Last month I was at a guitar festival and a student came in for a lesson.
I tried to play her guitar and find that it was very hard to play. I told her…
“You Need a Guitar Setup!”
Students often think that they need to become “stronger” and push “harder” when in fact – the guitar should become “easier” to play.
This is serious because if you “squeeze and push” too hard with your hands, you can hurt yourself – and put your playing out of commission!
A few years ago, I personally played Tommy Emmanuel’s famous Maton that he named “Mouse” – and it played like a dream! So nice, easy, and comfy on the hands. No straining is needed.
You can go to most guitar shops or repair people and get what is called a “guitar setup.” Most students & aspiring young players don’t even know they can get their guitars setup.
You may have a great guitar – but you may be fighting it way too hard when you play it.
What is a Guitar Setup?
Don’t try this yourself if you are not sure what you are doing, you can wreck your guitar.
This involves adjustments of the neck / truss rod, nut grooves, bridge and overall ease of playing.
The “tone” of the guitar is unchangeable. However, the neck is fully customizable and any neck or frets can be adjusted.
How Often Do You Need to Get a “Setup”?
It all depends on how sensitive your guitar is to humidity/weather. I’d say every 6 months, have a tech look at your guitar and make tweaks.
What is “String Action”?
The “action” of your guitar refers to how low the strings lay against the fretboard. The lower they are (less distance between frets & strings) the easier it is to play.
This is done by a combination of small, small, small measurements that guitar techs understand – involving the truss rod (rod in the neck of the guitar), the nut, and the bridge.
The Rub of Low Action? The “Buzz”…
If the strings go too low they “buzz” against the frets.
Many people think that the action is set solely by the “truss rod” adjustment. It’s not! You need to have a “harmony” of all the adjustments made – which is why you should go to a pro!
The Usual, Typical Guitar Tech Argument
You want your action nice & low, but then the guitar tech says “it will buzz.” Guitar techs pride themselves on not having strings “buzz.”
However, there is a big difference between a heavy “strumming” player and a fingerstyle player.
The “strummer” makes the strings vibrate with a bigger string trajectory, so it’s more likely that given the same setup, a strummer will buzz and a fingerstyle guitar player will sound fine.
Tell Your Guitar Tech – with Firm Resolve…
“I play fingerstyle guitar. I don’t care if it buzzes a little, I need it to be easy to play for my left hand.”
Here Are My Setup Measurements
Here are the measurements a tech (Randy Hughes – he is awesome…) once did for me, and I loved the feel of the guitar.
This was Randy Hughes email to me after he did the work:
Here are your measurements. 1st put a capo on the first fret.
The measurement at the 13Th fret is: Bass = 4/64 inch, Treble = 3/64 inch.
The measurement is from the top of the 13Th fret to the bottom of the string. If I can help with anything else let me know.
- this is with 0.12 gauge strings on the guitar
- “guitar setup/tech” people have tools like the one in this photo to measure 64ths of an inch…meaning you can’t do this “by eye” you need the right tools:
- 4/64 inch = 1.5875 mm
- 3/64 inch = 1.190625 mm
- please check my math on the inches-to-mm conversion
I cannot say that these will be right for YOUR guitar. Each instrument is different, and each player is different. For a Maton 808 guitar, it feels great though – so if you own a Maton, you can try this as a starting point.
You will love how easy this makes your guitar feel.
Bring this measurement informaton to your guitar tech person when you get your setup.
Good luck, and you’ll thank me for this after your guitar feels easy to play!
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