How to Set Up A Guitar – Tools & Step By Step Tutorial

how to set up a guitar

A guitar is a very important instrument in the life of any musician. A guitar makes music to sound better and sweet. The instrument is simple but very useful every day. Just like any other musical instrument in the market today, a guitar requires the correct set up for it to work properly. In this article, I have analyzed a step by step procedure and the correct tools required to learn how to set up a guitar.

Guitar set up refers to the maintenance procedure involved in playing guitar. However,The set up entails examining the instrument and adjusting the string height and the neck and paying ardent attention to the condition of the saddle and the nut. The purpose of setting up a guitar is to improve its tone and make it easier and more pleasant to play. The adjustment procedure can also identify minor problems before they can escalate to major problems. Thus, Regular guitar set up also helps prolong the life of the guitar, so you will not have to replace it soon.

Understand the reason for guitar setup

​Many guitars are made from wood with a few exceptions. While wood delivers the best and pleasing sound, its organic nature makes it prone to several problems. Changes in temperature wind and humidity affect wood. These changes cause the guitar to change shape with the contraction and expansion of the wood. Though the changes are small, they can cause a guitar to go out of tune and affect the smoothness of playing the guitar. Guitar set up usually address the changes that occur within the guitar. However, most experienced players will want to set up the guitar to suit their style.

​When to set up the guitar

​Some music stores usually set up newly purchased guitars for their customers. Manufacturers often make instruments with room for adjustments that allow players to customize them according to their needs. However, your guitar will need adjustment when:

  • The guitar feels awkward to play
  • Guitar seems out of tune even although you just tuned it
  • The guitar starts buzzing when and it did not before
  • Guitar remained in its case or not played for a very long time.

These reasons can cause the guitar to go out of tune.

The guitar setup procedure

Guitar setup involves several steps.

Prepare Your Tools

Guitars are normally very sensitive when it comes to change of humidity and temperature. As a result, one is required to adjust the intonation and make several other changes. The required tools for guitar set-up There are many important tools for an appropriate setting of the guitar. Some of these tools are for special purposes while others help in adding experience to the user. Under this section, I am going to analyze the most important tools required for guitar setup.

To ensure task runs smoothly you need to assemble your tools together. These are the tools you will need.

1. Feeler Gauge Set - Feeler Gauge Set is important for checking and setting the neck of a guitar. In most cases, the tool works appropriately when the guitar has thin gauges. Feeler gauge set is affordable and available on the market today.

2. Precision Ruler- the metric and Imperial The setup-related measurements of any guitar are mostly very small especially when from the market. The precision Ruler enables one to read the small measurement as from 64ths or 1.2mm. A precision ruler is very accurate in both millimeters and inches. The precision ruler is affordable and very appropriate in the modern guitar setup.

3. Wire Cutters - Strings or Wire cutters are normally required by the user when making changes in strings. When buying from the market, one is required to select the best quality of the wire cutter. The fake cutters wear out very fast and offer poor services. However, if your budget is quite tight and you want to go for a cheaper cutter, consider getting run-of-the-mill cutters from the market.

4. String Winder- A string winder tool is very important for twisting turning pegs of an electric guitar. A proper string winder works quite fast when making changes to a string.

5. Guitar Tuner- You are also required to have an electric or physical guitar tuner when setting up a modern guitar. This tool is important in detecting and displaying the pitch of music notes released by the guitar. please note,Pitch determines the lowness of any musical note and it is normally measured in Hertz.

6. Capo - A capo is another important tool in the setup of a guitar. This equipment is essential for shortening the length or size of strings at the same time and creates effects in a new nut. When the strings of the guitar are open, the music plays in higher pitches.

7. Truss Rod Wrench - Any modern electric guitar comes with a high-quality Truss Rod Wrench from the market. However, one is required to buy an extra Truss Rod Wrench to help in adjusting the neck of the guitar. Truss Rod tools are normally available in various sizes. You need to buy a specific wrench to fit the size your guitar.

Other Tools​

  • Nut files
  • Allen or Hex keys
  • Chromatic Tuner
  • Shim stock/belt sander
  • Machinist’s Rule

How to Set Up A Guitar

​Check That The Guitar’s Neck is Straight

​First, inspect the straightness of the neck checking for any signs of bowing. You can do this by placing the guitar to rest sideways and look down the edge of the fingerboard.however, If the neck of the guitar appears dead straight and there is no buzzing, your truss rod is adjusted appropriately. The assumption is the guitar feels comfortable and smooth to play. If the guitar appears back-bowed or relief bowed, then you need to set the neck. For a bowed neck, you can proceed to adjust the truss rod.

Check that the guitar’s neck is straight

Adjust The Truss Rod

The truss rod is an elongated metal that runs along the length of the guitar. The truss rod is adjustable and functions to counter the tension of the strings and control the curvature of the neck. Check the truss rod if the guitar seems to buzz when playing low positions.

Use Allen keys to adjust the truss rod. If the guitar appears back-bowed, you may need to tighten the truss rod by turning the rod clockwise using Allen keys. You can address a relief bow by adjusting the truss rod using Allen keys in an anticlockwise direction. While setting the truss rod, it is important that you make small turns using the Allen key, because a little shift can make a big difference.

Adjusting the truss rod is very delicate, and you should take caution not to break anything during the process.

Adjust The Bridge Height

​Adjusting the bridge height improves the guitar’s action. The task is relatively straightforward on an electric guitar because you only need to turn the right screws. The acoustic guitar may require you to shim the bridge saddle.

bridge height

​After successfully setting the truss rod, you can adjust the bridge height by just elevating or sinking the vertical screw on the bridge to alter the height of the string. The action of a guitar is the measure between the string and the top of the twelfth fret. Use the machinist’s rule to measure the action and make appropriate adjustments to suit your playing.

On the acoustic guitar, the task is challenging because it may involve sanding the guitar or use shim stock to raise or lower the height of the bridge. You should not do it yourself if you lack the necessary experience. The best option is to let an expert handle it for you.

The Electronics

The checking the electronics of the guitar is very important. Check the batteries for the electric guitar with pick up and for amplified acoustics. Replace batteries where necessary and tighten all the nuts or screws that hold the guitar’s electronics.

Change The Strings

In many instances, you should only modify the strings after adjusting the truss rod and bridge height. The only time you would set the bridge height and truss rod and change the wire all in one go is when changing to a different wire gauge.

It is important that you determine the current gauge of strings on your guitar before embarking on changing them. Remove the old strings by first loosening the tuner one at a time until you can completely unwind the string and pull the entire string through the hole in the tuner. The coiled end of the wire may scratch, and you will need to cut it using a wire cutter. Gently drive the string through the bridge until the end with the ball, and you pass the whole string through. Repeat this for each string.

The bridges vary with the type of guitar, but the principle remains relatively the same. Take your new string at the non-ball end. Now thread the string through the hole in the bridge of your guitar. Proceed to thread the string through the right tuner. Moreover, Do not taut the string; you need to leave sufficient string to wrap around the tuner approximately 3 to 4 times. Gradually turn the tuner to tighten the string. Wrap the excess string around the tuner making sure there is not extra string hanging between the bridge and the neck. Also, Do the same for all strings.

Adjust The Tuning Machine Hardware

You can notice when the tuners are under tension because they feel firm. To identify loose nuts and screws on the tuner, you need to remove the guitar’s strings. Use a right-sized screwdriver to tighten the screws. Be gentle while tightening them. Some guitars have a small screw on each crown of the tuning button. You can adjust the tautness on the tuner by loosening or tightening this screw.

Set The Gap Between The Strings

​You need first to tune your guitar using a chromatic tuner before setting the gaps. Proceed to examine the distance or space between the strings and the 12th fret. You can elevate of lower the distance by turning the screws, nuts, or bolts on the bridge. A clockwise turn lowers the bridge while a counterclockwise turn raises the bridge. Use a ruler to measure the space between the string and the fret. Once done test all frets for buzz. Raise the bridge to minimize any buzz. finally, Always ensure your guitar has no buzz.

Set Intonation

Use a chromatic tuner to tune all string on your guitar. This is how you proceed with setting your guitar’s intonation. start by plucking the first string unfretted. Continue to press the twelfth fret and then pluck the same string again. The chromatic tuner will display E for the notes if the intonation of your guitar is okay.

set intonation

To rectify a sharp not, you need to move the back saddle towards the tailpiece. Move the tails saddle in the opposite direction to improve a flat note. Be careful to make only small turns because a small turn can create a significant difference. Always make sure you test the intonation every time you adjust the position of the bridge saddle. Do this for all the strings until the intonation is right.


​The above steps can help you set you guitar at home. However, if you encounter any challenges or feel not experienced enough to try any step, do not hesitate to seek a professional.Or Youtube is a greater resource to learn how to set up a guitar.

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