's camber then stop and raise it until the choking stops. At this point the bridge will be at it's lowest point of adjustment. Do this for all six strings

Now play the guitar low down the neck, close to where you have fitted the capo. You'll probably find it rattles a little (or a lot!). Slacken the truss rod gradually until the buzzing or rattling stops when you play normally; that last bit is important because a lot of players, once they focus on a buzz find it difficult to resist driving the string in an effort to establish whether the buzz is still there after an adjustment and, of course, with a supercritical action you will always be able to make a string buzz if you hit it hard enough, so just play the thing normally but bear in mind that if you have a hard attack then the adjustment values you need for bridge height and arc relief may conflict with the ones you perceive as being "comfortable". Excessive arc relief, as well as leading to a stiff and uncomfortable action, will also cause problems for the guitar's intonation accuracy so players with a hard attack should set their priorities early.

Finally, remove the capo and check the guitar for playability. The guitar should feel the same as it did when you had the capo on; if it doesn't then the nut is too high. If you get a buzz on the first fret then the nut is too low (a common problem on Gibsons where the nut is often cut before the truss rod is adjusted). I don't encourage people without the proper training or experience to attempt nut dressing themselves as is this is one of the most skilled parts of the job.

If the guitar feels comfortable but you are getting isolated fret buzz that is more than you would expect under normal playing conditions then there may be a problem with the frets or neck that requires specialist attention, so hot foot it to your local luthier if you have one.

The quick fix set up: a DIY guide

© Eltham Jones, EDGE Guitar Services

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