When should I get my guitar setup?

Getting your guitar setup is important for many reasons. Whether you play every day or once a month, your guitar can experience subtle and extreme changes. These changes can effect playability and, if left unchecked, could lead to more serious damage to your instrument.

Here are some common reasons to get a setup.


Change of season

When the seasons change, temperature and humidity change. This can cause the wood to expand or contract, affecting neck relief, action and intonation. Particularly in the case of acoustic instruments, if these changes aren’t identified and addressed they could be the catalyst for severe damage in the future.

I’ve personally seen it too many times to recall. The belly starts to bulge. The bridge begins to lift and then hairline cracks begin to form in the top, starting at the bridge and ending at the tail. Meanwhile, the area around the sound hole begins to sag and cave in. This guitar will need a crack repair, bridge re-glue, possible brace repair and potentially a neck reset. At the end of it all, you have a huge repair bill on your hands that far exceeds the value of most guitars.

Keeping the humidity under control is a very important aspect of owning an acoustic guitar. It’s a good idea to bring your instrument to a professional when the seasons change just to see if it needs any adjustments and make sure it hasn’t developed any structural problems.

Changing string gauge or type

Changing the gauge of strings you use always requires a fresh setup. String gauge will effect tension on the neck, intonation and nut slot width. When the string tension increases or decreases, the neck relief will also increase or decrease. The truss rod will need to be adjusted to compensate.

Also, intonation is directly affected by string gauge. If you change the gauge of string the intonation will need to be adjusted in order to maintain note accuracy.

If you change to heavier gauge strings the nut slots may need to be widened. Strings that are too thick for their nut slots can cause breakage requiring a nut repair or replacement.

Even if your not changing the gauge, switching string brands or types can warrant a setup as well. Often different strings can exert more or less tension because of materials and being engineered for specific tensions.

The guitar has been stored for a long time

If you have put your guitar in a closet for months or years and are just now picking it up again, you may notice it doesn’t feel or play quite the same. The tension of the strings may have pulled on the neck and caused a bow or perhaps the truss rod tension slowly overcame the tension of the strings and now they are too close to the frets and buzzing.

Strings will definitely need to be changed and if the environment is humid enough they will end up rusting. If the environment is too dry, fret ends can start to protrude from the sides of the neck and acoustic guitars can develop bulging, cracks and bridge damage.

Sometimes, if a guitar has been untouched for a long time, the truss rod can seize up entirely. If it can’t be moved or if it’s forced so hard that it brakes, be prepared for a pricey repair. It’s good practice to check the truss rod every now and then to avoid such damage.

New guitar

When buying a new guitar we have certain expectations. We expect it to play smoothly and easily without any buzzing. We expect a new guitar to be setup properly and ready to play. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Many times, guitars end up sitting in warehouses for weeks or months before being shipped to their new owner or being opened and displayed in a showroom. Many of these warehouses and stockrooms are not adequately climate controlled and, dependent upon location and season, these instruments can experience extreme changes in temperature and humidity. Sometimes guitars are shipped from very warm and humid environments to very cold and dry environments. When the guitar arrives it can be unplayable, even though it received a complete inspection and setup before it left the factory.

Even if a guitar store has a tech on staff, it’s often impossible for them to properly setup every instrument that comes through the store. Many times, novice guitar players will purchase a guitar that is setup poorly and be unaware. This can affect the comfort and quality of their playing. Because so many people learn on their own online, they may not have a knowledgeable person around who would notice certain issues. If no one points out the problems with the instrument, the beginner can easily become discouraged and give up playing all together.

Playing your instrument should be an extremely enjoyable experience. Having an instrument with good action and accurate notes that’s easy to play shouldn’t be a lofty idea. Typically, with some minor adjustments made by a skilled professional, just about any instrument can be made to play beautifully.

If you are in the Dallas, Fort Worth area and would like to schedule an appointment to have your guitar setup, call today,