Set it up yourself, or have a shop do it?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by McFly, Jun 21, 2017.

  1. Get a good set of tools, learn to do the set up yourself

  2. Get the basic tools needed to just check your bass, when it needs work take it in.

  3. Let the shop take care of it... I'm not getting involved.

  4. I like apple sauce on my pork chops.

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  1. McFly


    Sep 14, 2016
    Melbourne FL
    Looking at what some local guitar shops charge to set up a guitar, and more troubling, the time they need to do this (average 1 to 2 weeks), I've wondered since I'm mechanically inclined, can follow directions, and rarely trust anyone with my stuff... why not get a set of StewMac set up tools, and let them pay for themselves in time/money saved??
    lowplaces likes this.
  2. GK Growl

    GK Growl Inactive

    Dec 31, 2011
    I would say start by doing what you are reasonably comfortable with. If you are mechanically inclined, string changes, neck relief, and action should be very easy for you. Plus, it let's you learn what YOU like and prefer. Not everyone likes ultra low action with no relief. Not everyone likes middle of the road specs like the Fender setup guide. It's fun to learn to tweak your basses.
    Spidey2112, Afc70, McFly and 3 others like this.
  3. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    ^^ what he said

    fwiw #1 i like to let new strings settle in for about a week or so before fully completing a set up.

    fwiw #2 some guitars just can't maintain a good set-up due to workmanship or design issues. as a result they are always in flux.
    McFly and lowplaces like this.
  4. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

    Totally learn to do it yourself. Just start slow and steady and you'll get a feel for it in no time. One of the most valuable things I've learned is how to do a proper setup and moreso, how to do a proper setup for my preferences. I have had my bass returned to me with setups that were included with other work I had done by very well skilled luthiers and have had to completely undo what their idea of a good bass setup was. I can with the right tools, take any reasonably functional bass and get it playing great in a matter of minutes, especially Fenders. Really all one needs are the appropriate hex/Alan/screwdrivers, but a good straightedge and small Stew Mac string action gauge measuring in 64ths is a plus. Anything those few tools can't remedy means the bass needs more help than I can give it, since my knowledge ends at nut filing and fret leveling, though I plan to teach myself both eventually.

    I also highly recommend learning how to solder small components if you don't know how to already. That's another simple task that if not learned can have your bass laid up at the shop for a week or two. There is no question that learning the setup essentials and how to solder pays for itself in short order. Learning to solder can also open up more possibilities for experimentation.
  5. Flippy


    Jun 9, 2017
    Knowing how to set up the bass is elementary IMO. It lets you understand how the instrument works and how you use it
  6. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    South Bend, Indiana
    I agree with GK Growl. Changing strings and doing a set up may be intimidating at first - especially if you're doing it on a pricey bass - but it's pretty simple stuff, really. Particularly if you're, as you say, mechanically inclined. And, if you already have tools, there's a good chance you have most of what you need already. There are any number of down-loadable guides for this stuff, and You Tube videos out the kazoo... honestly, it isn't rocket science.:thumbsup::thumbsup:
  7. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

  8. lowplaces

    lowplaces Got Punch ?

    Dec 20, 2015
    Louisville Kentucky
    Regarding soldering, a good way to learn is by unsoldering and resoldering practice on an old junk piece of electronic equipment.
    C_Becker and petrus61 like this.
  9. GK Growl

    GK Growl Inactive

    Dec 31, 2011
    I'd like to add that some basses, being made of wood and steel, will need setup tweaks just because of weather changes, humidity, playing outdoors, etc.
    petrus61 likes this.
  10. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

    And string changes. If you ever find yourself experimenting with different gauges or types of strings, each new set should have at the bare minimum an intonation check. Even when staying with the same exact type, strings change over time, experiencing metal fatigue and wear that will need to be accounted for when that brand new set goes on. You'll often hear on TB how people have always used the same strings but suddenly experience weird behavior or noises when putting on a new set. Lots of times this is because they aren't considering that the newer strings are rounder (literally) and have qualities that haven't yet settled into what the old strings eventually became after extended use. Some of those changes can be less evident with flatwounds initially, but are quite obvious with roundwound strings IME.
  11. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    Don't buy the over-priced Stew-Mac stuff. You can find the tools to do the job in various places.
    Get feeler gauges from your auto parts store, etc.
  12. hondo4life


    Feb 29, 2016
    DIY. I may screw things up sometimes, but I eventually learn from my mistakes and figure it out. If you are inclined to do so, then it is worth learning how.

    I recently saw this video about making your own guitar tools:

    I am thinking of giving it a try
    MCF and McFly like this.
  13. The video is ok but be careful with the straight edge thing he recommends. I've used the yardsticks he talks about in there and they are not as thick as an actual straight edge and can flex if you try to hold it in the middle.

    I have made notched straight edges out of them. Trued up the edge with my precision ground straightedge then notched it. When using one of those I am just careful to hold it at either end and not apply any pressure in the center. Naturally, YMMV.
  14. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Wouldst that it were so simple. Fret work is a game played in thousandths of an inch. Those tools are likely nowhere near that.

    There's flat and straight and then there's flat and straight. What is recommended in that video is neither. Both the straight edge and the leveler need to be lapped on a surface plate (or similar) to insure both flat and straight to within .001" or less. Good luck lapping plastic!

    The leveling bar (level, in this case) should be longer than the fret board in order to touch all the fret tops at the same time. Plastic is softer than nickel silver making it prone to bend and break. To say nothing of inherently in accurate in all but the most skilled hands with the lightest of touch. Not recommended.

    As far as his technique goes, he wobbles the level up and down the frets rather than keeping to a line. This is a prescription for disaster. It can take hours to chase down all the little buzzes he will inevitably create.

    As far as StewMac goes: If you can find identical goods for less money, go for it. However, when you cannot remember they are an excellent resource for hard to find tools. Their free videos alone are worth the extra couple bucks you pay for their tools.

    To the OP: If you are reasonably confident in your skills go StewMac and buy Dan Erlewine's book. It is an easy read and will tell you everything you need to know. Then subscribe to their Hot Tips. They'll send you a free video every week on repair topics. You can also seek out Dan on Youtube.
    JLS likes this.
  15. Killed_by_Death

    Killed_by_Death Snaggletooth Inactive

    Dan's book can also be found in the library, I know our local library has more than one copy.
    McFly likes this.
  16. Bodeanly


    Mar 20, 2015
    I know how to do it, but I like supporting my local luthier. And they always feel new by the time he's finished. So, take it in.


    Hashtag money to burn.
    nbsipics and McFly like this.
  17. hondo4life


    Feb 29, 2016
    Of course, care and due diligence are required throughout the process. The precision of the work will be related to the precision of the tools. The plastic levels are crappy and usually warped. I have a nice aluminum one that is dead straight. I also have a machined straight edge for checking cylinder heads, but most people don't have one in their toolbox. The guy in the video did finish the bass and claims that it plays very well. I like his ideas, even if he is a goof.
    McFly likes this.
  18. petrus61

    petrus61 Supporting Member

    That's great but it's a big world and I bet your library has exactly two more copies on hand than 99.9% of libraries everywhere else.

    Another good and free resource:

    I think Stew Mac is certainly overpriced for the experienced professional, but for the novice investing in honing their skills, much of the smaller stuff is priced accordingly. I don't think the $20 action guide I got was overpriced considering the increments you'd have to buy several different gauges for and it also serves as a good fret rocker for the higher frets. YMMV, etc.
    McFly likes this.
  19. McFly


    Sep 14, 2016
    Melbourne FL
    One step ahead of ya... My beginner bass is my "franken-bass". Last night I put a new set of pots in it, and plug. Already put SD Vintage pups in it... and some EB rounds. Each project HAS made a (positive) difference in the bass. It sounds awesome. Each project also is a confidence booster. I've got the skill set for most of this, practicing on the cheap bass seemed a good way to go.
    MCF, petrus61 and Killed_by_Death like this.
  20. McFly


    Sep 14, 2016
    Melbourne FL
    Ok.... seems the way to go is to do it myself.... Great to see so many others going the same route. I'll look around for tools, but I rarely cheap on tools... Been bit before having to buy a replacement because the cheap tool broke, or didn't do the job right. Still like to get a good tool on sale!

    Have some machining tools, so feeler guages and straight edges are plenty. I'll poke around for the other tools. Chain saw, big ol' hammer, maybe a nail gun....

    Glad at least one other person likes apple sauce on their pork chops:)
    MCF, Spidey2112 and Killed_by_Death like this.
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