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If you are a musician, you know how important it is to have the best working instruments for your craft. Sometimes, however, problems arise, especially on guitars. If you’re not a big fan of taking your guitar for a setup to someone else, take the time to invest in guitar setup tools. This is how you will always have access to what you need, and you will have a chance to maintain your beloved instrument on your terms.
If you are a new guitar owner, you may want to give your instrument to a professional to set up. If you do choose to do the process yourself, however, you can get started with ease. Use the guide below as a starting place to learn more about the best guitar setup tools and the steps involved.
Can I Set Up My Own Guitar?
A DIY guitar setup is always possible when you have the right tools! The goal is to, ultimately, fine-tune your instrument until it is at its peak performance level. You have to examine every part of your guitar, including the fret, bridge, angle, strings, neck relief, truss rod, and more in the process. There is no right answer to how often you should take your guitar for a set up, but there are some signs pointing that the setup is needed.
If you hear a buzzing sound coming from your guitar, for instance, you likely need to adjust the action. Most professionals recommend that your strings are at least one to three millimeters high. You will have to increase the height to get rid of this sound by adjusting the truss rod with a screwdriver.
Another example involves the intonation of your guitar. If there is a problem, the strings will go out of tune quickly. Move the saddle position back until the bridge is in the appropriate spot, allowing you to make a beautiful sound.
It may be better to seek the services of a professional if your guitar requires extensive repairs. If there is excessive wear on the fret, for instance, or a warped neck, you may have to have someone completely replace the parts.
How Often Should You Get a Guitar Setup?
You know by now that there are tools needed for guitar setup. You may ask yourself how often you need to maintain your guitar, however.
You have to think about how often you play your guitar and the climate of where you live to answer this question. Most perform a setup at least twice a year, or every six months, to ensure their instruments play as they should. These individuals are likely those who play their guitars daily.
If you only play your guitar now and again, you could likely use your guitar setup kit only once a year. If you live somewhere humid, however, you will want to setup your guitar every six months. The moisture and the temperature of the air affect your guitar. For example, to much of moisture in the air can lead to warping and other similar problems.
If you negate your guitar setups, changes will gradually build up. When you do not perform regular maintenance on your instrument, you do not notice the minor problems that eventually turn bigger. You could eventually lose the enjoyment you once had with your guitar as it would be unplayable.
How Do You Tell if a Guitar Needs a Setup?
Though it is wise to set up your guitar either once or twice a year, there may be times when you need to perform the process more often. Thankfully, your guitar will provide you with signs that it is time for maintenance.
As mentioned, intonation is off when the notes on your guitar frequently go out of tune. To test this, play a harmonic note on the twelfth string. After, repeat it with a regular strum on the fret, ensuring the two sound the same.
You can also frequently measure the action on your guitar to ensure it does not need a setup. Use the neck, ensuring that the string’s height is less than 5/64″. If you notice that the number is lower only in the middle of the neck, you likely have warping that you will have to fix.
Finally, if you have an electric guitar, you will know it needs a setup when the technological supports do not work as they should. Test the battery to ensure it still holds power. After, tighten all screws and bolts to ensure the proper functioning of the electronics.
Essential Guitar Setup Tools Every Guitarist Should Have
You likely have many of the basic tools needed to setup guitar parts. Make sure you have access to screwdrivers, string cutters, hex wrenches, and Allen keys. These will help you adjust the neck, fix the action, move the bridge or string a guitar with new strings.
For your guitar itself, you should have a string winder and an action gauge to determine distance. Bring along a work mat and cleaning cloth to ensure you do not damage the wood on your instrument. Some of the kits and products below come with these essential parts, however.
1. Ernie Ball Musicians Tool Kit
The Ernie Ball Musicians Tool Kit has everything you need and then some. It has 13 Allen wrenches that come with the product, giving you the tools you need to work on, essentially, any guitar or part.
This guitar setup tool kit also comes with a screwdriver with two heads on it. You will be able to turn both Phillip’s head and flat head screws. The cutters in the kit also prove to be high-quality, allowing you to cut any of the guitar’s strings with ease.
The tool kit also comes with a cleaning cloth to allow you to keep the surface of your guitar as pristine as possible. The ruler helps you to measure the action, though you may find a more flexible product like a tape measure easier to use. Finally, the carrying case is durable, protecting the tools inside for years to come.
Finally, the Ernie Ball Musicians Tool Kit comes with wonder wipes to remove stains and other debris from your guitar. There is ample room leftover in the case to store extra picks and strings as well. This option is highly beneficial in meeting all of your basic repair needs.
2. Micling 72 Piece Guitar Repairing Tool Kit
The Micling 72 Piece Guitar Repairing Tool Kit has everything you can think of when considering the tools needed for guitar setup. It even comes with instrument-specific products like picks, strings, bridge nut saddles, bridge pins, and more.
With the variety of tools in this guitar setup kit, you can change the strings out, fix the intonation, adjust the action, and perform any other basic repairs you need. There are even fret stickers that will help you learn how to play if you are a beginner.
If you do not know how to use any of the tools included in the kit, you can contact Micling’s customer service line. They are available for 24-hour support for any of your needs. The setup kit also comes with a one-year warranty if any of the tools become damaged or break. There are storage bags for every piece that comes with the product. These will give you further protection.
The manufacturers also state that this setup tool kit is not just for your guitar. You can use it for anything with strings, including ukuleles and banjos.
3. Mudder 42 Piece Complete Guitar Repair and Maintenance Tool Kit
The Mudder 42 Piece Complete Guitar Repair and Maintenance Tool Kit is best for those experienced in setting up their guitars. It can provide repair and maintenance to any stringed instrument you may have.
The most exciting tools found in this kit are the ten files. You will find a knife and a willow version for your needs. These will help you fix any warped areas that may be on your instrument or add linings. Like the two kits before, this one allows you to change your strings or measure the action as necessary.
There are so many Allen wrenches for your use, no matter the bolts and screws you need to adjust. Sizes on these range from 0.016 to 0.035 inches. The largest is best for the nut gauges that you have to remove when changing the action or any other part of the neck, for instance.
The cleaning tool included in the Mudder kit has two sides. On one end is a cloth with cleaning solutions to remove any grime or debris. The other, however, has a lubricated pad to give a smooth finish to any wooden part on your instrument.
4. Ibanez MTZ11 Quick Access Multi Tool
This option, and the product below it, are small tools for guitar setup that will quickly repair minor issues. This product is specifically best for Ibanez guitars, however, as it is from the same brand.
This small multitool comes with seven devices for your maintenance and repair needs. Each of the wrenches has a clear label to let you identify what you need with ease. The center hole helps you maintain a grip on the casing when you select the tool that you need to use.
The size of the Ibanez MTZ11 Quick Access Multi Tool is small enough that you can take it with you anywhere. Store it in your pocket or guitar case, for instance, for your next big show. It will not take up any extra space, and it weighs less than half a pound.
This product does not come with cutters for you to make string repairs, however. It does have a ruler if you need to adjust the action on the neck. There is also a measuring scale on the case, useful when you do not have any of the included tools open.
5. GrooveTech Bass Multi 2nd Generation Guitar Tools
The final product on this list is the GrooveTech Bass Multi 2nd Generation Guitar Tools. This option is also small enough to bring along in your pocket or guitar case. It comes with a ruler, two screwdrivers, and seven hex keys.
Two of the hex keys are best for the string saddles, and the larger can turn any additional bolts on your guitar, including those on the bridge and truss rod. The two screwdrivers are both Phillip’s heads, meaning you do not have access to a flat head.
Due to the lack of a flat head screwdriver and the existence of only seven hex keys, make sure that this tool will meet your guitar’s needs. You do not want to purchase it without ensuring that the screws line up with the sizes that come with the GrooveTech Bass Multi 2nd Generation Guitar Tools.
Is It Worth Getting a Guitar Setup?
After reading about the above products and learning more about guitar setups, you may ask yourself, is it worth it? You may feel like you have to spend a lot of money on the kits or the professional services required.
Without getting the tools needed for guitar setup or going to a professional, you may face more repairs. These will cost more money than the initial maintenance appointments or kits above. You may never be able to play your guitar again, having to buy a new one due to the extensive damage.
What is Included in a Guitar Setup?
There is not one straightforward answer to all that comes with a guitar setup. Every instrument is different, as is every professional and every tool kit. The end goal, again, is to have your guitar produce a beautiful sound. You also want your instrument to last for many years.
If you set up an appointment with a professional, they will likely start by checking the intonation or pitch. After, the professionals will adjust the action to ensure the strings are where they should be. When the guitar sounds as it should, it is easier to play.
If you have an electronic guitar, the professional will also check the electronics. The professionals will replace the battery if it needs a new one. After, they will likely plug in your guitar to ensure every component works as it should.
Finally, to finish off the maintenance appointment, the professionals will clean up your guitar. They will polish and clean fretboard and the wood. Any debris will come off the instrument, ensuring it is in its cleanest state. This process is a good chance for the professionals to look for any wear that may require replacement too.
How Much Does a Full Guitar Setup Cost?
If you want to perform a DIY guitar setup, you will only have to pay for the kit or the multitool you desire. These products range in price from $10 to $20 to $60 and up. Obtaining professional services is around the same price as a complete tool kit.
The average price for a complete guitar setup in the United States is $50. If your instrument needs extensive repair, however, it may cost more than $100. It is dependent on the shop you go to and the needs that your guitar has.
Ask the staff at the music store if they charge extra for new strings. Some do, while others include the price in the overall cost of the setup appointment. You must have full knowledge of what services you will pay for when you arrange your guitar setup.
You must know that most guitar shops will clean and polish your instrument for you. In today’s time, they may sanitize it as well to protect from disease and other illnesses. Do not worry, as these professionals know the types of solutions that your guitar can handle.
How Do You Set Up a Guitar Without Tools?
If you cannot afford any of the above tools or services, you can still perform a basic setup on your guitar. All you need is a small screwdriver to turn some of the nuts and bolts. Sometimes, however, you can even move the saddle height screws by hand.
If you need to adjust action, you can use a stack of coins. On the treble, the height of a nickel is about the size you want. For the bass, you can stack two, adjusting the string height until you get to where you need it.
When adjusting the truss rod, you can use a business card. Many individuals will place the product under the seventh string, moving the first and fourteenth as standard. Typically, you will want to look for resistance against the card.
Do not adjust the neck relief so much against the business card that it is too tight. You want to barely be able to slide it in and out from under the seventh string, as aforementioned. If you do not have a business card, you can use two or three sheets of printer paper instead, cutting them down to size so you can see.
There are many tools needed to setup guitar parts. You can complete this process yourself using a guitar setup tool kit like those listed above. Call your local music store to arrange a professional appointment if you are a beginner or do not trust yourself, however.
If you cannot afford an appointment or a tool kit, there are certain belongings at home you can use for your guitar setup. Use a business card to adjust the neck relief, for instance, and a stack of coins for the action. Make sure to perform maintenance on your guitar at least twice a year, no matter how you do it. Taking this step will keep it in proper working form.
FAQs Guitar Setup Tools
So, to set up your own guitar, you will need a guitar tuner, strings (extra if you are more pragmatic), a screwdriver, and a string winder. If you are wanting to get really particular about it, you can purchase specific tools for certain parts of the job, such as one that measures the balance of the neck for action, or perhaps one that measures that intonation itself. You can do all of these things yourself, though, with very minimal tools. One great way to check intonation is to tune a string and then play the string’s inherent note an octave up. If the pitch is higher or lower (however slightly) than the original string pitch, then you are going to need to do some intonating with a screwdriver and the bridge saddles.
If maintained regularly enough, a full guitar setup should not take too long or too much effort on the part of the technician. Of course, these things are very often left for ages, meaning that there is often more work to be done as the end result. Most guitar setups will usually include removing the strings, readjusting the truss rod to set the guitar’s action properly, replacing the strings and adjusting the neck, raising or lowering the string height if this is deemed appropriate, and then properly checking the intonation and adjusting the bridge saddles accordingly.
They are if you know how to do them yourself and if you have all of the relevant tools at your disposal. Of course, if you have the right knowledge, you should not struggle to set up a guitar with very minimal tools like a screwdriver and common sense. Often, though, a guitarist might choose to have a technician handy to adjust their guitars purely for the convenience of it or so that they can have someone who genuinely knows what they are doing. After all, it can be rather nice to have someone pamper your guitar, much as it can be nice to have someone cut your hair or wash your car despite being able to do these things yourself.
Step 1: Remove the strings (and make sure you have a spare pack to hand). Step 2: Remove any plastic that might still be on the guitar as it can easily get in the way – this includes hardware. Step 3: Condition the fretboard and frets with lemon oil that is specifically for use on guitars. Step 4: Straighten the springs (this is mostly applicable to Stratocaster-type guitars). Step 5: String the guitar back up again. Step 6: Adjust the neck, modifying the string height and action as you go. Step 7: Check the intonation and adjust the bridge saddles accordingly.