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Set Up/Level Frets

What is a set up?

A set up is a series of adjustments made to a fretted stringed instrument to achieve optimal playability.  Setting up a guitar, or any fretted stringed instrument, requires many interrelated adjustments. Frequently a client will bring in an instrument requesting that we adjust one aspect such as the intonation. Unfortunately this is not always possible because the various aspects of playability and intonation are inter related. For example, a properly adjusted truss rod is a pre requisite for adjusting intonation. Therefore in order to adjust the intonation the truss rod must be properly adjusted. Simply making one adjustment to an instrument can set off a series of related adjustments.

At Finger Lakes Guitar Repair we provide two general types of set ups, one with fret leveling and one without.  Both types of set ups are the same, excepting, of course, the fret leveling process (which includes leveling, recrowning and polishing the frets).  A full set up includes: leveling the frets to eliminate string wear and fret buzz, cleansing and sealing the fretboard, lubricating the tuners and truss rod nut, restringing and adjusting the: truss rod, nut slots and saddle for intonation and playability.  During the set up it is important to have the instrument strung with the specific gauge and tension of strings you will be using in the future (such as light, medium etc…).  This way all of the adjustments we make correspond to the way your instrument reacts to the tension of your preferred gauge of strings.

Why get a set up?

As a fretted stringed instrument is played the parts that make contact with the strings such as the nut, saddle, fretboard and frets, begin to wear. This leads to problems with tuning, playability, buzzing and intonation.  From time to time it is necessary to have adjustments made to counter wear and tear.

A stringed instrument’s environment also plays a role in its performance. Tops of acoustic instruments rise and sink and wooden necks of any sort (electric or acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolins, etc…) warp with changes in relative humidity. This often drastically changes the instrument’s playability. From time to time it is important to have adjustments made to counter climate changes.

What are the reasons for leveling frets?

Because fretted stringed instrument necks are made from wood (which is not the most stable material) necks will bow in ways that may not be completely corrected by adjusting the truss rod.  In some cases the frets may be leveled to correct such problems.  Other times the instrument may require a refret (removal of and replacement of the frets) in order to straighten the fretboard itself.

The second reason we level frets is to eliminate fret wear develped from extensive play.  In order to achieve optimal playability and intonation an instrument must have all fretwear corrected.   Eventually a well played instrument will require new frets because the fret wear is too extensive to repair without replacing the frets.
After we set up an instrument we record the measurements to which we set the action (height of the strings from the fretboard).  This allows us to replicate a specific set up on our clients’ other instruments.  Because action is subjective we always strive to fine tune a set up for each clients’ specific needs.  Typically the initial consultation with a client provides us with enough information to adjust the instrument to their tastes the first time.  However, we always encourage our client’s to speak up if further adjustments are necessary to meet their specific needs.  We are always happy to make follow up adjustments within a two week period free of charge to ensure that we have fully met our client’s expectations.