Since even new guitars are rarely setup before being sold and not many buyers will invest in a professional setup for a sub-three-hundred dollar guitar, I don’t expect to get a used guitar in playable condition. But the ad said “excellent”, so let’s dig in and see what we find..
I use this whiteboard for every guitar I work on. This shows the early stage where I’ve noted the most glaring problems in red. Though I caught a problem with Tone 2 (the tone control, i.e.: potentiometer, that controls the middle pickup) I hadn’t yet noticed that the middle pickup had an intermittent problem.
The middle pickup’s ground wire wasn’t properly soldered and was merely making occasional contact with the pot case. The tone control was shorting out against the conductive paint used to shield the pickup and control cavities.
Nice move, to shield the cavities, but conductive paint (or copper tape) isn’t enough. You have to remember to ground the cavity and they had not done that.
I fixed the above problems and used contact cleaner to fix the “scratchy” volume control.
The neck “relief” was three times what Fender Stratocaster specifications call for, so after ensuring I had the right size allen wrench (4mm), I brought the .03″ relief down to .01, likely eliminating buzzing issues at the “ski slope”.
The nut slots were cut too high (as usual), but not as bad as most. I usually find them close to .03″ or higher. This one was just .025 but that’s still high enough to prevent the guitar from ever playing the right notes – especially in the “cowboy frets” (the first few frets closest to the nut & headstock).
When the nut slots aren’t cut low enough, all your fretted notes will be a bit “sharp” (i.e.: higher) and you can’t properly intonate the guitar.
I used my Stewmac nut files to take a bit more off each slot until I had just under .02″ clearance above the first fret when I fret the strings at the last fret.
String height wasn’t too bad but the guitar definitely felt more comfortable to play after I adjusted saddle height to give just a gnat’s whisker more than .06″ clearance between the bottom of the strings and the 17th fret.
A properly intonated guitar will rarely have several saddles in a straight line and will usually have the G saddle longer than the B. I always set intonation anyway, but this was a tipoff that quite a bit of adjustment would be needed to get this guitar to play right.
The frets all checked out level, but the fret ends were super-sharp. Guitars costing under $500 are notorious for sharp fret ends. A special triangular file with rounded edges (to protect the fretboard) is a good tool for dressing those fret ends.
I gave the board a liberal application of lemon oil first, to help the file slide over the rosewood.
I made sure that the bridge (and thus the strings) was properly grounded and replaced the loose output jack.
I went through every line on the whiteboard, cleaning switch and pots, tightening the loose tuner keys, cleaning the fretboard with Naptha and 0000 steel wool, then conditioning with lemon oil. I used a hydrosonic jewelry cleaner to clean the saddles and bridge. I cleaned and polished the guitar.
I installed new D’Addario #9 strings, gave them several stretching cycles, then tuned and intonated the guitar.
After playing the guitar that evening, I made a few minor adjustments and it was finally ready to offer to my customers.