In case your guitar has a tremolo bridge or a Floyd Rose, you need to block it before proceeding. The most practical way if you don't have many tools at your disposal is: remove the plastic covering at the back of your guitar; then place thin coins or picks between the part of the bridge that protrudes downward and the body until the distance between the flat part of the bridge (just below the bridge pickup) and the body is 3/32". Loosen the springs and tune to A 440. If your guitar has a Floyd Rose, add coins or picks till the bridge is parallel to the body, then remove the springs and tune to a 440.
Electric Guitar Setup Step 1: Adjust the truss rod
We do this to avoid the strings from hitting the frets -and buzzing- as they vibrate. Put a capo on the first fret, and press the fifth string at the 17th fret with a finger (I use the middle) while lifting the 6th string so it presses against your fingernail. Use a spark plug calibrator to measure the distance between the top of the 12th fret and the bottom of the 5th string.
American standard, vintage 0.012
Floyd Rose: 0.012
Gibson: 0.004 - 0.006
Bass guitars: 0.014
Adjust the truss rod with an Allen key. Turn clockwise (toward the 1st string) to loosen and counterclockwise (toward the 6th string) to tighten. Note: if you have access to the truss rod just below the last fret instead of by the nut, invert directions.
This means adjusting the height of the strings. With the capo still on the 1st fret, measure the distance between the bottom of the strings and the top of the 17th fret using a 6 inch ruler in 64ths. Use the table below only as a general guideline: explore different possibilities till you find the height that suits you best.
American standard, vintage 4/64"
Floyd Rose 4/64"
Gibson 3/64" or 4/64"
Bass guitars 3/32"
Remove the capo and tune to A 440
Electric Guitar Setup Step 2:Setting the height of the pickups
Measure the distance between the top of your pickups and the bottom of your strings (1st and 6th) while pressing at the last fret. Adjust as needed.
American standard, vintage- 6th: 1/8", 1st: 3/32"
Ultra, Plus- 1/16" on both sides
Telecaster- 6th: 3/32", 1st: 5/64"
Floyd Rose- 6th: 1/8", 1st: 3/32". If it has humbuckers 3/32" on both sides
Gibson- 3/64" or 4/64"
4 string bass guitars- 4th: 1/8", 1st 3/32". Or, 1/16" on both sides.
5 and 6 string bass guitars- 6th/5th: 7/64", 1st: 5/64"
The general idea is that pickups should give the same signal intensity regardless of pickup or string.
Check to see if the strings buzz and adjust as needed. Eliminating fret buzz completely is neither possible nor necessary. Set so that your guitar is comfortable to play, and the buzz doesn't carry over to the amp.
Electric Guitar Setup Step 3: Setting intonation
Tune your guitar with an electronic tuner, using the natural harmonics at the 12th fret. When pressing the string at the 12th fret, you should have the same pitch. If the tuner says it's too flat, then shorten the vibrating part of the string by adjusting the saddle. If it's too sharp, elongate the vibrating portion. After elongating or shortening, tune to the natural harmonic again and repeat.
If your guitar has a tremolo bridge or a Floyd Rose, put the springs back in place and tighten them -slowly- until the coins or picks fall out. Place the plastic covering back in place, and