How Often Should You Have Your Acoustic Guitar Set Up?

Published Categorized as Guitar Care Tuning Restringing, Setup

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Acoustic Guitar Set Up
By Dave Fey from St. Louis, USA (Martin Guitar WorkshopUploaded by clusternote) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How you set up your guitar can make a big difference to how it feels to play. And every now and then that set up might need to be adjusted.

But just how often should you check an acoustic guitar?s set up? And what does that mean?

What is an acoustic guitar set up?

An acoustic guitar set up is essentially talking about what is probably more commonly referred to as the “action” of the guitar. The action basically refers to how high the strings are off the fingerboard.

it’s quite rare to find a guitar off the shelf that is set up just how you like it – so unless you are buying a custom guitar (assuming the set-up is part of the customization) then chances are pretty good that your guitar could be set up better than it is when you first buy it.

What is involved in adjust the set-up of an acoustic guitar?

There are 3 major factors involved in setting up an acoustic guitar.

Firstly, you can adjust the ?relief? in the neck to lower or raise the action (truss rod adjustments).

Secondly, you can adjust the saddle to lower or raise the action.

And finally you can adjust the nut to lower or raise the action.

It is much more difficult to raise the action than it is to lower it – that’s why most guitars come off the shelf with an action that is higher than what your average guitarist would like. Some guitarists like a higher action so it makes sense to start them high, given that it is easier to lower it.

You can learn how to do this yourself using guitar setup tools or you can pay someone like a luthier (guitar builder) to do it for you. it’s usually not that expensive but it depends on what needs to be done.

>>Learn more about adjusting the action here

Can my Action Change Over Time?

Yeah absolutely your action can change over time. Things like humidity levels can cause the wood in your guitar to sink or swell and this can have the effect on lowering or raising the action on the guitar.

This is why you should make sure your guitar isn?t too dry or too wet before lowering the action in case humidifying or drying out the guitar will have an effect on adjusting the action. A luthier will be able to tell if a guitar is too dry or too wet.

>>Learn how to store your guitar in the proper humidity here

How Often Should I have my Set-Up done

The answer to this question really depends on a few things. It depends on how fussy you are with your set up. It depends on the climate that you live in. It depends on whether you think that your setup isn?t feeling quite right.

>>Learn how to tell if your action needs adjusting

Some people like to have their setup adjusted twice a year – just before the season change.

Others like to have it checked and adjusted once per year – just to make sure that everything is looking ok if they find that the seasons don’t affect their instrument.

>>Check out this discussion to see how often others have their guitar setup done

Other advantages of having a ?Check Up?

Getting your guitar checked can have other benefits besides just adjusting the setup.

For example a luthier can check to make sure that your guitar is in good health in other ways – like the proper humidity, as discussed above.

They can also check things like fret wear.

Thanks for reading

I recently visited a friend who is learning guitar. As soon as I picked her guitar up I could see the action was super high. And then when I started to play it, it was really difficult to play.

I?d like to see more guitar shops offer setups when people, especially beginners, first buy their guitars. She was having real trouble learning and it’s no surprise – I had trouble playing that guitar, it must have been really unpleasant for her to play.

I?ll have to follow up and see if she has had it setup like I suggested and see how she?s getting on.

Do you have your guitar setup? If so how often? If not, do you think you’ll consider having a setup done now? Any other questions or comments very welcome in the comments section below.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

2 comments

  1. My grandfather gave me my first guitar and I loved it, but it had such high action on the strings that is made it very difficult to learn on it. I eventually learned anyway and ended up buying a new guitar later that didn’t have the issue. I had no idea then that you could get your guitar set-up! Not to mention your point about how other advantages of having your guitar checked out is that you can be made aware of other repairs you may need.

    1. Hi Daniel

      Thanks for your message.

      I think this is quite a common experience. A lot of people don’t know that an acoustic guitar can be set up to be easier to play or so that it plays in such a way that’s more suited to your playing style or your genre preferences. I so often meet people who have just bought their first guitar and they’re learning and the guitar is so difficult to play because of a high action.

      And yeah definitely, a guitar tech/luthier can definitely find other things that may need repairing or tweaking on your guitar.

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