What do you do when you have a 7 string, need a thick .080" string on the low side, tuned down 2 full steps to Drop F, and setup before the weekend? Needless to say, I couldn't find a suitable string without special ordering - this is the next best thing. Take a base string, cut off the excess, expose the inner wrap and you're in! Finish it with a quick solder for additional durability.
So what's going on? Did the neck shift? Was it adjusted correctly? Or was it just done poorly? I actually get these jobs all the time. In this case, the guitar above had a couple issues- so we decided to correct them best that we could.
1) The neck is too straight.
It's a fine line between where it feels best and having adequate relief. After measuring the relief I found much more on the treble side than bass side, suggesting a twist. I'm talking like .005" difference but that's ample enough. So first, set the minimum relief to the bass strings. Then adjust the string height.
2) The nut slots were cut too wide/deep.
You can see in the first picture quite clearly how wide the slots are. Likely cut with a v-shaped file but still overly done. Nut slots should only be wide enough to allow the string to pass through it without binding. A few thousandth's of an inch wider and the string will not only lose tone but also vibrate within the nut slot, creating an unpleasant buzzing when the string is played open. Which was happening with this guitar. So after carefully cutting the lacquer around the nut, I knocked it out and made a new one.
Since it was in the shop, we also changed out the pickups and tremolo.
It's good practice to check that the new pickups work before installing them. Best way to do that is to test the impedance with a multi-meter. This also gave me assurance that it was a matched set and that the bridge pickup was indeed slightly hotter output. When swapping pickups, just replace the old wires with the new. Going one for one you'll never forget which goes where on a mess of a circuit like this.
Finished 'er up and the buzz has minimized and it's feeling much more solid all around. Learn more about these methods at one of our upcoming setup classes!
Yeah I get it. But you just can't quite dial it in, right? So what are you missing?
If you have had this guitar playing beautifully, than it probably just needs a couple tweaks (unless the neck has warped while in your possession....).
Hopefully it's not as bad as the slug player above, but here's what you do.. in order!
1. Check the neck- Look for any twists, humps or dips. If there is nothing evident, you need to dial in the relief (a.k.a. neck bow). There is an earlier post all about neck relief and truss rod adjustments here http://www.learn-guitarsetups.com/repair-blog/how-to-adjust-your-truss-rod. Give it a read and come back for the next step.
2. Now you have your neck relief set, with just a tad of relief, right? Now let's look at your string height at the saddles. Because I have no idea what kind of guitar, string gauge, tuning, or technique you possess- I'd first suggest to set your string height to the manufacturer's suggestion, and adjust from there. Give it a google search. Guitars with 2 post bridge adjustments (Tune-o-matics, Floating Tremolos, etc), it's as simple as raising or lowering each post until you are happy. If it buzzes, raise it until it stops. I'd suggest a little higher on the bass side since those strings need more room to play out without buzzing. Guitars with individual saddle height (strat, tele, etc), it's a little more involved then that- To correctly adjust string height, each string must measure off of and follow the fretboard radius- That may sound confusing, so I found a great video to demonstrate. There's a plethora of others out there as well worth checking out.
If you're still having trouble after these adjustments, consider bringing it into a pro. Or If it's never gotten a setup, that's exactly what is needed! Pickup our easy guide and have it covered in an afternoon or join us at one of our Precision Guitar Setup Classes!
Gibson Les Paul
Question: What is the first thing you do to a factory Gibson when someone brings it to you for a setup? Today's guitars are plek'd, but have to endure environmental duress to get to Edmonton. Can you comment on the nut & saddles (truss rod adjustment is obvious) and what else you might do to a guitar that has already passed inspection?
JS - Edmonton, AB
Answer: Just as any guitar, I sight the neck - check for twists, raised frets, warps. Anything that will effect the setup. If there are any issues, I can communicate that with my client rather immediately (in many cases), to decide on any further work to correct those problems. Besides that, I adjust the truss rod and action for the guitar to play it's best (in my hands). Of course this is subjective and I ultimately rely on the owner's preference, if any, to finalize the setup. Gibson guitars, right out of the box, need a good setup, because they're not - and most stores don't have the man power to do it until purchased. Mostly the guitar settles significantly once it hit's our climate. Being that it is mostly too dry here, the neck develops too much bow. When you pick it up in the store and it feels awful, this is usually why. The nut slots are cut well enough (but yes can be fine tuned), and the saddles the same. Gibson guitars may be Plek'd, but ultimately after the guitar has been finished, boxed, shipped, stored, shipped again, stored, and finally hung on a wall - it will have shifted & settled, and become less than perfect. So to answer your questions, I would torqued down the hardware, adjust the relief in the neck, adjust the saddle height, fine tune the nut slots (widen them to help prevent pinging), adjust the pickup height, and finely set the intonation...unless it needed a fret level, then I would do that first !
I'm posting this article on my website to help further educate guitarists on the topic of truss rods. Quite often guitar necks shift from too much bow to too little. Far too often it is blamed on the last person that adjusted the guitar's truss rod. I'm not suggesting it was or wasn't- but this actually happens mainly from a change in the relative humidity of the climate the instrument's exposed to. This kind of change can happen within as short as a day. What this means is, if you pickup your guitar from a tech, where it plays beautifully - and then a month ( or day or week) later it plays awful - it's a good indication that something on the guitar has shifted. It does not necessary mean the tech did a bad job, or he/she ruined your guitar. I have always offered complimentary truss rod adjustments - It takes no time at all.
The truss rod is a simple device that basically has one purpose: to counter the pull of the strings. That's it. It isn't meant to adjust the height of your strings; you can't set your intonation with it; and with a little foresight, you aren't going to render your guitar useless by attempting to adjust it.
When you bring your guitar into J.Haven for a setup, your truss rod is adjusted after your new strings have been strung up to pitch. Some necks require a “settling in” period after adjustment and are left as long as required to settle.
Every guitar is different but typically your truss rod will need adjustment when changing tuning or string gauge, or have seasonal changes ie. Winter to spring, summer to fall, etc. Any time your guitar gets buzzy after it's been properly setup (for a certain tuning and string gauge) it is likely due to the neck needing a re-adjustment. Just bring it by the shop or attempt it yourself using the guide. Chances are a quarter turn one way or the other will correct the problem. Considering that Alberta has a very erratic climate, it is likely your truss rod may need more routine adjustments than in other localities.