Without a doubt, the most common job in our repair shop is setting up guitars, referred to as a “set up.” These instruments are brought in for repair because they don’t play well.
What surprises some folks is that all new guitars need a thorough set-up as well. Even when an instrument is perfectly set up at the factory, between the normal settling that new guitars do and the travails of shipping, instruments frequently need a good going-over. Considering that a guitar has over 100 pounds of tension on it from the strings, it’s not surprising that they move a bit and need readjustment. When we sell an instrument, we’ve set the instrument up when it arrives, make adjustments just as it leaves here, and for customers in the area, invite folks back so that we can check to see if the instrument needs a bit more tweaking.
Here’s the procedure we follow for guitars. The same holds true for other fretted instruments. In addition to adjusting the truss rod, nut, saddle and frets (as documented below), the intonation is checked and adjusted as well. This enables the instrument to play in tune as well as possible. Electric guitars often have individually adjustable saddles, which allows for more precise intonation adjustments.