You can save a ton of money— and derive beaucoup pleasure —by learning how to do your own basic guitar setup and amp maintenance. Adjusting an electric’s action, working a truss-rod to control neck relief, tweaking intonation, fine-tuning pickup and pole-piece height, cleaning the fretboard and pots, and keeping the tuners and hardware tight and secure are all activities many guitarists can handle on their own. John LeVan’s excellent book Guitar Setup, Maintenance & Repair (above right) has detailed photos and explanations. Dan Erlewine also has many books and DVDs available at, and Richie Fliegler’s The Complete Guide to Guitar and Amp Maintenance (above left) belongs on every serious picker’s shelf.
Happy New Year, pedal stompers! Welcome back to a new season of Stomp School. This month’s column will probably raise more questions than it answers, but that can sometimes be a good thing—especially when they’re questions we can only answer ourselves.

The start of every New Year tends to fill some of us with a certain measure of self-reflection and introspection. We may look back and assess the events of the previous year while considering our aspirations and ambitions for the year ahead. Whether that’s due to human nature or cultural conditioning is a topic for another column in a different magazine. For the time being, we can probably all acknowledge that it’s a well-known recurring phenomenon, one that often results in the pledging of lofty, idealistic, well-intentioned resolutions—such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or something similarly dramatic and life-altering. Since we’re in this mindset of contemplating major changes anyway, why not apply it to something that will give us instant gratification and guaranteed success—I’m talking about gear!

This is perhaps as good a time as any for us gearheads to evaluate our current setup, see what works and what doesn’t, and decide what we want to do about it. Let’s start by considering what goals we may have with regard to tone, and what we would need to pursue those goals in the upcoming year. I’ve found that having a specific goal in mind helps keep me in check when it comes to impulse buying and lusting after every new piece of gear that catches my eye.

If you’re anything like me, you may already have a pile of unfinished projects, along with a list of things you’ve been meaning to do and other things you mean to do someday. Just like the person who vows to quit smoking and lose 50 pounds all at once come January, we may be tempted to make new gear resolutions that are so ambitious that they set us up for failure. That’s not to say our resolutions are unrealistic or impractical. We just need to approach them in a way that will yield tangible results.

It might help to begin with the thing that interests you the most. Or conversely, you could pick the thing that you’re most dissatisfied with. Either choice will help you determine your number-one priority. The main point is to pick one item, address it fully, and see it through to completion, rather than taking a band-aid-and-duct-tape approach. I’ve worked with many gigging musicians who routinely ignore minor issues with their rig until something breaks down in the middle of a show (which is when I usually get the frantic phone calls). Having a bulletproof, gig-ready rig is certainly a worthy new gear resolution. Or maybe you have an entirely different new gear resolution in mind. Maybe you have only a few vague notions.

Or maybe it’s the reverse. It occurs to me that more than a few of you whose resolutions are more along the lines of spending less time and attention on gear and gear-related activities. That’s okay. You may still find it helpful to develop a specific goal for your ideal situation—even if it simply means reducing and streamlining your current setup. The bottom line is that setting a deliberate intention and having a specific goal in mind is much more likely to get you exactly what you want, which is the reason we make resolutions in the first place.

That’s all for now. Next time, we’ll take a look at the word “boutique” as it applies to musical instruments and equipment, try to determine a standard definition (if there is such a thing), and consider how the criteria may have changed over the past few years. Until then, keep on stompin’.

Tom Hughes (aka Analog Tom) is owner and proprietor of For Musicians Only ( and author of Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage Effects. If you have questions or comments for Tom, email him at