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DIY Strat Set-Up

9/30/10 – This article was featured in a previous FLGR Newsletter.

Note: With a basic set of tools, a fair amount of patience, and a little mechanical savvy, just about any guitarist can set-up a guitar. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you aim to achieve your guitar’s optimal playability: a good set-up is a series of well calculated compromises and a guitar is only as good as its frets.

1.0 DIY Strat Set Up.JPG 1.1 DIY Strat Set Up unscrew bolt on neck.JPG
1. A Set-Up is a number of inter-related adjustments made to a guitar that achieve optimal playability. This standard Fender Stratocaster has level frets so this set-up will be as straight-forward as they come. 2. Loosen the Neck With the strings removed, a quick-clamp is a safe way to keep things together as you back out the screws.
1.2 DIY Strat Set Up remove bolt on neck.JPG 1.3 DIY Strat Set Up polish frets micro mesh.JPG
3. Remove the Neck With the guitar firmly held at the edge of my workbench, I gently tilt the headstock down to remove the neck. 4. Polish the Frets You can polish frets with micro-mesh polishing pads. I’m using this set of 9 pads that range from 1,500 grit to 12,000 grit. They bring the frets to a high luster.
1.4 DIY Strat Set Up.JPG 1.5 DIY Strat Set Up clean fretboard.JPG
5. Polish Some More With my first few passes, as shown in the previous photo, I held the pad on edge. My next few passes are done with the pad lying flat. I always polish the frets in long strokes across the entire length of the fretboard. 6. Cleaning the Fretboard is necessary because the polishing pads get gunk all over the rosewood. You can safely use a modest amount of naptha to clean the fretboard.
1.6 DIY Strat Set Up oil fret board.JPG 2.2 DIY Strat Set Up proper lateral set of neck.JPG
7. Oiling the Fretboard with mineral oil is a good way to help protect the rosewood. You can also use lemon oil. Next, you should re-attach the neck by clamping it in place before you reinstall the screws. 8. Checking the Neck-Set is important since these factory guitars always have a little play in the neck pocket. You should check the lateral set of the neck by noting the relationship between the e strings and the sides of the fretboard. The distance between the 1st string and the side of the neck should be the same or slightly greater than the distance between the 6th string and the bass-side of the neck.
2.3 DIY Strat Set Up adjust string aligment.JPG 1.7 DIY Strat Set Up adjust tremolo.JPG
9. Adjusting the Neck-Set with the neck securely attached to the body and tuned to pitch isn’t a big deal. You just need to be very careful not to use too much force as this could damage the neck pocket. You can only adjust the neck’s lateral (side to side) relationship with the body in this manner. 10. Adjusting the Tremolo is done via the spring anchor, or spring claw. Then re-tune the guitar and check the elevation of the bridge above the body. You should repeat this process until the trem has your desired range of motion.
1.8 DIY Strat Set Up whammy bar.JPG 1.9 DIY Strat Set Up check neck relief.JPG
11. Adjusting the Trem Cont. This guitar will only see light wammy-bar use, so I’ve elevated the bridge so the strings can be pulled sharp by one whole step. In general, the bridge should be no more than 1/8″ off the body so as to avoid creating neck angle problems. Take this measurement with a grain of salt, especially if you plan on doing monster-bends with your trem. 12. Check the Neck Relief with a straightedge and a set of feeler gauges. The neck should be slightly concave in relation to the strings. Most of the time .003″ to .006″ of relief works well. This is enough relief to alleviate fret buzz and maintain an even feel along the length of the neck. Too much relief can cause fret buzz and intonation problems. In order to accurately check your neck’s relief in this manner your guitar needs to have level frets. Check the relief of your strat neck at the 6th fret.
2.0 DIY Strat Set Up adjust truss rod wrench.JPG 2.4 DIY Strat Set Up adjust saddles.JPG
13. Adjusting the Truss-Rod will set the neck relief. For this strat, .004″ of relief will work perfectly. Many strats have “fretboard tongue lift” which is a fancy way to say the neck is pivoting where it gets fat near the body (around the 13th fret). If this is the case with your guitar, the truss rod will only make the neck straight between the nut and the 13th fret and additional fret work will be required. Tightening the truss rod (turning the wrench clockwise) will give the neck less relief by drawing the 6th fret closer to the strings. Feel free to give your guitar’s neck more or less relief than this strat’s neck. 14. Adjusting the Action is done at the bridge. I’m adjusting each individual saddle with an Allen wrench. When I’m done, the saddles will be parallel to the bridge and the guitar will have extra-low action. Feel free to set your action lower or higher than the action on this guitar.
2.5 DIY Strat Set Up measure action.JPG 2.6 DIY Strat Set Up check for fret buzz.JPG
15. Extra-Low Action Here are the measurements from the top of the 12th fret to the top of each string. 1st: 1.15mm, 2nd: 1.3mm, 3rd: 1.6mm, 4th: 2mm, 5th: 2.4mm, 6th: 2.75mm. There are many ways to determine the saddle adjustments for your guitar. Follow this link for a detailed explanation of adjusting electric guitar saddles. 16. Monster Bends The action on this guitar will accommodate bends of 3 semi-tones or more. The radius of the fretboard will dictate the action when a guitar is set up for large bends. This strat has a 9.5″ radius. A guitar with a 7.25″ radius will need higher action to achieve large bends. A guitar with a 12″ radius can have the action slightly lower on the 1st string to achieve large bends.
2.7 DIY Strat Set Up check intonation.jpg 2.8 DIY Strat Set Up adjust intonation.JPG
17. Check the Intonation With an electronic tuner, tune all of your guitar’s strings at the 12th fret harmonic. Compare the harmonic of the 1st string at the 12th fret to the first string fretted at the 12th fret. If the fretted tone is sharp, the scale length of the string needs to be increased. If the fretted tone is flat, the scale length of the string needs to be decreased. Repeat this process with each string. 18. Adjust the Intonation with a small screwdriver. To increase the scale length of a string, the screw should be tightened. To decrease the scale length of a string, the screw should be loosened. The final intonation adjustment to each saddle should be done by tightening the screw. This will prevent the string tension from subtly moving the saddle closer to the neck later.
2.9 DIY Strat Set Up measure pickup height.JPG 3.0 DIY Strat Set Up adjust pickup height.JPG
19. Check the Pickup Height This is done by fretting the 1st string at the last fret and measuring the distance between the top of the pickup and the bottom of the string. Repeat this process with the 6th string. 20. Adjust the Pickup Height I’m adjusting this guitar’s pickups so they are all 2/32″ away from the 1st string and 3/32″ away from the 6th string. I will then plug the guitar in and lower each pickup to match the volume output of the loudest pickup. Feel free to adjust your pickups higher or lower than the pickups on this guitar. Keep in mind that pickups adjusted too low will have a weak output and pickups adjusted too high will have a muddy tone and mess with the guitar’s intonation.
DIY Strat All Set Uo
21. All Set-Up This guitar is set-up to work well for a hard rock player with a lighter touch who wants to play fast and execute large bends. Don’t forget that your ideal set-up might require a different set of well-calculated compromises.