I get an oil change for my car every 6 months or 3,000 miles. Its just part of keeping the car in good working order. Should I get my guitar set up every x amount of time, or x amount of hours played or is it just something that should be done if I am having problems with buzz, or action, or intonation?

If it is just a regular thing I should do, how often should it be done?

  • BTW – leftaroundabout Oct 11 at 19:25
  • @leftaroundabout ha, thanks. i just threw that in as an example. don't really pay that much attention to the oil changes as we don't drive that much. – b3ko Oct 11 at 19:29
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    A better car analogy to a guitar setup is the front end alignment. You only need to change it when something is wrong, it doesn't hurt to check it to verify it's correct, it's almost impossible for it to every be perfect, so when you get one that is super close to perfect, it makes a huge difference and you want it to never change again - and inevitably it does and you always remember that time you had the perfect alignment/setup. – Todd Wilcox Oct 11 at 20:15
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    @ToddWilcox yes, i got an tire alignment once and then drove cross country. going through Utah where the speed limit is high, the roads are straight and flat...ah that was nice. – b3ko Oct 11 at 20:28
  • Whilst regularly servicing a car may be recommended, if a problem occurs in between times, that needs sorting. At that same time it may be prudent to do part of the service work there and then. Same goes for instruments - not just guitars. – Tim Oct 12 at 10:34

Generally you should get a new guitar setup, or if you buy a second-hand one. And then, unless you notice problems or you decide to change something (like string gauge, tremolo tension, or moving from dry to humid environment etc) you should not need to have another setup.

A proper setup will sort intonation, remove any buzzing, set the trem correctly, ensure the neck isn't twisted, check the tension, and a full setup will also check fret wear and replace or file frets as needed (this is typically only needed on well worn fret boards.)

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    Wouldn't you also recommend a setup when changing the gauges of the strings you're using? – Todd Wilcox Oct 11 at 20:13
  • Yup - I suppose I should clarify that in my "decide to change something" sentence – Doktor Mayhem Oct 11 at 22:37
  • These days it seems more players are changing tuning more frequently, so maybe more checks than normal (whatever that is!) are needed for those guitars involved Thankfully, worn frets/fretboards don't happen suddenly! – Tim Oct 12 at 10:38
  • I got so annoyed with the time taken to re-setup my guitars after going to different tuning that now I just have specific rubbing for specific guitars. Easier to remember as well :-) – Doktor Mayhem Oct 12 at 11:13

To add to Doktor Mayhem's answer: My guitars are being moved around a lot between places that have varying levels of humidity and temperature, so they need to be set up at least once a month (just basic stuff, truss rod, maaaaybe the string action).

If your guitar stays at home most of the time, just get her set up once every half a year, maybe even once a year. Or just when you notice it doesn't sound the way it used to before.

Guitars (like all stringed instruments in particular) are sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity: The strings and the neck expand and contract with those changes and that will often impact your set-up.

Playing itself can also gradually change your set-up: Every time you play, you are subjecting the strings, nut, tuning pegs, neck and bridge to stress that may impact your set up. Often you won't notice it right away but then one day you'll realize 'Hey - this thing played a lot better when I got it set up last year'.

Changing strings often requires a new set up too.

Many professional musicians have their instruments set up by a pro regularly for these reasons - often on a seasonal or monthly basis. Also included are woodwind and percussion instruments.


So yes - your analogy to an oil change is a good one: Quality musical instruments are precisely designed, delicate machines and they require diligent maintenance to keep them functioning properly and comfortably for your particular playing requirements. Bringing a guitar into the shop to have it set up the way you like it on a regular basis - after the changes of the seasons is a popular time - is a good thing to do.

Better still is to take the time and learn how to set up your guitar yourself, at least for small, seasonal adjustments. (Leave big problems to a pro.) It's not rocket science, but you need to learn how to do it properly or you'll find yourself with an unplayable, if not ruined instrument. Many guitar books and lots of website and videos out there explain the ins and outs of setting up a guitar - do some homework and learn about it.

I did just that - I own 6 or 7 basses and play two of them regularly. Once I learned I can always small adjustments, particulary if I change strings - to the trussrod, the action or intonation, etc. without worrying about screwing things up or bringing an instrument into the and playing $50 every time I want/need a set up.

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