As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 21 – Fall 2022
As a player of any string instrument, there come times when we have to take our instruments to be serviced, repaired, and adjusted. Most musicians take great care in finding a person they trust to repair their beloved instrument, or some even invest the time and money into learning how to do the work themselves. Knowing when it’s time to take that instrument into the shop and what services to ask for can be daunting. I hope this article will shed a little light on the subject and help you determine when it’s time to take it in.
One of the most common issues with guitars is either high action (the strings are too far away from the fingerboard) or low action (the strings are too close to the fingerboard). High action on a guitar can overstress and tire the hands, making them work harder than they have to. Low action on a guitar can cause buzzing on certain notes located in different places on the fingerboard, making playing difficult and clunky. Each manufacturer has “recommended” heights for their guitars, which can be found in a simple Google search. Most guitar measurements are done in millimeters, so investing in a small ruler can help you know whether or not your guitar is adjusted properly.
In theory, most new guitars get adjusted before they leave the factory, but things may change and shift during shipping or depending on the conditions in which the guitar has been transported. Long exposure to heat or cold can certainly change the adjustment. Some guitarists like to have their new guitar set up when first purchased, as personal preference varies for what string height feels good. I mentioned above that manufacturers have “recommended” heights, but that number will change from guitarist to guitarist. Some people prefer lower action, so the strings are closer to the neck; others like the action a little higher so they can “dig in” and pick more aggressively when they play.
If, while you are practicing and playing, you feel that the strings are far away from the fingerboard and you are tiring your hands when playing chords or single notes, it may be time to take it in for a setup. The same goes if you feel that your strings are too close that they may even be buzzing on the fretboard, it is time to consider a setup. Setups also involve the intonation and adjustment of the saddles for each string. It also involves the adjustment of the pickup height for the optimal tone. Some guitarists learn how to do these adjustments themselves after some years, and others prefer to leave it to the professionals. A setup can cost anywhere between $30 – $100 depending on the area where you live, the repair person, and how much work your guitar needs.
Keeping your guitar in optimal adjustment will make practicing and performing feel easier, sound better, and not as taxing on your muscles and hands. Play on !!!