The Setup Process


The setup determines how your instrument feels, plays, and sounds. Each adjustment may influence the others, so it’s important to understand each step as part of a larger process. This post gives an overview of the setup steps, as well as more details on each specific part.

1. Discussion

The first step is to understand your goals, expectations, playing style, and preferences. We go over what you’re looking for in terms of playability, tone, and overall performance. From there we can align our expertise with your goals, and ensure a personalized and exceptional guitar setup experience tailored specifically to your needs.

2. Inspection

Once the guitar is on the bench the inspection process begins. I check for any rattles, noises or squeaks and address those. Then I check the electronics for any noise, hums, loose wiring, etc. I check each part on the instrument’s body to ensure proper function. Then, the neck, frets, nut, headstock and tuners are inspected for playability and wear. Now with a full picture of the condition of your instrument, I’m able to make a customized plan to maintain or restore your guitar.

3. Record Original State

Recording the original state of your guitars setup is useful for many reasons. Among those are:

  • Establishing a baseline to develop or understand your preferences
  • The ability to revert back if the new changes don’t feel quite right
  • Using data to make adjustments – lower, higher, more tension, less tension… is all relative, so let’s get specific!

4. Begin Setup and Tighten All Parts

Now that the guitar has been inspected and had it’s original specs measured, it’s ready for the setup process.

Once the old strings are removed, I inspect and tighten all parts possible including:

  • strap buttons
  • knobs
  • switches
  • output jacks
  • bridge saddles
  • tremolo
  • neck pocket
  • tuning machines front and back
  • string tree
  • screws in pickguard
  • any instrument specific parts and functions

5. Clean Instrument with Safe Materials and Tools

Regular cleaning and maintenance is an important part of keeping your instrument reliable for the studio and stage. Unfortunately, many tools and techniques that are advertised can actually be harmful, especially to open-pore wood or sensitive finishes such as nitrocellulose.

Grizzly Guitar does not use any chemicals, polishes, waxes, cleaners, solutions, sprays, etc. during the setup process. No liquid or chemicals of any type will be in contact with your instrument. I only use carefully selected premium microfiber towels to dust, clean, and polish your instrument, paying particular attention to avoiding “swirl marks” and fine scratches. These methods prevent harm as well as avoid oily residue that can transfer to hands, clothes, or the inside of cases.

All surfaces are cleaned including:

  • body
  • pickguard
  • pickups
  • bridge
  • tremolo
  • neck
  • fretboard
  • headstock
  • tuners
  • string tree

Generally, I do not remove the pickguard and clean underneath unless requested or attention to the electronics is required.

6. Fret Care

  • File frets to remove sharp edges
  • Polish frets for smoother bends
  • Clean fretboard

7. Electronics

  • Inspect electronics
  • Diagnose any issues
  • Fix or install electronics at this time

8. Install New Strings

Now it’s time for fresh strings. Choose from the strings I keep in stock here, bring your own, or with enough advance notice, I’ll have them ready by the time of your appointment.

Here’s how I change strings:

  • Feed strings through bridge and tuning machines
  • Verify string is seated in bridge, nut, string tree, etc.
  • Measure and crease strings
  • Wind in optimal way on a case-by-case basis for the most stabile tuning
  • Tune all strings
  • Stretch strings
  • Let sit
  • Tune all strings again
  • Cut off string ends

9. Set Neck Relief

Neck relief is generally the curve of the neck and adjusted using the truss rod. It’s the first step in setting the action and affected by factors such as weather and string tension.

10. Set Bridge and Tremolo

If your guitar is equipped with a tremolo system, I’ll adjust it to spec during this step.

11. Set String Height At Bridge

Then I set the each individual string’s height at the bridge by adjusting the saddles and related parts.

12. Set Height

I want to balance the string height at the bridge with the height of the nut, so will make any necessary adjustments to the nuts at this time.

13. Set Intonation

Once the string height is set, I move on to setting intonation to get the most accurate tuning up and down the neck.

14. Set Pickup Height

Once your guitar is playing great unplugged, I plug it in and set the pickups to the perfect height.

15. Record Final Specs

Finally, now that everything is set up, playing and sounding great, I record the measurements so this setup can be remembered, compared or duplicated later.