The "new acoustic" set up

Here's a "repair" I do quite often for my customers that involves making their brand new guitar play like it should. When you buy a new guitar it needs a set up for at the very least, you want it play like YOU want it to, not how it left the factory after a cursory look over. This pertains to ANY guitar, regardless of cost. I have seen VERY expensive "custom shop" and "boutique" guitars that need a set up from new. This can be for several reasons and not necessarily a fault of the manufacturer, but more often than not it is.


Guitars in any price range generally get set up on the high side action wise and people have come to expect it. This gives guitar manufacturers an excuse to keep doing it. The advantage of this for the manufacturer is a guitar that would normally buzz a little may play "fine" with the action just a little too high.

Most new guitars also come with fairly light strings, which is OK if you use them. I use 12-54's on nearly all my guitars so I can't live with lighter strings. Also, new guitars are set up for standard tuning, which means if you play drop or alternative turnings you will need to set the guitar up for that tuning.

The other big issues with new guitars is most (at least where I live) travell half way around the world, from extremes of temperatures and humidity in plane cargo holds and ships and then sit around in warehouses until they get put on a truck and driven for days to turn up in an air conditioned shop where it's 40 degrees outside. Remember, guitars are made of timber, which is unstable, inconsistent and doesn't perform well under stress, temperate and humidity changes and being transported particularly well.


So, that brings us to the reason for this story. The "new guitar" set up is usually pretty straight forward on any quality made guitar, like this.  Even though this guitar was made here in Australia and only travelled from Melbourne it still needed a set up to make it play well.

The action was (very) high and the truss rod needed tweaking. It's not uncommon for brand new guitars to need a fret dress either, as they move around in transit and remember, it's the first time this piece of timber has been under this stress since being cut, so it can twist or warp slightly.

I actually recommend that customers play their new guitars for a month or so before getting a set up to let it "settle in" to it's new environment.


 


The action on this guitar is up around 4.5mm which is too high for any guitar to intonate and play comfortably. To adjust the action on an acoustic you have the same options as with an electric but sometimes with less room to move and adjust. The saddle (or bridge), the nut and the truss rod. If everything is "right" these will get you where you need to go. If everything is not right, like the neck angle is set wrong, these will not work.

Don't think just because you paid a lot for a guitar or it has the "right" name on the headstock that these are a given. I have seen VERY expensive guitars that had the wrong angles and then no amount of "tweaking" will get them playing right.


 


The truss rod needed quite a bit of adjustment which on these Matons is done through the rear strap button hole via a long metal rod with a socket on the end, or at least that what i made to do it. With the frets checked out for level (they were good) and some taken off the bottom of the saddle it was time to start "balancing out" the neck/action.

It generally takes a few passes to get right but you need to get the saddle low enough for a good action but not too low that you have no tension on the saddle and/or your action is too low. With the truss rod where you want it it's a matter of getting the saddle height right little by little. You don't really have intonation adjustment in situations like this so the bridge/saddle has to be right from the factory.


 

The nut needed just a little bit of height taken out of the slots but was actually pretty good. This is another common area where new guitars are set too high.  most Matons I've seen are generally pretty good here.


 

So, with the bow taken out of the neck and the saddle bought down the guitar was playing infinitely better. More comfortable in the open position chords and actually playable up the neck. The bridge was perfectly placed and intonation was great.

All in all, it played like "a new guitar" ..............

Aug 06 2013 Written By: Tim Brennan