Home | Audio | DIY | Guitar | iPods | Music | Brain/Problem Solving | Links| Site Map
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Compliments: GuitarGai and Steve Cobham
Stringing your guitar | Adjusting the truss rod | Adjusting the action | Adjusting the intonation | "Proper" guitar tuning | Minor maintenance jobs
Stringing your guitar
Welcome to this, the second set-up tutorial, which should help you restring your guitar more easily and effectively.
When it comes to choosing strings, select those which are most appropriate. If you like a light gauge suitable for rock lead work, most people feel happy with a set of 9's on a Fender scale length neck, whilst 10's feel right on the shorter Gibson scale length. If you're a rhythm player - or a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan - you'll probably want a set of 11's or 12's. Remember, the lighter the string, the weaker the tone. I have a friend who puts 8's on his Les Paul and he has zero tone........Still, it's all a matter of individual preference.
When it comes to removing old strings, there are two schools of thought. Some people say you should take them off one at a time, to maintain some tension from the strings which counteracts the tension of the trussrod in the neck. Others say that you can just take the whole lot off at once. Personally, I take the whole lot off, which is also necessary if you want to clean and oil the fretboard. In this case, I'd recommend working as quickly as possible, so if the neck is going to move, it has as little time to do so as possible. I haven't noticed any ill-effects on any guitar I've ever owned by taking them all off at once. In the end, it's your decision. I can't be held responsible for your '59 Les Paul Sunburst losing its neck!
Just slacken the strings off and then cut them in the middle of their length with your wire cutters. Then throw them away - carefully. Now's your chance to get rid of all that dust under the strings! This is where the stringwinder can come in handy if you're taking the strings off an acoustic. The built-in bridge pin puller removes the pins easily and without any damage to the bridge or top of the guitar. Sometimes, the pins are reluctant to budge. In that case, place a piece of padding - a duster or soft cloth - around the reluctant pin and carefully remove the pin with pliers.
Unwrap the strings carefully taking care not to kink them in any way. In the case of my Les Paul, I thread all the strings through the stop tailpiece at the same time, and with my Strat I thread them all through the trem block in one go, too. For some reason, I string my acoustics one string at a time.
Starting at the low E string, I pass the end of the string through the hole in the tuner post. Experience will eventually teach you how much needs to go through. Allow enough to ensure about three or four winds on the wound strings and about five or six on the plain strings. About two to three inches is about right. The wound strings tend to bind together better where they go round the tuner post so they need fewer winds.
Make a sharp bend in the string where it exits the hole and, ensuring that the string is going round the post in the right direction (hands up who's managed to get it going round the wrong way at some time or another!), make one turn of the string pass above the hole. Then, on subsequent turns, make sure the winds go below the hole, with the winds going successively towards the bottom of the tuner post. This will make the strings "break" over the nut at the sharpest angle. On some guitars with standard nuts and trem units, too steep an angle can cause binding of the strings in the nut slots. In this case, don't have the winds too close to the bottom of the tuner post. This may indicate that the nut needs some attention; the slot widening or lubricating, but that'll have to wait for a future article in this series.
Don't forget to use your stringwinder. If you have to restring a couple of guitars, you'll want to save your energy for playing guitar afterwards!
So, you should end up with a neatly wound string, with the first turn going around the post above the hole, and the rest of the winds going below it, trapping the end of the string between the upper and lower winds. In this way, the string is "locked", with the end being gripped between the top wind above the hole and the first wind below it. Hopefully, the picture below of the head of my Les Paul will give you some visual clarification. Click to enlarge.
(If you look at the fifth string, you can see the end it poking out below the first wind.)
Remember to clip off the end of the string. You can do this when you have passed the string through the post hole if you're confident you've got the length right, or you can leave it until you've wound the string on. You may find that the string end gets in your way if you go for this latter option. If you leave about half an inch sticking out, this should be ample. Trailing string ends are dangerous - they can poke your eye out if you're not careful! They look messy too. Also, just bend the cut end up a little so you don't get those horrible circular scratches around the tuner post where the sharp end digs into the face of the headstock as you wind the string. Some people try and wind as much of the string on as they can in case of breakage. This isn't a good idea as you then have lots of windings on top of each other and you may get tuning problems as they "bed" down. Also, if the string breaks, you'll either break it at the bridge, or somewhere along the length of it - then you've lost the ball-end - or, it'll break near the tuner end, in which case you've probably not got enough useable length left.
There are some other methods, but this one has served me well for about 30 years and I've never had any problems with strings slipping out of pitch. If it ain't broke.........etc.
At this point, I ought to mention locking tuners. I have these fitted to my Strat Plus and they're fantastic things! All you do to put a a string on is to pass the string through the post hole - you don't need any slack at all - and then lock the string using the knurled knob on the back of the headstock. This causes a pin inside the post to be forced against the string, locking it securely in place. On the other hand, locking tuners are expensive, and with practice, stringing a guitar with standard tuners can become a very speedy operation.
Well, that's it for stringing tips. I hope you found it useful. Remember, this is what works well for me. You may find other methods which work just as well, if not better. Whatever method you use, you should end up with a guitar that sounds "brand new". Now play it and enjoy the sound of new strings. Take a break - you've earned it!
Adjusting the truss rod:
Tune the guitar to pitch. Put a capo on the first fret. Then hold down a string at the 17th fret. The gap between the string and the 7th fret or so is called "the relief", and should be around .008"-.010" when you are holding the string down at the 17th fret. To check this, you can use automotive feeler gauges available at any auto parts store. Slide the feeler gauge between the string and the fret. If it fits snugly in the space between the string and the fret.
Adjusting the truss rod (more detail!)
To hear a lot of people talk, you'd think that the long, thin piece of metal we call the truss rod was a cross between the Holy Grail and a Plutonium fuel rod. Yes, you do have to take care when adjusting it and it can break, but if you approach the task with a little respect for the rod and some common sense, there's no reason why you can't do this job yourself. Having said that, if you're in any doubt as to what you're doing, then leave the job to a competent guitar tech. It isn't the most difficult adjustment in the world, and, provided no work is required on the frets, should be quite inexpensive.
The truss rod is essentially a long metal rod that is inserted into the neck of the guitar and fixed. Tightening and loosening in it flexes the neck and allows curvature to be applied to the neck, altering its characteristics and, hence, its playability. Before I describe this adjustment, a few caveats.
1) It may be, that after adjustment, the neck isn't quite right and you may need to look elsewhere to solve the problem. The frets may need stoning, for example, which is outside the scope of this series of tutorials.
2) Try and get hold of the factory spec for your guitar - Fender actually have theirs here - and see how a standard truss rod set up suits you. It's a good basis on which to start, and you can always deviate from it.
3) Be aware of the advantages and benefits of the various sorts of "action". A very low action means that bending is slightly more difficult and the sound has less body. On the other hand, the strings are much easier to fret. With a high action, the reverse is true. I know that there are a lot of SRV fans out there, and he played with very high action, which explodes the myth that a low action is always the one to shoot for.
When to check the truss rod
The rod needs to be checked whenever you string the guitar, although if you use the same strings - brand and gauge - you can make the checking intervals a little further apart. Also, because wood and metal expand and contract according to temperature and humidity, you may find that the neck shifts according to these factors. Also, if you become aware of buzzes that weren't previously evident, it's a good idea to check the neck.
How to check the truss rod
Rest the curve of the bass bout on the floor, and sight down the neck towards the body, looking along the edge of the fretboard. then flip the guitar over onto the treble bout and repeat the operation. Observe how the line along the edge of the fretboard runs. If it seems to curve so that it bulges out away from the body, the neck has a backbow. If it runs the opposite way, the neck has relief. (For those of you who are familiar with trussrods, I know that there are other conditions that I haven't mentioned, but I haven't got the time to write a book on the subject. I'm just outlining the most common truss rod states.) It may be that you see that the neck is dead straight, of course.
So, to sum up. you have three main neck states:
c) dead straight
If the neck is dead straight, and you have no buzzing and you like the way it feels, it's pretty safe to assume that your truss rod is adjusted just right. Most techs try and shoot for a straight neck. Even if you have a little buzzing, if you don't hear it when it's plugged in - assuming that it's an electric, of course - then you can leave it. Not all buzzes will sound through the amp. If it still buzzes when plugged in, then this doesn't necessarily mean that it's the truss rod that requires adjustment. You might find your problem is solved by raising the bridge or bridge saddles. If this doesn't work and you don't eliminate buzzing by adjusting the rod - more on that below - then you may need some attention to the frets.
(The lesson to be learned here is that all the various stages of adjustment - the nut, the bridge, the rod, etc - are interdependent and adjustment of one of these factors on its own may not be sufficient to achieve the set up you're after.)
If the neck has some relief and you're happy with it, then you can leave it alone. However, if the relief is too pronounced, causing a very high action which causes intonation problems when you fret a note, then the neck will need straightening by tightening the trussrod.
If the neck has a backbow, this can cause some of the higher notes to fret out. You may find that when you play say, the B string at fret 5, the string is fouled by the higher frets and the sound of the note isn't clear. The truss rod will then need to be loosened to apply some relief.
Where to adjust the truss rod
This differs from one guitar to another according to brand, model and type. Gibsons have the adjustment end of the rod under a small plate on the headstock. Some Fenders have the business end here as well but with no plate. Others have the adjustment end where the neck joins the body, in which case you have to remove the neck to adjust it and keep on fitting it back and taking it off until the rod is right. I'm not going to deal with such adjustment here. Some acoustics have the adjustment area inside the guitar where the neck joins on. There are also various methods of adjustment. Some rod ends have a screw slot, some a nut, and others a hex slot. So, you'll need a screwdriver, a socket of some sort or a hex key. Obtaining the right hex key can sometimes be a problem, but the right one's out there somewhere!
How to adjust the truss rod
OK - this is the moment you've all been waiting for!
Using the right tool and a well-fitting one as well (you don't want to mess up the slot or nut shoulders!) insert it into the truss rod end.
If you want to apply relief to the neck you loosen the rod by turning the rod end - the nut, slot, whatever - to the left, or anti clockwise.
If you want to straighten the neck and eliminate backbow, tighten the rod end to the right or clockwise.
Remember - "righty tighty"!
Apply a one-eighth turn at a time and sight the neck as described above. If the neck is how you want it - stop! If not, apply another one-eighth turn and sight it again. Repeat until the neck looks right.
If the rod won't shift, don't keep on trying to turn it. Take it to a guitar tech. Similarly, if it squeaks or grates, leave well alone and take it to - you've guessed it! - a tech.
The biggest danger is over tightening. In this case, the worst scenarios are stripped threads on the rod, or even a snapped rod. In such cases, the repair can often be more expensive than buying a new guitar. However, you have been warned! If you're in any doubt about your own competency to do this job, take your guitar to a tech and if you encounter a truss rod that won't co-operate, do the same!
Just use a little care and common sense and you should be OK.
I realise that this tutorial is little more than an outline. However, for those of you who want to learn more about this aspect of guitar maintenance and everything else you can do yourself, the best book I've found is "Guitar Player Repair Guide" by Dan Erlewine. It's a fantastic book with lots of tips and practical advice from a guy who has looked after some of the greatest players' instruments.
Adjusting the action
Tune the guitar to pitch. Then put the capo back on the first fret. Now adjust the string height to about 3/64" on the treble E-string and about 4/64" on the bass side when measured between the bottom of the string and the 17th fret. The other strings should gradually transition between these. When the capo is off, the measurement from the first fret to the bottom of the string should be about .020", indicating that the nut is the right height.
Adjusting the nut
Even though your average nut is simply a narrow piece of bone or plastic with six slots in the top, it is a vital part of a guitar that affects the instrument's overall playability and sound.
Generally speaking, there are two main problems with nuts. Either the nut slots are too shallow, or they are too deep. The solution to slots that are too deep is simple, but radical - remove the old nut and replace it! What happens in this case is that the deep slot makes the open string contact the first fretwire and produces an annoying and unmusical sound. All that can realistically be done, in the case of a standard plastic or bone nut is to replace it - not an easy task and one outside the scope of this article. You see, nuts are bought as blanks and need shaping and profiling like the original. They aren't bought ready-shaped, I'm afraid! If you find that your locking or roller nut is too low, you can usually buy shims to raise it. If not, you can make your own, although you will have to experiment with different materials and the thickness thereof.
The most common problem is nut slots which aren't cut deeply enough. This is a problem that you particularly find with cheaper guitars, although even my Les Paul, which cost not far off a grand (£1000), needed some work on the nut when I bought it. If the slots aren't cut deeply enough, the string feels very high off the board when playing open chords and notes on the first few frets. This will also cause intonation problems. The watchword here is caution. If you take the slots down too deeply, then you'll have to replace the nut.
So, if you need to deepen the slots in the nut, you will need a flat needle file with a "V" profile, and an Exacto saw or what I use, a small piece of junior hacksaw blade with the set knocked out. See the tools article for photos and more details.
With the guitar flat on its back and resting on a soft surface- a piece of carpet on a table is ideal - get some masking tape and stick a couple of layers of this on the fretboard in front of the nut and on the headstock behind the nut. It's possible and, indeed, essential to do this with the strings on. As you work on each slot, just slacken the string slightly and pop it into an adjacent slot.
As a rule of thumb, the wound strings need about half their diameter's clearance between the underside of the string and the first fret, whilst the plain strings require a full diameter. If you can't do this by eye, use a feeler gauge. In time, you'll come to rely on your own judgement.
The slots need to be filed sufficiently wide enough so that the strings don't "bind" in them. This is important, otherwise bends and trem bar use will put the strings out of tune if the slot walls don't allow the strings to return to where they were before you moved them. On the other hand, if the slot is too wide, the string may move from side to side in it as you bend or move the string in any way. The note may sound rather dull, and you may even be able to hear the string rubbing against the bottom of the slot - nasty! Also, the slots need to be filed so that they run at an angle which descends towards the head end. This way, the string has a sharpish edge on which to rest in the slot, giving a cleaner note at this "break" point, and, besides, the scale length is calculated from the front of the nut, ensuring the correct intonation of each string.
Now, to the nitty-gritty.........
Check the string's clearance between the underside of it and the first fret. If it seems OK, leave it. If it seems too high, slacken off the string slightly and park it in the next slot. Take the file and gently place it in the slot. File gently, backwards and forwards - remembering to keep the tool angled down towards the headstock and the tip of it away from the headstock surface. Pop the string back in the slot, return it to pitch and check the first fret clearance again. If it seems OK, go on to the next string. If not, slacken the string and repeat the operation. I can't emphasis enough the need to file away only a little of the nut at a time. The difference between a well-cut nut slot and one that's too deep is measured in thousandths of an inch. Too much and you're into new nut territory - a lot of hard work if you do it yourself, and a hefty bill if you take it to a tech. You may need to keep filing, retuning and checking quite a few times. That's fine - just take it slow and easy.
The actual depth of the nut - not just the slots themselves - is important too. The strings should not be buried in the slot. Rather, the wound ones should sit with about half their diameter in the slot, whilst the plain ones should have about their whole diameter in there. So, you may need to remove some nut material from the upper surface. Just take care not to remove too much so that the strings pop out of their slots when you're playing. It'll mean a new nut time if that happens. Now's the time to get rid of any sharp corners at the ends of the nut, too.
In the couse of playing over the years, nut slots can become worn. If you notice a sudden tendency for the open strings to start buzzing on the first fret, and you can't see any other cause, this may be the problem. As you wind the strings and use the trem bar, they will gradually wear away the bottom of the slots. The only practical remedy, then, is to install a new nut. I have tried experimenting with various materials to fill slots that are too deep. Dust made out of the original nut material mixed with superglue seems to work the best, but this is really only a temporary measure at best.
As I said above, you can buy nut blanks and replace the nut yourself, but it is a lot of hard work - time-consuming and very precise. I've done it to my guitars when necessary, but if you're in any doubt as to your ability to do this job, my advice is take it to a guitar tech.
Now that your nut is sorted out, you should check the intonation again, which may have altered slightly. You see, one small adjustment to one factor that affects the action and playability of the guitar will almost certainly mean that the other factors will need checking again. So, taking the main factors as nut, trussrod, intonation and bridge height, you'll find yourself shuttling between all these after you've addressed one of them. There's a lot of very subtle interaction going on between these factors that you must recognise if your set up is going to be a good one.
Adjusting the intonation
(From an article by Kevin Bourrillion)
What you will need:
- A screwdriver. Usually Phillips for Strat-type guitars, and flat-edged for Les Paul-type guitars. Check your bridge.
- An electronic tuner of any variety. (The "working" variety is strongly preferred.)
- A cord. (Unless your tuner has a *very* sensitive microphone)
- A pick, if you generally use one.
1. Tune the guitar to pitch. Choose a string, and play the 12th fret harmonic. Using the tuner, bring this harmonic into tune. Get it absolutely as close as you can. Remember, when tuning down, always tune down PAST the correct pitch and then bring the note UP to the correct tune.
2. Now, with an eye on the tuner, fret the string at the 12th fret and play it again. It is important that you do not bend the string slightly to either side as you press it to the fingerboard. Try not to apply any more pressure to the string than is necessary for a clean tone.
3. If the tuner shows that this fretted note is perfectly in tune, then the note is equal in pitch to the 12th fret harmonic, thus -- correct intonation! Move on to the next string.
4. If the tuner shows the note to be sharp (that is, the pitch is too high), it means that the string is too short. Correct this by turning the screw in the corresponding saddle CLOCKWISE. Over time, you will get a feel for the right amount to turn the screw each time, but there is always a large amount of trial-and-error. Start off with a quarter turn, and see what that does. In any case, START AGAIN FROM STEP 1.
5. If, however, the fretted note is slightly flat (that is, the pitch is too low), the string is too long and you should turn the screw COUNTER- CLOCKWISE. Again, try a quarter turn for starters until you get the feel for it. GO BACK TO STEP 1, and continue until the harmonic and fretted note are both perfectly in tune.
WARNING: You CANNOT simply tune the harmonic, then turn the screw until the fretted note is in tune. Moving the saddle changes the tune of the string, so you must tune the harmonic all over again before trying the fret again.
6. When you have finished all six strings, check out the result! Make sure you are in tune first, of course, then play a few chords up and down the neck (especially "up" the neck). If you have followed the procedure correctly, the intonation should be correct.
Setting The Intonation (Another Take)
If you want your guitar to play in tune all the way up the neck, you have to set the intonation correctly. this involves adjusting the "speaking" length of the strings - i'e' the distance between the nut and the bridge saddles.
For this job you'll need some screwdrivers and an electronic tuner or some other sort of pitch reference such as pitch pipes. I'll cover the subject with regard to both Gibson Tune-O-Matic and Fender Tremelo bridges. Before I proceed, however, a couple of important points.
1) Ensure that you have a set of new strings installed before you attempt to set the intonation and have the guitar tuned to pitch. For information about how to change your strings, click here.
2) Setting the intonation is but one aspect of setting up a guitar and should not be viewed in isolation. Don't think that because we're dealing with the bridge here that we won't have to come back to it. When we go on to sort out the overall action, the bridge will need further adjustments.
This bridge has six individually-adjustable saddles which are adjusted by means of the screws you can see at the bottom of the bridge facing the stop tailpiece. The screws are of the slot head variety. On some Gibsons these screws face the other way (usually on the older or replica models) and are slightly less accessible.
Using a tuning reference, play a 12th fret harmonic on the bottom E string and then compare this with a note fretted at the 12th fret. The two notes should be exactly the same. If the fretted note is sharp, then the saddle needs to be moved back towards the tailpiece. If the fretted note is flat, the saddle needs to be moved the oppostite way - forwards towards the pick-ups. When the two notes are the same, the string has the correct intonation set. I find that the easiest way to remember all this is to think about flat and forward both beginning with the same letter.
If you have to adjust the saddle, place a soft cloth below where you're going to insert the tip of the screwdriver to avoid scratches if the tip slips. Turn the screw clockwise to move the saddle back and anti-clockwise to move it forward. It's best to just make small turns, as a little turn can make a lot of difference. After every adjustment to the position of the saddle, retune the string to pitch and compare the 12th fret note with the harmonic. Repeat the operation until the string has the correct intonation. then move on to the next string.
Although the Fender bridge looks rather different, the principles of setting the intonation are exactly the same as for the Gibson bridge. You move the saddles until the note at the 12th fret and the 12th fret harmonic are identical.
If you look at both bridges, you can see that the saddles are both arranged similarly, with two offset rows of three saddles each. This is the sign of a well-set-up guitar and after a little practice, it is possible to set the saddles by eye to this arrangement and find that the guitar has almost perfect intonation! If you're buying a guitar it's a good sign to see this as it means that the instrument has been properly set up at some time or other. Don't do as one of my students did and move all the bridge saddles into a nice straight line!
When do you need to set the intonation?
Well, I always check the intonation whenever I change strings or I think that the intonation is suspect. Guitars are very susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity and this may cause some need for adjusting the intonation. If you keep your guitar in a case in an environment which has a constant temperature and use the same gauge and brand of string you may hardly ever need to adjust the intonation. It's a good idea to check it whenever you restring your guitar and this will reassure you that you'll be playing in tune, especially if you're stringing your guitar ready for a gig.
Really, setting the intonation is very straightforward and there's no risk of damaging the bridge. Just work carefully and turn the saddle screws just a little bit at a time and just keep on checking the intonation until it's correct.
"Proper" guitar tuning
The following is a reprint of THE GUILD OF AMERICAN LUTHIERS data sheet #45.
Many guitarists are frustrated because of their attempts to tune the guitar to pure chords (free of beats). These particular players have very sensitive ears that prefer pure intervals and reject the mandatory equal temperament. They tune their guitar beautifully pure on one chord only to discover that the next chord form is unacceptable. In too many instances they assume that there must be a flaw in the workmanship on the fingerboard. Their problem is not in the construction of the guitar. It is one of pure tuning verses equal temperament.
You must accept this compromise because the guitar is an instrument of fixed pitch and the strings must be tuned to tempered intervals, not pure. Equal temperament is the name given to a system of dividing the chromatic scale into 12 equal half steps. Guitarists who have been trying to tune to one or another pure chord form must learn to understand and accept equal temperament. (They might be interested to know that to approximate pure chords on all forms would require about three dozen frets within the octave.) The system of equal temperament reduces the number to twelve, thereby making manageable all instruments of fixed pitch.
Here is what all of this means to the guitarist: You must not, at any time, use harmonic tones at the 7th fret as a point of reference (skilled piano tuners could use them because they know how many beats to introduce between 4th and 5th). Harmonic tones at the 7th fret are pure 5ths, while in equal temperament each 5th must be lowered slightly. To tune by harmonics at the 7th fret (as occasionally ill-advised) will make the guitar sound entirely unacceptable on some chord forms.
On the other hand, all harmonics at the 12th and 5th frets, being one and two octaves above the open strings, are immediately useful as explained below. All octaves and unisons are pure on all instruments of fixed pitch. Therefore, you may use harmonics at 12th and 5th as reference tones in the following tuning instructions.
Actually this discussion and the following suggestions are for those players who have been tuning to pure intervals. When the steps have been followed correctly the guitar will be as perfectly tuned as it could be in the hands of a professional. Nevertheless, when you have finished, your sensitive ear may notice that on each major chord form there is always one tone slightly high. If you start adjusting a particular string on a certain chord form, you only compound the problem because then the next chord form will be completely objectionable. Tune the guitar as instructed below and let it stand. How to help your ear accept equal temperament: It is easier to face a problem if we are prepared in advance and expect it. If you are one of those persons who is sensitive to pure intervals, here is what you are going to notice on an absolutely perfectly tuned guitar in equal temperament: Play an open E major chord. Listen to G# on the third string and you most likely will want to lower it very slightly. Don't do it. Ignore it. Enjoy the overall beauty and resonance of chord just as does the pianist.
That troublesome second string: Play an open position A major chord. Listen to the C# on the second string and you may want to lower it slightly. Play a first position C chord and listen to the E on the first string and fourth string at 2. These tones are slightly higher than your ear would like.
Now play an open position G chord. Listen to B on the second string. Yes, it would sound a little better if lowered ever so slightly. Why not try it? Slack off the second string a couple of vibrations and notice what beautiful G chord results. Now play the C chord and with that lowered second string, and you are going to dislike the rough C and E a lot more than before. Take the open B, second string back up to equal temperament so that it will be equally acceptable on all forms. Learn to expect and accept the slight sharpness of the major third in each chord (and oppositely, the flatness of the minor third in each minor chord). Train your ear to accept tempered intervals and you will be much happier with your guitar.
Tuning the 1st and 6th strings: The E, open 1st string, must be in pure unison with the harmonic of the E, 6th string at the fifth fret. When these two strings have been properly tuned with each other, continue as follows. Tuning the 4th string: Play a harmonic on the (in tune) 6th string at twelve, and as this harmonic sounds, adjust the 4th string until the tone E on the second fret is in pure unison. Now you have the E, open 1st string, 1st on the 4th string at two, and E, open 6th string tuned pure (permissible because they are octaves).
Tuning the 2nd string: Play a harmonic on the (in tune) 4th string at twelve. As this sounds, adjust the 2nd string until D at the third fret is in pure unison. As you have used two fretted tones for references and as the frets are positioned for tempered intervals, you now have the open 1st, 2nd 4th and 6th strings in tempered tuning.
Tuning the 3rd string: As it is easier to adjust a string while listening to a continuous reference tone, you may first try the following: Play a harmonic on the (in tune) 4th string at twelve and as this sounds, adjust the 3rd string until D at the 7th fret is in pure unison.
Double check: Now make this check to see if you have been accurate or if the instrument plays tune when fretted at seven. Play a harmonic on the (now tuned) G string at twelve, and as this tone sounds, play G on the 1st string at three. The two tones should be in pure unison. If they are not, either you are at fault or the instrument doesn't fret tune at seven. Go back to the beginning and carefully check each step up to this point. If the tones are still faulty, then readjust the 3rd string until the harmonic at twelve is in unison with the 1st at three. Do not tamper with the 1st and 4th strings because it is the 3rd string you are trying to bring in tune. When you have the 1st, 6th, 4th, 2nd and 3rd strings in tune, in that order, continue with the remaining 5th string.
Tuning the 5th string: Play the tone A on the (in tune) 3rd string, at the second fret. Listen to this pitch carefully and now adjust the 5th string until the harmonic at twelve is in pure unison. When the foregoing steps are followed correctly, the strings will be tuned perfectly to equal temperament. No further tuning adjustments are permissible.
Minor maintenance jobs
Now that you've got your guitar properly set up, there are just a few little jobs left to do that will ensure that it's in perfect playing condition and ready for anything.
Apart from the obvious cosmetic benefits, a clean guitar is generally a more efficient guitar. Do wipe the neck and body, as well as the strings, after you play. The sweat and natural oils exuded by the human body can make strings deteriorate more quickly and also, if left on the finish, cause marks which are sometimes impossible to remove. My Les Paul came with a pink plush-lined case which has the habit of transferring the dye to the cream body binding if I don't wipe down those parts which are in direct contact with the pink plush. In fact, I now wrap the body with a cotton muslin scarf prior to putting it away in the case.
There are various guitar polishes and cleaners around which all seem to be OK. For stubborn marks, naphtha - or liquid lighter fuel - is safe to use, but it won't be needed very often.
You can clean the fretboard with a clean, soft cloth, although if it's very dirty, you may need to give it more of a clean than this. For maple necks, a soft, barely damp cloth is all right to use as the dirt just lies on top of the lacquer, if you've got any left. For rosewood and other dark wood fingerboards, you may need to scrape away the gunk that builds up on it. Don't be squeamish - it's your gunk! Use a very blunt knife, a steel rule or even an old credit card and scrape away the dirt between the fretwire with the straight edge of whatever you're using, going with the grain. Don't press hard - you don't want to scratch the wood. You can then oil the fingerboard, if it's rosewood or a similar wood. You can buy various oils, but I prefer pure lemon oil. It's rather expensive, but a small bottle lasts for ages and it smells good, too. When you're putting new strings on, with the old ones off, just apply a little oil to the board with a soft cloth. Let the oil sink in for about a quarter of an hour and then remove the excess with clean cloth. Then put the new strings on. I oil my Les Paul's fingerboard about twice a year. Don't overdo it; you don't want the wood to get soggy.
It isn't just the body and neck that you can clean. If you have a crackly switch or a pot or two, get some WD40 and spray the moving parts with a small amount of this. If you look closely at these components, you can often see an access point where some of the lubricant can seep in. I've found that most crackles respond to this very well. WD40 can also be used to clean and lubricate other things like tuner gears - if they're not enclosed - and bridge components. Just make sure that you're sparing with the spraying. You don't want any WD40 to get into screw holes, otherwise the holes can get soggy and won't grip the screw threads.
With the best will in the world, two things can gradually become loosened which can really screw up your evening - the jack socket and the strap buttons.
Don't just tighten up a loose socket without taking it off the guitar first. If you do, then the socket may turn inside the guitar and tear the solder joints. Remove the socket - there's no need to disconnect it - and hold it as you tighten up the nut. Then replace the socket. If the nut is prone to loosening, just dab a little clear nail varnish between the nut and the thread. This will just crack if you have to take the socket out and won't harm it in any way. Don't get any on the finish of the guitar, however. I hate to think what it would do to the finish!
Strap buttons often come loose and need to be well-secured. Now's the time to invest in some sort of replacement locking system. Strap holes can become worn and will eventually slip off the buttons really easily. Not a good thing if you have any instrument around your neck that you have any regard for. Straplocks are easy to install and will last you a lifetime. However, even the replacement buttons need tightening periodically. If any button gets too loose, you may have to plug the hole with wood and glue - not superglue! - and a new hole then drilled.
I change strings about every three weeks on guitars that I don't gig and about every three gigs with ones that I do. I check the jack socket and strap buttons every time. It doesn't take long and either, if loose, could ruin the gig - not to mention the guitar, possibly.
Well, that's about it as regards guitar maintenance and set up. If I've missed anything out, or you have suggestions for future articles, let me know - also if I've got anything wrong.
I hope that this series of tutorials has helped you understand your guitar better and also saved you some money. Don't forget what I've said throughout. If you encounter difficulties that you can't sort out, take your guitar to a tech. Ask him about the problem and ask him to explain what he did to remedy things. That way, you'll learn a little more which may help you next time you set your guitar up
Home | Audio | DIY | Guitar | iPods | Music | Links | Brain and Problem Solving | Site Map | Contact