Blues Guitar Setup


It is my understanding that changing strings is a matter of monthly basis and everyone knows or should know how to do it. With these thoughts in mind I have decided to experiment with new strings and ran into a whole lot of trouble getting rid of fret buzz as a result of my initiative…

Should guitar players setup their own guitar or take it to a professional luthier?


This is my take on a Fender Stratocaster Guide. My reasoning behind the endless string experiments is to provide each reader interested in another opinion on relevant string brands, gauges and types, with convenient point of view. I also am a strong believer that just like any motorcycle owner should know their hog’s every bolt, every 2012 MIA Stratocaster owner should know their axe’s every screw. With these two components in mind, I have once again attempted to do my own setup after purchasing each of different Dunlop’s Rev. Willy guitar strings sets.

Mind you that for some reason, while I have changed a dozen sets by now on a Strat and countless string sets on an acoustic guitar, each new restring on my Fender was a stressful 3 hour journey of self-loathing and questioning my own manhood with things like “WTF does every player do it and I can’t change a set of freaking strings properly?”. Nonetheless, a month goes by, I forget those emotions and step on the same rake once more.

The same happened this time, I took three strings off, wiped and cleaned my Strat, replaced them with Billy Gibbons’s ones and moved on to the other three. After all strings were on, I turned to tuning and found out lots of fret buzzing on both lower and upper end of the neck. Went on to playing with the action – didn’t help. Went on to playing with that other thing on the bridge – nope. Finally I, with great hesitance, moved on to my truss-rod and that was when all hell broke loose…

examples of guitar truss rod

Truss-rod is a long bolt inside your guitar neck that bends it either way to adjust to your strings. It is a greatly useful tool which can be dangerous in wrong hands. Text and videos are useful but it seems that having a professional luthier guide you through each step of the way might be better. If you read guitar forums and find discussions on guitar setup for Stratocasters, you will notice a tendency of conversation similar to this:

“- Hey guys! I have buzz? What to do? 

– Do this, this and this but don’t play with the truss rod. 

– Guuuuuys… I touched the truss-rod…?

– That’s it. He touched it. Call the pro’s! Can’t help you brah. Evacuate”

Many people who have been owning or working with guitars, advise to minimize the disturbance of truss-rods. Damage to it can make your guitar unplayable and will force you to change the neck or entire guitar since this is like a heart surgery, an expensive one with very low chances of survival. One must turn the truss-rod with 1/4 inch motions and if met with excessive resistance, stop immediately. Also loosen your rod always before you tighten it further.

I didn’t listen and instead of a minor “bzzzz” on a lower E string, I got a chorale of raging cicadae on all of EADGBE… At this point (somewhere past midnight) I was debating between changing dreams to becoming a professional alcoholic, starting smoking again or throwing my Blues Guitar out of the window burning.

In the end, I have gone to a point of no return and after feeling like I have done/tried everything, I took it to a professional guitar technician who took 15 minutes and a little under $10 equivalent to do what I spent (wasted) hours and years of healthy nerves on.

Blues Lesson (Not the guitar kind)

During that day everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong and I was having the Blues of a lifetime, I realized that if you have seen a tendency of things not going your way throughout the last 20 hours, do not force it to change. It might get only worse. I personally have not suffered for my ignorant arrogance as much as I could have and although I still feel less of a blues guitarist for not being able to change my own strings, I would rather pay a pro $10 every month to avoid “Broken Guitar Blues” the last kind of Blues that you may want to encounter.

Different people have done it differently, some bought guitar necks and bodies for dirt cheap and practiced on those until they felt comfortable doing it with a $1k+ guitar. Others had a professional technician hold their hand while their turned the bolts the right way and angle. I personally am in no option to quit learning, or trying or sharing my findings with you. Instead, I hope you will share your experience of setting up your guitars with me so that we can all continue to keep the Blues alive together.

Make Some Noise