Charging people for setups

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Aaron Saunders, Aug 27, 2004.

  1. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    When people talk about someone at a music store setting up an instrument for $30 or $40, is it just truss rod, intonation, and action adjustments? Or is there more stuff, like fret leveling, filing on the sides, etc.?

    I do my own setups for truss rod, intonation, pickup height, and action and I do a very good job. My teacher showed me how to do action, so I was like "Well, that wasn't too hard. Let's see how much farther I can take this!" so I progressed and learned how to do all of my own bridge and pickup adjustments and recently got over my fear of adjusting the truss rod -- and to spectacular results!
    I don't have a job at the moment, but this semester, I'll be spending all day at school with musicians. Literally ALL DAY. I'll be in a recording focus program with people from all over a couple of counties coming to my school to learn recording/live performance/songwriting, and I've considered offering setups in exchange for cash before and eventually work as a tech during university...and this seemed like a natural way to try it out.

    At the moment, I can do:
    Truss rod adjustments
    Saddle height
    Pickup adjustments

    and plan to start...
    Filing the ends of frets
    Wiring (changing knob configs, fixing bad jobs, installing pickups)
    Fret levelling

    I'll practice by starting the fretwork on my own basses, and maybe order a neck from Rondo to experiment on before I take ANY of it to muso's at school (the last thing I want is to wreck someone else's instruments). Wiring will be just wires to random pots, maybe a distortion pedal or something when I get decent at it. I'll also be putting aftermarket p'ups in an SX Tele 'round Christmas time.

    What I need from y'all here in the setup forum is...

    1. Is this unreasonable? Should I do this at all?
    2. Advice on going about starting this up.
    3. What specific (to the brand, if possible) tools I'll want for doing fretjobs and soldering.
    4. What should I charge for these jobs? What do professionals in your parts charge for these jobs?
  2. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA

    1. Sounds very reasonable to me.
    2. Advertise!
    3. Take a look at the StewMac catalog (, and there are many other online tools places.
    4. A forty dollar setup (that's the min around here) is basically a quick action adjustment most of the time. Not many people around here know how to tweak a truss rod, or what neck relief is optimal for a given action. A computerized setup (complete with fret work) costs about 200 bucks (see the thread "computerized setup" in this forum). If you can do it "perfectly" like the computer, 100 bucks or more is still reasonable, even if you don't have to invest in the computer system. Knowledge and precision are both needed for a good setup. If you have both, you can easily make a name for yourself doing that kind of thing. There are only about three people here in LA that I'd trust with my setups, the others would just be a waste of money (or, let's say, I could probably do a better job myself).
  3. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    I just heard of someone who had their L'Arrivee guitar done by hand. The guy charged 270 bucks for a complete rework, including frets, nut, and bridge. The customer was so happy he tipped the guy and extra thirty bucks.
  4. jive1

    jive1 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    I also recommend the Guitar Player Repair Guide by Dan Erlewine. Great stuff in there.
  5. RAM


    May 10, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    I would exclude anything related to leveling, beveling, sanding, filing, crowning, or anything else to the frets if that's all you're going to charge.

    If you consider the average decent repair shop probably charges up to $40/hr, sometimes more, that hour could be spent simply putting on new strings, adjusting the action, and intonation. Fretwork of any kind is almost always more.
  6. funkmuffin


    Aug 18, 2004
    Akron, Ohio
    Lay's Guitar, here in Akron Ohio, charges ~$60 for a setup which includes levelling and re-chroming the frets. Dan did my Ibanez SR1300, which was in pretty damn good shape (after 300+ shows) when I took it in.

    It was like a BRAND NEW BASS upon pick up. That was the best 60 bucks I ever spent on an instrument.

    I think Dan could charge alot more for this service, espescially being one of the most highly regarded shops in America, but he doesn't... I would think that the $300 jobs must be for all new frets, no?
  7. Stu L.

    Stu L. Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2001
    Corsicana, Texas
    Learn to do nut work. It's a lost art, IMO.

    For a $40 basic setup, I wouldn't touch a fret. I beleive that is a special job all to itself.

    Wiring, to me, is usually easy. Get a decent soldering rig ($8 for a nice 40 watt iron at Radio Shack) and just try things out. is your friend ;)

    As for tools, Stew Mac as mentioned, and I also like Allparts. I have a nice set of nut files I got from them. Most of the basics can be done on guitar or bass, so don't be afraid to work on or advertise that you can. I am constantly suprised at how many people bring me their insturments that can't even string them.
  8. Stu L.

    Stu L. Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2001
    Corsicana, Texas
    Oh, and I almost never charge more than $20 for most work. I feel when you get your name out there, that you should charge more. And people that will spread your name will help. Just ask Razor about his P Lyte that I did ;)
  9. Finger Blister

    Finger Blister

    Jul 8, 2003
    I recently thought the exact same thing...

    08-13-2004 06:13 PM

    Now I'm thinking about starting a little side business.
  10. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Wow! Thanks for the replies!

    Good news -- I'm doing my teacher's guitar's action in exchange for a free lesson next week :D. A friend of mine, who's in the focus program with me, is going to "endorse" me if I do his truss rod and string height for him. He's also going to be my first candidate for fretwork -- I was at his house yesterday and checked out his bass...several high frets. I also did my own site that's pretty professional looking, so I can advertise on that.

    I'm getting an SX Tele that I'll be upgrading the pickups for, so I'm going to do that, and a full setup, etc. that I can use as an "example" of my work for the guitarists in the program, and I'm going to order a fretless guitar neck (I love you, Rondo) to put on my brother's old electric guitar that I'd been using so I can practice on his old neck.

    I'm thinking:

    Neck and Bridge
    String Change: $5
    Intonation Adjustment: $10 (just 'cause it's such a PAIN)
    Truss Rod and Saddle height: $15

    Pickup height: $0
    Basic wiring: $5 (repot, fixing a bad connection)
    Moderate wiring: $10 (new pickups, more than one or two pots)
    "Advanced" Wiring: $20 (preamp)

    Fretwork (Eventually, not immediately)
    End filing: $15
    Fret levelling: $50

    I looked up diy setups and stuff in here and found someone who used a dremel to do their nut -- it seems like this would take a *lot* of practice before doing it to the point of charging, and a set of files for over a hundred dollars vs. a dremel...well, let's just say that there isn't a booming business for nut-cutting, as pre-cut ones are very easy to find, while I know I could find a lot of use in a dremel (I'm going to do DIY effect pedals after I get some mad soldering "skeelz"). Advice?

    PS: I'm also considering de-frets too. I know I can find a neck or two to practice on for approx. $40.

    By the by, Stewart Mac crowning files -- these look pretty useful for after a levelling, are they worth it? They seem like the only tool that I can't use something else for/improvise with for the stuff I want to do. There's also a three-in-one crowning file, anyone have any opinions on that?
  11. Don't forget the fretboard conditioner and polish... It's amazing how a little sparkle adds a great deal of "Wow!" to the finished product. :D
  12. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Ooo, very true. Lemon oil for rosewood, and...well, could I just use regular guitar polish for maple boards? They've got that polyurethane finish after all.