Whether you’re getting your new guitar from the local store or online, it really needs setup — which, most of the time, entails cost. So, how much does a guitar setup cost, you may ask? Well, it depends on what guitar and what setup you want to have.
For newly acquired guitars, though they’re set well straight from the factory, they need to be optimized. To get the perfect tune and tone of the guitar, you need to set it up. While it’s very simple and straightforward, for beginners it is very challenging — oftentimes, need a professional to do it — and might incur some fees, of course.
Setting up a guitar is a very vague term. Why? Because it pertains to different changes needed to be done on a guitar. Some of which include regular maintenance, fixing the action and intonation, changing the strings, and so on. However, let’s just say, it’s a general term for optimizing the guitar so it’ll sound amazing and plays great.
Hence, in this article, I’m going to discuss the factors that may affect the cost of setting up a guitar. Among the topics include the common issues of a guitar and the different setup activities needed for acoustic and electric guitars.
It’s not just beginners that need to go to a local store to have their guitars setup. Most musicians, especially those who are not professional guitar tech need to have their guitars to be setup.
If you’re in doubt, always and always consult a professional to do the fixing and the setup for you. Here’s a YouTube video demonstrating some the processes of setting up a guitar.
Adjusting the Action
The string action is the distance between the strings and the frets — it’s only a fraction of inches. There’s no standard string height since it depends on the type of guitar and the preference of the player.
Low string action allows you to play comfortably since you don’t need to push the strings down super hard. However, if the action is too low, the strings will easily hit the fretboard causing unwanted buzzing sounds. And, if the action high, it’ll be hard to fret the chords, especially if you’re playing aggressively.
For acoustic guitars, if you need to change the action, there’s a piece of plastic or bone called saddle that’s used to raise the strings. Either you’ll adjust the truss rod or the saddle height. But, before changing the truss rod, you might need to check the neck relief, first.
For electric guitars, you might need to pay around $50 for the neck adjustment as well as the optimization of the string height. Of course, for electric guitars the setup is quite complicated, thus you need to spend around that much or more for the cost of the setup.
Fixing the Intonation
When your guitar is in proper intonation, you should get the note that you’re playing. Try this example and use a digital tuner on your guitar. Pluck the E string, then on the 5th fret, press and pluck the E string. You should get an “A” on your tuner. If you move to the 12th fret and press the 5th string again, you should get an “E.” If you’re not getting these readings, then, the intonation is off.
To alleviate this problem, you should adjust the saddles, for electric guitars. But, for acoustic guitars, this would be a bit challenging, since it’s possible that you need to change the entire saddle. Setting up the acoustic guitars could be cheaper since it’s less complicated compared to electric guitars.
Changing the Strings
Though changing the strings of the guitar seems quite simple, beginners shouldn’t do that themselves. It’s better to have someone who has more experience to do that for you. Perhaps, if you’ll buy a new set of strings, plus the setup cost, you’ll pay for around $60 to $80.
There are some other things that you might need a professional to do them for you. Maybe it’s just a simple wiping down and polishing the guitar or cleaning the frets with oil. You may also need to consult experts if you need to tighten/loosen nuts, bolts and tuning machine heads. Though these things seem very simple, it’s nice if these are done professionally.
On the other hand, if you really have issues, like repairing and replacing the nut, frets, or bridge, these cannot be done at home. Unless if you have all the supplies and the tools you need. Likewise, if you want to replace the pickups or replace cracked neck and fretboard, the more you need to visit a guitar tech in your local music store.
The cost of these minor repairs depends on the local store and the guitar tech that will handle your problem. So, the overall setup cost varies. But, it’s important to know the cost of the setup first before having the actual repair. You might be paying more than the price of your guitar.
There’s no single answer to this question, primarily because there’s no single thing you need to do with a guitar. New guitars need to be setup to optimize its performance. Likewise, if you have some problems with the action or intonation of the guitar.
The cost of changing the strings could be lesser than the cost of fixing the action. Additionally, you’ll also need to add the labor cost. Of course, if you need a professional guitar luthier to do it, it’ll be more expensive.
In general, both for acoustic and electric guitars, the professional setup will cost you around $40 to $100. This depends on what guitar you have and where you go for the guitar setup. If you have a high-end guitar, you’ll spend around $150 or more! The same goes if you have a guitar that needs an overhaul.
I am working as Artist Manager/Music Supervisor at 72 Music Management.
Managed album to Grammy Award in 2017 with 7 Nominations from 2014-2020.
Clients: A.J. Croce, Blind Boys of Alabama, Bobby Rush, Dom Flemons, Dustbowl Revival, Sarah Grace
Governor of the Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy
Singer/Songwriter A.J. Croce
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