JW Guitar Restoration, Inc.
Setup Repair Restore Custom Contact  
Instrument Setup

These are the most common steps we take when setting up a guitar. Assuming there are no major issues with any part of the guitar, following these procedures will enable an instrument to look, play and sound its best.

 
Martin D-28
Les Paul Bridge
Ebony Fretboard
 
Martin Bridge and Saddle Repair
Brazilian Rosewood Fretboard
Martin Nut
 
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Adjusting the "action" entails a number of adjustments to increase or decrease the distance between the strings and particular points on the guitar. Changes to the nut, saddle and truss rod will all effect the action of the guitar and, in turn, its sound and playability. Generally speaking, guitar manufacturers send guitars out of the factory with action higher than is typically preferred. Intonation refers to how an open string and a fretted string relate to each other in terms of pitch. Assuming the nut and fret slots were cut correctly at the factory and the bridge is also in the correct position (in rare instances they're not!), intonation problems typically occur as a result of improperly adjusted saddles, high action, worn frets or simply pressing too hard on the strings. Some people are particularly sensitive to the standard guitar scale and opt for a special nut such as those by Earvana or the Buzz Feiten tuning system which slightly alter the scale length of each string. The truss rod counteracts the tension of the strings on the neck, while allowing the amount of relief (bow in the neck) to be adjusted. A poorly adjusted truss rod can lead to a variety of string buzzes and result in high action. Too much tension on the truss rod can permanently back-bow a neck, break the truss rod, or in extreme cases crack the neck. The nut spaces the strings properly at the headstock while the depth of the nut slots determine the action at the top of the neck. Improperly cut nut slots can leave strings sounding dead or cause buzzing. We install, for those musicians particularly sensitive to the standard guitar scale, either the Earvana compensated nut or the Buzz Feiten tuning system, which both slightly alter the scale length of each string. The bridge and saddles affect both the intonation and the action of the guitar. Acoustic guitar saddles can be compensated by shaping to adjust for intonation issues and lowered to reduce the action height. We generally like to replace an acoustic saddle if a higher action is desired. Electric guitars generally have an adjustable bride and/or saddles which makes action and intonation adjustments straight-forward. Properly adjusted pickup height will bring out the full tone and sound of the guitar. Raising a pickup too close to the strings will diminish the sustain of the guitar, as the magnetic field of the pickup will dampen string vibrations. Adjustable pole-pieces add further adjustability to the setup allowing fine tuning for each individual string. Guitars with bolt-on necks often need fine tuning of the neck angle to achieve the correct action. It is common for bridges and saddles to be raised or lowered well outside of their proper limits to compensate for what is really a neck angle issue. The proper angle of the neck is achieved with a hardwood shim, carefully crafted to the proper angle so as to provide full contact with both the neck and body. Frets which are not completely worn can be serviced by leveling, recrowning and finally polishing. Symptoms of worn frets can include visible grooves and buzzing. Frets should be checked to see if the are lifting out of the fret slot. This will also cause buzzing. New guitars will often benefit from a full fret dressing as well, as many guitars come from the factory with poorly leveled frets. Tremolo adjustments are necessary to provide not only correct tremolo function, but also allows for the proper adjustment of string height, intonation, and tuning. Strings typically stick as a result of a poorly slotted nut. This will result in difficulty tuning and strings frequently going out of tune. Attention should also be paid to where the strings cross over the saddle. A well cleaned and polished guitar will not only look better, but will sound and play better as well. Dirt buildup on the guitar, particularly on the fingerboard can rob the guitar of sustain and tone. Once the guitar is fully and properly cleaned, it will be easier to maintain in that condition as dirt sticks to dirt much easier than on a clean polished surface. Machine heads or, if you prefer, tuning machines should be checked for proper mounting tightness. In addition, many tuners are tension adjustable to provide for the correct amount of resistance to string tension. This will result in a guitar which tunes easier and stays in tune longer.