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Old 12-19-2011, 04:19 PM
the.ronin the.ronin is offline
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Default Learning to Setup Guitar Myself

Been playing for only a few years, but Iíd like to learn some basic guitar set up including action lowering and intonation adjustment via saddle, truss rod, and nut. Anything more involved (bridge replacement, refretting, etc) and Iíll just take it to a tech.

Iím still learning and doing a lot of research and just wanted to run this by you more learned folks out there in case Iíve overlooked something. My sense is that proper set up means looking at the instrument holistically Ė unfortunately, whatís out there as far as set up advice seems to address stages of set up in isolation without regard to how it would affect other components. And this is what Iím struggling with - connecting the dots between truss rod adjustment, saddle adjustment, and nut adjustment.

But as far as Iím understanding the general process, Iíve worked it out as something like this Ė assuming what I want to do is lower the action for my own playing style Ö

1) Check the neck relief.

Iíve read numerous times that truss rod adjustment is NOT for action adjustment. It can result in a change in action but the purpose of the truss rod is to provide relief from fret buzing. I would check this first to see where the neck stands as far as relief (at the middle 5th or 6th fret with the 1st and last fret at the body capoíed) perhaps against factory spec using feeler gauges.

From this distance reference, I can determine how much more I want the strings to come down at the relief point. I would double this amount and that is the amount I would want to shave my saddle down by.

2) Lowering action first at the saddle.

Iíve also read that almost all action adjustment is done at the saddle. Based the amount in #1, Iíve read itís best to draw out a line on the saddle as a guide. Iíd proceed to sand down the saddle at the BASE just to that line keeping pressure on the saddle as even as possible while sanding.

3) Lowering action at the nut only if needed.

My sense from research is that there is typically no work done at the nut as far as lowering action. Iíve read some suggest that you can file down the nut slots only if the saddle adjustment wasnít enough to lower the action closer to the nut.

If nut work is to be done, the proper way is to shave along the length of the top first thereby opening up the slots. Then, individually and preferably with a proper nut slot file, shave down the slot so half the bass string rests into the slot and all of the treble strings are rested mostly in the slot.

4) Check buzzing.

At this point, if the action feels great up and down the neck, I want to make sure there is no buzzing particularly in harder strumming. If there is buzzing, then I would need to adjust the truss rod appropriately to give more relief.

5) Check intonation.

Hereís where I am still doing more research since I canít find a clear answer on how all these adjustments would tie together as far intonation goes. I know I want to be sure that the 2nd harmonic at the 12th fret is the same as the natural harmonic / open string using a tuner but not sure what the best way would be to go about it whether through truss rod, nut adjustment or both?

So of course, and as I write this, it becomes even more glaring how you tweak one thing and something else gets re-tweaked or un-tweaked. For example, I find out there is buzzing in step #4, increase truss tension, and now Iím back to slightly higher action than what I was hitherto satisfied with Ė so back to step #2.

I can also see how if you are not careful, you can find yourself in a guitar death spiral. Expanding on the example above, so I go back to step #2, take more off the saddle, maybe even the nut, then find buzzing again, increasing rod tension, finding high action again. This is likely an over-simplification but Iíd imagine not far from the truth.

Anyway, Iím still clearly learning here so any advice would be appreciated.

In addition to my internet research, Iíve got a book on order (The Guitar Player Repair Guide - 3rd ed.), some select tools from Stew Mac and the rest of the tools from everywhere else (gauge feelers from auto store, straight edge from Home Depot). I plan on testing things out on my Taylor Big Baby and an Ibanez classical and maybe when I have a little more courage my Martin D-1.
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Old 12-19-2011, 04:34 PM
bobby b bobby b is offline
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I wouldn't overlook the nut. If there is too much string height at the nut, even with the saddle adjusted, it could be quite uncomfortable to play first position chords.
Also, if indeed there is alot to come down at the nut, after having set the saddle, the saddle may end up now being too low, ya know.
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  #3  
Old 12-19-2011, 07:03 PM
the.ronin the.ronin is offline
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Thanks bobby Ö

Indeed, after some more reading (canít get enough of this stuff right now lol), Iím understanding that lowering action at the nut is in fact not that uncommon Ė just that the majority of the fretboard action is really dictated by the saddle. Say, up to the 3rd fret mostly dictated by the nut.

Iím also starting to dive into this intonation concept. It seems the adjustment is as straight forward as manipulating the width of the saddle specifically each individual strings break point across the width. One, this sounds like one of those way easier said than done things. Second, Iím still trying to get my arms around the Pythagorean vs. equal tempremant theories to get a better understanding of why harmonics play the way they do and in turn better understand intonation. Fun stuff Ė I wish I were this motivated in high school lol.
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Old 12-19-2011, 09:02 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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This may be of some help to you: http://web.me.com/charlestauber/luth...r_Setup_1.html

The third section is dedicated to theory and practice of intonation.
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Old 12-19-2011, 09:08 PM
the.ronin the.ronin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charles Tauber View Post
This may be of some help to you: http://web.me.com/charlestauber/luth...r_Setup_1.html

The third section is dedicated to theory and practice of intonation.
Yes!! That is just what I've been reading.
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  #6  
Old 12-22-2011, 11:07 AM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by the.ronin View Post
Yes!! That is just what I've been reading.

As the author of that, if you have any questions about it, I'll be happy to try to answer them.
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Old 12-22-2011, 11:08 AM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by the.ronin View Post
Yes!! That is just what I've been reading.
As the author of that, I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have about it.
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  #8  
Old 12-22-2011, 11:25 AM
the.ronin the.ronin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charles Tauber View Post
As the author of that, I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have about it.
The subdomain didn't give it away lol ... I need to read things more carefully! Thank you for taking the time to write this, charles. As well, thanks for the offer to answer questions ... I just hope you don't regret it.

I'm actually going to take a stab at setting up my Taylor Big Baby which for whatever reason now has ridiculously high action for my playing style (read: beginner). I attribute some of that to a new Martin D-1 I got which I had set up professionally for me and now the action on the BBT is just more evident. Either way, it needs to come down. So I'm looking to ...

1) Replace strings to Elixir light gauge. I don't remember if I decided to get crazy and put mediums on that BBT so I'm going to go back to the recommended strings. Then let the neck adjust in case those were mediums - not sure how long to wait but will probably lose patience in an hour.

2) Check neck relief against some reference points - factory spec, stew mac recommended, general interwebs recommended - and maybe go with the lower end of that range and make truss rod adjustment as needed.

3) Do my string action measurements (even got the stew mac macguyver ruler) and compare against reference points opting for lower end of the range.

4) If needed, mark off and sand down the saddle. This part sketched me out as I've tried saddle sanding before to less than ideal results using the hand on saddle on sandpaper on flat surface method. So I got a small drill press vice. I'm gonna wrap some tennis handle rubbery tape around the clamps. Clamp the saddle upside down. I also got a small block of crazy smooth marble to which I will tape the sandpaper. Then I'll carefully slowly sand down that saddle.

5) Check action at the nut against reference points opting for lower end of the range. So along with that nooby saddle job, there may have been a nooby nut job and that may be the nut I'm dealing with now. I also got another Taylor specific nut. I'm not sure if I'm going to try and salvage the hack job nut (e.g., bass string slots are cut too deep and strings are completely in the slot) or slot down the new nut. I did spare no expense on some stew mac gauge files but I did not get a fret radius tool and I'm afraid of throwing off the fret radius at the nut if I need to shave down the top with the hack job nut. We'll see.

6) Check intonation. So I'm still getting my arms around this part but I'm hoping my adjustments will be minor enough that any intonation issue I create will be minor cents. Again, we'll see.

Last edited by the.ronin; 12-22-2011 at 11:40 AM.
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Old 01-16-2012, 10:25 PM
the.ronin the.ronin is offline
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Just thought I'd check in. The Big Baby turned out pretty well. The action was brought down considerably with no buzzing or intonation issues. I'm slightly concerned that I may have come down too aggressive at the saddle but ... it sounds really good! Even now after it's had some time to settle.

After studying what I had done and reading up a bit more, I decided to go ahead and set up my new Martin D-1GT ... but this time with a fresh FWI saddle and nut. I was not nearly as aggressive this time making a minor truss adjustment to bring the relief to minimum Martin factory spec of .004. Took 1/64 off the nut (after a lot of fine tune sanding to get it fitted right). Took about 3/64 off the saddle - well shy of the 5/64 I should've taken off based on the amount I wanted to bring action at the 12th down. And all in all I think it turned out pretty well. I've got a little bit of action to play with as I had expected. Just waiting to see how everything settles ...







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Old 01-16-2012, 10:58 PM
kbroce kbroce is offline
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Looking at your second picture, of the saddle, it may just be the focus, but be careful that you have a sharp angle coming off the saddle. To me, it looks like the string sort of curves off the saddle, instead of a sharp, straight angle off of it. This will happen as you check the saddle while lowering it. You tune the string when the saddles high and it puts a bend in the sting, then you shave some of the saddle down and that bend is still in the sting, but further up from where sits in the saddle, causing the sting to float a little higher than it should. then you shave a little more, you tuned the sting and it bends a little more, then you shave it some, etc... It's minor, but so is the adjustment your making, so if you set your string height over the 12th fret while the sting isn't straight off the saddle you'll end up shaving off to much saddle and your action will be lower than you planned once the sting straitens out through playing, potentially causing buzz and intonation problems.

I just push the sting down on the saddle when I tune it to check the height after every saddle adjustment. Just be sure not to kink the string downward as that will do the opposite.

Also, if you want to be very accurate you'll want a strobe tuner.
I've been very happy with this stop box. The other model, which I would have bought, was out of stock when I needed it, so I bought the stomp box and a clip on piezo pickup, works great.

http://www.turbo-tuner.com

Cheers!
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Old 01-17-2012, 09:28 AM
the.ronin the.ronin is offline
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kbroce, thanks for the input. Yes, you are right, there was a kink on my low e. The blurred focus in that picture actually exaggerated it. When I saw that picture, I took a closer look at the string and as you had guessed, that was from where the string met the saddle prior to sanding it down. I took another look this morning and that kink has been straightened out. I never would have even thought of something like this happening until now.

Iíll check out that strobe tuner. Iím currently just using a standard chromatic tuner.

Thanks again for pointing out the string float issue. Yes, it seems minor but all these measurements are in the 100s, 1000s of an inch so Iíd imagine that is actually not that minor.
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Old 01-17-2012, 10:51 AM
kbroce kbroce is offline
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You're welcome! Setups are one of those things that I think more people should take interest in learning how to do, you can really transform a guitar.
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Old 01-17-2012, 01:33 PM
the.ronin the.ronin is offline
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One thing Iím coming to realize is a lot of this is art Ė stemming primarily from the fact that the ďcorrectĒ setup is a function of the playerís style. In other words, you can get everything to exact factory spec and it still may not play ďrightĒ Ė thatís because factory spec is meant to make everyone happy Ö and we all know how those things turn out.

Also, it took me a good 3+ hours to set up the Martin Ė and I donít even consider it done. Now imagine the poor guy thatís gotta crank through these things in as short a time as possible. Iím sure there are many reputable folks that will take the time to do it right. But Ė and particularly in this economy Ė Iím sure there are just as many that will simply take an allen wrench to the truss rod to get the action you want and call it a day.

I go back to my original post and am starting to see my first mistake in just trying to compartmentalize everything into defined stages Ö Iím appreciating that while a general order must be followed, a lot is gut instinct which Iím hoping to develop over time.

So my next step will be to shave down those ridiculously deep nut slots and recheck everything. If Iíve got a good margin left, Iíll shave down another 1/64 at the saddle and try to straighten out the bottom of the nut where I have a small gap on the hi e side.
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:11 PM
kbroce kbroce is offline
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As you do it enough you start to figure out how one adjustment will effect another and you'll get an idea when you need to recheck something or how things will change in conjunction with each other. Speed comes with practice and repetition. I was trained at the Music Man factory in San Luis Obispo so I'm fortunate enough to have had some one show me the ropes, but anyone can learn this sort of thing. If something goes wrong you can get a new nut or saddle, it's not the end of the world, just used common sense and make your adjustments in small steps and increments as your learning so you don't over do it.

One nice thing, especially with solid body electrics, is one you have your bridge and nut set, the only adjustment that really changes is your neck, so a simple truss rod tweek and you're usually good to go. With acoustics the top may raise or lower a little through the season or string/gauge changes, but I can usually get things dialed in close enough with the truss rod once everything else was set as I like it.
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Old 01-17-2012, 05:35 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by the.ronin View Post
One thing I’m coming to realize is a lot of this is art – stemming primarily from the fact that the “correct” setup is a function of the player’s style. In other words, you can get everything to exact factory spec and it still may not play “right” – that’s because factory spec is meant to make everyone happy … and we all know how those things turn out...

I go back to my original post and am starting to see my first mistake in just trying to compartmentalize everything into defined stages … I’m appreciating that while a general order must be followed, a lot is gut instinct which I’m hoping to develop over time.
There are two (or more) basic approaches to this type of work. The first is to do everything quantitatively - measure everything using rulers, micrometers, feeler gauges... The second is to do everything qualitatively - by feel. Certainly, there is lots of ground in between.

I don't really consider basic set-up work to be an art. If one chooses to do so, the factors that matter can be measured and quantified. The approach to the work is, or can be, very orderly, as is set-up related problem solving. Frets.com, for example, lays out the methodical thought process in identifying the cause of problems.

If one chooses to use qualitative approaches, I can see how the observer might consider it "art" or "magic", but, really, it is as kbroce said, just a matter of understanding how the variables/adjustments relate to one another - what effect changing one thing has on the others. This comes from experience and observation. The more one has, the less quantitative one often tends to be and the more one relies upon "feel". (In a factory setting, gauges and measurements ensure consistency and quality control.)

My suggestion is forget you ever heard the two words "factory" and "specification" used next to each other.
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