Photo: Lee Dickson goes through his setup ritual on a Strat.
Francis: Billy [Gibbons] hasn’t broken a string in over 15 years—his long-running joke is that “you don’t want to be known as a string breaker.” [Laughs] I guess it’s just new strings and no sharp edges in the string path. I personally break them quite often when stretching them, but I really pull on them hard all the way up the neck. I check intonation from time to time but rarely have a drift. If a saddle does give me problems, I'll just use Loctite.
Appleton: You have to stretch the strings out completely—that means stretching everywhere from the first fret to the bridge. Follow this rule: stretch, retune to pitch, stretch, and retune to pitch until it stays in pitch at least three times. If the string breaks during this process, oh well—it’s better than happening to you during the gig.
Farmer: The main thing I do when I set up guitars is to keep things clean—I’m always cleaning the fretboard, the nut slots for the strings, the tuning pegs and the bridge. I stretch the strings as far and as much as I can and I check the intonation every day. I can watch Warren [Haynes]’s face and his hands and know if the guitar is setup perfect or if he’s struggling or fighting the guitar I can sense that in his playing.
Trejo: The method I use I actually learned from an old pamphlet and cassette I found from Doug Mark’s Metal Method. [Laughs] He takes the string through the post, bring it in towards you, over and under the string to create a sort of knot. This will essentially lock the string in place and help to avoid slippage. It can be a pain in the butt to undo, especially in a live situation where time is of the essence, so I advise having a good pair of needle-nose pliers close by.
Dickson: I always like to lube the saddles and the nut with [Big Bends] Nut Sauce, clean and polish the frets, and then put on a fresh set of strings after stretching them in well. Then, I check the neck, tuning again, pickup heights, and finish with one last intonation check. Eric [Clapton] had different action on different guitars, but for the live stuff with the Strats, they would come to us set up with pretty much whatever the Fender spec was and I would make some little tweaks and adjustments for him. There were a few occasions over the years when, at Eric’s request, I have had to adjust the action between songs while he played the spare. [Laughs]
Buffa: If you have a guitar your not using for lead—or not as much—and just using it for rhythm stuff, I’d suggest raising the guitar’s action a little higher because you can feel the notes ring out a lot better and longer and things just sound fuller.