3. Set it up

Setting up a guitar consists of adjusting things like the truss rod, string saddles, pickup height, and potentially adjusting the height of the nut. Scary, right?! But very necessary. Your guitar can have the best parts in the world and it can still sound like crap due to a poor setup.

If you have an annoying fret buzz, one string that sounds like a sitar, or if it sounds out of tune when you play upper frets, a proper setup is the fix.

Guitars are made of wood and wood is pretty sensitive to things like humidity and temperature changes. So moving the guitar to a different city or just the changing seasons can warrant a setup. Changing string sizes will also affect the required setup.

Professional setups are in the $80 - $100 range, and can be worth it, but you can do it yourself with pretty minimal tooling and experience.

Basic Set-up Instructions Basic setup instructions. "Setting up a guitar involves working with the bridge, nut, and neck adjustments to dial in the playing action to suit the player."

In-depth Electric Guitar Setup In-depth setup instructions including adjusting the nut and pickups. "Electric guitar setup is one of, if not the most important element of guitar playing." Now you know!

Should You Set Up Your Guitars Differently? "Experimentation can lead to new approaches. One of the easiest, and least expensive ways to experiment is with the setup of guitars you already own. ... If you explore these differences within your instruments, you can find new sounds, and even play better."


To setup a guitar well, you will need a couple tools. Fortunately there are some pretty inexpensive tools out there to get the job done. IMO, the most important of them are the straight edge and the string action gauge; I feel the others are nice-to-haves.

18-Inch Straight Edge ($14) Use this to gauge the bow in the neck when adjusting the truss rod. The 18" length will cover All The Frets. The linked ruler is a solid low-end version. You can splurge on a super-precision ruler ($80 - $100), but that probably isn't necessary.

String Action Ruler Gauge ($9) This little thing helps you accurately gauge your string action (height off the fretboard). I find this much easier to use than a regular ruler. Has both Metric and Standard measurements.

String Radius Gauge ($20) Use these to adjust the strings radius to match the fretboard radius.

Fret Rocker Tool ($14) Some of that fret buzz might be caused by a high fret. This tool allows you to find those pesky high frets. Unfortunately this tool doesn't help you actually fix them. For that you might need to employ a professional and get a fret level.

Next: All about strings

As a guitar setup expert, now is the time to become a guitar string expert. Check out part 4 →