Should You Learn How to Setup Your Own Guitar?

Being a guitar player, in some ways means much more than just playing an instrument.

You see, at times it’s not all fun, and as with any other tool to do a job, it might require some maintenance to assure its proper working condition.

By all means, you should be taking proper care of your tools to make sure they play and sound at their best, and to prevent more complex issues down the line.

But should you really learn how to set up your own guitar?

Learning how to set up your guitar is a must for serious players. It’s not that a guitar tech wouldn’t do a better job than you, and not because of the long-term savings it may generate. It’s because it will help you understand how your instrument works technically, and be a lifesaver in certain situations.

In this article, I will tell you all there is to know about learning how to set up your own guitar.

We will discuss the main motivations to do so, and the things you should keep in mind when doing it.

After leaving this page you will have a clearer idea of what setting up a guitar entails.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

What does setting up your guitar mean?

Setting up a guitar means performing a series of actions to the instrument to ensure its proper playability, and to correct natural deviations from its working condition that happens with time and use.

To be more specific, a proper setup will mean a change of strings, the correction of any kind of neck relief the instrument could present, and the adjustment of its string height.

By following these rather simple steps, you will be preparing your guitar for any challenges it may face, and leaving it as new, or even better.

Even better I say because this is not only preventive or maintenance work.

A proper setup might be required on a brand new guitar that’s not “configured” to your liking.

We all have different preferences for how high or low we like our instrument’s action, and this is the way to adjust it.

How hard is it to set up your own guitar?

Setting up a guitar is not hard work.

I can argue that just about anybody can do it, even if they don’t play guitar at all.

But, of course, knowing the instrument and getting a feel for what you are doing is very important for a good result.

You will need to be armed with some patience at first, and the right tools such as a tuner, a screwdriver, Allen keys, and a wire cutter.

If you are someone who enjoys doing home repairs, or that knows its way around the toolbox, it will be a piece of cake for you.

The only thing you should be worrying about is taking proper care of your instrument, and laying out a safe workspace where it won’t get scratched or dinged.

How and where can you learn to set up your guitar?

I’m pretty sure you will find someone to teach you how to do it if you are in contact with guitarists regularly.

If you are taking lessons, you could ask your teacher for a class on how to set up your instrument.

As an alternative, if you are more of a lone wolf, I’m pretty sure most music stores will have a dedicated tech that does this work, and you could ask him if you could pay him to teach you.

It’s not rocket science really.

Finally, if you are more of a DIY guy, you could follow some of the great tutorials about this that YouTube has to offer, for instance, this following one from Paul Davids:

Factors to take into consideration when learning to set up your own guitar

First of all, I would say guitars are not clockwork.

It’s not that after exactly 6 months, no more or less, the instrument neck will bend and it will require a setup.

Hey, your guitar might be years in perfect condition.

That’s particularly true if you live in an area with stable weather. Humidity and temperature swings are the 2 big bad guys for guitars.

I think other than learning how to do a setup on your instrument, it’s very important for you to know how to read the signs that a setup is needed.

Here’s a great video that tells you what to look for:

How much money would you save by setting up your own guitar?

A professional setup will cost you about $40 to $70 on average.

So if we consider that is recommending setting up your guitar twice a year, we will be in the $80 to $140 range per year, not considering the cost of a new set of strings, but you should be changing them anyway.

Multiply this by the number of guitars on your arsenal, and you will start getting to amounts that justify learning how to do this work on your own.

Learning how to set up your guitar is not only about the money

Perhaps the budget required to have a pro work on your guitar is not that high.

And I might even argue that it can save you time and give you some peace of mind knowing that the one dealing with your instrument is an expert.

The thing is, knowing how to do a basic setup is important even if you don’t intend to do it yourself at any time.

First of all, I think it’s important to know what someone else is doing to your guitar.

Second, emergencies do happen.

You might pick up your guitar before a show and find there’s some fret buzz or the action is too high, and what are you going to do then?

You should be able to get out of trouble by yourself if you really need to get to the stage.

How often should you set up your guitar?

On average, you should set up and do maintenance to all of your guitars twice a year, and particularly pay extra attention during dry seasons if it gets extra dry where you live.

You see, guitars don’t like dry environments, and taking proper care of them is necessary to avoid permanent damage.

How to know if your guitar is set up properly

A quick rule of thumb to know if your guitar is set up properly is asking yourself “Does it feel good playing it?”

Here is a quick checklist to know if your guitar is set up properly:

  • Is the string height comfortable?
  • Is there any fret buzz?
  • Are there any “dead” frets?
  • Does any of the things above happen only if you fret a certain note?
  • Is the intonation correct across the neck?
  • Can you see or feel any clear relief on the neck?
  • Do you feel the frets sticking out the side of the fretboard? (sings of fret sprout)