Setups!

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Doctor Doug
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Setups!

Postby Doctor Doug » Sat Aug 18, 2018 8:25 am

Hey guys and gals. I'm curious about how you all set up your guitars.

I've been doing my own setups since I started playing and like pretty much every other aspect of my guitar playing I do it a little half assed.

I sort of eyeball the neck and adjust the action then intonate. For the most part it has served me well.

I've noticed since being on this forum that many of you have a precise and scientific way of approaching guitar playing and purchasing. I assume your setups are given the same attention.

My question is: What is the procedure you all use to set up your guitars and get them playing their best? I'm curious and want to get better at what I do.
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skully13a
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Re: Setups!

Postby skully13a » Sat Aug 18, 2018 12:03 pm

I do as you do. I like to see how others do it though, as I always learn a thing or two that way. :roll:
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Re: Setups!

Postby HarlowTheFish » Sat Aug 18, 2018 7:06 pm

I lower the strings as much as I can at tension without bad buzz (killing sustain or sounding through the amp), and do each one individually so it's often a little higher on the bass side and sometimes strings aren't really properly radiused (which I don't mind tbh). Generally everything is 1-3mm at the 24th fret (22nd on the ones with 22), averaging 1.5 on the first and 2 on the 6th. I tend to go for a slightly higher nut though, so it's pretty much in that same height range along the entire fretboard.

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ioneater
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Re: Setups!

Postby ioneater » Sun Aug 19, 2018 6:03 am

I've had pretty good results using the one page set up sheet that Carvin used to include with every new guitar. It's pretty basic but covers truss rod, intonation and bridge adjustments in just enough depth to get a normal guitar back to spec. I'm at work but can post an image of it later if interested. I also use Harlow's method for string height if it's not a TOM bridge. Floyd's are a whole different animal, I think I have an old Carvin set up guide for those somewhere, too.

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Re: Setups!

Postby HarlowTheFish » Sun Aug 19, 2018 7:42 am

ioneater wrote:I've had pretty good results using the one page set up sheet that Carvin used to include with every new guitar. It's pretty basic but covers truss rod, intonation and bridge adjustments in just enough depth to get a normal guitar back to spec. I'm at work but can post an image of it later if interested. I also use Harlow's method for string height if it's not a TOM bridge. Floyd's are a whole different animal, I think I have an old Carvin set up guide for those somewhere, too.

I once heard that the best way to set up a floyd is with a temporary block to to action and intonation and then balance it. Worked fine for me.

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Re: Setups!

Postby ioneater » Sun Aug 19, 2018 10:49 am

HarlowTheFish wrote:
ioneater wrote:I've had pretty good results using the one page set up sheet that Carvin used to include with every new guitar. It's pretty basic but covers truss rod, intonation and bridge adjustments in just enough depth to get a normal guitar back to spec. I'm at work but can post an image of it later if interested. I also use Harlow's method for string height if it's not a TOM bridge. Floyd's are a whole different animal, I think I have an old Carvin set up guide for those somewhere, too.

I once heard that the best way to set up a floyd is with a temporary block to to action and intonation and then balance it. Worked fine for me.


Yes sir, a block made of anything thick enough to hold the baseplate level to the body is money. A tremel-no works really well for this, too.

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Re: Setups!

Postby HarlowTheFish » Sun Aug 19, 2018 10:54 am

ioneater wrote:
HarlowTheFish wrote:
ioneater wrote:I've had pretty good results using the one page set up sheet that Carvin used to include with every new guitar. It's pretty basic but covers truss rod, intonation and bridge adjustments in just enough depth to get a normal guitar back to spec. I'm at work but can post an image of it later if interested. I also use Harlow's method for string height if it's not a TOM bridge. Floyd's are a whole different animal, I think I have an old Carvin set up guide for those somewhere, too.

I once heard that the best way to set up a floyd is with a temporary block to to action and intonation and then balance it. Worked fine for me.


Yes sir, a block made of anything thick enough to hold the baseplate level to the body is money. A tremel-no works really well for this, too.

I stuck two screws in the trem cavity on my ibby that I can use to adjust the angle and block to dive-only or raise-only depending on how I set them

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Re: Setups!

Postby UnexplodedCow » Tue Aug 21, 2018 12:46 pm

Very subjective question.

I tend to measure as much as possible, and after years of doing it, I sort of know what I want from a guitar, and eyeball it most of the time. I'm usually close to spot on, so I don't sweat it as much as I used to.

That said, I tend to keep 6th string (everyone only plays those, right?) around .045 to .055" from the 12th fret for guitars with vibratos set to floating, and .035 to .045 on the 1st string. For fixed-bridge, where there is no need to pull up, I can normally get the action a bit lower: about .035 to .040" 6th string, and .025 to .030" for the 1st. Neck relief is around .008" at the 8th fret for most of the flatter radius, or a little more (up to .010") depending on preference.

This is a baseline with .010-.046 string gauges. I tend to raise the action a few thousandths when switching to 9s because of the lighter feel, and a greater propensity to buzz from that lack of tension. An even lighter touch is necessary if the same height is used.

I just use a tuner to check intonation, all the way to the 24th fret. If I wanted to seriously set it up numbers perfect, I'd measure between the nut and saddle, then take that measurement against the known length for a string gauge. Given the nature of the guitar, I'm less concerned about it since the intonation is the biggest issue of them all, and True Temperament is a funky, if not functional, way of addressing that.

Now, if the instrument has some fretwear, or in need of fretwork in general, I tend to raise the action a little higher to prevent fret buzz, but have decked some frets to get things level. If the nut is too low, that can be filled with some hard filler material (graphite, metal, or glass doped epoxy works well), and then re-filed. Or replace the whole nut if it's in really bad shape.

Setting up a guitar is nothing something I've typically done quickly, but I'm usually measuring a bunch of times, and making small adjustments over time, until it comes out right. Heck, even lowering the action can affect how much tension the truss rod needs, due to leverage. I'm also one to leave my truss covers off, and adjust seasonally or as needed. Never had a broken rod, thankfully.
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Re: Setups!

Postby Doctor Doug » Tue Aug 21, 2018 7:20 pm

All the measuring...THAT'S what I'm interested in! I need to figure out a more precise way of doing things.
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Re: Setups!

Postby UnexplodedCow » Wed Aug 22, 2018 5:26 am

Doctor Doug wrote:All the measuring...THAT'S what I'm interested in! I need to figure out a more precise way of doing things.


A simple set of feeler gauges will do the trick. They're a few dollars at just about any hardware store, probably in the automotive section. You can also get some under-string radius gauges that help make things easier once the radius is known, and 1st/6th strings are at the desired height, and then check with feeler gauges and fine-tune from there.

While the whole numbers correct idea matters in an ideal world, as long as the player is comfortable with how the instrument plays, and it plays in tune, it doesn't have to be so perfect. With that said, however, people can feel a few thousandths difference in string action, and a good setup may make them play better. Sometimes they don't even know what they want yet, so experimenting is key, and that's the benefit of DIY.
We are entitled to our own, wrong, opinions.

Guitar theorem: G=X+1 where G= guitars one needs, and X = guitars one has.

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Re: Setups!

Postby Omsong » Mon Sep 17, 2018 9:42 am

I would prefer to set to lower action on my Fatboy than my procedure specifies, but anything less and I start to get significant and annoying fret buzz. Consider that I play clean with a lot or reverb which makes buzzing more apparent. If you use heavy distortion, I think you can probably tolerate a lot more buzzing.

My procedure:

1. START - Check for high frets. I use a plastic Credit card that spans three frets, and move it up the neck, one fret at a time. Try to rock it back and forth to identify a high fret at the pivot point. Fix accordingly. (never had to do this with my Carvins/Kiesels)

2. Check string height at the first fret to make sure the string nut slot depth is correct (I've never had to make any slot changes to a Carvin/Kiesel guitar. However, making a significant string gauge change might require reslotting the nut.)

3. Check Neck Relief and adjust truss rod (if necessary).
A. Capo at the first fret, press and hold the 1st string around the 17th fret and measure the gap between the fret crown and the bottom of the 1st string at / around the 6th to 9th fret. I've been looking for a set of feeler gauges but haven't found one yet, so I use a micrometer to measure the thickness of a business card as a measurement reference. They are typically around 0.013 inches thick. When I insert a corner of the card, I carefully watch the shadow of the string on the adjacent frets to see if there is any movement. I also hold the card in place and press down on the string over the card to 'feel' if there is an movement of the string. With less than 0.010" neck relief, I get too much fret buzz, more than 0.02" relief and the action will be too high across the neck. My Fatboy, when I received it from the factory was around 0.0075"!
B. I repeat the process with the 6th string, just to verify there is no neck twist. I haven't tried it, but it may be best to use the 3rd or 4th string on a fretboard with a tighter radius (like Fender's)
C. Adjust the truss rod accordingly if necessary. I never turn it more than 1/16 turn at a time, and let it stabilize before going any further. Some recommend loosing the strings, I don't do that, but have never had to make more than a small adjustment. So, I really can't say how important that is. Then I let the guitar sit for a day (IF I'm in a really patient mood - not)before making any further setup changes. (Again some say that is not necessary, other say you should wait several days. Who knows?)

4. String Height (action) - Fixed Bridge!
A. Capo at the first fret, and measure the 1st string height at the 12th fret from the fret crown to the bottom of the string. For this, I have a couple of reference picks that I've measured with the micrometer to verify their thickness. I use Dunlap Tortus glossy picks. Here are some measurements (Close enough for government work):

.... Fender Thin .......................... 0.019"
.... Fender Medium ...................... 0.27"
.... Fender Heavy ........................ 0.038"
.... Dunlop Pink .......... (0.96mm) ... 0.0375"
.... Dunlop Dk Pink ...... (1.14mm) ... 0.044"
.... Dunlop Md. Purple .. (1.5mm) .... 0.59'
.... Dunlop Dk. Purp ..... (2.0mm) .... 0.073"

.... Business Card ........................ 0.013" to 0.016"
.... Dime ................................... 0.052"

B. Using the same method as I check neck relief, I slide the picks, one by one, under the string at the 12th fret and closely watch for any movement. The general recommendation that I follow is that the 1st string gap should be 0.047" (1.19mm) for rhythm strumming - a little less for shredding. So I check it with a Dunlap 1.14mm pick (using the shadow method). Too low, raise the bridge till good, etc. - change individual saddle heights or the bridge leg post adjustment. If you change individual saddles, be sure to maintain the proper fretboard curvature profile across all strings.
C. Repeat for the sixth string. The recommended gap is 0.078" (2.0mm). I use a Dunlop Dark Purple (2mm) pick to check this gap.
D. Re-tune the guitar and recheck the string action.

5. Set intonation. I use second harmonics and 12 fret (second octave) comparisons using a tuner.

6. Fret every string from 1st to 24th fret for buzzing with "normal" picking attack. (Pick the string parallel to the neck. Picking the string 'down' or at an angle towards or away from the fretboard will cause the string to vibrate in a larger arc that might increase the chance for fret buzs.) If there is any fretbuzz, go back to 'START' and repeat.

One last note: the stop tailpiece on my Fatboy determines the angle that the strings break across the bridge. The greater the angle the greater the tension on the strings. I wanted a little less tension so I raised the stop tailpiece about 1 mm. (Ever wonder why LPs are sooo much easier to fret than Strats? That's a big part of it along with their shorter scale length which also reduces string tension at pitch.)

If you made a significant change to your string height, you might need to raise or lower your pickups, too!
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Kiesel
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Past tense
- '02 Fatboy; '04 CT6M; '07 Fatboy; '11 Bolt+


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