Getting the most from your new guitar

 

Your new guitar came to you from Butler Music with what is called the “factory setup” . The factory setup generally sets the string height between 7/64” and 5/32”, which some players consider high. Also, the factory setup and string height can often be affected by the rigors of shipping, temperature changes and humidity changes that happen as the guitar travels to you, which might change the setup even more. Because the setup can change during travel, and because a guitar that has been set up may show some small evidence of being played, leading a buyer to think that they got a “used” guitar, Butler Music does not set up guitars before we ship them to you unless we are specifically asked before we ship them. Also, a proper setup can only be done at the time of purchase and having us do it could delay the shipping of your guitar by one to two business days, so as a rule we just don’t do it. 


Once you get your guitar inspect it thoroughly for any physical damage. If there is actual damage contact us right away at 816-925-4686 or email us at sales@butlermusicstore.com. We insure everything we ship so if your guitar is damaged we will take care of getting it picked up by the shipper and getting it replaced. Also check the main parts of your guitar. Movement in shipping may have thrown the nut, saddle or bridge out of adjustment. Then let your guitar sit at room temperature for two to three hours. We know you will want to play your guitar right away, but wood expands and contracts depending on temperature and humidity so tuning it before it settles in won’t give you a true gauge of how your guitar is going to play.


Aside from keeping your guitar in tune, the three most important things you need to know to get the maximum playability out of your guitar, are how to keep the Action, Relief and Intonation set to your liking. Most of these functions can be kept in optimum condition by proper adjustment of your truss rod. An important part of maintaining your guitar is knowing how to adjust the truss rod. When a guitar experiences temperature and humidity swings, such as when seasons change, or when it is transported long distances, it can develop a slight bow in the neck which can be usually be corrected by a turn of the truss rod.


How Does A Truss Rod Work?
A truss rod is a metal bar (usually made from steel or graphite) that reinforces the beck of a guitar, bass, or other stringed instruments. When tuned up to pitch, the strings will put several hundred pounds of pressure on the neck –more enough to bend it. A truss rod’s job is to counteract that tension and allow the player to adjust how much (or how little) the neck bows.


There are two kinds of truss rods: single action and dual action. A single action truss rod is only threaded on one end, but a dual action truss rods are threaded on both ends. Threading both ends allows the truss rod to either increase or decrease neck relief before running out of adjustment. Adjusting the threads on the end of a truss rod counteracts the strings tension and will either increase or decrease the distance between the strings and the frets depending on which way you turn it.


Step 1   If you get your new guitar and it is buzzy or hard to fret, you can often correct the problem simply by tightening or loosening the truss rod. Before just randomly turning your truss rod wrench though, the first thing you should do before starting any repair is to “sight the neck”. By sighting the neck, we gain insight into how the neck is reacting to the string tension and truss rod relief. At this point, we’re just trying to get an understanding of whether the neck is straight or not.


To sight the neck you first need to tune the guitar to pitch. Next, you turn the guitar on it’s side , close one eye, and look down the neck from the headstock towards the bridge. Because the truss rod adjustment will affect the middle of the neck most, look particularly hard for upbow or backbow between the 3rd and 9th frets of your guitar. The space between the string and frets will reflect the bow of the neck. If there is too little space, it is likely the neck suffers from backbow. If there is too much space, the neck has upbow, or too much relief. If this is the first time you’ve ever tried to sight your instrument’s neck, you may be a little unsure of what to look for. If your guitar’s neck is not straight, it is likely to have either upbow or backbow. While upbow will cause the string to be too far from the frets and impede playability, backbow will move them too close and produce fret buzz. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t able to sight the neck right away, it takes some practice.

 


Adjusting your truss rod
To adjust the truss rod, you’ll need to turn the nut a quarter turn at a time, enabling the neck to adjust after each turn. (You can play during the adjustment time.) The necessary truss-rod adjustment depends on which way the neck bows:

  • If your neck bows outward between the seventh and twelfth frets, creating a large gap that makes pressing down the strings difficult, tighten the truss rod by turning the nut clockwise (as you face the nut straight on).
  • If your neck bows inward between the seventh and twelfth frets, causing the strings to buzz and fret out (that is, come in contact with frets they’re not supposed to as you press down the strings), loosen the truss rod by turning it counterclockwise.

All guitars come with their own particular truss-rod wrench, so if you don’t have a truss rod wrench for your guitar, try to find a replacement.


When adjusting your neck, remember these tips!

  • Don’t adjust too much at once. You’ll want to turn the truss rod about a ¼ of a turn at a time until you’re familiar with how your truss rod will react.
  • Always re-tune the guitar before checking your adjustment.
  • Don’t force anything. If you feel excessive resistance during an adjustment, your truss rod could be maxed out. Further adjustment could damage the instrument. An inspection by an experienced technician is recommended.
  • If you feel that you’re loosening the truss rod and it isn’t making any adjustment, you may have a dual-action truss rod. Check your instrument’s specifications. If you do, your truss rod will eventually catch and you’ll be able to make the proper adjustment.
  • Some necks will not adjust right away. In some cases, it’s better to make adjustments and let the neck settle overnight to ensure you don’t over-adjust.

How to Check for Fret Buzz


Action and relief go hand in hand and your guitar will play its best when they are both set properly. With that being said, it is important to make sure you get both action and relief exactly how you want it. We encourage you to play every note on your guitar and check for any buzzing. Where the buzzing takes place will serve as an indicator for what adjustments need to be made. Read the tips below if you experience any fret buzz.


                              How to Get Rid of Fret Buzz


A guitar that buzzes at the first five frets will likely need more relief.


A guitar that buzzes above the 12th fret or across the entire fretboard will likely need the action raised if the neck relief is properly set.


If your guitar buzzed in middle of the neck and now buzzes above the 12th fret, you’ve likely added too much relief. 


How to Measure Action


The term action refers to the distance between the top of your frets to the bottom of your strings. This distance plays a key role in your setup because it determines how easy it is to fret each note and how aggressive you can play the instrument before causing fret buzz. There are some target numbers that you’ll want to keep in mind when measuring action, but ultimately your playing style and personal taste will determine the string height.


Important --- Low action and no buzz is a near impossibility to have.


The number 1 wish of most guitar players is for low action and no buzz.  This is always tough to tackle because what’s low for one person may be high for another. Also, the lower the strings are to the frets, the more likely you are to have buzz. This is why setting the action is always a compromise between getting it as low as possible and avoiding fret buzz.


 Measure your Guitar’s Action

 

  1. Tune the guitar to pitch and ensure that your neck relief has been properly adjusted.

Some Luthiers will install a capo at the first fret in order to prevent the nut height from being a factor in their measurements. If you opt to do this, be sure that you repeat this on your next setup as well. The capo will give you a lower measurement when installed so you’ll want to be sure you have it in place at every setup once you’ve figured out your desired action.

 

  1. Place the ruler on the 12th fret, making sure the ruler ticks are parallel to the string.

Do this so that you’re getting an accurate measurement of the gap from the top of the fret to the bottom of the low E- string.

 

  1. Raise, lower, or leave the action.

Now you’ll need to make the decision to raise, lower or leave the action alone. Everyone’s setup preferences are a little different. For example, Jeff Beck prefers low action (3/64ths) whereas Stevie Ray Vaughn prefers a higher action (7/64ths) to accommodate his more aggressive technique. You may want to experiment and determine what’s best for your playing style.


Once you have set the action and fine-tuned your guitar’s playability, you will want to check the pitch accuracy and set the intonation of your guitar.


Guitar Intonation Explained


If your guitar or bass is not playing in tune, especially as you play up the neck, it might be time to adjust your intonation. A good way to check that is to play an open string and then play the same string at the 12th fret. If the note at the 12th fret is out of tune (more than a few cents off) from the open note, you probably need to adjust your intonation. When intonation is set, the string length is adjusted by moving the saddle closer or farther from the bridge. A properly intonated guitar will improve the pitch accuracy over the entire fretboard.


Changing String Gauge Can Affect Intonation


Your guitar’s intonation will likely need to be fine-tuned whenever you replace your strings. If you change string gauges, the intonation will almost certainly need to be reset because the core of your new strings will have a different diameter. Intonation can help compensate for differences in string core sizes.


For an accurate reading, hold the guitar in the playing position when checking pitch. 


Step 1: Compare Pitches


Play the lowest open string, or, for a more accurate reading, play the 12th fret harmonic. Now, depress the string at the 12th fret and compare the two pitches.


Remember, play with a soft-to-medium attack for the most precise reading. If both notes are perfectly in tune on all strings, then you lucked out and are done! The more likely case is that the two notes are slightly sharp or flat. To correct this, you’ll need to adjust the saddle.


 It’s not uncommon for a guitar to have a few frets that buzz, especially if the action is set low. Action height is always a compromise between setting it as low as possible and dialing in the most amount of fret buzz you can comfortably tolerate.


Determining how much buzz is too much really comes down to personal preference. Because of style preferences, some players are fine with a little buzz as long as their action is as low as possible, others find even a little buzz distracting and uncomfortable. Below are some guidelines that will help you determine whether or not the buzz you ‘re hearing is abnormal.


“Too much” buzz:

  • Any buzz that prevents the note from sustaining
  • If the pitch doesn’t change when playing adjacent frets
  • If you can hear the buzz through your amp

     

OK buzz:

  • Buzz that is not audible through an amp
  • A note that buzzes only during the initial attack of the note
  • Buzz that does not affect how long a note sustains

Hopefully, following these steps will help you to get the most from your guitar. While some problems will require you to bring the guitar to a professional, most issues can be resolved yourself and the folks at Butler Music are always available to help.


The folks at Butler Music want you to enjoy your new guitar and get the most out of it. Go to our website at www.butlermusic.com or call us at 816-925-4686 to get any accessories to keep your guitar in shape, in tune, and sounding it’s best.