Ready…Set…Guitar — The Proper Guitar Set-up

March 31st, 2011

Congratulations! You’ve just invested in your first guitar!

Perhaps you have been saving for awhile and finally got that expensive Fender that you have always wanted? Or, maybe you’re like the vast majority of most beginners and decided to save a little cash and go with a cheaper priced instrument? Nothing is wrong with the later but you should know that if you pick up the guitar for the very first time and hear an awful buzzing noise it does not necessarily mean you bought a bad guitar.

Rather, it is highly likely that you just need to give the guitar a proper set-up.

Note: Of course, you can avoid this scenario almost entirely by testing out the guitar prior to buying and/or avoiding budget guitars sold at places like Wal-Mart and Target.

The reality is that most guitars require at least some set-up before playing, especially if they intend to use the instrument for one particular style. The first thing you should do with a new guitar is strum the open notes and check for any buzzing or muted sounds. If you do encounter such a sound, a nut is likely bad and will need to be filed down. While it is possible to fix this dilemma, we HIGHLY recommend you hire a professional.

Once the guitar passes the first test it’s time to tune the guitar. First, you must find out if the open note is tuned with a fretted note. In order to do this, test the open and twelfth fret notes of each string. They should sound the same. No dice? It’s time to adjust the intonation. Again, it is highly recommended that you consult a professional although (unlike filing down a nut) you are unlikely to cause any major damage to the instrument.

To adjust the intonation on most electric guitars you will need to tighten or loosen screws on the bridge to move each string’s saddle up or down. However, if you are using an acoustic guitar (or any other guitar with a non-adjustable saddle) you will definitely need to bring in the instrument as there is no way an amateur can fix this properly.

After your guitar passes the first two tests you must check for fret buzz. Fret buzz is when the strings are too low or the truss rod is improperly adjusted, resulting in a terrible buzzing noise.

Once again, the problem is fixable but this time you have a variety of alternatives. Some experts will advise you to try playing with an amp (as sometimes the fret buzz is not picked up) or play softer to hopefully eliminate the buzz. However, your best bet may be to try a heavier gauge string on the instrument. Talk to an expert to see what he or she recommends. Your very last resort is to adjust the truss rod.

Last but not least, a wise guitarist should polish, retune and restring the instrument. Consult your local music shop for a correct polish. Always buff with a dry, soft cloth. When not in use, store your guitar in a temperate, moderately dark and slightly humid area.

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