Professional Guitar Setup: What is it and Do You Need One? (2022) (2023)

If you just bought a brand new guitar, then the first thing you should do is get a professional guitar setup to ensure that it plays optimally.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about a professional guitar setup including what a setup consists of, how much it costs, and whether you actually even need one.

In short, if you’re new to the guitar, you should definitely consider having your guitar set up by a professional. A guitar that is set up properly will allow for a better playing experience and ultimately allow you to get the most out of your guitar

Table of Contents

What is a Professional Guitar Setup?

A professional guitar setup is a series of adjustments that are made to the guitar that allows it to play and sound optimal.

This is considered basic maintenance that could include adjustments to the neck, string height, tuning stability, hardware adjustments and more.

What Does a Guitar Setup consist of?

When you take your guitar to a professional luthier or guitar tech, a guitar setup will typically consist of various activities such as adjusting the string height, intonation, truss rod, and action. These are the essentials included in every guitar setup.

Depending on the actual guitar and its current condition, there may be additional activities that are a bit more involved, such as fret dressing, filing the nut, adjusting the tremolo, or cleaning the frets.

Truss Rod Adjustments

Regardless of whether you have an acoustic or electric guitar, it will have a metal rod running through the neck into the body called the truss rod.

This allows you to adjust the amount of relief in the neck since guitar necks naturally warp over time with changes in the environment.

When you take your guitar a to a professional luthier, he’ll examine your guitar’s neck to determine whether there is too much relief in the neck, resulting in a bow shape or not enough relief causing a back bow.

Having either too much or too little relief in the neck can either result in extremely high action, or fret buzz.

The goal is to keep the guitar neck almost completely straight with just a little bit of relief.

Tremolo Adjustments

If your guitar has a floating tremolo, then it will require some additional setup to ensure proper tuning stability.

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This process involves perfectly balancing the tension between the strings and tremolo’s spring system, allowing the tremolo to freely move back and forth an equal distance.

This will allow you to use your tremolo arm for crazy dive bombs and whammy bar tricks without your guitar going out of tune.

Setting the String action

String action is the distance between the strings and the fretboard.

Higher action means there is a large distance between the string and fretboard, meaning you’ll have to press down a lot harder on the frets to play a note.

Lower action means there is less distance between the frets and the strings, meaning it will not require as much force to play a note.

Every guitar player has their own preferences, so you’ll need to have your guitar technician set the string action in a way that is compatible with your specific playing habits.

Some people prefer the guitar’s action to be as low as possible while others prefer it to be high.

High action ensures that there is no fret buzz and allows for the strings to vibrate and ring out for longer. However, the tradeoff is that it can be difficult to play since it requires you to press down on the fretboard with more force.

If the guitar’s action is positioned much lower in relation to the fretboard, it is much easier to play, but can also lead to fret buzz in some cases. Generally, most people prefer to play with low action.

When you take your guitar in for a professional setup, they will typically adjust the string action one of two ways. They will either adjust the action by tightening the truss rod to straighten out the neck, or adjusting the screws or saddles on your bridge.

Setting the Guitar’s Intonation

One of the most important aspects of a guitar setup is adjusting the intonation. A guitar’s intonation refers to how well it stays in tune throughout the entire fretboard.

For example, say you tune your guitar as you normally would. You would tune each string one by one strumming the string open without fretting anything.

Then when all of the strings are in tune and start playing, as you move down the neck, you notice that the guitar sounds out of tune, even though the open strings are still in tune.

This is due to the guitar not being intonated properly, and it will completely ruin your sound no matter often you tune your guitar, or how well you play.

When you take your guitar in for a professional setup, he’ll typically test the guitar’s intonation by strumming the open string and seeing if the 12th fret (octave) matches. He’ll then adjust the saddles at the bridge depending on whether the note at the 12th fret is sharp or flat.

Since the 12th fret is the halfway point between the bridge and the nut, if the open string and 12th fret are both in tune, then the rest of the notes on the guitar will also be in tune.

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Intonation can be tricky to set up properly but is absolutely essential. Like I said, if your guitar isn’t properly intonated, you’ll sound like crap even if you play every note correctly.

So if you are a beginner and aren’t comfortable setting the intonation of your guitar, then taking it to a professional luthier is definitely worth it for that reason alone.

Hydrating and Polishing

Guitars are made of wood, which comes from trees. Scientifically, trees have to stay hydrated for survival.

After the trees are cut to make wood that is then used to make the guitar, the wood requires hydration for the well being of your guitar.

If not done, your guitar can easily crack among other forms of irreversible damage. This can be attributed to the lack of moisture.

When you take your guitar in for a setup, your luthier will typically use a special fretboard conditioner and polish to keep your guitar hydrated.

Fret Dressing

Fret dressing is essentially leveling and reshaping the frets to restore them.

Over time, as you press down your metal strings against your metal frets, the frets will wear out.

This eventually leads to dented frets, rough fret edges and uneven frets. If your guitar’s frets are dented or uneven, it will lead to terrible fret buzz.

Usually, if you just bought a new guitar, this shouldn’t be an issue, as frets can last for years without wearing out to the point that it’s an issue. If it does happen to be an issue with your new guitar, then it’s a factory defect and you should just send it back anyways

Fret dressing is not typically a part of a regular guitar setup, as it requires a lot of work filing down each fret one by one to make sure they’re all leveled.

This process is usually only necessary for guitars that are much older.

And in some cases, if the frets are unrepairable, or have been dressed in the past too many times to the point that they are too small, you can have a luthier completely remove them and re-fret your guitar entirely.

Setting the Guitar’s String Radius

Contrary to popular belief, a guitar’s fretboard is actually not completely flat.

Different guitar manufacturers produce guitars with a different fretboard radius. For example, Fender guitars usually have a more rounded fretboard radius, whereas Gibson guitars usually feature a much flatter fretboard radius.

Here’s a great guide on guitar fretboard radius that goes over this in much more detail.

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In summary, your guitar’s strings have to be aligned to the same radius as the fretboard. Most electric guitars have bridges that are built with string radius adjustment screws.

You’ll need to make the proper adjustments based on your guitar’s bridge and your necks fretboard radius to ensure that everything is aligned properly.

If not, it could result in fret buzz and awkward string action with some strings being too high and others too low.

Why Do You Need a Guitar Setup?

If you’re buying a brand new guitar, it’ll likely be fresh from the factory. New guitars are almost never set up to play optimally right out of the box.

Due to the fact that most guitars are manufactured and shipped overseas before they end up in a guitar store or warehouse, there are almost always some deficiencies during transit.

More often than not, when you get a new guitar, the action will be very high and there will be some fret buzz.

Even if there are no glaring issues, it still won’t be set up to fit your style of play.

Having a professional setup will ensure that your guitar feels comfortable to you and sounds the way it should, allowing you to get the most out of your instrument.

Even if your guitar is not brand new, it will still require some maintenance every once in a while.

Over time, your guitar will suffer from wear and tear including, warping of the neck, wearing down of the frets, dried out fretboard, fret buzz, etc.

This is completely normal, even if you properly maintain your guitar.

How Much Does a Guitar Setup Cost?

On average, a professional guitar setup will cost between $40-$100 depending on the guitar and where you take it to get set up. This will include the basics, such as setting the action, intonation and neck relief.

If you have a guitar with a Floyd Rose floating tremolo that needs setting up or you have worn out frets and need a fret dressing, then they will typically charge extra depending on how much work needs to be done.

Fret dressing can typically cost anywhere from $80-$150 alone due to how much time and work is required to file down each fret one by one to ensure they are leveled.

Keep in mind that costs can vary greatly depending on where you go (local guitar shop vs corporate chain, like Guitar Center).

How Often Should You Have Your Guitar Setup?

On average, you should look to take your guitar in for a full setup twice a year. Throughout the year you can also make some of the minor adjustments on your guitar more regularly. This could include adjusting the action and intonation as you see fit.

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If you take your guitar in for a professional setup twice a year, then it will require very minimal adjustments throughout the rest of the year.

I usually make it a point to get my guitar setup between the cold and warm seasons, so Winter and Summer.

This is usually the best time to have your guitar set up because the drastic change is the weather is when the wood in your guitar is going to react the most substantially.

In addition, you can think of your guitar like it’s a machine with a ton of moving parts.

Your guitar will undoubtedly require maintenance just like you service your car to run smoothly. If you play your guitar four times a week you may not have to wait a year long to get it set up.

On the other hand, if you have not played your guitar for almost 6 months, you may need to take it for a professional set up to restore some functions.

Any other time you notice a persistent issue with the sound while playing, you may need to take it to an expert for a partial set up.

If you visually assess your guitars physical condition and notice that something is wearing out, it is a good sign to take for a setup. In short, it is recommendable to have a qualified technician set up your guitar at least twice a year. However, any other time you deem it necessary should do.

Can You Setup Your Guitar on Your Own?

Yes, You can absolutely learn how to set your guitar on your own. Many of the steps are actually quite simple.

However, if you just bought your first guitar and are not comfortable making these adjustments, I would suggest bringing your guitar to a professional luthier to avoid the risk of permanently damaging it.

This is especially true if you have a guitar with a Floyd Rose or other floating tremolo. You should not try to set up a floating tremolo on your own if you’re a beginner.

My recommendation would be to get your guitar set up by a professional once or twice a year to make sure all of the major adjustments are made properly.

From there you can learn how to do some of the basic adjustments on your own, such as adjusting the string action and intonation of the guitar.

If your guitar’s been set up by a professional recently, then you shouldn’t have to make any significant adjustments

You can periodically make these adjustments as necessary throughout the year while you wait for your next full setup.

Conclusion

A professional guitar set up is extremely important for everyone who owns these incredible instruments. Nevertheless, you should be keen on whom you give the job to set up your guitar. A quack can cause irreversible damages on your instrument. This would not only result in an inconvenience, but also a loss. More so, if your guitar is quite pricey.

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Well established guitar stores should be your preference whenever you are seeking an expert to set up your instrument. Finally, you shouldn’t wait for your guitar to manifest a myriad of issues for you to take for a complete setup. Prevention is always the best policy.

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Professional Guitar Setup: What is it and Do You Need One? (2022) (1)

FAQs

What is included in a professional guitar setup? ›

A “setup” is regular maintenance that's done on the guitar that involves multiple services such as replacing strings, adjusting the neck, and raising or lowering the string height.

Is a guitar setup necessary? ›

And why is it so crucial? In short, a guitar setup ensures that your electric, acoustic or bass is performing at peak condition, keeps little things from going out of whack and personalizes the instrument to your preferences. Guitars are made of wood, an organic, sometimes temperamental, material.

How much does it cost to professionally set up a guitar? ›

Generally speaking, a professional setup costs around $50, but it could be upwards of $100 if there's a lot of work to be done. New strings are usually part of the setup process, since the gauges of the strings affect intonation.

How often does a guitar need a setup? ›

It's recommended that an electric guitar get a setup twice a year or every 06 to 08 months. At least one setup per year is recommended, although it can be less than enough for good playability. This is appropriate for players who practice on a daily routine and have a mid to high-end instrument.

Is a professional guitar setup worth it? ›

Regardless of the value of your guitar it needs a professional quality setup to play properly. A proper setup will help you to get the most from your practice time and best results when playing. You will find it easier to play, and because the tone is accurate you'll be able to tell how much you are improving.

What order should I set up my guitar? ›

Some steps to a basic setup:
  1. Play your instrument. Plug it in and play. ...
  2. Evaluate the Neck and Truss Rod Adjustment. ...
  3. Adjust Bridge/Saddle Height. ...
  4. Check the Nut. ...
  5. Check electronics. ...
  6. Remove Strings, Tape off Pickups, Polish Frets, and Oil the Fretboard. ...
  7. Clean and fix any electronic issues. ...
  8. Restring.
1 Jun 2020

Does a new guitar come with a setup? ›

Still, many—even most—guitars arrive from the manufacturer needing additional setup work. There are a few things to consider when thinking about a setup. Understandably, different players have different expectations and needs when it comes to their guitars.

How long do guitar setups take? ›

Generally speaking, a basic guitar setup will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, while a more complex setup could take several hours. If you're thinking about getting your guitar setup, or if you're just curious about how long the process takes, then read on for more information.

Is it better to leave guitar in case or stand? ›

Generally speaking, the safest way to store a guitar is in its case—ideally, a good-quality hardshell, as opposed to a gig bag or ill-fitting chipboard case. As obvious as this might seem, if you have multiple guitars, don't stack them one on top of another in their cases.

How much is a 22-point setup at Guitar Center? ›

Signature Setup

This involves a 22-point checklist inspection, cleaning and polishing, as well as a restring with a set of strings included with the setup. This costs around $60-75 in most of the cases, depending on the state of your guitar and its configuration.

How many guitars is it reasonable to own? ›

Generally, one electric guitar, one acoustic guitar, and one classical guitar are enough to satisfy your needs and cover all styles of music. If you have varied interests, you may want to add new guitars to experiment with different types of pickups configurations, body shapes, and different necks.

Do guitar luthiers make good money? ›

The salaries of Luthiers in the US range from $19,960 to $61,290 , with a median salary of $38,609 . The middle 50% of Luthiers makes between $35,492 and $38,608, with the top 83% making $61,290.

How many hours a day should I practice the guitar? ›

For most people, 30–90 minutes per day seems to be a good goal. Total beginners may see good results in just 15 minutes per day.

What is the average life of a guitar? ›

The roughest estimation would be around 10 years for a cheap acoustic\classical guitar. On the other hand, even cheap electric guitars will be able to last a lot longer, 20-30 years. Of course, if we talk about expensive models, both acoustic and electric guitars will be able to last you for a lifetime.

How late is too late for guitar? ›

You are never too old to learn guitar. You can start learning guitar at any age. While younger people tend to learn faster, you are still capable of learning guitar as a beginner whether you are 30, 40, 60, or even 70.

What guitar do most professionals use? ›

Fender Stratocaster (or any Strat-style guitar)

For decades now, Fender Stratocasters have been seen in the hands of countless guitar players, ranging from beginners and amateurs all the way to professionals and guitar heroes of all different genres.

What makes an expensive guitar sound better? ›

The answer is yes, expensive guitars will most likely always be of better quality than cheaper guitars. The detail in which the guitars are made, the type of materials used and how well the adjustments are made is what increases the quality of a guitar, therefore the price.

Which guitar brand has the best quality? ›

To sum it all up, the best guitar brands are Ibanez, Fender, and Gibson. The best overall option would be the Ibanez JSM100, based on its overall quality and versatility. The Fender Telecaster is our number one Fender recommendation, while from the Gibson range we would single out the ES-175.

Which string should you tune first? ›

Always tune the low E string first, remembering to start off flat and tune up to the desired pitch - if you overshoot, slacken off below the desired pitch and start again. Do this for each string in turn.

What should I focus on when starting guitar? ›

A Checklist of Things Every Guitarist Needs to Learn
  1. Reading Standard Music Notation and Tablature. ...
  2. Open Position Notes. ...
  3. Essential Music Theory. ...
  4. Basic Open Position Chords. ...
  5. Strumming Patterns. ...
  6. Tuning By Ear. ...
  7. Barre Chords. ...
  8. Pentatonic Scales.

What should my string height be? ›

Measuring at the 12th fret (as in the photo), the action height should be 2.6 mm for Steel String Acoustic guitar, 1.8 for electric, 2.0mm for bass and 3mm for a Classical.

Should I get a brand new guitar setup? ›

Unless the buyer is extraordinarily fortunate, the answer is always “yes” and a new guitar can need more doing than one that's been previously set up. Most guitars are made to a price and budget instruments just don't have the time spent on them to make them play as well as they can.

Is it cheaper to build or buy a guitar? ›

Is building a guitar yourself cheaper? Looking strictly at the cost of the parts and materials the answer would be a soft yes. Barely, though there is potential there. But (there is always a but), if you take into account the cost of tools there is a good chance you have already surpassed the cost of a cheap guitar.

How long does it take to be skilled at guitar? ›

More Arbitrary Ratings of Proficiency
LevelHours NeededDaily Practice Investment
Beginning625156 days
Intermediate125010 months
Advanced25001.8 years
Expert50003.5 years
5 more rows

What is a 22 point guitar setup? ›

This 22-point setup includes personalizing all of the parameters of the instrument so it will sound and play its best for the player, cleaning and polishing the instrument, as well as a restring. A pack of select strings is included with the setup.

How good is guitar after 6 months? ›

After six months, you should start to feel comfortable and know your way around a guitar. You might not be busting out amazing solos quite yet, but you've mastered the basic chords and you feel comfortable playing. Maybe at this point you've even dared to pull out your guitar and play in front of people.

How often should Guitar Strings be changed? ›

After every 100 hours of playing your guitar, you should change the strings because they are getting used and worn. Another rule of thumb is every 3 months because even while they're not in use, they will wear with the elements and the moisture you left on it from your fingers when you played it last.

Should you Untune guitar after playing? ›

The Short Answer:

Keep your guitar tuned up to pitch, especially if you play it regularly. There's really no reason to detune a guitar that you play regularly and, in fact, it would be pretty inconvenient if you had to completely retune it every time you wanted to pick it up and play.

Is it OK to keep a guitar on the wall? ›

Part of your question is purely mechanical—will the guitar suffer at all from hanging by its headstock? The answer is no. It's generally accepted as a safe way to hang a guitar because the downward exertion from the weight of the guitar isn't nearly as strong as the pull of the strings in the opposite direction.

Who is Guitar Center's biggest competitor? ›

Sweetwater and Guitar Center are undoubtedly the two giants of the musical instruments and professional audio equipment industry.

How much does Guitar Center give back for turning in a guitar? ›

Guitar Center offers up to 60% of the market value for used gear, which is reasonably good. You just need to walk in with your instrument or gear and have it evaluated by a member of the staff. They offer cash up to $1000 and a check for higher amounts.

How much will Guitar Center give me for my gear? ›

They look at what the items have SOLD for, not what they're listed for, so keep that in mind when doing your own research beforehand. Once the clerk checks a few different places to get an idea of the guitar's value, they'll generally offer 50%. Your $500 guitar just dropped to $250.

Is there a demand for luthiers? ›

Luthier Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't forecast jobs for luthiers. But it projects a 4 percent decline in employment for musical instrument repairers and tuners – functions luthiers also perform – from 2020 to 2030.

How much do top guitar techs make? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $125,500 and as low as $21,000, the majority of Guitar Tech salaries currently range between $40,000 (25th percentile) to $69,000 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $100,000 annually across the United States.

How much does a guitar luthier make a year? ›

The salary range for a Luthier job is from $44,453 to $64,976 per year in the United States. Click on the filter to check out Luthier job salaries by hourly, weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, monthly, and yearly.

When should you stop practicing guitar? ›

If you're feeling tired or can't concentrate, then only practice guitar for a very short time. If you're full of energy, by all means, have a longer practice session. The length of your practice session needs to stay short enough for you to stay focused the entire time. If you lose your focus, you're wasting your time.

What should I practice everyday on guitar? ›

Here are four examples of ear training exercises that you could use in today's guitar practice session.
  • Pick out the chords to a song by ear.
  • Learn a riff from a recording.
  • Transcribe a solo by ear from your favorite player.
  • Sing intervals, scales, arpeggios, or other musical devices.

How do you harden your fingers for guitar? ›

Ultimately, the best way to build calluses on your fingers is to play, play, play. Make sure to play every single day, even if it's just for a few minutes at a time. The calluses you'll form will need maintenance, so don't take long breaks from playing the guitar once they start to form.

What happens when you play guitar for a long time? ›

Studies show that playing the guitar improves the grey matter in the brain resulting in improved memory power. Additionally, there is less decline in memory power with age. This is proven true by the fact that you have to memorize chords and patterns which act as a good workout for your brain.

Does a guitar sound better with age? ›

Older guitars often sound better than newer ones as they dry out over time which causes them to become harder leading to a more resonant tone with better sustain. The increase in age affects the tone more in acoustic guitars than electric ones.

Do guitars lose value over time? ›

But the question usually has more of an economical ring to it: does a guitar hold its value over the years? The answer to that is usually: YES, because if you pay a little attention to what you buy, play it and take good care of it, a good acoustic guitar could costs you something close to nothing in the end.

Is playing guitar before bed good? ›

Should You Practice Guitar in the Morning or Before Bed? A recent study by the Harvard Medical School found that students who studied just before going to bed at 9 p.m. did significantly better than their counterparts who studied the same material at 9 a.m. in the morning.

Is guitar easier than piano? ›

Overall, the guitar is easier to learn than the piano. If you consider the layout, learning songs, the ability to self-teach and a few other things, it is an easier instrument. However, it's the easiest on average for everyone. This means for people of all ages.

Does playing guitar help with depression? ›

Research has shown links between adults who play an instrument and lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, decreased heart rate plus a reduction in anxiety and depression – so learning to play the guitar really is the ultimate cure for stress.

What should a guitarist have? ›

Of course, the first thing to get is a guitar and an amplifier (if you're playing an electric or acoustci/electric model). It's easy enough to start playing there, and really, that's the fun part about starting a new hobby, choosing from a slew of amazing instruments to find the one that speaks to you.

How much is a 22 point setup at Guitar Center? ›

Signature Setup

This involves a 22-point checklist inspection, cleaning and polishing, as well as a restring with a set of strings included with the setup. This costs around $60-75 in most of the cases, depending on the state of your guitar and its configuration.

What's the difference between 22 and 24 frets? ›

Guitars with 22 frets have a shorter fretboard than those with 24 frets. This means the neck pickup is fitted further away from the guitar bridge. It gives them a 'fatter', more rounded tone. The neck pickup on 24 frets guitars will generally sound more balanced and defined.

Are 22 fret guitars easier to play? ›

The number of frets a guitar has affects the tone. 22 fret guitars sound warmer and thicker, because the neck pickup is placed closer to the nut of the guitar. They are generally easier to play because the neck is shorter so you don't have to reach as much down the fretboard.

What is the first thing to do after buying a guitar? ›

  • 5 Things You Must do with Your New Guitar. If you received a new guitar as a gift this year, it's important to know what to do with a brand new guitar. ...
  • Make sure the guitar is in tune. ...
  • Check for good intonation. ...
  • See if you need to replace the strings. ...
  • Adjust the action. ...
  • Get a case.

What three qualities make a good guitarist? ›

Here's a look at five essential traits every guitarist needs.
  • Patience. As anybody who has picked up a guitar will tell you, it ain't as easy as good players make it look. ...
  • Dedication. Intertwined with patience is a strong sense of dedication. ...
  • Creativity. ...
  • Curiosity. ...
  • Enthusiasm.
11 Apr 2016

How many guitars should a guitarist have? ›

So, on a very basic level, it's recommended that a guitarist should, at very least, own one electric guitar and one acoustic guitar. Playing an acoustic guitar is a very different experience than playing electric, and can help you to even improve your skills.

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