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Should a New Guitar be Set Up?

Discussion in 'off topic' started by Minio, Oct 15, 2019.

  1. Minio

    Minio pfm Member

    I made the mistake of wandering into a music shop recently, and like a kid in a sweet shop, wanted to get my hands on every guitar they had.

    One looked the real business with impressive antique cherry sunburst aged parts and excellent spec and so forth.

    It did not play nearly as well as it looked though with its snagging frets choking up what I was trying to play.

    Others, not cheap guitars, were in dire need of a new set of strings or just a set up to basically get the strings clear of the fret board. Alternatively, on some, with venerated brand names I should say, the action was far too high for comfortable playing.

    One might convince oneself to see past these issues but nonetheless they don't create the initial impression that would particularly induce a purchase.

    Some brands did fare much better and were not too highly priced. Notably the Gretsch Streamliner range and the Epiphone Pro series. The latter boasts of being setup to play as part of its marketing spiel.

    It's not just the one shop that's like it, either.

    Considering that the mission of a music shop would be to sell instruments don't you think that they would be offered to the public in a more playable condition?
  2. sean99

    sean99 pfm Member

    I'm pretty sure larger chains just take them out of the box and hang them up. Smaller stores may set them up, but they're probably struggling to compete with internet sales. It's the same with saxophones. $100 of setup can make a $1500 sax play better than a $5k sax that's straight from the factory. I think you have to budget another $50-$100 to have a new instrument setup for you unless it already plays well in the store.
  3. glancaster

    glancaster In the silicon vale

    That's a shame.

    A guitar, as with most musical instruments, is a very personal thing. Even if it is objectively great, it might just not suit you. There needs to be a connection. Kind of like choosing a partner.

    How can you get that connection if it isn't playable?

    Unfortunately, a lot of beginners instruments get sold without this, for a variety of reasons, some perfectly understandable.

    Actually, writing this has reminded me that I bought my son his first guitar without him trying it. I tried it, and liked it (with reservations, but for a 3/4 sized beginners guitar it is playable and has a good sound), but maybe that was a bit silly in retrospect. If he makes it to a full sized model, I will get him to choose, with just a bit of support from me.

    Kind regards

    - Garry
  4. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    As stated setup is a very personal thing, but guitars are made from wood so do noticeably shift with age, humidity, temperature etc, so what was set in the factory in America, Japan or the far-east may well not be the same now. Any good shop should set the guitars they have on public dem to the standard factory specs, which are very well defined, e.g. here are Fender’s specs for the Stratocaster. They detail neck relief, action, how to set the trem up etc.
  5. palindrome

    palindrome pfm Member

    I take it you didn't actually purchase a guitar . . ? If so, was this because of the set up issues, or because there wasn't one there that you connected with enough to part with the readies?

    In my experience shops don't generally bother setting up guitars (for reasons others have alluded to). Also, a significant proportion of their stock will get demoed by a lot of people over time with some inevitably grubby fingers (and who knows where those fingers have been. . .), and rotating the stringing of stock is not something I've been aware of. Having said that, I've found that at the more expensive end of the spectrum, guitars tend to play nicer, but there are obviously a number of factors that impact on this.

    Most retailers will set up a guitar that you are purchasing tho', and change the strings if asked. I've asked a few times and have yet to be charged, but some retailers might. But then, it may depend on the mark-up of the guitar and the sensibilities of the sales person.

    Anyway, good luck if you intend to buy, and let us know what it is.

  6. Yank

    Yank Bulbous Also Tapered

    If the guitars on display aren't set up (and they're usually not), I'd ask the shop what they're prepared to adjust if you actually purchase an instrument?
  7. cjarchez

    cjarchez pfm Member

    Speaking for drums and percussion, the display units in stores were always set up to a playable level but as stated already, set up is very personal. If not at least playable i.e. produce a tone and feel representive of the product, then the store has failed.
    Obviously not every product will be set up but it should be obvious which ones are.

    Strangely I was always a little "shy" to let rip on a full kit in store but had no problem with other forms of percussion, congas, just cymbals or coveting proper Remo Rototoms...
  8. foxwelljsly

    foxwelljsly Keep Music Vile

    A fret, saddle/bridge and nut dressing/setup by an experienced luthier can make all the difference. If an acoustic guitar comes without a bone nut and saddle, which even many new Gibsons don't include, it's often worth fitting them, too.
    JTC likes this.
  9. Minio

    Minio pfm Member

    When in the States I saw and played a 2003 model Gibson ES137 in cherry sunburst. The guitar was immaculate and played like a dream.

    Sadly I had to leave it behind. $1900 combined with the thought of transporting it home to the UK put me off.

    So when I got home, naturally, I had to have a look in the local music stores to see if anything would strike my fancy.

    Cutting a long story short. Yes I did purchase a 2015 Epiphone Sheraton II Pro. I was quite surprised at how close it came to that Gibbo I so loved. Its probably from the Chinese factory that Gibson have commissioned there. It doesn't feel like the budget Epiphones of previous experience. 390 spondulis with a new case.

    Before settling on the Epi though I was offered several unplayable instruments that could have been in the shop for years. Guitars will only sell quick if the punter enjoys playing and potentially owning them!
    palindrome likes this.
  10. -alan-

    -alan- pfm Member

    It's a bit like a dealer offering a car for sale that badly needs a service - doesn't show the thing off to its best, and needs the buyer to be able to imagine what it would be like it it were properly set up for sale.

    Difficulty with a guitar though, is it's not necessarily the case that every guitar will be really nice to play after they have been set up. That combination of poor set-up and the unknowns involved is one of the reasons why I've tended to avoid the bigger guitar retailers over the years :(
  11. Minio

    Minio pfm Member


    There's a guy on ebay makes his own guitars that, perhaps, don't look appealing to everyone, but he promises to set them up. The Jazzmaster 'looky likey', I have, plays lovely.

    I agree, alan, it's the better the devil you know. If there is one you like the look of and it plays and sounds nice then that's the one!
  12. -alan-

    -alan- pfm Member

    ^ With some googling, a minimal quantity of basic tools (and preferably an older/less valuable guitar to start with) it's actually quite easy to set up a guitar to play well.

    I've managed to get most of mine to the point where they play nicely, and have learned what to look/listen for to see if things are out of kilter.

    I still occasionally bring one to the pros for a second opinion/fret dress or just for a bit of treat, because for the sake of the £40 the guy charges here I'd like to have it sorted perfectly.
  13. Bart

    Bart pfm Member

    From the shop’s point of view I doubt that they would be overkeen to set up every guitar in the shop (often scores of them) so that kids or anyone else can saunter in and have a noodle. On the other hand if someone had a short list of instruments they were serious about investing in I’m sure they would set them up correctly and be happy to arrange for a proper trial. A bit like buying hifi really.
  14. Minio

    Minio pfm Member

    It seems to me that some of the cheaper brands used the combination of playability and affordable pricing to achieve a quick turnover. Noticeably Epiphone Pro, Gretsch Streamliner and maybe Squier Affinity.

    It must be hard to shift product on the High Street these days so my thoughts are more for the long term viability of the music shop as we know it.

    My recent experience felt more like l was the final QA as many instruments I rejected. One had no bridge pickup operation. One snagged hopelessly on the 2nd fret. A George Benson had strings that sounded like they'd been on two World tours. An Ibanez Rock a Billy couldn't really be played at all.

    It's not really my problem though as the Sheraton I bought is really nice, although funnily enough I wasn't really looking for one of those. It just won me over with quality of finish, sound and playability. No idea of its history so it might have been 'breathed on' by its previous owner or, at least, kept very well.
  15. Aethelist

    Aethelist pfm Member

    "American made" guitars on sale in the UK have always been the dregs. They ship all of the crap out over here. Especially Gibson. The Rosetti Syndrome anyone?

    Martin acoustics too. Borderline neck re-set jobs, duff tone, you name it. It ends up over here.

    Not my opinion btw, I learned this from someone who had a lot of dealings with importing and selling guitars in the UK from the 1980's onwards.

    Never again.
  16. Minio

    Minio pfm Member

    It is best to go to a music shop even though quite a few have closed down.

    There you can do your own evaluation. If a Squier Bullet beats a Fender Custom Shop then you feel, play, compare and get what you like. No need to pay over the odds for a name on the headstock.
  17. palindrome

    palindrome pfm Member

    Interesting this one. On the one hand I'm in agreement, but defining 'dregs' can be subjective. For sure a lot of crap from a fair few American manufacturers (and Japanese) over the decades. But I would also argue that the best premium brand guitars such as PRS and SUHR et al (which most definitely do not fall into the dreg category) stay in the USA or go to Asia. At least when looking on line at sites such as Reverb, the 'bay and US retailers. What we get charged a premium for over here is the plainer less attractive stuff (generalising). But if you're buying a boutique instrument it's probably going to play well and stay in tune, so arguably the remaining variables are likely to centre around whether its sound is what you're after and the cosmetic finish.

    For reference, I have a Martin D16 GTE acoustic which sounds very nice to my ears and is eminently playable, with no issues anywhere on the neck (low action - no fret buzz, etc'). Back in the day when gigging in bands (semi-pro) I played Gibsons; a Flying V with the best action of any guitar I've yet picked up, then a twin neck, again with a nice action. Maybe I just got lucky with these particular purchases, although they weren't perfect by any stretch. The twin neck was neck heavy and constantly tilting (at windmills) which made playing it standing up a regular challenge, and I never could get the fat tone I wanted from the V (shoulda but a Les Paul, I know).

    Just my 2 bob's worth.


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