I bought a bass guitar today from a guy who was disgusted with the fifty-dollar “guitar setup” he got from a local competitor of mine, who shall remain unnamed.

My customer said that the guitar was playing fine but he felt it could benefit from a setup, as most guitars can. So he took it to the competitor (since that was close to the customer and the customer hadn’t yet heard of me).

What he got back was basically an unplayable guitar. The customer said the electronics were badly messed up and the strings all buzz on the frets.

The “guitar tech” (who actually calls himself a “luthier” on his Facebook page) got defensive when the customer complained, so he just decided to sell the bass rather than pour more money into making it right.

You can see by the pix, that a wire has been pinched under the pickguard. What the pix don’t show is what I pointed out to the customer after just a few seconds of inspection – the truss rod has been over-tightened causing a severe neck backbow. That’s the reason the strings all buzz now.

Sticker slid under pickguard to illustrate the problem

Also, the nut slots hadn’t been filed down to spec. Nearly all new guitars come with nut slots that are high and need to be filed. Leaving them high causes poor intonation – sharp chords and notes in the “cowboy” frets.

Ideal measurements for wound strings at the first fret (when fretted at the highest fret) are 15, but we usually shoot for just under 20 to leave room for wear. These strings measured at 40! That’s five times the extra height most techs allow! (40 – 15 = 25 and 25 is 5 times greater than 5).

But that’s not all! Pickups were set at 7/32″ under the strings. Guitar techs usually set pickups between 3/32″ and 4/32″ (1/8″). A gap larger than 1/8″ gives a weaker sound with less clarity, and that’s not what most players want!

So what did the customer get for his fifty-dollar setup? Well, string heights were set pretty close to specs and apparently, the tech sprayed the pots with contact cleaner (otherwise I don’t see why he would have removed the pickguard).

So at least this “luthier” got the string heights right? Well, most were actually pretty close but he apparently did it by tightening the truss rod, not by adjusting the saddle height screws as you are supposed to. That caused the neck backbow and all the buzzing problems. It’s also how many truss rod adjustment nuts get stripped! You can only tighten so far before things start to give.

My last post included a little quiz that might help at least show whether your “guitar tech” has experience. My latest book, “Guitar Setups for Professionals” is still in the editing stage. I’d hoped to publish last month but I’ve been so busy with… you guessed it – guitar setups!

Here’s a link to that post & guitar tech quiz