This set-up guide will give some basic, measurable parameters needed to keep your acoustic guitar in optimum playing condition. Since every guitar neck, saddle height, nut height, neck angle, fret, and top condition may be slightly different, using some average measurements can give any guitar a basic, comfortable "feel". Personal preferences in string gauge, playing style and technical ability will determine how closely to the "spec" you'll want to set your own instrument; there is not one set of parameters that is perfect for everyone.
- Set of automotive feeler gauges (.002-.025)
- Light Tung oil or lemon oil
- 6" ruler (with 1/32" and 1/64" increments)
- 1/4" nut driver
- Small screwdriver
- Tuning fork or electronic tuner
- Polish and cloth
- Peg winder
- Wire cutters
The least expensive and most dramatic enhancement to a guitar's sound and playability is to install a fresh set of strings. The tension of strings from different manufactures may vary slightly depending on core diameter, wrap-wire diameter and winding techniques.
While the strings are off the guitar, it's a good idea to clean and seal the fingerboard and bridge. Light Tung oil or lemon oil are fairly traditional sealers. Beeswax compounds are also excellent. Don't use standard guitar polish on unfinished fingerboards or bridges as they can actually dry out the wood.
When installing new strings, there are a few things that can be overlooked:
- Make sure the ball end of the string is seated snugly against the bridge pin at the bridge plate; this will insure that no pitch slipping occurs.
- Carefully wrap the strings around the tuning posts downward from the tuning post anchor hole; two to three complete wraps around the tuning post on the bass strings over the nut, and three to five complete wraps on the treble side. This will maintain the proper angle of the string over the nut.
- Bring the strings completely up to pitch. Even a quarter-step below pitch can relax the tension in the top (behind and in front of the bridge) and the neck, more tension in the wood = more volume and sustain. Once the strings have settled "up" to pitch, you can start to check some of the measurements that determine great playability.
New bass strings can breathe new life into your bass. A lot of the thump and pop you expect from your bass starts right here. In order for strings to stay in tune well, they should be changed on a regular basis. Strings that have lost their integrity (worn where the string is pressed against the fret) or have become oxidized, rusty and dirty will not return to pitch properly. To check if your strings need changing, run a finger underneath the string and feel for dirt, rust or flat spots. If you find any of these, you should change your strings.
Because of the amount of tension prevalent on the neck, it is advisable to replace and tune each new string before removing the next string. After the whole set is changed and turned; make sure that you stretch your strings properly. This is done by holding the strings at the first fret and hooking your fingers under each string (one at a time) and then tugging lightly, moving your hand from the bridge to the neck. Re-tune and repeat this procedure several times.
To properly install strings on both types of bridges, the hex crew located on the end of each individual saddle must be loosened. Cut the ball-end of the string off directly above the tie-off windings. Insert the string as close to the center as possible and tighten the hex screw, locking the string in place. Caution: Do not over-tighten the hex screw.
If the locking system incorporates a locking nut, removing the nut lockdown pieces while installing the strings and going through the setup procedures. After the setup is complete, replace the nut lockdown pieces, check your tuning, and tighten the hex screws to lock the strings at the nut. Caution: Do not over-tighten. Use the fine tuners at the bridge to compensate for any tuning changes.