let's make the ultimate make your guitar play great thread


Senior member
well, I've been doing alot of research and I think it's time we join forces and write down what are the best elements of a full professional setup that makes a good guitar, play great :)
both for new and old guitars. let me give some examples

whenever i get a new guitar I set it up this way.

1. tune to pitch
2. Truss Rod
3. Bridge height and playability (if a tune-o-matic, then tailpiece + tune-o-matic, if a floyd, i set to whatever i want, 1 tone up, 1.5 tone up, flush to body etc)
4. Action adjustment
5. Pickup height
6. Nut action height
7. oil the fingerboard using Fretdoctor (http://www.beafifer.com/boredoctor.htm)
8. Intonaion

the best "guide I've found for setuping a guitar was at the fender site:

for tune-o-matic, a great guide is

Now, there are some things that make a new guitar play great and those are things i learned here on the forum:

1. beveling fret edges
2. Rolling fret edges

Here is an example from gene baker:

http://www.unofficialwarmoth.com/index.php?topic=1062.0  (from our very own)

some faq:


Rolling fret edges is a huge factor imo, and adds that missing 1% where you love a guitar but don't LOVE it or think it's missing something in it's playability.

whenever I get an "old" or used guitar I set it up this way.

1. tune to pitch
2. Truss Rod
3. Bridge height and playability (difference between the previous step, is now that now i check for corrosion and how it works, i usually take the bridge off, put some vaseline in it, if it's a floyd i take all mechanical parts and let them sit in machine oil for 24 hours so they can move properly again, and then i clean them up)
4. Action adjustment
5. Pickup height
6. Nut action height
7. Fret Polish ( http://www.projectguitar.com/tut/fret2.htm )
8. oil the fingerboard using Fretdoctor ( http://www.beafifer.com/boredoctor.htm )
9. Intonaion

This is the biggest added thing I think that makes the biggest difference (again, that missing 1%) :

1. Fret polishing
2. Making finished necks play smoother ( http://www.unofficialwarmoth.com/index.php?topic=5440.0 )

If you want to polish frets on a maple neck, you must protect your frets, use this, also, this is highly recommended for any polishing (rosewood, ebony etc):


If you guys have anymore tips please chime in, I'm all about making them guitars play like the god's guitars.

more good links:

this is how the stars set up their guitars, I believe it's taken from dan erlewine's book, which i went over so many times :)


this is how i set my Warmoth guitars:
(both are les paul type guitars with 24.75" necks)
(things i learned from my two projects)
(compound radius necks)

Radius needed at the bridge is either a 16", or optimal being 18.5"

I usually bring my strings to 0.15" and then file down from there, please note that i ruined at least one nut before doing this method the way it should, so be careful :)
on a les paul type guitar (10" radius at the nut) , from e to E

E: 0.08"
A: 0.10"
D: 0.12"
G: 0.12"
B: 0.10"
E: 0.08"

the guitar plays perfectly and intonates perfectly, feels butter smooth at the first fret and i don't get "blocked" by the nut (tone speaking)


usually anywhere between 0.02" and 0.10", whatever feels right.


Pretty low, i'm a metal player, I usually do 2mm low e and 1.5mm high E (measured at the 12th fret)
note: I don't take it down more, beacuse I have to have more relief and i hate playing necks that aren't almost dead straight.
(even this way relief is 0.10")

I've actually learned alot from this forum, this is my little contribution, you will always find me tweaking my guitars, it's fun :)

one method I know of but haven't tried, but soon will :


I'd like to thank SkuttleFunk for all his great answers and great tips, it was most of his answers that gave me the nerve to start tinkering, which i was really afraid to do, but techs in my area suck, so you have to do what you have to.

So please you guys, chime in, and let's make the biggest thread on the net for setuping guitars the way they are should.
Very thorough and informative post.

I'd like to add the following:

Before you spend a bunch of dough on a new guitar project, you would be well advised to hone the basic skill required to put it together properly. That only comes through experience and $1200 worth of custom parts is NOT the place to try your first build.

Go out and buy a Squier Strat, or cheapo Epiphone for like, $89 and bring it home.

Take it completely apart right down to the last wire, screw, bridge post insert, nut bolt and tuning peg.

Now, see if yo can assemble it back into a guitar that not only plays great, but sounds great too.

Anyone can bolt the parts together and come up with a guitar. But as we know, the beauty is in the details and you'd be amazed how well a cheap guitar can play with a little skilled labor.

Once you can do this using the techniques in Ang3lus excellent post, you're ready to do a complete Warmoth build and you'll enjoy excellent results!
"Anyone can bolt the parts together and come up with a guitar. But as we know, the beauty is in the details and you'd be amazed how well a cheap guitar can play with a little skilled labor."

It's so true.  I have an old Ibanez Gio that I love because it has sentimental value, and I replaced the pups and did a setup on it, and it plays waaaay better than you would expect from a cheapy student guitar.  After I shimmed the neck it made a huge difference. 

I think good strings that you find comfortable to play make a ton of difference too.  I love the feel of coated strings, and sometimes I pick up a guitar with uncoated strings and I can't even play for more than a minute or two before it drives me crazy and I have to stop.  And if they are old and or -god forbid- rusty, forget it.  I hate the feeling of rust.  LOL, I am the Anti-Salad Fingers.
....and the most important step....


You should be able to make a costco starter guitar pack sound decent.  Skillz before gear!   That said...  I could really stand to get a fret file to clean up those sharp fret ends on my new neck....
+1000 to the guy above.  Well-formed callouses and limber fingers will help almost any geetar play good.

And along these lines, don't get *too* caught up with the whole tweaking thang... sooner or later you need to stop putzing around and start actually playing the damn thang.  Tweaking can become a vicious cycle whereupon you're never satisfied and wind up in an endless tweaking "loop".