Another in my continuing series covering used guitars purchased through Craigslist, etc. – and what obvious and unseen problems they have and how I handled them..

Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t imagine a worse choice for a pickguard for this sunburst Squier Strat guitar! When I realized it was a full-thickness (1-3/4″) Fender-style body instead of Squier-size (1-1/2″), I decided it was the perfect candidate for upgrading with a loaded pickguard with clear-sounding Alnico V pickups.

chart on Tampa used guitar
My whiteboard & work flow

I use a whiteboard (above) to track my work flow and log the issues and work done on each guitar.

Since I was replacing the “guts”, I didn’t have to be concerned with functionality of the old pickups, switch and pots, but the switch had problems in the bridge position and had to be “jiggled” to get production from the bridge.

guitar setup in tampa/st pete
More of a StewMac ad than I’d intended!

Following down the list, the nut slots were half again higher than Fender specs, which meant that intonation (causing the guitar to give the right notes when fretted) wasn’t happening, especially in the “cowboy chords”. So, I got out my nut files and lowered the slots so bottoms of strings were less than 0.02″ above the first fret after saddle height and bridge float had been set. (So this photo is out of chronological order).

Relief (neck bow) wasn’t too bad, but I tweaked it a bit with my 4mm truss wrench so that it ranged from 0.015 to 0.005.

Fret height was out of this world! (0.10″) This may have been the #1 reason the frets didn’t have any wear – nobody wanted to subject their fingers to this torture! It took many turns of the allen screws to coax the saddles down to their proper positions at a gnat’s whisker above 0.060.

The pickup poles were twice as far from the strings as they should have been, probably causing quite muddy tones. And although we are replacing the old ones, get a look at the rust on those poles..

I checked all six positions on each of the 21 frets to ensure they were all level – no high ends, etc. Then I got out my StewMac triangular file and dressed (filed) all the sharp fret ends.

To save wear and tear on the fretboard, I first clean the board with Naptha and #0000 steel wool, then I apply a liberal amount of lemon oil to help the file glide over the frets as I file the ends. I still get file marks, but I find that tape doesn’t let the file get all of the fret wire and the file (despite having rounded edges) seems to find its way through the tape anyway.

All six tuner nuts were loose, (common on Fenders for some reason!) so I tightened them with a 10mm wrench, because wobbly tuner keys can’t be a good thing!

I removed the block and saddles to clean them in my ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. Two of the screws had stripped their threads in the wood, even though I was the first person to ever remove the bridge, so this happens at the factory too.

Two of the screw holes were stripped

I plugged the holes with round hardwood toothpicks and Titebond and let it cure so the screws would bite firmly.

Once the new D’Addario #9 strings were installed and tuned and the bridge properly floated at 3/16″ off the deck, it was time to intonate.

Intonation is one of the most important aspects of a guitar. You can have your open strings tuned perfectly and it means NOTHING if your fretted chords and notes are off.

And yet, I NEVER get a guitar that is properly intonated. Let me repeat that – NEVER! So, when you see people post on forums about how bad cheap guitars are, when they knock brands like Squier, Ibanez Gio, Epiphone, Yamaha, etc. – most of the time they would probably like, if not love that same guitar if it were properly setup.

Every saddle needed adjusting – the E and A saddles needed more adjustment than the screws and springs would allow. This means the bridge was mispositioned at the factory.

But that’s a common problem and I stock shorter strings and wire cutters can snip the springs in half so the proper adjustments can be made without the screws hitting the strings (a big “no-no”!)

guitar setup, tampa/st pete
Note the distance between saddles and screws in the two photos

So why don’t guitar companies take the time and effort to properly setup their low-end guitars? Because they wouldn’t be low-end any more! It takes me a minimum of two hours to setup a guitar and usually more like three or even four if fret leveling, neck realignment, etc. is needed.

I do that work and still sell guitars from $99. Fender, Gibson, et al, would have to add another hundred dollars to the price tag of each guitar – and they’re already having sales problems and financial difficulties!

If you’re looking for a decent guitar on a budget, you’ve found the right place! I have dozens of guitars (and amps!) for sale and I invite customers to come try them out and take their time.

If you’re thinking of taking up guitar, you’ll want to watch for my upcoming article on how to (really) learn quickly. I can have some people playing accompaniment to a vocalist (or just do your own singing!), within a week – but most everyone within a month – with just standard 20 minutes of daily practice.

I think the reason most people give up is because they work too hard for too long without reaching a level of satisfaction and playing ability. My method is easy and gets you playing fast. At that point, you’re not likely to get frustrated with further lessons because you’re already “playing guitar”!

So stay tuned – why not bookmark this site and Like/Subscribe to my Facebook page?