Finish This Off


mark-150This month we’ll finish off the setup series.

So now that you have completed all the pre setup, here is the simple eight step formula for completing the setup on your guitar or bass. If you have been following the series you have done most of this work already. This is just the final step in order to complete the job.

1) Install new strings

Open the pack of strings and check them for rust spots. If they are rusty bring them back to where you bought them and get a new pack. Better yet find a new brand!!

First, make sure all the string holes in the tuner posts are in line with the direction of your neck, if not, just turn your tuner until they are all in line with the string direction. Install one string at a time starting with the bass E. Feed the string through your bridge or tailpiece and pull it up towards the nut. Next, for your E and A strings, measure a length 2 tuner posts past the tuner you are going to use and cut off the string there.


Measure 2 Tuner Posts Past the One you Will be Using for the E and A

 Then, insert the string into the hole in the tuner post from the opposite end of the hole (i.e. from the end of the neck side. Insert it enough that 1/8” of an inch (3mm) of the string sticks out the hole on the other side.


Insert your String from The Head End, 1/8” (3mm) Hanging out

 Then pull the long part of the string down towards the bridge causing a sharp bend in the string.


Pull the String back 180 Deg. so you have a Sharp Bend in the string.

Now, while keeping tension on the string, start turning the tuner button to wind the string on the post from the top down. You want to try and get at least three complete windings on the tuner post for your E, and A strings.


3 Windings on the Post.

For your D, G, B and Treble E measure a length 2 ½ to 3 tuner posts past the tuner you are going to use.  Cut off the string there and follow the same procedure for winding the strings on their posts. Once you get all the strings on, tune them to pitch. Now while holding each string down at the first fret, gently pull up on each string to pre-stretch them one at a time. Re-tune your Axe and repeat the stretching again a couple of times until they stay in pitch.


2) Adjust your tremolo (If your Axe has one)

NOTE: The setup dimensions given in the following two sections are based on a string gauge of 9-46 in standard tuning.

Fixed non-floating spring setup

For light gauge strings I normally install 3 tension springs. For medium and heavy gauge strings I typically install four. Both cases will provide sufficient tension to hold the tremolo unit tight to the top of the guitar body. This helps in transferring string vibration to the body and increases guitar sustain. For a three spring setup I set the springs in a V arrangement. This helps to balance the spring tension. I set the spring claw at 9/16” of an inch (14.2mm) from the edge of the spring cavity to the front edge of the spring claw.


Three Spring V Setup for lite Gauge Strings.


9/16” of an Inch (14.2mm) from body to the Inside of the Spring Claw.

For a four spring installation, I set the springs in line and set the spring claw at 11/16” of an inch (17.4mm) from the edge of the spring cavity to the front edge of the spring claw.


Four Spring Setup for Medium / Heavy Gauge Strings.


11/16” of an inch (17.4mm) from body to the inside of the Spring Claw.

Both setups will provide enough spring tension to hold the tremolo unit down firmly on the body, will not allow the tremolo to move when you are string bending while playing, and allow for a smooth action when using the tremolo.

Floating Spring setup

For light gauge strings I install 3 tension springs, and for medium and heavy gauge strings, I install four tension springs. The difference between the fixed and floating tremolo setup is the positioning of the spring claw inside the body cavity. For a three spring setup, I set the spring claw at 3/4” of an inch (19mm) from the edge of the spring cavity to the front edge of the spring claw. For a four spring setup, I set the spring claw at 7/8” of an inch (22.2mm) from the edge of the spring cavity to the front edge of the spring claw.

What you need to keep in mind is that you are lowering the spring tension in relationship to the tension that is generated by the strings. When everything is set and your guitar is tuned to pitch, you want the underside of the top plate to lift off the body by 3/32” of an inch (2.3mm). This height will give you a one and one-half note increase in pitch when you lift up on the tremolo arm.

Note: Spring tensions can differ depending on the supplier or the age of the springs. The dimensions given above are a starting point only. You will need to make slight adjustments to the spring tension (i.e. move the spring claw) when you tune your guitar to pitch to get the desired 3/16” dimension.


Raised Top Plate.


 3/32” of an inch (2.3mm) from the top of the body to the underside of the Top plate.

If you decide to go with a floating tremolo setup, you might want to look at installing a tremolo stabilizer like a “Hipshot” or even replacing your stock spring claw with one of the new aftermarket units that are available like the “Stay Tuned Tremolo Stabilizing Claw” by Van Rosa. They help you to fine tune the spring tension in relationship to the tension generated by the strings. They also do a great job of keeping your Axe in tune after a lot of tremolo usage and keep your other strings in tune while bending on another.


3) Adjust your neck relief (Refer back to the factory specs given in my second article)

1) To measure the relief on your guitar, install a capo at the first fret. 2) Then fret your treble E string (G on a Bass) at the last fret on the neck. You are now using your strings as a straight edge. There should be a gap between the top of the seventh fret and the underside of your treble E string. That gap is the relief that you have in your neck. 3) Take a set of feeler gauges and measure that gap at the seventh fret (ninth fret on a bass). If the gap is larger than the numbers given in your factory specs, you will need to tighten your truss rod to remove some relief. If the number is less than the factory specs, you will need to loosen your truss rod to add some relief.

Truss Rods

Most truss rods are made of metal and are adjusted with either a screw driver or an Allen key. Modern Fender necks and Gibson set necks are adjusted at the headstock. Gibson truss rod adjustment is made by removing the cover plate on the headstock to get access to the Truss rod adjusting nut.


Necks that can be adjusted at the head stock are easier to adjust because of the simple access to the truss rod adjusting nut. Vintage style Fender necks or most necks that are adjusted at the body end are harder to adjust because in most cases you will need to remove the neck to adjust it.

When you do any adjustment on your truss rod, make sure you have loosened your strings all the way. NEVER adjust your truss rod with your strings tuned to pitch, you can cause bending of the rod and possibly strip the thread on the rod.

Remember, to straighten the neck and remove relief, turn the truss rod adjustment nut clockwise i.e. tightening it. To cause a back bow and add relief turn the truss rod adjustment nut counter clockwise i.e. loosen it.


Make 1/2 turns on the nut at a time. After each turn of the adjustment nut return your strings to pitch and check the neck relief. If it’s the first time you are doing this, it will probably take a few tries to get it right. Just take your time and repeat the steps until you are satisfied with the amount of relief in your neck.

Vintage Style Fender Necks

Truss rod adjustments on vintage style Fender necks are made at the end where it joins the body. The problem is in most cases you will have to detune the strings and loosen the four neck screws and partially lift the neck out of its pocket to properly access the truss rod adjustment nut. The adjustment procedure is the same as described above; it just takes more patience because to do it right you have to loosen and reinstall the neck each time you make an adjustment.



4) Adjust your string height

Once you get the neck relief adjusted to specs the next step is to adjust the string height to the factory specs. 1) Take the capo off and using a 6” steel ruler measure the height of the treble E (G on a bass) at the 17th or 12th fret. 2) Adjust the height of the individual bridge saddle or the bridge height on ABR style bridges to get the string height to spec. 3) Set the height of the bass E string. Make sure you are measuring from the top of the fret to the underside of the string.



4) If you have individual height adjustable saddles on your bridge use your fret board radius gauge to adjust the rest of your strings heights. To do this place your radius gauge on you strings close to your bridge so it is resting on both the treble and bass E strings. Play you’re A string and at the same time raise the height of the string until it buzzes out on the bottom of the radius gauge. Now repeat the procedure for each of the other strings.


5) Set your pickup height

When you adjust the height of your pickups, keep in mind that a bass E string is always louder than a Treble E string. So when you set your pickup heights, set the height under the bass E string lower than the height we would use on the treble E string. Again refer to factory specs to set your pickup height. The dimensions given in the table are the height from the top of the pole piece or screw to the underside of the string for a given pickup. Keep in mind all measurements should be taken with the string held down at the last fret on your neck. To adjust the pickups use a screw driver to raise or lower the pickup to the required height. Turn the screw clockwise to raise the pickup and counter clockwise to lower it.


The above photo shows the Pickup adjusting screw on a Fender style guitar. Turn the screw clockwise to raise the pickup height and counterclockwise to lower it.


When checking your pickup height it is always the distance from the top of the pole piece to the underside of the string. Make sure you are holding the string down at the last fret when you take your measurement.


 The photo above shows the adjusting screw on a Gibson Style pickup holding ring.


Again here, always measure from the top of the pole screw to the underside of the string.


The photo above shows the difference in height from the treble E string to the Bass E string.

After adjusting the height of your pickups, plug in the guitar or bass and check the volume of each pickup. The closer the pickup is to the string the louder it will be. Set the treble (Lead) pickup a little closer to the strings than the rhythm pickup just to give it a bit more bite.

6) Adjust your Intonation

Most electric guitars and basses have adjustable bridge saddles for the very reason of adjusting the length of the string and in turn “fine Tuning” the intonation of each string.

To do your intonation you will need an electronic tuner and a flat surface to lay your Axe on. Plug in your tuner and tune your axe to pitch. It is important to tune it as close to dead-on as you can. Remember always do one string at a time. Once the string is tuned to pitch, play the harmonic on the same string at the 12th fret and make sure the pitch is still dead-on. Now, fret the string at the 12th fret by placing your finger tip on the string directly over the fret. Do not press too strongly, you only need enough pressure to get a clear note off of the 12th fret. If you press too hard you will cause the string pitch to go sharp. When I do this I typically will use my finger nail to hold the string on the fret.


When you play the note at the 12th fret hold the string down directly over the crown of the fret and do not apply to much pressure. Just enough pressure to get a clean note.

Now with the string on the 12th fret gently pluck the string and see if the note played is sharp or flat. If the note is flat, it means you need to move the saddle towards the nut. In other words, you need to shorten the length of the string. If the fretted note is sharp, you need to move the saddle away from the nut, you guessed it, you need to make the string length longer. Adjusting the saddle is done with either a screw driver or an Allen wrench. Fender style guitars typically adjusted at the bridge plate or the tremolo. Gibson style guitars are adjusted at the bridge piece.


Remember ½ turns on the saddle adjusting screws and then recheck the intonation.



Gibson and other ABR style Tune-O-Matic bridges are adjusted using the screw on the front of the bridge piece.

Always turn the adjusting screw a half turn at a time; it doesn’t take a lot of saddle movement to make a big change to the intonation. When adjusting a saddle away from the nut you may want to loosen the string a bit to reduce the tension caused by the string. Once you have moved the saddle, re-tune the string to pitch and repeat the process until the pitch of the harmonic and the pitch of the string played at the 12th fret are both in tune, it may take a few attempts to get it right but stick with it. It makes all the difference in the world when your notes and chords are dead-on all the way up the neck. Once the first string is done, repeat the same process on the rest of the strings until they are all done.

7) Lube it up

Now you need to lubricate a bunch of points where your string comes into contact with your Axe, all the points of contact at the bridge, saddles, and nut. Start by adding a bit of guitar lube, or powered graphite to the string slots at the nut. Gently lift each string out of its groove and spray some graphite into the groove. Then place the string back into its groove in the nut. Then lubricate all contact points where the strings come in contact the tremolo or bridge, and the top of the saddles where the string sits in its groove.

8) Play the Crap out of it! (And Have Fun)

That’s it for the setup series. Next month, we will start a new series all about how to shield a guitar that has single coil pickups.

Cheers, Be Good to Each Other and Remember

Nigel Tufnel: “It’s part of a trilogy, a musical trilogy I’m working on in D minor which is the saddest of all keys, I find. People weep instantly when they hear it, and I don’t know why.”
Marty DiBergi: “It’s very nice.”
Nigel Tufnel: “You know, just simple lines intertwining, you know, very much like – I’m really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it’s sort of in between those, really. It’s like a Mach piece, really. It’s sort of…”
Marty DiBergi: “What do you call this?”
Nigel Tufnel: Well, this piece is called “Lick My Love Pump”.

Cheers, Mark


To read more about Mark click HERE


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