Who here sets up their own instruments, how did you learn and how often do you do it?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Blackbird, Jun 14, 2001.

  1. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Not much left to ask now, but I'm mostly interested in things like truss rod adjustment, bridge/pickup height and string distance (got a Schaller roller bridge on my Henderson J) Y'know, the things that make the difference betwenn a bass that feels good and one that feels great. I've played my share of poorly set up basses to be able to adapt to anything, but how would I go about learning hot to make my bass more playable without having to take it to a shop and waiting at least a week to get it back? Thanks for any info.

  2. jasonbraatz


    Oct 18, 2000
    Oakland, CA



    i just followed the steps in the warwick manual, and from there i just tried to compensate for how hard i play, so i just jacked up the nut and string height.

    i set it up whenever it starts to play bad or when i'm bored. :D

    but i think i've been a little too careless with truss rods in the past, i'm gonna have to take it a little slower with my warwick or i'm gonna break it.

  3. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Just the usual reading of magazines and books...I didn't really set out to learn it, it just came together after some time playing and experimenting.
    It's not that complicated or hard to do. You just have to be a little careful.
    I usually do a setup in late spring and late fall, to adjust to the climate.
    I always use the same string brand and gauge, so I rarely have to correct intonation.
  4. Slater

    Slater Bye Millen! Hello?

    Apr 17, 2000
    The Great Lakes State
    I learned to set-up my guitars almost 20 years ago. I learned through trial-and-error and reading tips in magazines etc.

    On my basses, I check the set-up (and make tweaks if need be) every time I change strings. After I have my guitars the way I want them, I usually only mess with the set-up if I notice a problem.
  5. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    I bought "The Electric Guitar Repair Guide" and the money I spent on the book (about 25) has already more than paid for the number of setups I've done at least 20 times over. There are numerous books on the subject, and, as with other things, practice and (careful) experimentation.
  6. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Listen to what all these folks are saying. I learned in the School of Hard Knocks. It took far longer than it should today, what with all the free resources the guys have pointed out.

    In the process I learned a lot about how the parts of a bass interact and what causes problems, but I also played a some instruments early on that were hard optimal action for me.

    This is one area where you don't want to learn from your mistakes. What would be cool is to take it to a good tech and get them to let you watch and ask a few questions during the process. I don't see why they wouldn't. The couple techs I know don't get much attention and they seem to appreciate someone who is very polite and friendly with them as they don't get around much to deal with the public.
  7. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    I also learned by trial-n-error. I was forced into this due to the fact that I toured with bands that seemed to frequent areas with no competent luthiers. I was lucky enough to have one of the few master luthiers that I did meet sit down with me and explain in detail the relationships of how the different components work together and how adjustment of one affects the others, the tone, and the playability. It becomes a "knack" thing after a while.

    One of the most valuable things I learned was not to be hasty in evaluating setup changes. Make slow, deliberate changes and play them for a bit before deciding that more change is needed. Radical departures cause lots of problems and frustration. Patience is a major plus...and the right tools.
  8. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    The first bass that I owned was a MIM P-Bass. Using the manual that came with it I was able to perform much of the maintenance required i.e. truss rod adjustment, string height and pick up height and intonation adjustment. The intonation part is the most time consuming and complicated(compared to the other stuff), but if you've done it enough it's not a problem. You definetly need one of those 6" machinist rulers so that you can accurately measure the heights, a capo and spark plug gap guages, so that you can get the neck relief correct.

    It's great to do your own setups because you can fine tune your setup after having played the instrument in a rehearsal setting or even a gig setting. Setup's are a lot like playing, the more you do it the better you get at it.
  9. seamus


    Feb 8, 2001
    I've always done my own, even when I was a young teen. For some reason, the thought of paying someone else to do it always seemed absurd to me. I know some people prefer to have their basses set up for them by someone else, but my reasoning is this...

    If I am the one playing it, who is going to know my ideal setup better than me? Not to mention that different basses have their own character, and the same setup is not necessarily right for every bass. They've got varying neck joints, bridges, strings, radius, etc.

    Terms like 'low action' are broad generalizations, and while they may be a step in the right direction, they leave the little tweaks to chance. I'm referring to things like that slight shim for your bolt on, or that extra quarter turn on your G's bridge saddle...stuff like that.

    Another thing to consider is the climate. I have to make slight changes to my setup on some of my basses as the seasons change. It's best to learn bass setups on your own, that way you can be more self-sufficient.

    Most importantly, I think the personal setup you do to your own bass is part of a bonding process. It's part of what sets your basses apart from one another, and in some cases, reveals your preference for some basses over others.

    My floyd rose g****r on the other hand...what a pain in the a$$! :rolleyes:
  10. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i do all my own setup, have for a long time - i learned it from a friend who did guitar repairs about 14 years ago. i haven't had to do much with the conklins, though, other than set the action and the intonation. i've never had to tweak the truss rod of any of them.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree with this completely - when I was younger I never bothered with setup and I just thought - well this bass feels easy to play or not. But as I got older and started reading lots of magazines like International Musician, Bassist, Bass Player; I started to realise that you could do these things and that actually they were very simple compared with most things that "ordinary" people do every day - like DIY.

    In the early 80s, synths were just starting to come out and be available, but were very expensive and I can remember buying magazines that had projects for musicians, that involved building your own stuff - like effects pedals and even sequencers and complete synths. I stared making these things, which involved huge amounts of soldering and lots of tools - I made an interface to go from my tiny home computer, to any voltage controlled synth and this was the only way at the time.

    After this, setting up a bass seems like the easiest thing you can think of; but there is the problem that you might break something or make it unplayable. This is why the very small adjustments over a long period of time always seems like the most sensible advice - not because it's entirely necessary. But rather because I imagine any number of impetuous 14 year olds reading boards like this and thinking "cool" and rushing off to attack their truss rods; then blaming us when they end up with an unplayable instrument!

    But really most adjustments I have made have been very small and I think it is good to see how this plays for a while and making sure that "overall" things are going in the right direction in terms of getting closer to what you want your bass to feel like.
  12. I learned to do it while working in a music store in late 70s, early 80s. I'm pretty picky about my action, I keep it very low and have to tweak it often (every other day or so in the summer because of local humidity/temp.). I usually do the work on my guitarist's axes as well- 7 string solid and hollow bodies.

    The store I worked at always kept displays tuned at setup to play. I stopped in at the local Mars Music last night, and every single bass had action so high, with necks so out of adjustment... it makes me wonder how knowledgeable the sales people really are. I mean these things were awful ! A couple of the Corts were so bad I could slide my pinky between the 12th fret and the string. I have no idea how they sell those things set up like that. O well.
  13. I started off by following the steps in "Guitar Player Repair Guide" by Dan Erlewine. From there I read other stuff like the Mr. Gearhead web page and the Gary Willis web page. Most importantly I just sat down and did it. The first one takes awhile but after you've done a few it goes quicker because you get a better feel for what needs to be done.

    The #1 tip for doing your own set ups: take your time, especially when you adjust the truss rod. Only give the truss rod about an 1/8 to a 1/4 turn max then let it sit at least 1/2 hour before re-checking the relief. Then if it needs more adjustment again only an 1/8 to a 1/4 turn and let it sit at least 1/2 hour again. Go slowly like this until you get it where you want it.
  14. Brendan


    Jun 18, 2000
    Austin, TX
    Actually...here at talkbass! After numerous articles, threads, and posts, I sorta got the idea. From there, I started setting up my two basses (practiced on my back up) and got ok at. Actually, a few of my friends have had me set up their guitars and basses becuase I do it for free, and I'm ok at it. Guitars are hard to set up though. I'm only really used to tensions, and heights of a bass, so it takes a bit to set up a guitar properly.
  15. I do the intonation thingy every month...
    the thruss-rod , pickup-height and sadle-height i do only when i get new strings.
  16. jbass27


    May 4, 2001
    St. Louis, MO
    I do all of my own setups, on both basses. I learned to do it by talking to the tech at my store, and since I have about 100 basses that I have to keep setup, and ready to play at all times in the store, I get some practice. There was a good article, summer 1990 Bass Player magazine about setup. (Yes I still have that), which if you search the Bass Player archives you may be able to find online. Its a really good article so I would hope they have it out there.

    The big thing I figured out is that if you are not comfortable, don't mess with it. You are begging to break something, or render your bass unplayable. If you don't know how to do it take it to a tech, have them do it, and then explain what to do to keep it playing like it does when you get it back from them.
  17. Ok, i feel confident touching my bass (although my dad would murder me if he found out :p)

    My question is, how do i "brush up my frets". i have heard this term before. When i have had my bass set up, on the bill it has "standard set up, new strings and brushed frets".

    And this Intonation, how often does it need adjusting, don't think i have ever done it and only had the bass setup once proffesionally ages ago.