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Electric Guitar Setup Guide

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Whether you are a rock fan or love Pop music, if you have an electric guitar, you may want to play it all the time. Indeed, we’ve all been through the phase when our days started with our electric guitar and the nights ended the same way.

But, the fun of playing the guitar can be ruined by hardware glitches. From an upset truss rod arrangement to the disturbed intonation, all the minor and major problems can hinder your practice and performance. And finding a guitar shop may not be feasible at all times. That’s why it’s best to know enough about your electric guitar’s setup.

And in this blog post, we are talking about the same. Read below to find out the most important things you need to know about electric guitar setup.

First Things First, Why You Should Get an Electric Guitar Setup?

All musical instruments are types of machines. While some of these machines work on a simple principle, others involve a whole lotta rocket science.

While an electric guitar may not be the trickiest instrument to maintain, its optimal arrangement may get disturbed over time and usage. From the truss rod holding the guitar neck to the arrangement of the bridge or pickups, anything can go wrong, just like a normal machine.

And when something goes wrong, the need for fixing it up arises. That’s when we start talking about electric guitar setup, as it’s a process where your electric guitar’s mechanical system is adjusted back for desired functioning.

Top Symptoms to Find Out Whether Your Electric Guitar Needs a Setup or Not:

  • Action is uncomfortably high

  • Some notes don’t play perfectly

  • Damping sound while playing individual notes

  • Weird tone

  • Buzzing while playing

  • Rusty strings

  • Too dirty to play

  • Switches not working

What Tools Do You Need For A Guitar Setup?

Proven that guitar setup is an important part of owning and maintaining a guitar, the next question may cross your mind.

How to set up my electric guitar? Or what tools do I need to set up my electric guitar?

Well, let’s start this section by answering the second question. Here’s a list of tools that you are going to need for a guitar setup:

  • Tapered Feeler Gauge Set: This is a measurement tool for checking and setting neck relief. Also, these tapered tips work great in areas with tight spaces. A general tapered feeler gauge set from Amazon will give you 32 feeler blades starting from 0.001"/0.03mm and going up to .040"/1.00mm. The average price for one set is around $20.

  • Precision Ruler: In order to accurately carry out the small measurements, you’ll need a precision ruler by your side. For your electric guitar setup, prefer buying a ruler with inches and millimeters markers.

  • Pliers or String Cutter: Your regular scissor may not work great while cutting strings. And we know the pain and time it takes to remove each string one-by-one. A string cutter or a pair of pliers will save you here.

  • String Winder: Because loosening and tightening up the strings is an important part of guitar maintenance.

  • Truss Rod Wrench: It’s a small wrench that helps you tighten up or loosen down the truss rod on your electric guitar. Basically, a truss rod wrench is a 5 mm Allen key.

  • Phillips’ Screwdriver: It’s a four-headed screwdriver that will help you fasten or loosen screws on your electric guitar’s pickups and the pickguard.

  • Guitar Tuner: Headstock guitar tuners are perfect for any guitar setup job. They make it easier to keep the guitar in tune and set it up.

  • Capo: You’ll know why we need a capo to set up electric guitar.

Apart from this, you can use a small piece of cloth to clean up the dirt from your electric guitar’s internal components.

How to Setup Your Electric Guitar? Step-by-Step Procedure

Setting up your electric guitar isn’t the easiest thing to do. In the majority of cases, guitar owners avoid playing around with the truss rod and other intonation settings. The reason is the delicacy of the system.

A disturbance as small as half-an-inch can also disturb the entire playing experience. But then, it isn’t that tricky either.

With patience and the right knowledge, anyone can set up an electric guitar at home. So, let’s move ahead and see how it’s done.

Adjusting the Neck of a Guitar

If you’ve ever played an electric guitar with high action, you would know how bad the feeling is. Sliding your fingers on such a guitar will be difficult, and bending strings may get your fingers entangled.

In a majority of cases, this happens due to an up-bow or back-bow on the guitar neck.

But don’t worry, here’s how you can adjust the neck and the action to your desired, comfortable height.


Before we make adjustments to the neck, we must sight it to find out whether it has an up-bow, a back-bow or a flat neck.

To sight your guitar:

Step 1: Put the capo on the first fret, (Don’t worry, it’s not a Wonderwall tutorial. Capo-ing the first fret is important to check action), and place the guitar on your lap in playing position.

Step 2: Grab the precision ruler and place it on the seventeenth fret to determine the height of the action, i.e., the distance between the fret and the thickest string.

Recommended distance between the thickest (low ‘E’) ‘E’ & the seventeenth freet is 1.5 mm, and the recommended distance between the thinnest (high ‘e’) ‘e’ & the seventeenth fret is 1 mm.

Step 3: Repeat the above steps with the high-e string.

Step 4: If the distance is as recommended, you are good to go. Otherwise, move to the next step.

Properly Adjust the Truss Rod

Truss rod adjustment is one of the most crucial parts of adjusting guitar neck. If the distance between the fret and the strings is less, your guitar would be having an up-bow. And if the strings seem to be way higher than they should be, your guitar will be having a back-bow.

To decrease the back-bow, you’ll need to fasten the truss rod nut in the clockwise direction. Similarly, to reduce an up-bow, you’ll have to fasten the rod nut in the anti-clockwise direction.

Just make sure to not make it too tight or loose.

Also, if you lack experience working around the truss rod, you should make minor adjustments swinging the nut not beyond a quarter-turn.

You can also consider reaching out to a professional guitar repair and adjustment service.

Adjust The Bridge Height

Another reason why your electric guitar may have a high action is the bridge height.

That’s why it’s important to adjust bridge height to achieve an optimal action height. And how to do that? Here are the steps:

Step 1: Measure the height with the precision ruler as done in the second step of the previous section.

Step 2: Tune your guitar to standard tuning and ensure that the neck is straight, with no bow.

Step 3: Read the ruler for the strings you want to check action height for.

Step 4: Adjust the bridge height from the points on the bridge.

A tune-o-matic bridge on a Gibson Les Paul will have two points where you can adjust the bridge from.

Similarly, if your guitar has a Floyd Rose bridge, you can set its height just like we did for the tune-o-matic bridge. Just make sure that the bridge is properly set before you adjust its height.

On the other hand, bridges with individual saddles (mostly seen on Fender/Squier guitars allow players to have the highest control over bridge height.

For such bridges, you can adjust the saddle height for each string — customisation 101.

Adjust the Strings

When someone talks about adjusting the strings, they can either be talking about replacing strings or adjusting the string height.

About the latter, we just talked in the previous section.

Speaking about changing strings, you’ll need to first cut away the old strings with the string cutter tool. After that, take out each string one-by-one and put in the new strings.

Keep in mind that each electric guitar has different methods for replacing strings. Depending on the model and make, the string changing process for your guitar may vary.

To avoid mistakes, it’d be best to check string replacement guidelines specific to your guitar model.

Check the Tuning Machine Hardware

If your guitar is running out of tune in the middle of a practice or jam session, you must take a look at the tuning machine hardware.

And there comes a problem, almost no electric guitar on this planet would have an open tuning machine. The tuning machine hardware on an electric guitar is always hidden under a covering hood which protects it from dust and moisture. And if your guitar has started losing tuning on its own, you may require to replace the tuning machine hardware.

Again, the process is subject to change from model to model, so consider learning about the guidelines from your guitar manufacturer.

Set the Intonation

Over time and usage, the notes on your electric guitar may start deviating from the actual pitch.

For example, the G note on the 8th free of the second string may deviate from the actual pitch.

In this case, you’ll need to set the intonation on your guitar.

For that, play the natural harmonica on the twelfth fret of the string you want to set intonation for and then fret the same twelfth fret and play that note.

If the played note’s pitch is higher than the harmonic, the tension is low, and the saddle should be screwed forward.

And if the note’s pitch is lower than the harmonic, the tension will be high, so you’ll have to screw the saddle outwards and away from the neck.

Once this is done, tune your guitar and see if the intonation is in place.

NOTE: The entire process should be carried out after the neck, strings and everything else is adjusted, and the guitar is in tune.

Final Piece of Advice

Setting up an electric guitar at home may not seem like an easy task, but with the right knowledge and care, you can do it.

While you set up your electric guitar, make sure to have learned enough about the mechanics and keep a note of the changes and to what limit you’re making them. This will help you get back to the original position if things go south.

If you are looking to set up your electric guitar, the tips above will help you. For more guitar-related info, stay tuned to Colourtone Guitars.

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