parts asWhen it comes time to go into the studio and record your music, there are many preparatory steps necessary to make sure the whole process is smooth and seamless. As a guitar player, a big part of that process is ensuring that you’ve taken the appropriate steps to properly setup your electric guitar. You don’t need to be a trained guitar tech to perform a proper electric guitar setup. Just follow along with the simple steps detailed in this article and you’ll be well on your way to recording the best representation of your artistry during your next recording session.
Starting Off With The Right Guitar
For a guitarist, there are many different things to look at, such as which guitar to use, what strings and gauge to choose, what amp and pedal combination will work best, etc.
But what’s most important to take into consideration is that the main instrument you will be recording your music with is the right one. Deciding which guitar or guitars to use, if you have a few options at your disposal, is the first step.
For example, songs with a heavy chunky vibe would be well suited for a Les Paul or an Ibanez RG, whereas a softer more airy clean tone may require something like a Strat or Tele. And it’s not just about the tone of the instruments themselves. Different guitars will affect the way you play your parts as well.
Knowing which guitars you’ll be using and what is required for each of them to be in pristine recording condition can save you a lot of time and work when you get to the studio.
This is why proper electric guitar setup becomes so important!
Electric Guitar Setup
Now that you’ve narrowed down which guitars you’ll be using, it’s time to get your electric guitar setup for the studio.
A professional guitar setup from a certified (or non-certified) guitar tech can certainly be the easy way to ensure your instrument will play great, but that can cost anywhere from $50-$150 per guitar, depending on who does it and where.
The good news is, if you have a willingness to learn and the drive to do it, you can do it all yourself for the cost of a few packs of strings and a few small tools.
The first part of our electric guitar setup will be taking off the old strings and cleaning up the guitar. A fretboard can get some pretty nasty buildup in between the frets, so taking the time to really clean the whole surface of the instrument is important.
There are many types of wood conditioners and cleansers (Linseed Oil being a favorite to use on darker woods) to keep the fretboard from being too dry and rough, all of which depends on the feel you like.
Once your fretboard is in proper shape, you’ll need to restring your axe. Take into account the right style and gauge of strings you want to use because this will affect the tension and action of the guitar. Meaning your guitar will be setup for the exact set of strings you use.
For heavier gauges, you will get a fuller tone, but also have to work a bit harder to bend strings, etc. Knowing where your comfort zone is when experimenting with new strings is important.
When the strings are on and neatly wound, you want to get the guitar relatively close to perfect tune before tweaking anything with the neck or intonation.
Tuning is one of the absolute most important things to be vigilant about. A great tuner is essential and something you’ll be constantly referring to throughout each take of your session. Something very accurate with a great readout that allows you to constantly see your tuning will make this less of a chore and help you stay spot on with the song’s key and pitch. I’m personally fond of the GoGo Tuner, which has a great visual display and is priced reasonably.
Once you have your new strings on and everything in relatively close tuning, get the strings back in perfect tune, one by one with your tuner, lightly holding and tugging on each string to stretch it out. Strings tend to stretch when they are pulled to these tensions, so by manually stretching them and re-tuning, we can get most of that loose tension out.
Once the guitar is tuned, listen for any fret buzz or odd sounding spots as you are playing up and down the neck and across the different frets. The recording studio puts your tone under a microscope and finding those buzzes now is a big part of your electric guitar setup.
Identify any quirky spots and make note of which string and what fret the buzz is coming from. By tweaking the truss rod to straighten the neck or adjusting the action (the height of the strings off the fretboard) we can dial out those little imperfections and get a perfect vibe back.
Electric Guitar Adjustments and Alignments
Truss rod adjustment involves the rod that travels down through the center of the guitar’s neck. Turned one way or another, it will adjust the curvature of the neck. It may seem like an ancient science of eyeballing it just right, but by looking down the length of the neck across the top you can usually see whether or not the fretboard curves to one direction or another, or if it is indeed straight. This process is easily done with an allen wrench and a few minutes of patience to find the right direction and amount of turns to get things back in alignment. Take your time and know the movements on some models can be subtle, so don’t over-crank it.
This process is easily done with an allen wrench and a few minutes of patience to find the right direction and amount of turns to get things back in alignment. Take your time and know the movements on some models can be subtle, so don’t over-crank it.
To adjust the action, take a look at the bridge saddles. You should see some small allen wrench screws that will enable you to raise or lower the bridge saddles for each string. This will allow you to tune out any small fret buzzes and even out the string feel across the guitar. Again, the smallest adjustment can make a huge shift in the playing action and tone of each string, so do this slowly and with really detailed attention to how each string balances out next to each other.
Electric Guitar Intonation
The last real bit of work left for our electric guitar setup is adjusting the intonation. This is where that accurate tuner is going to really help. As you now play up and down the guitar with stretched strings and adjusted action, you may still notice a few spots that seem dull or fretted a little differently. Maybe that one string just won’t quite tune up perfectly. This is where it may need a bit of intonation work. On the end of the bridge, or tailpiece, there are usually 6 screws or small allen screws that will either pull that bridge saddle back or release it forward. This is the way to really fine tune your guitar so that it will maintain correct tuning on each fret of each string. This can obviously take a while to do but if you want it spot on in tune, this is a step that should done.
There are also situations where you may need to do some other maintenance like filing a fret to remove a bur or snag and also electrical issues, like faulty plugs and tone knobs should all be addressed accordingly before stepping into the studio. Any of those things can be done ahead of time. Also, be sure to have at least 2-3 extra sets of strings for each instrument (stay consistent with brands and gauges at this stage) and all of your tools that you may need should you have an emergency fix in the studio.
Things like extra batteries or power supplies for any pedals you may be using, connector cables, etc. are always nice to have on hand and will save you a trip to the store mid-session.
If you are taking an amp or anything other gear like that you want to make sure it’s ready to go. So this might mean new tubes and a re-bias for your amp, or a new cone for a speaker in your cab. If you are using any type of amp simulator or FX device, get all your presets dialed in ahead of time so you don’t spend 2 hrs adjusting reverb algorithms the day of recording. Having all of that stuff taken care of ahead of time will eliminate stress and strain when you get ready to lay down your tracks.
All of these steps will ensure that your axes will be grinded nice and sharp for your session. By performing a thorough electric guitar setup, you have taken the steps necessary to perfect the playability of your instruments and ensure an accurate and clean performance from all your gear.
I always laugh to myself about how much better my whole guitar chain sounds after the guitar has been properly setup. If this post helped you in any way, please like and share! How did your session go? Let me know in the comments below.