Five Signs Your Guitar Needs a Setup

What is a Guitar Setup?

What is a setup? A “setup” is regular maintenance that’s done on the guitar that involves multiple services such as replacing strings, adjusting the neck, and raising or lowering the string height. 

Listed below are signs your guitar or other fretted instrument is ready for a setup:

1) No matter how accurately you tune, your guitar doesn’t sound quite right

guitar tuners

Have you ever tuned your guitar perfectly, play high up on the fretboard, and it still sounds out of tune? Odds are you need your guitar intonated. Intonation refers to the accuracy of pitch. While your guitar may be in tune when you play your open string, it may be too sharp or flat at your 12th fret.

To correct this, you would need your guitar intonated by adjusting the saddle length. The saddle length determines where the middle of the string is. If the middle of the string is over the 12th fret in just the right place, then it will play in tune.

If it is not, then your chords will sound funky! Since acoustic guitars normally do not have adjustable saddles, this cannot always be the case. However, the bowing of the neck and intonation are correlated variables.

Meaning, sometimes intonation can be adjusted by the neck, other times it really shouldn’t be, and that’s up to your local Music Room technician to decide.

The Music Room offers multiple options to service all your guitars and fretted instruments. In fact, you can come in at any time for a free consultation and estimate!

2) The Environment: Humidity & Moisture

humidity meter for guitar

For every guitar technician, winter is one of the busiest seasons because of the change that the weather brings onto guitars. Winter is a good time to get a setup for your guitar because it prevents any problems that the cold will bring and will correct any issues that have already started to occur.

3) Your strings have no tone

Over time, your strings will age. Not only will they look different but they will sound different. The oil from our fingers that leave the strings more prone to corrosion. Old strings have a significantly less resonant tone. We call these strings “dead strings”.

If you play every day, standard strings last 3 months at the most. Brand new strings can make your guitar sound better than the day you bought it! A standard set of strings for a 6 string guitar is only about six dollars.

One simple way to prevent early corrosion on new strings is to wash your hands before you play the guitar.

4) Your Guitar Constantly Buzzes

This is a very common issue for guitars. When you press down on a fret of the guitar, usually the string only touches the fret in front of the one you are pressing on. Buzzing occurs when the string hits multiple frets and rattles against them. Usually the cause of this is because of low string height.

guitar buzz

Low string height can either be adjusted by raising the saddle height, an adjustment of the neck, or a combination of the two. Another reason why this may be is because of a manufacturer issue.

If the neck is not set into the body of the guitar at just the right angle it can cause a “hump” around the 14th fret (depending on the guitar you have). This can create an incredibly noisy buzz around the 11th, 12th, and 13th fret.

Environmental warping of the wood can also cause your strings to buzz depending on the severity of the warp. You can prevent this warping by simply leaving the guitar in your case when you’re not using it and keeping it in a place with controlled humidity (specifically 40 – 55%).

5) Your Fretboard Looks and Feels Dry

A dry fretboard not only looks bad, but is also bad for your guitar. A dry fretboard can lead to the neck bowing, warping, and in severe cases, cracking. Guitar necks have to hold anywhere between 80 and 180 pounds of tension!

guitar fretboard

Having a healthy, hydrated fretboard is key to a strong neck. You can tell your fretboard is dry from the discoloration of the wood. For example, rosewood fretboards may turn from a dark brown/red color to a light brown/grey color.

In some cases, frets may start to stick out the sides of the neck, ever so slightly, due to the shrinkage of the fretboard that dehydration causes.

You may also notice white lines appear on your fretboard, a common sign your guitar needs a drink. What should it drink? Lemon oil! This is especially important during the winter time.

Not only does lemon oil hydrate the fretboard, but it is also a fretboard cleaner. Another way you can prevent dehydration is with a humidifier.

Like I said before, it is best to keep your guitar in a place with controlled humidity (40 – 55%).

We’re happy to service your guitar, and also provide guitar lessons in the Palatine, IL area.