DIY GUITAR SETUPS
By PETER HODGSON
There’s a reason the great techs earn a living from setting up and repairing guitars: it’s tricky, exacting work that can really benefit your instrument. But many techs will tell you there’s a lot you can do yourself. We asked pro tech Joseph Price for some pointers on how to set up your guitar and get it singing sweetly.
TIME TO PROPERLY INTONATE
This is where you perfect the intonation for your particular playing style. Some guitarists fret with a heavy touch, some fret lightly, some pick hard, some pick soft, and some pick with their fingers. You won’t be able to accurately account for these idiosyncracies while the guitar is flat on the bench, so pop the guitar on a strap at the height you intend to play it at, and check the intonation again.
Intonate your guitar in a playing position so it's ready for the stage.
Check the intonation of the fretted notes at the 10th, 12th and 15th frets - not just the 12th. Be careful to pick at the strength that you expect to be picking while actually playing a song, and take note of what happens to the intonation of the note when you pick at that strength. Every time you make an adjustment, check again with the tuner.
If you find that no matter what you do the notes won’t quite intonate 100% accurately (and again, this is just an unfortunate byproduct of the way guitars are designed), err on the side of being slightly above the target pitch, rather than slightly below it. It just seems to sound more pleasant to the ear when a note is slightly overshot compared to if it falls just below the intended pitch.
Here’s a tip: if your guitar is properly tuned and intonated but you notice a weird ‘wub-wub-wub’ overtone, it’s entirely possible that your pickups are too high. Their magnetic pull can interrupt the free vibration of the string, so if you’re getting this sound, back the pickups off a little bit, starting with the neck pickup. Usually, it doesn’t take very much adjustment to lower the pickup enough to stop these unpleasant overtones.
And there we have it! If you carefully follow these steps you should have a guitar that plays well and is as in-tune as it’s gonna get.