Ultimate Guide on How to Set Up an Electric Guitar

In this article, I will tell you everything about setting up your electric guitar and sounding like a true rock star. Let’s get it started, shall we?

1. Know Your Anatomy

guitar anatomy

There are many types of guitars, they can be different in their structure and shape, but we can identify the main components of the guitar:

  • The body of the guitar: it is mainly made of wood, or possibly from artificial materials. It may have a different shape. The body of guitars usually consists of two layers: the first deck (mahogany), and the second top (various types of maple or other woods). The use and combination of different kinds of wood, when making the body, allows the instrument to achieve different sound characteristics.
  • The neck of the guitar: it can be divided into several parts (the head of the neck, the fingerboard itself, the anchor rod). The most common materials are maple and mahogany. For the lining: maple, rosewood, or ebony. The type of attachment to the body can be a glued neck, straight through or bolted.
  • Hardware: Tremolo-system (we will consider Floyd Rose and others like it), top-lock, and splitting.
  • Electronic guitar stuffing: sensors, volume and tone controls, positional sensor switch.

Although this article was created to help you, keep in mind that tuning the guitar is a challenging task, and if you are not confident in your abilities, it’s best to contact a competent master. You risk damaging or even breaking your instrument, the subsequent repair of which can be quite expensive.

If you don’t expect any problems of that kind, let’s DIY!

2. Preliminary Preparations

tools for electric guitar

So, if you decide to carry out the setup procedure yourself, then you need at least:

  • A comfortable workplace. Preferably a table on which you will perform all operations with the guitar.
  • A set of tools, among which you will need: screwdrivers and hexagons of the required size, small pliers, and nippers.
  • You will also need a tuner for tuning the guitar, several picks 1 and 2mm thick (to adjust the height of the strings and set the correct position of the tremolo system).
  • And of course a little patience and accuracy.

3. Full Customization

Let’s suppose a guitar came to you already assembled. In this case, you will need an explanation that is as simple as possible about what to do with the electric guitar immediately after purchase. The only thing we will not describe in detail is the tuning of the strings themselves. Read more about changing and tuning them in the article “How to replace strings on an electric guitar.”

Step One – No Dangling

No Dangling with the floyd rose

Setting up a guitar with the Floyd Rose system for the first time is quite a difficult task. There is a metal spring system inside your guitar that is connected to the strings. You need to understand that the tension of the strings is compensated by the tension of the springs, and the change in the tension of each string individually affects the tension of the other strings.

Note: after all the tuning, we also need to achieve a parallel arrangement of the tremolo system relative to the body of the guitar.

So, first things first. We have two adjustment points: the first is the pegs of the guitar, the second is the screws fastening the springs to the body of the guitar.

We need to balance this system by achieving the necessary guitar construction that fits us. Pre-tension the strings so that they do not dangle.

Step Two – Lubricate the Trem

Lubricate the Trem

A crucial point is the lubrication of your tremolo system. Lithium grease, lemon oil, vaseline, and sewing machine oil are easy to apply in small amounts. My personal favorite is lemon oil. It is an ideal choice for all of the metal-to-metal contact points. Apply a tiny amount of lemon oil with the tip of a hypodermic needle and clean up any excess oil.

Step Three – String Height and Anchor Setting

String Height and Anchor Setting

Adjust the height of the strings using the machine support screws. Twisting and unscrewing these screws, we can change the height of the strings above the fingerboard. But! If you have an Ibanez, there is a small additional thin screw in the center.

To achieve the right distance between fret and strings, take the guitar in the position in which you play it. Use a guitar pick with a medium thickness. Achieve such a height of the strings so that by throwing the pick between the chords above the 17-19 fret, it does not get stuck, and below the 17-19 fret, it does get stuck.

If you have an Ibanez, the anchor nut is no longer on the head of the neck, but at its base, and the keyhole is between the four screws. The principle of operation is the same — the tension or weakening of the neck. Put the guitar on your knees, so that the hole is clearly in front of you, and insert a special key. To create tension, you need to rotate the key counterclockwise, to loosen the neck, you turn it clockwise.

The idea is simple in principle, but there is one small nuance! It is not recommended in any case to twist the anchor with the strings lowered, because this can cause damage to the system.

If we are facing a situation when the mediator jumps over the 17th fret, but does not jump over the 24th, then your fingerboard has the wrong position, and the anchor will help us to fix this. This situation is usually accompanied by string rattle after the 15th fret. Unscrewing the cap on the head of the neck, you will see an anchor nut.

Depending on the model and year of production, the size of the anchor nut varies. Therefore, you will have to find a suitable key. To straighten your neck, you need to turn the nut clockwise a few turns (that’s it, pull the anchor). Then again adjust the guitar, adjust the height of the strings, and re-check the height of the chords with a pick. If the situation became better, then we have corrected the deflection of the neck; if not, repeat the operation.

Note! The anchor setting is a dangerous procedure! You risk breaking the anchor, after which the guitar cannot be restored! Therefore, it is necessary to twist the nut very carefully!

Step Four – The Longest One. Mensura

Guitar Mensura

Now you need to check if the guitar builds on the 12th fret. Ideally, there should be no deviations. If there are deviations, it is necessary to rebuild the scale for this string. In this case, it should be performed alternately for each string.

To tune out, we loosen the tension of the string we need, loosen the cage attachment screw and move the saddle in this way: if the note is raised, we move the saddle in the direction from the head of the neck, if low, then to the fingerboard. After each movement, we fasten the screw to fix the saddle, return the string to the initial tension and check whether it builds on the 12th fret. If necessary, repeat the procedure. And so on for all of the strings, respectively. This example applies to a guitar with the Floyd Rose system and other bilateral tremolo systems. Now, let’s think about a guitar with a one-sided trem like Stratocaster. In this case, everything is much simpler. When fastening each string, there is a small screw. If the string is low, then we rotate the screw counterclockwise (the saddle must move towards the head of the neck), if otherwise – it is clockwise.

Step Five – You Are Almost Ready to Rock

Now, having completed all the above, you can secure the top-lock.

This should be done in a position where the guitar body is perpendicular to the floor (the position in which you play). The main thing – do not overtighten the screws, if you do not want to disrupt the thread! This will render the guitar worthless and complicate not only the next possible sale but the use itself.

The final touch will be the height adjustment of the pickup. To achieve the most powerful signal, the pickups should be as close to the strings as possible, hold all the chords on the last fret and lift the pickups, as high as possible, using screws but making sure that the strings do not touch the pickup magnets.

If you cannot tighten the pickups to the distance you need, you can put a parallel piece under it.

4. Guitar Care Products to Keep Your Instrument in The Best Condition

Guitar Care Products

You need to maintain your guitar and keep it clean and beautiful. Therefore, you will need the following tools:

  • A clean piece of a soft, velvet cloth
  • Some mineral oil
  • Ear cleaners (for cleaning your Floyd, not ears)
  • No water whatsoever, if you do not want to get a web of cracks on your guitar. Moreover, water cannot remove pollution.

What to do?

  • Wipe dust from the varnished surfaces with a dry rag; use the special cloth usually sold both with guitar care products and separately. You can also use cotton or viscose.
  • Surfaces that are not protected by varnish are wiped with special mediums or with a dry cloth. For example, you could use lemon oil for a rosewood fingerboard.
  • Lemon oil should be the right kind. The pharmacy brand is essential – it dries the wood; the guitar lemon oil is mineral. However, it is not suitable for all guitars, be sure to read the instructions on the oil packaging before use.
  • Concerning alcohol: many people use it, but I do not recommend it. Alcohol is an aggressive medium. It can damage the paintwork; it also dries the wood (hygroscopicity property).

There is an opinion that the neck can be deformed if you remove the strings from it. This is a myth since it takes about an hour to clean the neck even with the removal of the strings. During this time, the neck will not have time to feel the absence of tension.

Aren’t You Ready to Play Yet?

Aren't You Ready to Play Yet

Many people have often heard it said, “Floyd Rose is a very unreliable system,” or “a guitar with Floyd Rose does not keep the line”. Let me dispel your doubts.

First, in the right hands and with the correct settings, the Floyd Rose has a great build with minimal accuracy. This is a fact.

Secondly, even if you do not use Floyd Rose, the advantage of these guitars is the availability of top-lock. In standard one-sided tremolo systems or tune-o-matic systems, where there is no top-lock, the system goes down literally after two bends due to the stretching of strings, or a dynamic game with a good attack. The only exception is a guitar with lock pegs, but this is quite a rarity.

Obviously, the presence of Floyd Rose reveals the horizons of the guitar’s sound. Eddy Van Halen, Steve Vai, and Kirk Hammett have proved this to all of us. Even if that level of awesomeness is not required in your work or a lock is needed in the studio, for example, to record riffs, you can easily block it with the help of a trem-stopper, which you will find in almost any guitar store.

Be prepared that during the first couple days the system “floats”, and you will have to tune the tool quite often.

You can find more information about guitar tuning here – How to tune a guitar

We hope our article was handy to you and your creativity!

By Max Hudson
    about author

    My name is Max Hudson, born and raised in Chicago. I'm 30 years old and like many other people, I discovered guitar in my teens and have never looked back since. It has quickly evolved into a passion and has given me a creative outlet, something to redirect my time and unlimited energy toward. I want this website to be a handbook for players of all skill levels. It can become a starting point for your new hobby, where you can find the right instrument, get tips for playing effortlessly or anything else music related.