How Often Should a Guitar be Setup?

How Often Should a Guitar Be Setup?

Let me start by making one thing clear – taking care of your guitar is essential to keep your instrument looking, feeling, and sounding great. 

Imagine driving your car every day and not once bringing it to a mechanic – sounds stupid, right? Well, the same goes for guitar setup.

How often a guitar should be set up depends on various factors, such as humidity, temperature, how frequently you change the strings, how often you play, the brand of your guitar, and more. 

Most guitarists who play every day should be getting their guitar set up twice a year to keep it in top condition. If you are playing less regularly, you could get away with an annual setup. However, an idle guitar will still be affected by seasonal changes.

Are you wondering how much it will cost to set up your guitar? or you may be wondering how long it will take for a guitar to be set up? Or you may be wondering is something you can do yourself? Keep on reading as we break down these questions and more. By the time you finish reading this article, you will be a guitar maintenance pro! 

Is a guitar setup worth it?

Yes, a guitar setup is worth it. The contrast between a well maintained guitar and a poorly maintained one is like night and day. It can be the difference between enjoying playing your guitar or not bothering to pick it up because it’s too difficult to play. 

How often should a guitar be set up?

A guitar should be set up twice a year.

Every guitar can be subject to small changes over time, and if overlooked, these changes only become worse and worse, negatively impacting your playing and enjoyment. 

Your guitar is essentially a piece of machinery, and like all machines, occasional upkeep is essential to maintain the smooth running of its parts. 

Whether you are an electric guitar shredder or an acoustic player, the same rules apply – if you are playing regularly (practicing every day and playing gigs), then your axe should be set up twice a year. 

It would be best to set up your guitar between the major season changes to account for the impact of humidity and temperature change. 

This is because (most) guitars are made out of wood that will contract and expand during those season changes, causing your guitar to get out of wack!

How long does a guitar setup take?

The actual task of setting up your guitar should not take any longer than an hour (if the guitar tech knows what they are doing), but this can vary depending on the guitar model, condition, and how long you have gone without a setup.

Be aware that large music stores will struggle to offer same-day turnaround and will most likely have the setup done within one week. 

However, most stores will offer faster delivery for an additional fee. If you manage to find a smaller company with a smaller customer base, you may receive a quicker service.

How much should a guitar set up cost? 

A professional guitar setup can generally cost approximately $50 USD. However, if your guitar requires loads of tweaking, this cost can get closer to the $100 USD mark.

Where you take your guitar can also make a price difference. Smaller, local companies will obviously charge less than larger corporate music stores.

There is no considerable difference in the setup cost between an electric guitar Vs. an acoustic guitar. However, you should be prepared to pay slightly more to get your electric guitar serviced as it simply has more components that need addressing.  

It is important to remember if you have never had your guitar looked at by a professional guitar technician before, they may find more underlying severe problems requiring a repair. This could be anything from fret sanding to pickup replacement and can significantly increase costs (all the more reason to have your guitar set up regularly!).

What is included in a guitar setup?

By now, you are aware of the importance and cost of a standard guitar setup, but what exactly are you paying for? 

Here is an in-depth look at what is included in a typical setup.

Initial Inspection 

Most guitar technicians will first look over your entire instrument and determine what exactly will need adjusting or repairing before starting their work. It can be a good idea to request some written notes about your guitar to refer back to during future setups or if you ever try to do the maintenance yourself. 

Action & Intonation 

The action of your guitar is how high your strings are sitting above your fretboard. A high action involves a large gap between the two, while a low action is the opposite. 

A guitar with high action will have less chance of infuriating string buzz but will be much more challenging to play as more pressure is required to play each note. This can make playing barre chords very painful. Most experienced guitar players will always opt for a low to middle action.

The action of your instrument is adjusted by tweaking the ‘truss-rod,’ which is the metal rod inside the length of your guitar’s neck. 

Changing the truss-rod tension will affect the bowing of your neck. 

Securing the perfect tension will provide the lowest string action while avoiding any string buzzing.

Intonation is the second major component of a guitar setup. This is simply how well your guitar retains accurate tuning across the entire fretboard, which is essential for any serious guitarist – there is nothing worse than an out-of-tune guitar! 

If you are constantly having to tune your guitar and it continues to sound off, this is definitely your issue, and it will persist until you get it fixed, no matter how many times you tune it up.

Your guitar tech will set the intonation by tuning the instrument and comparing open strings with their 12th fret harmonics. If the tuning is out of wack, then he will accurately adjust your guitar’s saddle to fix the issue.  

String Radius

Many guitarists are under the impression that fretboards are flat – they could not be more wrong. 

Every guitar model will come with differing fretboard specs. For example, fender guitars usually exhibit a relatively rounded fretboard, while Gibson and Epiphone possess flatter boards. 

It is essential that your guitar’s strings match its fretboard’s radius perfectly to ensure that uniform action and intonation are achieved. 

Hydrating & Polishing 

As mentioned previously, guitars are made mostly from wood and must be treated with care to prevent severe and irreversible damage. 

A decent guitar tech will use specialized guitar cleaning products to clean and polish your instrument’s body and fretboard to keep it looking and feeling in top condition. 

There is no better feeling than gliding across your newly polished fretboard while strumming on a new set of slinky strings!

Fret Treatment

Over time and with constant use, the frets in your guitar may form grooves, leading to uneven frets and rough fret ends, which can severely impact your guitar’s playability. 

These issues can be fixed by a skilled technician by filing your frets to reshape them, ensuring they are uniform and level along the entire fretboard (known as fret dressing). 

It is important to note that most standard guitar setups do not include fret dressing, which will incur an additional cost.

To learn more about what it is involved in a Professional Guitar Setup then read our article here What is a Professional Guitar Setup and Do You Need One?

How do you know if your guitar needs a setup?

Look, if you have never had your guitar setup before – it needs to be setup. As soon as you finish reading this article, go down to your local music store and get your piece checked out.

All you other musicians that have had your guitar serviced before but are still unsure when to get it looked at, here is a list of signs that your instrument needs some maintenance:

  • Your guitar won’t stay in tune
  • The gap between your strings and fretboard (action) is too high
  • You are getting that annoying buzzing sound when playing specific notes
  • Your notes seem to cut out prematurely 
  • Your guitar just feels off

Can I set up my own guitar?

Yes, you can set up your own guitar; it is relatively quick to learn, and the required tools are pretty cheap.

Our article “how to do your own guitar setup” takes you step by step with pictures on how to perform this.

Setting up your own guitar will save you heaps of money in the long run, as you will no longer need to fork out $50USD (or more) twice a year. 

Not only does it save money, but it will allow you to set up your own guitar to your exact preferences. 

A significant part of learning an instrument is knowing all its components and how they work. You will never truly become a master of the guitar if you just pay someone else to set it up. 

Other related questions

Do Fender guitars come set up?

No, most guitars do not come setup straight from the factory, and only a handful of retailers will bother to do pre-sale maintenance. 

So, if you have just bought an expensive guitar, I would recommend taking it to the specialist to be set up straight away (unless, of course, you know how to do it yourself!)

What tools do I need to perform a guitar setup?

The most common tools required during a guitar set up are a hex key, box wrench, files, Phillips screwdrivers, specialized cleaning products and conditioners, and a micro-fiber cloth

Many companies offer guitar DIY kits that include all the basics for a very reasonable price. I recommend this one (click to check the price on Amazon) as it includes all the essential instruments you need to start with at a fair price!

Do all guitar models need to be set up?

Yes, all guitars need to be set up. Moreover, any stringed instrument must be periodically serviced to maintain a good condition regardless of make or model.

Should I set up my electric and acoustic?

Yes, both electric and acoustic guitars require regular servicing.

Conclusion

Failing to get your guitar set up regularly will drastically affect its playability and performance. 

There are certain parts of every guitar that are prone to subtle changes that influence the way the instrument plays and sounds. These may be brought about by continual use, humidity and temperature change, and the model of your guitar.

This article discussed the important aspects of a guitar set up, including how often it should be done, what it includes, and its costs. Hopefully, now you have an understanding of proper guitar maintenance, and perhaps you’re brave enough to try and perform your own guitar setup!

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