OK, I just gotta rant! So I’m checking out my SEO on a recent blog article about setting up a Squier, and I’m being beat by my article of a year or two ago about setting up a Mini AND by this awful video by some newbie with misinformation and a bunch of new tools he obviously didn’t know how to use.
Listen – YouTube and Google are great sources of information about everything – including guitar setups. BUT, a lot of that “information” is just plain wrong, some is incomplete and again – some is just plain wrong!
You have to use a healthy dose of common sense and/or use multiple sources.
Here’s an example from the afore-mentioned YouTube video about setting up a Squier – “Looks like it’s a 12 inch radius.” The “star” guitar tech then proceeds to use his apparently brand-new, handy-dandy radius checker with string notches and “confirms” his likely way-off guess.
Now I do believe there were some Korean Squiers with a 12 inch radius, and I’ve seen a Chinese-made Squier (probably a kit guitar since there were no model designations), etc., but the vast majority of Squiers have a 9.5 inch radius. Our errant YouTube guitar tech says that this is a brand-new Squier Affinity Stratocaster. If you check the 2020 Fender Squier website, it states that Affinity Squier Strats have a 9.5 inch radius.
Here’s what I mean about using your common sense – Fender Squier Strats have to be the most popular guitar we have today. So why would this guy just take a guess? If he has any experience, he will know that this guitar should have a nine-and-a-half-inch radius. By all means, do measure. But why “guess” at a 12 inch radius?
And Fender is not some tiny, defunct guitar company. They’re huge. And they have a website. And that website has specs! You could just look it up.
If it were a used Squier guitar, I would definitely confirm the radius because some yeehaw may have goofed and leveled frets with a twelve-inch block (or ten or sixteen, etc.). Or it could just be the oddball Squier neck that wasn’t 9.5″. In that case, we’ll only make things worse by coming behind them with a “correct” 9.5″ radius block.
Why? Because once you level a 9.5 inch fret with a 12.0 inch block, you’ve removed a lot more fret material from the center of the frets than you should have. So now, rather than 0.050″ of fret height, you may only have 0.025 or so in the center.
Guess what? 0.025″ is considered to be the minimum fret height you can have in a reasonably playable guitar. So, you’d better not EVER try to level these frets again.
But if they left, say, 0.035″ of fret, then you could level again, but you want to go with the same size radius they were leveled with last time so that we don’t repeat the error of removing too much fret material from the center (if your block is too flat) or the ends (if your block radius is too curved).
“Hey, but he actually measured the radius with his brand-new radius tool!” Well, it depends on what you call “measured”. It takes experience to use tools properly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used a radius gauge and thought I had the right radius, but (thank you, “Experience”) I double-checked and the next gauge also looked right.
All those tricks with using a flashlight behind the gauge, sound cool, but what I found works for me is to use a crayon (wax) and mark the top of a fret. Then take the radius gauge and carefully scrape the fret top.
If it scrapes color off the fret center but not the ends, your gauge is too flat. And, of course, the opposite holds true.
Measuring Nut Slots
I’m not going to go through and critique the entire video (my web hosting server space may not be big enough!), but I’d also like to comment on his fancy measuring tools for nut slots.
Notice how he even mentioned how he gets a different measurement if he holds the gauge a bit differently? Yeah. Like THAT’s dependable!
You know what works? A piece of ‘D’ string. You generally want about 0.020″ clearance between string bottom and top of first fret when fretting at the highest (near the body) fret.
A ‘D’ string will be about 0.024 to 0.026. With a bit of experience, you’ll get the feel for just how much the string should bend when you’re in the 0.020 neighborhood. You can always double-check with your fret ruler, but I find the string gauge more reliable. It doesn’t depend on viewing angle, lighting, etc. or on exactly how you’re holding it.
Oh, and it doesn’t cost a hundred bucks either – but maybe StewMac will read this and make one that does! 🙂
I should end on that bit of humor, but I’m gonna save you some potential heartache. There’s a part of the video where he’s filing the nut while it’s on the guitar and he’s taped the headstock area right behind the nut to “protect” it from the file.
Guess what? Most files have no problem going right through tape with just one single stroke! All that tape does is let you know you’ve just scratched your (or your client’s) headstock!
Much better to make use of that fret ruler. it’s just the right size and thickness. Turn it over to the rarely-used backside and slide it under the strings. You may have to remove the truss rod cover or the E tuner key, to get it to lie flat.
Now you’re REALLY protecting that headstock!