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How To Setup a Classical Guitar?

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

The beautiful tone of your classical guitar can get weirdly disturbing with the slightest of issues.

From a minute disturbance in the truss rod to a more significant problem in the action or bridge, every single factor determines how good or bad your classical guitar plays. And if you love to play your instrument, you wouldn’t want it to be in bad condition.

In this blog post, we are discussing some of the most important pointers to consider while setting up a classical guitar. So, let’s dive right in.

Easy Steps To Having a Classical Guitar Setup

When you are setting up your classical guitar for the first time, things can be highly challenging. First of all, you may not have enough knowledge about classical guitar setup.

Secondly, you will be lacking experience, which no tutorial can provide you.

However, by approaching the process with caution, you can correctly set up your classical guitar according to your personal preference. In the sections below, we are mentioning some of the most important areas to focus on while setting up a classical guitar. Moving further, we’ll also discuss how you can fix issues relating to them.

Classical Guitar String Height

The height of the strings on your classical guitar largely determines the way it plays and feels.

For example, a classical guitar with strings way too high from the fretboard will make it difficult to switch chords and notes.

Whether you are playing Für Elise or something as basic as Stairway to Heaven, your fingers may get entangled between the strings and skipping strings while playing will also be unnecessarily demanding.

On the other hand, if the strings on your classical guitar are too low, you may experience an annoying fret buzz while picking notes and playing chords.

For a smooth classical guitar playing, it’s best to ensure that the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the low-E string is 3 mm. (Yes, this varies from player to player).

The standard recommendation for the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the high-E string is 4 mm.

To measure these distances you can use a string action gauge.

What to Do If The String Height isn’t Optimal?

Well, here’s a step-by-step procedure to guide you on how to adjust string height on a classical guitar.

Step 1: Sit down on a chair with the guitar in the playing position. Remember to keep the guitar’s neck parallel to the ground.

Step 2: If the distance is too much, it means that the action and relief are high (back-bow). To improve this, you’ll have to fasten the truss rod nut.

On the other hand, if the distance is less, the action and relief will be low (up-bow). In this case, you should loosen the truss rod nut.

Bridge Positioning for Classical Guitar

The position of the bridge on your classical guitar plays a vital role in the string height.

And how to adjust it?

Well, first of all, you’ll have to find out whether your classical guitar’s action is high or low.

If the action is too high, you will have to shave off the saddle a little bit. And if the action is too low, you’ll have to add some girth to the saddle’s base.

Let’s take a look at the tools you are going to need:

  • 2 sets of new strings

  • String winder

  • String cutter

  • Bridge pin pulling equipment

  • Capo

  • Scissors

  • Double-sided tape

  • Coarse 80 grit sandpaper

  • Medium 240 grit sandpaper

  • A flat table

  • Superglue

  • 0.6 mm hardwood veneer


Step 1: De-string the guitar - Detune your guitar to reduce the string tension to minimum. And either cut the strings from the knot or unwind them one-by-one.

Step 2: Cut a small piece of 80 grit and 240 grit sandpapers and stick both these pieces on a cardboard using double tape.

Step 3: Pull out the saddle and sand it off on the 240 grit sandpaper to trim down its height.

Before you place the saddle back on the bridge, give it a gentle rub on the 80 grit sandpaper.

Step 4: Place the saddle back, set up the new strings and test the position - If the saddle still needs to be lowered, you will have to repeat the above steps.

Now, this was one case where the saddle on your classical guitar was too high. If the saddle on your classical guitar seems too low, you’ll have to shim its base.

For this, take the saddle out and glue a shim to its base.

Just make sure that the bottom of the saddle is perfectly flat before you glue it. Generally, the veneer shim is around 0.6 mm in thickness.

Classical Guitar Fret Wiring

The comfort of playing is always important to any classical guitarist.

And yes, we have talked a lot about that in the previous sections, but guitar setup involves a lot of factors, right?

Well, this section is about the fret wiring.

The fret work on your classical guitar decides whether the instrument will be comfortable for you or not. To maintain comfort, guitarists like to keep the fret wiring smooth. The edges should have smooth curves with no sharpness.

To achieve that, you’ll have to follow a process and for that you’ll need the following tools:

  • Fret cutter

  • Tool for cleaning fret slots

  • Fret end file

  • Fret rocker to ensure that all the frets are in level

  • Soldering gun

Here’s the step-by-step process:

Step 1: Remove the strings

Step 2: Use a soldering gun to heat the frets (stay away from the edges). This will melt down the frozen glue keeping the frets attached to the neck.

Step 3: Use the fret cutter tool to pick up and remove the frets one-by-one from the fretboard.

Step 4: Clean up the fret slot with the cleaning tool and file the frets to smoothen down. You can also consider replacing the fret wiring and install the new premium quality frets which will make playing more comfortable and fun.

Use the fret rocker to check that all the frets are in level with each other.

Frequently Asked Questions

To make a classical guitar setup for our readers, in this section, we’ll answer some FAQs.

How high should the action be on a classical guitar?

In most general cases, the ideal distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the low-E string is 3 mm. And the ideal distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the high-E string is 4 mm.

However, the distance on your classical guitar can vary based on your playing preferences.

Are classical guitars good for beginners?

If you are a beginner who wishes to learn classical guitar music, finger-picking, flamenco, or other classical genres, classical guitar will be the perfect fit for you.

However, if you think that these genres aren’t for you, it’d be better to buy an acoustic guitar.

It’s also important to note that in most classical guitars the strings may not be fit for bends. And playing classical guitar with a pick will surely change the true flavour of this instrument.

How do I know if my guitar action is too high?

If you have suddenly started feeling that the strings on your classical guitar have raised up annoyingly high, making it difficult to fret and play, the action on your guitar might have gone too high.

You can also measure the string height on the 12th fret and match it with the standards or your preferred string height.

Do classical guitars have truss rods?

Honest word — it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model.

In the majority of cases, high-end classical guitars will have a truss rod, while those on the cheaper side wouldn’t. But then also, this isn’t mandatory.

To check whether your classical guitar has a truss rod or not, you can try taking a look into the soundbox. If you can see a truss rod nut, your classical guitar has a truss rod; otherwise, you can get in touch with the manufacturer to find out.

Wrapping up

Setting up a classical guitar generally seems like a challenging job, and clearly it is way trickier when compared to acoustic or electric guitar setup. Even stringing a classical guitar can get you in sweat.

However, with this blog, we tried to make things a little easier for you. Hopefully, you found this helpful.

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