How to set up your bass guitar – Step by step

By constantly playing the bass guitar can get damaged. This is first shown on the neck and the action, which can affect the comfort of playing as well as the tune.

Since you are rightfully attached to your perfect bass guitar, it is understandable that you want to make the most use out of it. 

To restore the bass guitar and bring it back to perfect condition you will need a setup. Usually, a good solution is to take the guitar to someone who does this on a daily basis, but if you do not have a reliable person on a call or if you feel handy, you can do it yourself.

This process begins by selecting the right tools.

Tools needed;

  • Straightedge;
  • Capo, feeler gauge/scale;
  • Allen wrench/screwdriver;
  • String action gauge;
  • Nut file gauge;

Adjusting the truss rod;

Over time the bass guitar neck bends. The main causes are temperature and humidity.

The neck bend affects the action and tuning of the bass guitar. That is why its correct setting is very important.

The adjustment can be done in two steps.

Checking the neck relief;

When there’s a neck relief the strings can be too close or too far from the frets.

If the strings are too close when playing they touch the frets which creates a buzzing sound.

But if the strings are too far from the frets and the action is high, playing becomes difficult.

To know how to fix the neck relief you have to know how to check it first.

This is done using a straightedge. The tool is placed in the middle of the fretboard. This way you can see if the neck is on the same level as the straightedge or not.

The second way is by using a capo.

In this case, the capo is placed on the 1st fret to press the strings and level them with the fret. At the other end of the fretboard, one of the frets is pressed with one finger. This is how the string plays the role of the straightedge.

The relief is further measured with a feeler gauge to determine the gap between the frets and the strings. You should be careful when you are setting the feeler gauge which must be straight.

If there is more pressure on the feeler gauge it means that the strings are too close to the frets, and if there is no pressure it means that the gap is bigger than it should be.

The third, and perhaps the easiest way to check the neck relief is with the help of a string action gauge. It indicates the levels at which the string action can be adjusted. It checks the difference between the strings and the frets in multiple positions on the fretboard. If the difference is not the same at the different positions measured, it means that the neck relief needs to be adjusted.

Adjusting the neck relief;

The neck relief is controlled through the truss rod. The truss rod is a long piece of steel that’s fastened at one end of the neck to the other. At one of these ends is a drive-through in which the truss rod is screwed with a screwdriver or an allen wrench. It can come in many shapes and sizes, so make sure you have more types and sizes of screwdrivers and allen wrench.

Very often the drive is hidden in the headstock or in the bottom of the neck.

To adjust the neck relief we have to straighten up or loosen the truss rod.

The straightening is when the neck is pulled back against the pull of the strings and this is done by screwing the truss rod clockwise.

Loosening the truss rod will pull the neck opposite the strings pull and this is done by screwing the truss rod counterclockwise.

This process should be done very slowly and carefully with constant rechecking of the space between the strings and the frets with a feeler gauge.

Setting the action;

The action of the bass guitar affects the comfort of playing. High action makes playing much harder. On the other hand, very low action can cause unintentional touches of the vibrations of the strings on the frets, creating a buzzing sound.

Checking the action;

To check the action on your bass guitar you will need a measuring action tool. The ideal tool for this purpose is the string action gauge.

On the front of the tool are marks for measuring the distance between the strings and the frets.

The same can be done with a feeler gauge.

Once you have determined the ideal action, comes the harder part – raising and lowering the action.

Raising and lowering your action;

Once you have determined the ideal string action, the saddle adjustment follows. A six-inch allen wrench is most commonly used here. Turning clockwise raises the action, and turning counterclockwise on the saddle lowers the action.

This is done on each string separately.

Just like adjusting the truss rod, this is done slowly with constant rechecking to make sure you turn the allen wrench correctly.

In the second part, lowering the action is done on the nut. Here again, before starting the adjustment, check the height of the action again to know if you need to lower or raise it.

The next step is to loosen the strings so you can move them from their position on the nut. Further using a nut file gauge you need to slide the nut slot. This deepens it and leaves room for the string to be set lower.

Here constant rechecking is crucial. If you deepen it more than necessary the action will get too low and the strings will start buzzing. This way you can no longer use the nut and you will have to find a new one.

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