Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners

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Are you interested in learning electric guitar setup for beginners?

Once you’ve got your new guitar, you might need, or want to set it up properly.

This can be as simple as changing the strings and cleaning up any dust, to as extensive as crowning the frets.

Today, however, we’ll just cover the basics:

These are the fundamentals.

Each one can have a big effect on how enjoyable it is to play your guitar.

Caution: If you don’t feel comfortable doing these things, take your guitar to a shop and have them do it.

Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners: Changing Your Strings

This is something that every guitar player needs to learn how to do.

It’s an important, basic skill that’ll serve you for the rest of your life.

How to Change Your Strings:

Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners: Guitar Headstock
Image by neico from Pixabay
  1. Loosen All of Your Strings a Little
    • This just relieves a little bit of tension and makes the rest of this process a little easier.
  2. Remove Your Low E String From Your Headstock
    • Unwind your low E string all the way until it’s completely loose and then remove it from the tuning post. It will still be attached to the bridge.
  3. Remove Your Low E String From Your Bridge
    • If you’ve got a tremolo or string-through-body design, then you need to gently push the string into the body and then pull it out from the back.
    • If you have a Tune-O-Matic Bridge, gently push the string through the tailpiece and pull it out.
    • In either case, you only need to push it through enough to grab it from the other side.
  4. Put Your New Low E String Into Your Bridge
    • This is the reverse of the previous step. You want to thread the top of the string(without the ball end) through the back of the guitar or the tailpiece, and pull it all the way through until the ball end stops the string.
  5. Thread your Low E String Though You Tuning Post
    • This is the only part of the process that can be a bit tricky.
    • If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry, you’ll get it.
    • Turn the tuner until the post hole points towards the nut.
    • You want to thread the string through the post and leave a little slack for winding. We do this because we want the string to be wound around the post a couple of times to help prevent slipping.
  6. Wind the String in the Proper Direction
    • Start to wind the string to take up some slack, ensuring as it tightens that it is in the nut slot.
    • Make sure as you wind it matches the direction of the other strings on your guitar.
    • Wind the string until it’s a bit taught, but not super tight. We’re not going to tune it to pitch just yet.
  7. Repeat!
    • Repeat the whole process with the remaining 5 strings until you’ve replaced all of the other strings.
  8. Tune Up Your New Strings
    • Starting with your low E string, begin to tune each string until it has reached proper pitch.
    • At first, your new set of strings won’t stay in tune. This isn’t because you did anything wrong, it’s just that new strings need to be stretched out.
    • The trick is to softly pull the string up from the fretboard about an inch, and let it go. Then tune to pitch, and repeat.
  9. Enjoy your new strings.
    • After you play your new strings for a while they’ll be “broken in” and stay in tune properly.

Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners: Adjusting the Truss Rod

Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners: Truss Rod Adjustment
Image by JaniSnellman from Pixabay

This one’s a bit tricky and can be difficult to understand at first.

Your guitar neck is usually made out of wood.

The metal strings pull down on the headstock giving a natural bow to the neck.

To counter this, there’s a metal rod inside of the neck that lets you adjust the tension and counter any bowing in the wood.

Without a truss rod of some kind, the neck would eventually bow so much your guitar would be unplayable. Eventually, the neck could even snap.

Different people with different playing styles will adjust their necks to different specs.

For example, shredders tend to find a neck with very little bow to be easiest to shred on.

Too much bow in either direction will make your guitar difficult if not impossible to play.

Classical guitars don’t have a truss rod because the string tension isn’t as high, so it’s not necessary.

How to Adjust Your Truss Rod

It’s easiest to check this with a capo.

  1. Put your capo ( or your finger if you don’t have a capo) on the first fret of the low E string.
  2. Now put another finger on the 15th or 16th fret of the low E string.
  3. Look at the height of the string at about the 5th fret.
  4. As long as there’s a small bit of room between the string and the fret, you should be fine.
  5. If the E string is really close to the fret, or touching the fret:
    • Too much bow so tighten the truss rod.
  6. If the E String is really far from the fret:
    • Not enough bow so loosen the truss rod.
  7. N.B. When adjusting your truss rod, go very, very slowly and turn the allen wrench only a small distance
    • Give your guitar neck some time to settle after your adjustment.
    • Your guitar neck is wood, so it may need up to 24 hours to fully settle in.
  8. Repeat the process until your neck feels properly adjusted.

You use an allen key to either tighten or loosen a bolt. (Often it’s hidden under a truss cover.)

The mechanics of adjusting your truss rod are fairly straightforward:

  • Turn clockwise (or tighten) to add tension and straighten the neck.
  • Turn counter-clockwise (or loosen) to remove tension and let the neck bow more.

Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners: Adjusting Your String Height

String Height
Image by thomasgitarre from Pixabay

Once your truss rod has been adjusted properly, you may find that you strings are too far from or too near the fretboard.

A Tune-O-Matic Style Bridge:

With this style of bridge the string height can’t be as fine tuned as with a saddle bridge.

  1. Using a screw driver or adjustment wheel, turn it slightly to either raise or lower the the bridge.
  2. Re-Tune your string.
  3. Play every fret to make sure the adjustment was adequate.

A Saddle Style Bridge:

These types of bridges are most common on guitars with tremolos and allow for individual adjustment of each string.

  1. Use the allen wrenches to raise or lower the height in very small increments.
  2. Re-Tune your string.
  3. Play every fret to make sure the adjustment was adequate.

Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners: Adjusting Your Intonation

Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners: Adjusting Your Intonation
Image by meineresterampe from Pixabay

If you’re a beginner, you probably won’t immediately notice that the notes at the higher frets are off.

At the 12th fret the note should perfectly match the note of the open string, just an octave higher.

If the note is sharp or flat, you need to intonate your guitar.

This is best done with a tuner.

Checking Your Intonation

  1. Tune the string.
  2. Once in tune, fret the 12th fret and pluck the note.
  3. Check the tuning using your tuner.
  4. If it’s sharp or flat you need to adjust the intonation.

Adjusting Your Intonation

  1. If the note is sharp the bridge must be moved away from the headstock.
  2. If the note is flat the bridge must be moved towards the headstock.

If you’re using a tremolo style guitar, you’ll find a screw at the base of the tremolo.

If you turn the screw one way, the saddle will move forward, the other way back.

Make small adjustments, re-tune your guitar, and then test the intonation again.

Repeat for all of your strings.

Electric Guitar Setup for Beginners: FAQ

  • How do you set up a beginner electric guitar?
    • Believe it or not, a beginner electric guitar doesn’t need to be setup neary as perfectly as a professional’s guitar. As long as it’s properly intonated, frets well, and has a properly adjusted truss rod, it should be fine for a beginner.
  • How can I teach myself to play electric guitar?
    • Yes! Please see this post on how to learn to play the guitar on your own.
  • Should a beginner start with an electric guitar?
    • If they’re mostly interested in playing electric, yes. If they’re just interested in learning to play the guitar, period, they’ll probably be better off starting with an acoustic or even a classical guitar. See this post on what you need to play electric guitar for more.
  • What should be my first electric guitar?
    • A Stratocaster or Strat-type electric guitar is almost always a great choice for a first electric guitar. for more specific recommendations, please see this post on inexpensive electric guitars and this one on types of electric guitars for beginners.