A while back I wrote about the importance of having your guitar or bass professionally setup, noting some of the benefits you’ll enjoy from having a well adjusted instrument such as more comfortable action, cleaner articulation, and better intonation.
In this post I’d like to discuss the importance of finding and establishing a relationship with a good local guitar tech and how to go about finding one.
Custom Setups: A good guitar tech can customize the setup of your guitar or bass to suit your individual playing style. While most players will do fine with their instruments setup to factory specifications, there are always those who demand something beyond that. If you’re one of those people, a good guitar tech will take the time to get to know your playing style and your needs.
While setting up an instrument is a fairly simple operation that any competent tech will be able to do well, setting up an instrument is more involved than many players realize. Neck relief, nut slot depth, bridge height, intonation, string gauge, addressing fret wear, and even the player’s preferred tuning are all factors that come into play. A good tech will be able to take all these factors into account, customizing each one to your specific needs. If you play a lot of slide, for example, you’ll likely need more nut height than would be typical. If you have a fairly aggressive picking style, you may need more neck relief than would be normal.
Confidence: When you’ve established a relationship with your tech, you can have confidence that whatever work your having done to your instrument will be done right the first time. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than handing your favorite guitar over to someone you’ve never worked with before for something like a refret. Will it be done right? Will he or she make things right if the work isn’t done to your expectations? When you know your tech, and you now the quality of work he or she does, you don’t have to worry.
So, how do you go about establishing a relationship with a guitar tech? Start by asking other musicians who they trust with their instruments. Then, bring one of two of your instruments in for a setup.
Ask to speak with the tech. Any good repair tech should be willing to meet with you so that they can get to know you and talk over your specific needs. Good repair techs value establishing relationships with their clients, because repeat customers keep them employed. But be mindful of how much of their time you’re taking up. Most repair techs are paid a commission based on how much work they bill, so too much time away from the work bench can result in lost wages at the end of the day.
A good tech is going to be a good listener and an educator. They aren’t going to just tell you what you need; they are going to listen to you and educate you so that you can make an informed decision about the work you want done, especially when it comes to more involved repair work.
If you’re the kind of person that relies on the performance of your instrument, it’s well worth the time and effort to find a good repair tech. Once you find one, you’ll likely never want anyone else to work on your instrument.
If you want to know more about some of the special things that can be done in setting up a guitar, here's a short video showing some of blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa's specific requirements.