Tech Tip:Setting Up Your Solidbody Electric Guitar, Part II
Part 1 | Part 2
By Dr. Spot
Part II (If you didn't get Part I last week, Click here and complete the steps described before you continue with Part II.)
Adjust The Pickup Height
Most electric guitar pickups can be adjusted by the mounting screws from the top of the guitar. Generally you want them as close as possible to the strings without buzzing. As a rule of thumb, when you fret the low E string at the last fret there should be a distance of between an 8th and a 16th of an inch from the pickup to the string. If you find that you can raise the pickups higher without buzzing problems, more power to you. Guitars with shorter scale lengths can stand the pickups a little closer to the strings. Some players get very obsessive about pickup height-that way lies insanity.
Adjust The String Height
If your guitar has individually adjustable string saddles, there are generally tiny Allen screws on either side of the saddle that let you raise and lower the strings. Solid bridges generally have little thumb wheels or screws to adjust string height. As a rule of thumb, your open high E should be about 3/64ths of an inch from the 12th fret, and the open low E should be about 5/64ths of an inch up. Use that as a starting point and see if you get string buzz. If so, raise the strings until they're sufficiently quiet. If your neck is warped or badly seated, you may have to raise them quite a ways. If the resulting action is too high to tolerate, you'll have to go to a pro.
You may find after you set the string height that your strings are buzzing on the pickups but not the frets, in which case you should lower the pickups. If you have to come a long way up with the strings, raise the pickups a little to compensate.
Set The Intonation
This is one of the least rewarding and most tedious aspects of setting up a guitar. In order to avoid total insanity, ALWAYS USE A TUNER! If you have a guitar without individually adjustable saddles, you're off the hook. Otherwise, prepare to be patient.
The object is to get the harmonic note played at the 12 fret to match precisely the fretted note at the 12th fret on every string. (To get the harmonic note, lightly touch the string directly over the 12th fret and pluck it hard half way between the 12th fret and the bridge, then quickly take your finger off the string.) In the most common Tune-o-matic type bridge, there's a single screw that moves the saddle closer to the head or farther from it. If you're in doubt, just move the saddle as far from the head as it can get and bring it forward a bit at a time until the harmonic and fretted 12th fret notes match in the tuner. The fretted note will get sharper relative to the harmonic note as you bring the saddle forward.
Fine Tune Everything After you've done the basic adjustments to all of the above, play the guitar a while and listen for buzzes, check the flatness of the bridge, and recheck the pickup height. Fret every string on every fret to make sure they all ring true. But remember, fretted instruments buzz a bit by their very nature. If you like really low action, you're going to have to put up with a little more buzz. Listen through your amp they way you actually play the guitar. You could be obsessing about some little buzz that you can't even hear when the thing's plugged in. Now you've got it the way you want it, have confidence in your work and play your heart out.