How To Set Up An Acoustic Guitar

If your guitar doesn't play or sound like you'd like it to, learn how to set up an acoustic guitar. Is the action too high on your acoustic guitar? Do you hear an annoying buzz when you play? Is your guitar’s neck a little crooked? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, setting up your acoustic guitar properly can help. It can be a difficult, time-consuming task, but it makes a huge difference in your guitar’s playability and sound.

To set up an acoustic guitar, you will need:

  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Soft, cotton cloths
  • Lemon oil
  • A string winder
  • Your truss rod key (or a set of allen wrenches)
  • Needle file
  • Sandpaper
  1. Adjust the truss rod. The truss rod provides tension against the strings to keep the guitar’s neck straight. Only adjust the truss rod if you have a warped neck. Look down the neck from headstock to see if the neck is warped. If it is, then find the head of the truss rod. This can be in the headstock or in the sound hole, depending on your guitar. You need to find out which direction to turn, and this can vary in guitars. Check your manual to figure this out. Use your truss rod key to make the adjustment, only making a quarter turn at a time. Let it sit for a few seconds, and check to see if it’s fixed. If it needs another adjustment, then make another quarter turn, and check again. Repeat the steps as needed.
  2. Remove the guitar strings. It’s much slower to unwind the tuners by hand, and untangle the string at the tuning post. Just use a string winder to unwind your strings, and then use the wire cutters to cut the string. Remove the outer strings first. Then, work toward the inner strings, so you keep an even tension on the neck. If you have trouble removing the bridge pins with your fingers, carefully use your needle-nose pliers. It’s easy to damage bridge pins.
  3. Adjust the nut. This is the first step you take when lowering the action on an acoustic guitar. Take the needle file, and make the string grooves in the nut deeper as needed. You don’t want to get carried away with this because when you put the strings back on, the tension will cause the strings to dig deeper.
  4. Adjust the saddle. This is the second step you take to lower the action on your acoustic guitar. The saddle should angle down toward the thin strings. Sand this down with sandpaper, keeping that angle intact. Only sand the saddle down a little at a time. If you have to put a string on to check the action, then do it. If you sand too much, you’ll have to replace the saddle.
  5. Oil the fretboard If you have an acoustic guitar with a maple fretboard, then you don’t need to do this. However, a maple fretboard on an acoustic is rare. If you don’t clean your fretboard much, wipe the dirt off with a cloth first. Now, take a piece of that cotton cloth, and put a small amount of lemon oil on it. Seriously, you won’t need much. Then rub it on the fretboard. You’ll see the difference immediately. Let it sit for about twenty minutes, and rub the excess oil off with a dry, cotton cloth.
  6. Put new strings your guitar. Once again, make sure you keep the tension even. Put the strings on from the middle out now. Also, when putting on new strings, make sure the string fits in the pin’s groove. Some people completely ignore the pin groove, which can make the pin difficult to remove later. Once you put fresh strings on your guitar, tune it up, and wait. The strings need stretch, and it’ll go out of tune repeatedly. Tune it up as needed until it stays.

Now that you can set up an acoustic guitar, you’re probably thinking about just paying a professional to do it, and nobody would blame you either. However, if you do set up an acoustic guitar by yourself, just make small changes at a time because much of it can’t be undone.

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