My First Self Guitar Setup

This evening I moved from watching a gazillion YouTube videos on bass guitar setup over the last weeks, to actually trying it for myself on my Ibanez SR300E.
Probably like a lot of people trying this for the first time, I did wonder if it would all go wrong and I’d have to find a professional to sort the resulting disharmony…
The process I followed (please let me know if you would change anything?) was:

  • really careful tune of the bass before doing anything
  • check the neck relief using the string height off the frets at the 8th fret to the spec recommended by Ibanez, with the first fret capo’d and holding down string where neck joins body as recommended by Ibanez. I used some feeler guages bought from a car shop to check string height off the fret (spec is 0.3 to 0.5mm). I reckon the relief was marginally too much but not enough to adjust the truss rod (was quite glad about that bit!)
  • now that I know there is no issues with the bass, I lowered the action on all strings to as low as possible, checking for any buzzing as each fret is played up the string.
  • another really careful tune of the bass
  • check the 12th fret tuning on each string, making sure it wasn’t sharp or flat. Adjust the intonation screws on the rear of the bridge. All 12th fret notes were flat so I had to move the saddles closer to the headstock. Retune open string and check 12th fret note after every tweak of the intonation screw (iterative process).
  • Finally for my sanity I checked the notes using the guitar tuner as each fret was played up the string.
  • Checked finally no strings buzzing on any frets. Raised a couple of strings a tiny bit as there was a few minor buzzes.

I post this for a few reasons, so I don’t forget the process, so you experts can give me any tips, and so anyone considering giving it a go will do. It’s rewarding to have tried it.

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There might be a handful… I am not one of them :grin:

Looks like you did a great job there. We all had to learn it at some point, and I haven’t done it often enough yet to call it routine.

There was some discussion recently (in another thread) on where exactly to measure the neck relief, but the conclusion was to be pragmatic about it and that it probably wouldn’t make much difference whether it is at the 8th fret or a little higher up.

So, what is your final action, measured at the 12th fret (of the E string, typically), if I may ask? Around 2 mm? Less? Why did you go for the lowest possible action?

Thanks!

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Hi @joergkutter thanks for the reply. The E string action at 12th fret is fractionally above 1.5mm.
I don’t know if what I achieved is the lowest action across the strings that’s possible to achieve with good fingering technique, but I played the bass and when I heard a buzz, raised it back up a bit.
The reason I wanted to try and get the lowest I could achieve is I’ve heard more than once that the bass should be easier to play with a lower action, and I figured I wouldn’t know unless I went for it and tried it. Cheers

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Sorry - No expert either. You trying a setup has encouraged me to also go for it, because in certain frets on my bass there’s a buzz sound regardless of how hard I press. Unfortunately I can’t think of a suitable measuring tool in my toolkit.
Fortunately there seem to be pretty cheap credit card size action gauges for stringed instruments ( "Tool Kits" for guitars ) and I ordered this: String Action Ruler Gauge Tool in/mm for Guitar Bass

Thanks for unintentionally encouraging me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I also heard that a lower action would be easier to fret, but that it doesn’t fit all play styles. Not sure about slap for example?

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Hi @juli0r I used a good quality steel ruler, but it’s a bit long and overkill. Something smaller and credit card sized would have been better, I think I will get one.
At the moment all I’m interested in/capable of is simple playing - so anything like slap technique not a worry :grin:

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Wow, that is low! Nice work, @Mark_UK!

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I had that gauge. I took it with me when looking at a bass to buy, and swore I took it with me, but have never seen it since.
I liked it a lot.

On the back it says to measure gap at 12th fret, and the gap is 2mm to 2.5 on E string and 1.5mm to 2mm on G. I still went as low as possible.

I did like it, and will prob get more.
I found a 3 pack of them for about $2 more then I paid for 1.
Wish I bought it, I would then most likely have 2 left. :joy::joy::joy:

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I like low action for slapping, but I find, with low action set ups, after slapping a while on it. That I end up needing to raise the action on my popping strings, D and G when going back to plucking. Somehow it gets a buzz in the frets between 1 and 5 after some good ole Slapping.

For this, I have started having Slap Basses and pluck Basses.

Over time, with more set up experience, I may figure this out.
And I may figure out this is how it is and will be.

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@juli0r sounds like you could use a 2nd bass :joy:

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Technically the one I have isn’t even mine. I just own an amp.
I have borrowed the one I gave to my father as a birthday gift after his retirement.

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So what bass would you choose if your Dad want’s his back @juli0r

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Honestly I try not to think about it because I don’t have the money right now. And I have no idea. I have no preferences yet except aesthetically.
Although I’m playing with the idea of returning his bass for his upcoming birthday in august and get me a bass for mine in september.

The idea behind the gift after retirement was that he had time which was a misguided assumption, but he said he really liked bass and always wanted to learn. So the bass was unused in his apartment and he didn’t have a teacher nor the motivation to learn. We added an instruction book together with the gift but they aren’t as encouraging as Josh and so it was never really used. I don’t think that he would do an online or DVD course so my next Idea was that I could just visit him once a month and go through the B2B lessons together. With me as quasi teacher while actually doing B2B with him…

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That’s a good Idea, it’s what I am / will be doing with my daughter.

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This post along with the $75 estimate my local luthier gave me really encouraged me to do my own set up! My action wasn’t incredibly high but I did notice slight discomfort on my fretting hand and wrist so I figured why not.

I also have the Ibanez SR300E so reading what you did was a great guide along with some Youtube videos. Thank you for sharing @Mark_UK!!

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Good job on the setup @Mark_UK!

That’s pretty much how I do it, but I don’t use any measuring devices. For adjusting the truss rod I fret at the first and last fret, then make sure I can see a bit of light between the strings and one of the frets (you mention the 8th but, depending on the neck, the widest gap could be anywhere from the 6th to the 9th). Then I lower the strings until they buzz and start raising them until they don’t. If I have to raise any of the strings too much ( a subjective thing based on feel, not a measurement) then I’ll go back and loosen the truss rod to make the neck a bit more concave to fix the buzz. If I still end up with the strings too high for my liking then it’s time for fret leveling. It’s not hard to do but does take some practice and i wouldn’t recommend anybody do it themselves unless they are comfortable with the possibility of having to do a re-fret. And finally I set intonation.

The mistake a lot of people make (professional guitar techs included) is that they do set-ups with the instrument laying flat on a table. It should be done with the instrument in playing position.

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That’s exactly what I do. I never use gauges either, because there’s really little point in doing so - I am setting the bass up for what I want it to feel like, not for the exact factory spec.

It makes sense for luthiers because they are setting the bass up for someone else and can’t tell what feels right to that person. I am setting it up for me and don’t have that problem.

Adjust truss rod if needed, lower each string until slight buzz, raise a quarter turn or so. Then check intonation. That’s mostly all I do, checking maybe monthly or so (seasonal weather changes a lot here.)

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Glad it helped @SuarezInk. 75 dollars seems really excessive!

A very good point, I never thought about that, and all the YouTube videos I’ve seen on the subject had the bass flat, so I just followed what they did and bought a small rubber support for the neck when laid flat on the table. I’m going to try and find some that do it the alternate way

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Thanks, I did not know that.
But, are you talking about the whole set up, or just the fine tuning, like raising the string to where it no longer buzzes?
I do this some times when I find a fret buzzing days later.
I do a lot of string bends, and some slapping, and I can easily stretch my strings, that and the fact I do my action, ULTRA LOW, so I tweak often, and usually with the bass around my neck.
But as far as truss rod, and the first lowering, I usually do it with the bass on the table.

@Mark_UK, pending the answer, you may already have something to hold the bass in playing position.
The bass strap and your neck.

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I do everything standing, I actually think it is easier.

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Coarse adjustments I’ll do with the instrument laying down, such as using a yardstick to set the initial string length to scale length or using my eye to get the string height in the ballpark. Other than that I do all my checking (neck bow, intonation, string buzz) with the instrument in playing position.

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