Regardless of what make of guitar you own, if you want to get the most from your gear, it's in your best interest to know how to maintain it. The following is the set up procedure that we use around the shop. With a few simple tools and some patience, you'll be able to calibrate and maintain your guitar precisely if you just follow a few simple steps. ( insert photo, shop 104)
A QUICK NOTE: make sure that when you replace your strings, that you wind enough string onto the posts so there is sufficient downward pressure across the top of the zero fret. While you have the strings off the guitar, it's probably a good idea at this point to clean and oil your fretboard, and check to make sure that your tuners are snug in placeÉjust a quick snug with a 10mm wrench, and light mineral oil on the fretboard.
The set up
The first couple of points to address have to do with your action and how much the neck is bending. Once that’s settled in place, we’ll set the intonation.
With the strings up to tune, measure your action beneath the string, on top of the 12th fret. The low E string should read somewhere around 4/64, the high E around 3/64. You can raise or lower this later to suit your tastes, but this is a good place to start. Raise or lower the bridge accordingly with a compatible flathead screwdriver, making sure to loosen the locking lugs beforehand.
Once your action is in the ball park, you now set your focus on how much your neck is bending. The truss rod that’s installed on our guitars does work differently from most manufacturers’ rods. To add relief to the neck, the 5/32 allen head that lies under the nut, is to be turned clockwise. A counter clockwise turn adds backbow. See photo attached ( insert shop101) The rod at the top has been turned clockwise, the rod at the bottom counterclockwise. There is a small neutral zone in between. Most of our necks are stiff enough that we’re usually adding a little relief during the initial set up. If for any reason you need to adjust the truss rod, please keep in mind that only small incremental changes are to be made…an 1/8 to a ¼ turn is usually all of the adjustment that might be needed. ( insert shop 102)
Measure the relief by placing a true straightedge ( 15 - 16” long) down the center of the fretboard, starting at the first fret. ( not the zero fret)..measure with a feeler gauge the gap beneath the straightedge at the 7th fret. That gap should be somewhere around .007’’…more gap measured will make the neck feel a little spongier in the middle, less gap, straighter necks will feel a little stiffer. Just a slight drag with a .007 feeler gauge gives you a very even feeling neck with enough room for the strings to oscillate.
If you move the truss adjustment, your action at the 12th will be affected, so go back and make any bridge adjustments accordingly. It is best to sneak up on these measurements and let the wood stretch in. Don’t try to get everything done all at once…There’s a balancing act involved. ..one affects the other…take your time, let things settle in.
Once you feel like your action and relief measurements are where you’d like them, it’s now time to take a look at intonation.
Setting your intonation
Intonation is simply calibrating individual string length so that all of the notes along the neck are in tune with each other. This is a fairly simple exercise that takes little time to maintain, but exacting intonation makes all of the difference in your instrument’s voice being reliably consistent.
Start by playing freshly tuned open notes against the fretted notes at the 12th fret. If the fretted note is sharp, that string should be lengthened by moving the bridge saddle further back…if the note is flat, shorten the string by moving the saddle forward…simple enough.
Once all of your 12th fret notes are on target, hone in on the other fretted whole notes along each string, fine tuning your saddle placement accordingly. Keep in mind that once your 12th fret is on target, minute changes ( 1/8 turn at a time)...will slowly bring the other notes in as well, without disturbing the 12th fret reading.
Once you’ve got your whole notes dialed in, it’s time to fine tune chords. At this point you need to make sure that your technique is not forcing certain notes out of tune. If this is the case, you need to either concentrate on your technique or make slight changes to accommodate your playing style.
Once you start to develop an ear for fine tuning your intonation, you’ll realize that small incremental changes can drastically affect the overall voice of the instrument. As you make changes, listen for the speed of the notes. Listen for the tonal attitude of individual notes when compared to their neighbors.
Take the time to fine tune your action and intonation and you’ll find that not only does the tool become more understandable, you’ll also find that it becomes more consistent in it’s voice and more reliably obedient in it’s response.