Peekamoose Custom Guitars and Guitar Repair NYC

Frequently Asked Quesitons (FAQs)

  1. What is a setup?
  2. How often do I need to have my instrument setup?
  3. No, really, how often do I need to have my instrument setup?
  4. Can I adjust my instrument myself?
  5. How often should I change my strings?
  6. Should I change my strings one at a time?

A setup is a series of adjustments which make an instrument easier to play, sound better, stay in tune, not break strings, etc. Straightness of the neck, action height (string clearance over the frets), and intonation, are addressed when doing a setup. We also take the extra time to evaluate and adjust any hardware which may be loose or incorrectly fitted.

For acoustic instruments, the basic setup will include:
A preliminary hardware inspection & adjustment. Adjust the truss rod, set the action height, make sure the bridge saddle is properly radiused & beveled, and adjust the nut. When all the adjustments are correct the instrument polished up and gets a fresh set of strings.

For electric instruments the basic setup will include:
A preliminary hardware and circuit inspection. Adjust the truss rod, set the: action, intonation, and pickup heights. Where applicable additional hardware is re-adjusted. When all the adjustments are correct the instrument polished up and gets a fresh set of strings.

On electric & archtop instruments, there are a few other adjustments which are done at the time of a setup. But because these adjustments occur less frequently they bill as individual items. First is: Re-cut (or shim & re-cut) the nut. Second is Re-cut the bridge saddle slots. Nut and Saddle maintenance can happen once a year, sometimes less sometimes more. The need for these adjustments can be influenced by wear as well as instrument shift. The third only applies to bolt on neck instruments. Sometimes the neck set angle will require correction. Once the angle is set, that adjustment is usually appropriate for several years. The fourth only applies to Archtops. Re-fitting the bridge foot to the top improves tone and stability. Tops gradually change shape over time. When that happens the foot needs a fit adjustment.

A properly adjusted instrument will be more touch sensitive, have better tone, and often seem more powerful than in it's previous state. >>TOP

For best performance most instruments need two or three setups per year, usually when the season's change. Sometimes smaller tweaks can pull an instrument back in to line making a previous setup last longer. It depends on the individual instrument.

Most instruments are wood. They expand and contract in response to changes in temperature and humidity. This movement will affect: Action height, neck relief, fret alignment, intonation, holding pitch, and other fun stuff. The result is unsatisfactory performance in: playability, pitch accuracy, and tone.

Even synthetic instruments like Steinberger, Status, and Modulus are affected by changes in temperature and humidity. They just don't shift as dramatically as their wooden counterparts. >>TOP

At the bare minimum have an experienced professional do a full setup & inspection each year.

Aside from the obvious seasonal changes, using your instrument puts wear on the playing and sound generating surfaces. Additionally no instrument is impervious to aging. All instrument gradually deteriorate over time. Having an annual checkup by a pro who is known for great work and diagnostic skills can help avoid major repairs/problems.

In the long run most clients discover their instruments become more stable and reliable by doing regular seasonal adjustments. Meaning two or more adjustments each year. For most it's two or three setups and a couple of rod adjustments in between. Wood has a memory. If an instrument is routinely guided back to it's optimal point of adjustment, 99% of the time it settles into the happy spot and future seasonal movement is less dramatic. Waiting until an instrument is unplayable usually requires more forceful measures to make it right and takes a little extra effort to keep it on track.

You will have more enjoyment with an axe you don't have to fight. We have found regular adjustments although important for everyone, have the most dramatic effects on beginner and intermediate players. Seasoned pro's have the chops to make any guitar sound good. They can exert their will over an instrument and music comes out. It doesn't mean they enjoy the fight. But they have the skill and can execute under adverse conditions. It's their job so they do what is needed.

People who are learning to play lack the muscle memory and mental frame of reference. They don't know how much strength is appropriate and usually try to physically overpower an instrument when the opposite will be more effective. Having an instrument which plays correctly and with ease allows anyone to develop good playing habits. When an instrument is dead on, physical energy can be utilized for the nuances that allow a wider range of expression. What would you rather do bash away and have your hands hurt while wondering why it just doesn't sound good? Or, have a more fulfilling musical experience? >>TOP

The adjustments executed in a setup are essentially easy. There are lots of "how to" magazines, books, and videos.

However, retail instructional material will only teach you that luthier's version of "the math" and try to give you a small glimpse of the big picture. There is a dramatic difference in feel, tone, stability, and touch sensitivity between an instrument setup by a novice or the same instrument setup by someone who's done thousands of jobs over a period of years. The mechanical measurements are only one part of the equation. The specs have to be tempered by value judgements and choices about how to tweak around any given instrument's strengths and weaknesses. You may already be aware that work coming out of different shops will vary in look and feel. There are several ways to solve most repair issues, and setups are a style thing. If you've found a shop or person that really nails it for you, stay with them.

If adjusting your axe will give you joy. Then do it. But we highly recommend having an instrument put totally right first. Having this as your bench mark can serve as a frame of reference when trying to re-adjust on your own. Eventually, your instrument will drift to a place you can't resolve. You can bring it in and we will put it right. We have several clients who enjoy tinkering. We bail them out when they need it. We don't pass judgement on the owners, only the instruments and only in their best interest. >>TOP

Electric guitars every 2-3 weeks, 4 weeks max. Acoustic guitars generally 3-4 weeks, 6 weeks, max. Electric bass two months would be the high end four to six weeks is usually better.

If you are playing any guitar an hour or more every day. Those strings will be toast in two weeks tops. It's better to change your strings frequently. There are reasons for this, you can read or ignore them.

Strings loose their elasticity with use and elapsed time. Strings are always under tension. The lack of elasticity makes the strings feel stiffer, they don't hold pitch as accurately, they are not as loud, and the tone degrades. Constant tension means whether you use a guitar or not, as time passes strings go dead.

It goes without saying that usage kills strings, but why. What happens when you bend a paper clip back and forth a bunch of times? Eventually it heats up and breaks. What happened? Metal fatigue. The metal lost it's natural elasticity, the wire became brittle and finally cracked.

Strings do the same thing in a less dramatic way. Every time you play a song, the strings swing in sine wave patterns a few hundred thousand times. After a few weeks of play most strings are no longer capable of creating accurate pitch, great tone, or feeling as they do in the first few days. You can feel the strings getting stiffer. It's nature's way of telling you to change them.

The last part of the equation is the corrosive reaction of a person's perspiration with the string. Some brands work better than others depending on your body chemistry. Some people kill strings in a day regardless of brand. No matter which way you cut it, we all cause strings to have a slight chemical reaction that adds to diminished string life.

Why does this matter? In the long run dead strings put more stress on a neck, the top of an acoustic, or the balancing springs of a tremolo. Dead strings are also more abrasive to the frets accelerating fret wear. Dead strings are not as loud so you have to hit the guitar harder. No matter which way you look at it, dead strings are rough on instruments. If you love your axe, please change your strings. >>TOP

We don't, it takes forever and you can't fully clean or inspect the board with strings in the way.

We take all strings totally slack with a peg winder. Using diagonal cutters, clip the strings over the body for easy removal. Slip the string sections out of the bridge (or tail piece) and machines. Turn the machines for easy re-load. Then re-string and tune to pitch.

If your instrument has a floating tremolo, we recommend sliding a small stack of business cards under the back edge of the bridge to hold it in floating position when the strings come off. If this is a Floyd Rose, Kahler, or other locking trem system, you may have to turn the trem bar back towards the tail and place a padded block between the bar and the body's face to hold the bridge static with no strings. It varies, we can show you how to do it.

If your instrument has a separate bridge and tail piece like many Gibsons. Or it has a floating bridge and trapeze tail found on most archtop guitars (like D'Aquisto and D' Angelico). Once string tension is removed the adjustments can slip. There is a simple solution. It's quick, easy, and works every time.

Before loosening your strings take some low stick masking tape and fit a strip over both the bass and treble height adjustment posts. Press the tape firmly against the sides of the bridge, the height adjustment wheels, and the face of the guitar. Make sure you have firmly pinched the tape around the parts so there will be no movement once the strings are off. With a stop tail you can do the same. With an arch top floating bridge, make sure you have also secured the wooden bridge foot to the instrument's face so it will not slide and mess up your intonation.

If you have questions about this process, please ask the next time your instrument is in for work and we'll show you how it's done. >>TOP