Guitar Setups by RMS Guitar Repair

Guitar setup is probably the most important aspect in regard to an instrument's playability. At RMS Guitar Repair, I ensure that customers receive a setup that makes their guitars a pleasure to play.

Setting up a guitar for the proper "feel" involves many interrelated factors: the distance between strings and frets, the tension of the strings, the height and condition of the nut and frets, and proper adjustment of the bridge, among other variables.

Setup for optimum playability will vary among players, based on the style of music played, the type of instrument, and personal preferences.

As a musician, I know how important the right "feel" is in order to play your best. I am very demanding about adjusting my action precisely and accurately - it has to be perfect ! I will ensure that your instrument is set up using the same rigorous standards that I require of my own guitars.

A customized setup to spec's includes:

  • a full evaluation of the guitar
  • adjusting the truss rod for proper neck relief
  • check, adjust and lubricate nut slots
  • adjust, clean and lubricate the bridge
  • adjust tremolo system to specs or customer's preference
  • check and adjust saddle height to specs or preference (acoustic)
  • set bridge / saddle height to specs or customer's preference
  • set intonation
  • adjust pickup height
  • check and tighten all screws
  • clean and condition fretboard
  • clean instrument appropriately
  • install new strings

Note: If you like super-low action, a fret dress may be necessary.

Guitar Setups, Humidity and Care

  • All guitars require 42% to 55% relative humidity and a temperature of 69 to 79 degrees F. Purchasing a good digital hygrometer and keeping it in the same room as your guitars is your best defense against the forces of nature (humidity, or lack of). For ALL guitars: avoid extreme temperatures and extreme humidity fluctuations. Using a humidifier in the winter will help prevent setup problems, bridge lifting, cracking, split tops and other issues due to lack of humidity. Forced-air furnaces dry the air; humidify to 42-55% when you turn on the furnace for the fall/winter season. Use 1 of the following: whole house, room, or a case humidifier, then monitor. Using A/C in the summer will help dehumidify and prevent the problems that too much humidity can cause; setup issues, etc. Gig bags are dust covers and do not protect against anything, except dust. Headstocks will break, dents will occur, etc. Hardshell cases are best.

  • Guitars can require seasonal truss rod adjustments. High and low humidity fluctuations will affect the way a guitar plays. You will notice that the strings will feel closer to the frets in the summer and further from the frets in the winter, on electric guitars. Opposite for acoustic guitars, due to the top rising and falling in response to high and low humidity levels. An acoustic neck will act similarly to an electric neck, though. Simply put, the wood of the neck will expand and contract, but the metal truss rod will not. Because the neck is expanding and contracting, the truss rod nut needs to be adjusted for this (best left to a professional).

  • Much damage comes from the use of guitar stands. Using a guitar stand is the most common way to break the headstock off a Les Paul! (or similar "tilt back" head). Fenders are much tougher, you'll likely just dent a Strat, or Tele, if it falls. Wall hangers can damage the finish at contact points, or the guitar can fall to the ground, etc. It's best to always store guitars in their hardshell cases.

  • Don't leave guitars in cars, their trunks, attics, etc. This will cause many problems like; split tops, cracked / checked finishes, cause glue to break down, setup issues, etc. It's best to avoid extreme temperatures (hot or cold) and extreme humidity (high or low).

  • When storing guitars for long periods of time, de-tune all strings (1) full step (2 steps if you use 12's), then monitor. String pull will bow the neck in dry conditions, since you are not adjusting the truss rod for humidity changes if the guitar is being unattended during storage (plus other string pull issues). I'm speaking primarily about dry winters in Chicago (or similar climates with 4 seasons).

  • Changing string gauge *will* change a setup! For example; If you go with a heavier gauge string (from light 9's to heavier 11's) this will add more neck relief (bow), requiring a truss rod adjustment, a tremolo adjustment, etc.

  • To help maintain your setup and settings, change one (1) string at a time when changing strings (unless cleaning, etc). Most bridges and saddles are held down by string tension. Without strings, the saddle screws can move (Fender or similar). The bridge's thumbwheels can or will move (Gibson or similar). Also, the stock bridge and tailpiece will fall off without strings (Gibson), changing bridge/string height, bridge angle, intonation, dents, etc. Changing (1) string at a time works well with locking systems also (Floyd Rose, Kahler, etc). Strings help keep everything together and in place. Plus, the truss rod is adjusted against the string's tension, so it's best to change one string at a time when possible.

  • These are only some guitar care tips; please follow manufacturers instructions and read owners manuals.

  • Typically in the Chicago area, the change of seasons will be the times that can require a setup. Please call or send an email. Thanks, Bob

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