Professional set-up: £55-85
People often imagine that some guitars are magic and others are just plain rubbish, but the reality is more mundane. Almost without exception, the reason that two seemingly identical guitars might feel and even sound completely different comes down to the strings and the setup. A pro setup is probably the best investment you can make – so what does it entail?
A factory-fresh guitar shouldn’t need any fretwork, though we come across plenty that could use a fret polish, but there’s every chance that the action needs to be adjusted. You might prefer a string height that’s higher or lower than factory spec, and once that’s done the intonation will need to be tweaked to make the guitar play in tune all over the neck. The price of a setup should include new strings, so ask the guitar tech for advice to find the best set for your preferred tone and feel.
Nut Job: £25-45
Most tuning problems are caused by friction at the nut. Sometimes you’ll get lucky, but if you hear clicks or pings every time you adjust a tuner or bend a string, your nut slots definitely need attention. You might get by with a dab of Vaseline or some dust from a graphite pencil. Better still, try a dedicated guitar lubricant like Nut Sauce.
If the problems remain, this is where professional help really will pay dividends. A decent tech will be able to smooth out the slots and, if necessary, widen them for a minimal charge. A properly slotted and lubed nut will also make your guitar feel more ‘played in’, and strings bends will be easier. On cheaper guitars the nut slots are often not cut deeply enough, which adversely affects tuning and playability. So while you’re at it, replace that cheap plastic nut with bone or graphite for better tone and tuning stability.
Tuner Upgrade: £20-80
Tuners on entry level guitars have improved greatly but even so, many guitars could benefit from an upgrade to improve ease of tuning as well as stability. Contrary to popular belief, old-fashioned Kluson style and open backed tuners can be just as effective as diecast or sealed tuners. What’s more, many aficionados think that lightweight tuners are better for tone.
So if your guitar doesn’t have cast tuners, you can still upgrade without enlarging the post holes in your headstock and drilling extra screw holes. Check out the Kluson, Grover and Gotoh ranges with suppliers such as Allparts UK – there’s bound to be something that fits.
Budget sealed tuners can sometimes feel a bit sloppy and vague, so you might want to investigate precision items with 18:1 gear ratios. If you break strings a lot, you might take the opportunity to change to a set of locking tuners for quick changes.