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About Setups, Pt. 1

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Okay, our last column dealt with fret polishing, and before that, fret leveling. I stated that a guitar''s ability to play well is dependent on the frets being level, but once they are level, the setup is critical. Level frets are only half the equation - the setup is the other part.

A setup means an overall adjustment and servicing. Different shops give you different things with their setups, but you should expect that it will include adjusting everything that is adjustable, and making sure that the guitar is as mechanically functional as it can be. Since everyone needs their guitar setup from time to time, we''ll take the process from the top.

Acme''s list includes cleaning the electronics with DeoxIT, cleaning the fretboard, tightening any loose hardware, adding the proper washers to the input jack (if not already there) and tightening it to make sure it stays tight, restringing, and then adjusting the truss rod, nut slots, string height, and intonation. Let''s start at the beginning.

Take the old strings off and throw them away. There is no reason to keep them. Really. Your old strings are trash.


Electronics
Next, clean the electronics. The best stuff I know of for this is CAIG Laboratories'' DeoxIT. This stuff is squirted or sprayed into the pots, on the switch contacts, and into the jack. The component is then "worked" a couple of times (the pots are rotated back and forth, etc.), and voilà, you''ll have no more crackling when you turn the pot or work the switch! This stuff is amazing at cleaning corrosion from electrical contacts, and is available in different strengths (5% and 100%), and with different types of applicators.

The sprays are convenient, but messy, and you don''t want the overspray all over everything, especially plastic parts and your paint. I use a little bottle of the 100% solution with a needle applicator, which is sometimes difficult to get into tight spaces but puts the stuff only where you want it. DeoxIT is available online directly from CAIG.

If the component is still crackling after using DeoxIT, replace it or have it replaced, unless it was made before 1965, in which case you can sell it to your favorite vintage dealer and go on a short vacation with the proceeds.


Fretboard & Frets
Next, we use 0000 steel wool to clean the fretboard/frets, except on maple fretboards, where we use it to clean the frets only (we tape off the wood with masking tape). Steel wool does a great job of removing corrosion from the frets, but there are drawbacks. You want to avoid steel wool that has oil in it, if possible, and you want to be careful not to scratch your finish.

Tape off the body around the fingerboard with masking tape - low-tack drafting tape might be the way to go on an old finish - and tape off the pickups while you''re at it. You don''t want the steel fibers that break off to work their way into the windings (it is a fact that the steel fibers will be attracted to those sexy pickups). Run the steel wool up and down the neck, and clean the corrosion off the frets. Don''t worry that the wool is going at right angles to the frets, this is a non-issue.

After cleaning with steel wool, vacuum off the steel wool fibers that remain, remove the tape, and clean the fretboard with naphtha. If you don''t have naphtha, you should go buy some at Home Depot, or you can buy Ronsonol lighter fluid at a 7-11, as this is 100% naphtha. Naphtha can be squirted on a guitar without fear of hurting anything (just don''t light a match!); it is really pretty safe in terms of not damaging your guitar, including plastic and paint - even nitro.

This doesn''t mean soak your guitar in it, but a little here and there won''t hurt anything, and it evaporates really quickly (make sure you have good ventilation). It is a great degreaser, and also really good at dissolving gummy label glue, etc., so it will come in handy around the house too. It will clean your fretboard right up. Use a white paper towel and you will see that it turns black from the steel wool, so you want to degrease after using steel wool.

This will also dry the fretboard, and you can oil it if you want, but I never do. Ebony can almost be considered to be non-porous - its pores are so small - so I don''t think oiling it gets the oil very far past the surface; rosewood on the other hand is very oily to begin with. Maple is a non-issue, since it''s normally finished. Fretboards pick up oils from your skin as well.


Jacks & Hardware
After all of this, you''ll want to tighten the jack. Make sure to add washers to it first, if needed. You want a star washer (internal-tooth lockwasher) on the inside, between the jack and the jackplate, and a flat washer on the outside, between the nut and the jackplate.

The fact that some guitar manufacturers don''t use a flat washer indicates that they have no one on staff who has ever studied bolting technology. That''s why their jacks consistently come loose. They come loose, and then people try to tighten them from the outside of the guitar, but the nut doesn''t really tighten because the jack just rotates inside the guitar, twisting the wires, which ultimately break. At this point, the guitar is taken into the shop with the complaint that the pickups don''t work, but really the pickups are fine, the jack wires have just broken.

So the sequence is: make sure the jack is a Switchcraft jack (did I mention that? If it isn''t, consider replacing it; they cost $2.50 and will last you for the next 40 years), make sure you have a star washer on the inside and a flat washer on the outside, put a drop of Loc-Tite on the threads, and then hold the jack with one hand while you tighten the nut securely with a ½" wrench, socket, or nutdriver. There. Fixed forever.

After all of that, tighten any loose hardware (like the tuner bushings), then restring the guitar, tune it up, and cut the excess string ends off. You could poke someone''s eye out.

Next month, we adjust.



Acme Guitar Works sells electronic components for electric guitars, including complete, prewired assemblies. Visit them at acmeguitarworks.com.
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