Guitarists will never be in want of accessories. At times, the vast plethora of guitar accessory options can overwhelming: straps, tuners, buttons, strings, picks, fretboard cleaner, polish, microfiber rags, pickguards, pick holders, pickups, pickups, and more pickups, a million different types of cases, humidifiers, wall hangers, floor hangers, portable hangers you can shove in your own pocket for cryin' out loud, magazine subscriptions, tools, stickers...it goes on and on. And on. Hell, half of the reason most music retail places are able to stay in business is through accessories alone.
But among all the things your guitar needs, the single most important thing you can do for your brand new axe (or an oldy you're springing out of retirement), isn't even an accessory at all...
No, it isn't superb circa 1980s fashion sense...
If you ask the experts, the BEST and ABSOLUTELY NUMBER ONE THING you can do for your new guitar (and you) is get it set up.
What's A Set-Up?
In a nutshell, a guitar set-up is a process by which we guitar techs screw around with the moving parts of your instrument until it plays good. Well, that's a little crass...it's actually quite a technical process for which we here at Bigfoot pride ourselves on for being exceptionally good at. Why the confidence, you ask? Because we are insanely picky about the little details that can make or break a guitar playing experience; and that pickiness ultimately pays off for our customers, as we've come to observe.
Why is a proper guitar set-up so important? Well, let me ask you this: have you ever owned or tried out a guitar that was, for some undefined reason, just downright unpleasant to play? We're not necessarily talking about the tone of the guitar (though a good solid set-up can play a part in that), but the feel of the guitar itself: high action that resulted in hand cramps and curse words? Super obnoxious fret buzz ? Stiff, unyielding strings? If so, then you know what it's like to try to play with a poor set-up. And let me guess; you probably weren't feeling all the encouraged to play much longer after that? I thought not.
It's a common story.
That being said, you may be in the post-Holiday euphoria of that brand new guitar you got for Christmas! Awesome! It may be that you were gifted this sweet new instrument in order to start playing for the first time ever. Double awesome! And no matter how hard you try or how much you practice, you feel like you're really struggling to get comfortable with chording and strumming and all that jazz...TRIPLE- wait...that's not so awesome.
If you've just recently come into a brand new or used guitar this holiday season, allow us to give you some of the best advice we've ever received as guitar players and the best advice we could give you as professional guitar techs: take your new guitar in for a set-up.
1) Most Manufacturers Don't Bother Before Shipment
...or, if they do, the set-up probably won't last through the time it takes to get from the factory to your eager fingers. This isn't because guitar manufacturers are lazy (well, most of 'em...), but this is because guitars are temperamental creatures subject to change with temperature fluctuations, pressure, and humidity. As a result of this, a guitar's set-up can be significantly altered if the temperature suddenly takes a dive into cold-to-freezing or if the environment is dry. Remember that a guitar is a piece of wood under tension and wood swells or contracts in different climates. This can affect your set-up considerably, causing the action to come up or down or the neck to back-bow which often creates problems buzzier than a hornet nest. Granted, most of these changes can't be immediately observed just by looking at the guitar on its own. But you can be sure your hands will know the difference after you've taken that guitar through Steven's Pass on your way to that kickass Leavenworth gig, yah.
Knowing this, many manufacturers won't set up the guitar after it has been finished. Even if they do, there is no guarantee that the set-up will remain as is when it finally gets here. By the time the oompa loompas down at The Evil Empire (you know who they are...) unpack that strat, polish it up a bit, and hang it up on sales wall, the set-up could be anywhere from totally perfect (unlikely) to horrendously uncomfortable. And it's worth noting that Big Box music retailers rarely, if ever, set up their guitars before displaying them; whereas, here at Bigfoot that is our first order of business after unpacking. We never hang anything up on our wall until we've carefully inspected each guitar and have made sure it meets our picky specs!
So if you recently made an instrument purchase at your local big box music store, or even online and direct to your door, don't hesitate to stop by the shop and get your new digs checked out by us. We'll be sure to give you the complete story on your guitar and what it'll need to make the most out of your playing! Which leads me to...
2) A Proper Set-up Will Help You Play More (and KEEP Playing)
For you beginners out there (or for those of you dusting off the ol' forgotten six string that's been chilling in your closet since Woodstock) this is a very important thing to keep in mind: an uncomfortable guitar won't inspire you to play. In fact, a poorly set up guitar can sometimes sabotage a beginner's learning experience and can be very discouraging, especially in the first couple of months which are already a bit uncomfortable. Not only are you trying to manufacture some callouses and muscle memory, but you're having to fight the instrument in unnecessary ways...and that is no beuno. Your instrument should work for you, not visa-versa. This ain't Soviet Russia.
If you're looking to get more serious about your playing or you're fresh to whole guitar playing business in general, hit us up for a quick consultation on your guitar's set-up. You may be surprised to find how much of a difference we can make for your rockin' out with just a few tweaks here and there. Drop by anytime and we can usually let you know what your set-up needs within a couple minutes. We have, after all, been doing this sort of work a good, long time.
3) Set-ups Can Change: Get Regular Check Ups!
Just like your doctor or your dentist, we're always recommending regular check ups on your guitars' set-ups. In fact, screw that dentist appointment! Get your guitar looked at here instead! Besides, we're way more fun than the dentist...
Bigfoot Music, Inc hereby waives any and all oral health
liability due to missed dental appointments...
In lieu of your potentially rotting teeth, though, it's usually a good idea to have your guitar checked out by the pro's if not every six months, at least once a year. Like I mentioned earlier, a guitar set-up is prone to change over time. Sometimes the change is so gradual it can sneak up on you and you may suddenly be playing one day only to realize you're fighting with your guitar again (before I became a tech, this would happen to me a lot and I'd get frustrated). Take our advice and spare yourself some frustration by checking in with us now and then about your guitar or bass set-up.
It's also important to remember that things like changing string gauges and alternate tunings can significantly affect your set-up. Be sure to ask us about different set-ups for different tunings (ESPECIALLY you metal heads out there with all your down-tuning craziness) and let us know what you're looking to get out of your instrument. We like to make sure we tailor your set-up to best compliment your playing style.
If you're curious as to what a “set-up service” entails, here's some basic info on what we can do for your guitar or bass when the need arises. Oh, and I should mention that yes, we do banjo, mandolin, and some violin set-up as well. Don't worry, folkies: we've got ya'll covered, too!
So, if you've just recently come into a brand new guitar or bass, or if you're looking to get some TLC for ol' faithful, consider us your local set-up and repair experts! And remember: when you purchase any new or used instrument from Bigfoot Music, you can rest easy knowing that we've already gone through every single one and made sure each set-up is PERFECTO! *kisses hand * Now that's something you won't get from those Big Box folks, lemme tell ya.
Stay excellent and have a good week!