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Setting Up & Maintaining Your Gear

Take care of your axe


Alrighty, we had some thread about gear (amps etc.) at the iBreatheMusic - forums, and someone suggested an article about maintaining and taking care of guitar gear. Before I jump right in, I would like to point out something:

This is a "Working man´s approach" to that topic. I am neither a luthier nor a real amp-tech. I did learn a lot about setting up / maintaing guitars throughout the years, and I think I could share my experiences with you. It´s just a "real life approach". There sure are a bunch of websites and books by luthiers about taking care of guitars, and you should check some of those too. But this one is a "players-approach" to the topic.

Regarding the electronics (amps etc.) I am not gonna talk about extreme modifications, formulas, resistors and stuff like that. Instead, I am gonna tell you about a few things to keep in mind about your amps and effects etc. I hope that you will find this interesting, since it is a "cut to the chase"-type thing.

In some ways, this is a new version of my "Professional Guitarist" column... the first article I wrote for Guitar4u (it will be available soon at iBreatheMusic). In that column, I gave away some advice regarding guitar-setup and all that. So, here I go again, this time a bit more into the detail. I do hope that this proves to be interesting for you, and maybe you will find some information you did not know about yet. Let´s jump right in...

The Ritual

Yes, the ritual. People who know call it that. It´s a procedure I have. Every once in a while, about every other month, or every three months, I take some time, like an afternoon, and I go through the "guitar-cleaning-and-setting-up-procedure".

Let me tell you one thing about myself first:
I am not extremely picky about cleaning my guitars and all that. I am not cleaning the neck and strings every time before I go on stage or anything. But I do think that it will help the guitar to last longer if you do certain things to clean it and set it up.

A lot of players have a "It has to look dirty, it´s rock n´roll"-attitude. They actually like it better if the guitar looks played. Well, it´s a matter of opinion. I don´t really mind some dings in the finish, or scratches... but I do make sure that the electronics and mechanical parts (like the vibrato) are clean and are working. I also believe that it is a good idea to make sure that the guitar lasts as long as possible. So, that´s why I am doing "the ritual".

This, as I said, is being done every other or every third month. I do change the strings a lot, and usually, I just change them and wipe the fretboard and that´s it. But every once in a while I am doing a complete setup. It goes like this:

I check the intonation of the guitar. Some luthiers recommend to do this before putting on new strings, that´s why I am doing that first. The intonation of a guitar tends to get lost after a while, yo it´s a good idea to check it every once in a while. I do it like this:
-I tune the guitar up to concert pitch.
-I check the tuning of the low E-String by hitting the natural harmonic at the 12th fret. If it is in tune (I am checking all that with a tuner, by the way), I compare that harmonic with the actual note at the 12th fret (the fretted note, that is). The pitches of those should be the same. If it is not, if the fretted note is too high or too low, you have to adjust the length of the string. You do that by adjusting the saddle (the piece of metal that the string lays on at the bridge). If the pitch of the note at the 12th fret is flat, you gotta shorten the length of the string a bit by moving the saddle towards the headstock. If the note is sharp, you have to increase the length of the string by moving the saddle the other way. Here are three pictures of the most common bridges / tailpieces.

Here is a shot of a vintage-style trem (in this case, it works the same way as the Wilkinson-bridge).

Each string rests on a saddle that is tightened to the rest of the bridge with screws. You can move those saddles by turning the screws. That way, you can adjust the length of the string / intonation. Move the saddle until the note at the 12th fret is exactly at the right pitch (same pitch as the natural harmonic).

Pic. No2, a Floyd Rose-licensed bridge, in this case a LoPro-version:

This is harder to adjust because you have to detune the string. You can move the saddle by loosening the black screws I indicated on this picture. After you loosened them, you can move the saddle forth and back. As I said, you have to detune the string, otherwise it will pull the saddle towards the headstock once you loosen the screw. This is a pretty finicky work and takes a while. (No surprise here, since changing a string is a bit more complicated on a FR-style bridge, too).

Finally, here is a short of a tune-o-matic bridge. This works pretty much the same way as it does with the vintage-style trem.

OK, that´s the way to adjust the intonation.

When you are comparing the harmonic and the fretted note, hold the guitar the way you always play it. Otherwise you might fret the note differently, which will mess up the results. Don´t lay the guitar flat on a table or on the ground, because the fretted note will have a different pitch than usual. To be even more exact and set up the intonation more correctly, you can also put a capodaster at the first fret. That way, you of course have to compare the harmonic and the fretted note at the 13th fret.

If it is not possible to get the intonation just right for all the strings it might either be that the slots at the nut (where the strings run through) are not cut deep enough (which should be done by a luthier), or it is possible that the pickups are too close to the strings. If they are, they are pulling the string a bit and thereby are manipulating the pitch / intonation of the string. So the best way is to lower the pickups when adjusting intonation

Cleaning and putting on strings >>