Simple Guitar Repairs Part 4: The Simple Guitar Setup

Read Time 3 Minutes

Previously on Simple Repairs

Number 3 showed you how to disassemble your Tune-O-Matic bridge, clean it, lubricate it and put it all back together. No parts left over, I hope. You did take the opportunity to do an inspection and clean up the rest of the guitar while the strings were off, right? Good.

Basic Hard Tail Guitar Setup:

Let’s talk about the tools you’ll need. Usually, either a #0 or #1 Phillips screwdriver, an Allen or nut driver to fit your truss rod, an Allen or small flat blade screwdriver to fit your bridge and pickup adjustment screws, a short ruler that measures right from the end, and a straightedge that will reach from the guitar’s nut to the last fret or just short of the bridge.

You’ll need some strings on and tuned to pitch to perform the truss rod adjustment. I let the strings pull the neck where they will, then adjust the rod to put the neck where I want it. With the strings up to pitch, you can easily adjust, retune and play. See how much fret buzz there is and loosen the rod a touch if you need more relief (bend).


Figure 2 shows where the truss rod is adjusted on most guitars. This one takes an Allen wrench while others will take a socket or nut driver. Turn clockwise to straighten the neck and counter-clockwise to let the strings pull more relief into the neck. The trick here is to get the neck as flat as you can, as checked with the straightedge along the frets, then back off on the truss rod about 1/4 turn for relief in the neck.


If your truss rod nut won’t turn, don’t force it. Squirt some penetrating oil down in the threads and let it soak for a while. If you still can’t turn it, take it to the repair guy. You do not want to break the rod or tear the other end out. I’ve had to deal with this a time or two (especially in Florida, where I’m from) and there is no pat remedy.

The standard Tune-O-Matic bridge is adjusted with the thumbwheels underneath the bridge casting. This one has a screwdriver slot on top of the oversized studs as shown in figure 3.


Figures 3a and 3b show my string action setup. Use what you like for measurements. Can’t get the strings low enough without buzz? Add a little more relief in the neck. An eighth of a turn will make a big difference. No string buzz, but the strings are still too high? Take some relief out of the neck. Unfortunately, there is no universal setup that works for everybody. You just have to play with these two adjustments until you get it where you like it.


Remember to measure from the string bottom to the fret top. Gibson uses 1/64 on the high E at the first fret and 1/32 on the low E, same fret. 3/64 on the high E at the 12th fret and 5/64 on the low E at the 12th fret as their factory setup. You can start there and adjust the string height and truss rod to get the combination you like. There is no right or wrong number.

If the strings are too high they will pull out of tune when you press them down. Too low and they won’t ring true as they will touch frets above. It’s all compromise for playability.

Figure 4 shows another thing which will affect your setup – fretboard radius.


The Tune-O-Matic is set to the radius of your guitar, unless someone did something dumb. The only height adjustment is on each end but they do affect each other slightly so, once again you need to fiddle around and fine tune.

If you have another similar bridge that has adjustable saddles, you’ll need to make sure they are adjusted to the radius of your last fret. You probably don’t have the neat little gauges I have but I’ll show you how to make your own. Simple and free! Unfortunately, it will have to wait until next time.


Keep playing with these adjustments and see if you can get in the ballpark. It’s a pain the first time but it gets much easier with experience.

More DIY Building Lessons from Doug Knight

Simple Guitar Repairs (Part 1, Part 2)

How to Build a Guitar Pedal Power Supply From An Altoids Tin

Building the Mod Kits DIY Trill Tremolo Guitar Pedal

Build a K-MOD102 Guitar Amp Kit

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Doug Knight

Our “Man on the Street” reporter, with his “What’s New in Music Stores?” series, resides in Coos Bay, OR. You can find him on Friday nights at The Small Events Center at OrCoast Music in Coos Bay.

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