The Ultimate Guitar Set-Up Guide

Follow along and learn how to set-up your guitar from start to finish beginning with: Adjusting The String Height, followed by: Adjusting The Truss Rod, and finishing up with: Setting The Intonation.

Your strings should be in good condition and the neck free of defects which might limit adjustments of the action such as neck warp or excessively worn and uneven fretwork.

Adjusting String Height

String height is an easy adjustments to make. Measure the height of the string over the highest pair of frets and adjust the saddle up or down as needed. Slacken the strings before making string height adjustments, this will save on wear and tear on adjustment screws and make turning them easier.

Bridges with individual string saddles typically use small hex wrenches. Fixed bridges are adjustable on the treble and bass sides of the bridge by screws or thumb wheels.

Setting String Height

Personal preference comes into play as well as the quality of the fret work in determining how low or high to set the string height. The illustration above shows a measurement of 1/16″ (2mm) which is a medium action.

String Height and Playing Style

When considering how high to set the strings, consider the playing style in addition to the type of instrument.

  • Traditional acoustic instruments, and playing styles that favor strumming, open chords and a desire for clean, loud notes work well with a medium-high string height, 2 – 3mm or more, as suites the player.
  • Vintage style electrics, and those going for a combination of comfortable chording and soloing with room to “dig-in” and play heavier styles do well with a medium string height, 1.5 – 2mm.
  • Players preferring a very light action and for those wanting to “shred” may favor a low action, 1 – 1.5mm.

The player and their instrument play a large part in determining a string height that is comfortable and accommodating for the player’s chosen style.

String Height Adjustment Tips: Make sure your tools are the correct size. Screwdriver tips should match screw heads to avoid slipping. Hex wrench or Allen key tools should be the correct size to avoid stripping small adjustment screws. Consult the manufacturer of your instrument if you are not sure what size tool you need. Sizes vary between imported and domestic instruments.

Reading A Ruler

A guide to reading a ruler.

Part Two: Truss-Rod Adjustment

It’s important to understand the role the truss-rod plays in affecting the action. The the primary function is counteracting string pull to relieve or add bow to the neck under string tension. The ‘action’ (all the parts that anchor the strings, divide their length, and apply tension to them) work together in a balancing act that, when carefully adjusted, keep the instrument playing optimally.

Truss-Rod Lore: The function of the truss-rod has been the subject of some debate. Basic physics dictate that “a string of a given diameter and material at pitch is always at the same tension”. Some would suggest that the when the truss rod is adjusted to counteract the strings pull, which finely controls the amount of relief at the middle of the strings length, this adjustment has no other effect on playability or tone.

Another school of thought, which we at ModGuitar subscribe to, suggests that wood and strings and the other parts of the instrument being imperfect leave room for fine tuning, and while under tension are reactive. Such that subtle adjustments can make a neck feel springy or stiff, thereby affecting the ‘feel’ of the instrument.

It will be your quest to experiment (carefully!) and come to your own conclusions. Please be very careful when making truss-rod adjustments, particularly on older more fragile instruments. It’s very easy to accidentally strip the adjustment parts or your tools, and at the worst, snap off the end of a truss rod which can leave the instrument unplayable.

Measuring Relief

Before making truss-rod adjustments first measure the string relief. Relief is the amount of space between the bottom of the string and the top of the fret.

Relief is the bow in the middle of the neck under tension set to compensate for the nature of a strings vibration which expands in the middle of it’s length in an elliptical pattern when plucked. This is easily observed by simply plucking a string and looking closely at it with a strong light behind it.

Tools required for Measuring neck relief, and Truss-Rod adjustment

A capo to hold down the string at the first fret.

Feeler Gauge Set – the gauge of .010″ is a good starting point for a medium action.

Truss Rod Adjustment Tool (usually a hex or Allen key for Fender’s, and a small adjustment wrench for Gibson’s)

Truss Rod adjustment, beginning with measuring neck relief

The Procedure For Measuring Relief.

With the guitar fully stung up and tuned to pitch.

  • Put the capo on at the first fret. Use the feeler gauge leaf that says .012″/.305mm (this is a medium amount of relief for an electric guitar strung with 10s). With one hand, press the string down at the highest fret – being careful not to push down too hard which can make the string deflect upward.
  • Slide a feeler gauge over the 7th fret and under the string. This is a little tricky, and requires a steady hand. The idea is to just barely brush the bottom of the string while sliding the gauge as evenly as possible over the top of the fret. Practice will give you a ‘feeling’ for it.
  • If there is no contact between the feeler gauge and the string, or the relief is lower move up or down in the feeler gauge range until you’ve pinpointed how much relief is present. There are fancier ways of measuring and adjusting relief, but this one is simple and as accurate as you need.
  • Once you’ve established how much relief your instrument has, you can then adjust the truss-rod to dial in the amount that correct amount. Make all truss rod adjustments with well fitting tools and in small increments (1/4 turns). If you find that you have forward bow (no relief) or back bow (to much of relief) your neck may be warped or the truss rod already broken.
  • A feeler gauge of .012″/.305mm represents a medium amount of relief. Speed players, preferring a light and low action might prefer .008″/.203mm, or even a flat neck. Players using heavier strings, acoustic guitars, to facilitate a strumming style of playing might want .014″/.356mm to.016″/.406mm.
  • You may need to make small adjustments, let the instrument rest, then make further fine adjustments.

Most set-neck guitars use a threaded nut for truss-rod adjustment which is located under a plastic cover at the head stock end of the guitar. Bolt on necks usually have a hex nut that is adjusted thru a small opening at the head-stock or neck heel (heel end adjustments may require removal of the neck for adjustment). Make sure you have the correct size tool for the job.

Some Luthiers prefer to slacken the strings to make truss-rod adjustments, particularly on vintage instruments. Unless you need to make major adjustments, you can carefully adjust the truss rod under full tension for most newer guitars.

Making Truss Rod Adjustments

  • The truss-rod for most instruments tightens (flattens the neck against string tension) by turning clock-wise. Bow is created by loosening the truss-rod counter-clockwise.
  • Hold the neck firmly or on a workbench. You can also set the guitar standing up on the floor, held steady with your legs. Carefully turn the rod a 1/4 turn at a time. The motion should be firm and fluid – You may feel some resistance if the parts have settled over time. If you find it hard to turn, or it seems to offer a lot of resistance, or does not seem to effect the amount of relief -STOP-, there may be something wrong with the truss rod. Never force the truss rod, it should turn easily. if the truss rod is not easily turned or adjustments seem to have no effect the instrument will need to be taken to a luthier for repair.
  • Make small adjustments, pausing to let the insturment rest, check the tuning, and take measurement of the relief.

You’ll find that as you adjust the truss-rod the relief changes in a measurable manner. You will be able to set it to your exact amount using the feeler gauges. Sometimes a guitar won’t seem to have enough range of adjustment or one of the other problems outlined above. That’s when it’s time to take it in and let a pro see what they can do for you.

Truss Rod Tips And Conclusions:

It’s a good idea to recheck your truss-rod adjustments after a day or two. Don’t be tempted to spray WD40, or other lubricants or oils into or around the truss rod. These chemicals can weaken the wood and/or degrade the finish and glue seams holding the neck together. If the truss rod nut is removable, a tiny amount of lithium grease or Vaseline can be applied to the thread of the nut.

Seasonal weather changes may require minor adjustment Spring and Fall for optimum playability.

Truss rod adjustment is easy to do yourself, but it does take some awareness and a careful hand. Like many guitar repair and modification tasks, experience is the best teacher. If you’re leery about making these adjustments, take it to a pro and ask them to show you how they make the adjustment.

Setting the Intonation

Intonation is adjustment of the string length at the bridge for different string gauges so that the notes played are as “in tune” as possible. With the string height set, and the relief set (truss-rod adjustment), the instrument is ready for Intonation adjustments. It’s important to set the intonation last because the string height and truss-rod adjustments both, minutely, effect the string length and thus the intonation.

Intonation De mystified

The guitar is an imperfect instrument. The mathematical calculations that define where the frets are placed is perfect on paper, but on the actual guitar other factors come into play.

Different string gauges are needed, along with intonation adjustments, to have the strings play relatively in tune with each other. The guitar is never really in perfect tune, rather it is balanced to sound as good as possible for chords and playing with other instruments.

Buzz Feiten has developed a method to compensate the strings length to provide a hybrid intonation setting. Other companies have developed compensated nuts, and even spanned fretting systems with the intention of solving the intonation problem. This article focuses on setting the intonation on a standard guitar that does not have any special enhancements.

Measuring and Setting The Intonation

For this tutorial we are using a standard sets of strings (either nine or ten gauge) tuned to EADGBE standard. The image below is a good starting point for setting your intonation – but there is a little secret trick that we have found that makes it work better.

Notice the stair-step pattern the saddles are in. The Fender style bridge (on the left) has more adjustment travel forward and back than the Gibson bridge’s saddles (on the right). The Gibson style bridge is installed at a slight angle (indicated by the arrows).

The ModGuitar Intonation Trick

To get a head-start on getting the intonation set, and to double check the intonation as it is currently set, use a ruler to precisely measure the length of string between the center of the 12th fret and the point where the string passes over the bridge saddle.

The 4th string tends to be the most balanced between gauge and tension, which results in the bridge saddle being intonated at exactly half the scale length.

For other scale lengths divide the total scale length by 2 and use this as your anchor point of the 4th string bridge saddle.

Check this measurement on the instrument, manufacturers occasionally alter the exact placement of frets and use slight variations on standard scale lengths. What we are measuring is the exact middle point of our scale length.

Intonation Trick, step-by-step

  1. First, using a precision ruler, measure and set the bridge saddle for the 4th (D) string. This will be our anchor point for positioning the other saddles.
  2. For 25.5″ scale length guitars set the 4th string bridge saddle at 12.75″/32.35cm.
  3. For 24.75″ scale length guitars set the 4th string bridge saddle at 12.375″/31.45cm.
  4. Once the 4th string bridge position is set, match the placement of the rest of the saddles to the above illustration. Each saddle will be offset roughly 1/16th of an inch, with the third unwound G string set back further.

This is a quick trick to get the bridge saddles close to the correct intonated position. Fine tuning will still be advisable for the best sound.

Fine Tuning Intonation Using An Electronic Tuner.

Fine tuning the intonation is done by comparing the twelfth fret note, with the open string note. We use the twelfth fret harmonic as a tuning reference because the harmonic is unaffected by fretting, and is the pitch of exactly the mid point of the guitar’s scale length.

  • The open note and the twelfth fret harmonic are relative to each other. The twelfth fret harmonic is an octave above the open string pitch.
  • The fretted notes are compensated by adjusting the bridge saddle so that the fretted notes match as closely as possible the open string pitch (or the 12th fret harmonic).
  • Finger pressure, variance in scale length, fret size, and string gauge effect intonation.

Now that we’ve explained a little of the theory behind the method let’s take a look at how fine intonation adjustments are made.

If you’ve used our Intonation trick above, now you are ready for fine tuning the intonation.

For Fine Tuning Intonation:

  1. Play the 12th fret harmonic, adjust the tuning until this pitch reads true.
  2. Play the note at the 12th fret. Observe the tuning. Is the string exactly in tune, sharp, or flat?
  3. Adjust the string saddle to compensate for the difference between the 12th fret harmonic note, and the open string note in small increments.
  4. Re-tune the string using the 12th fret harmonic – then compare again to the note at the 12th fret, continue adjustments until the pith matches.
  5. This technique is then repeated for all the strings to complete the intonation fine tuning. Note that the saddles should not require more than 1/8″ or so forward or backward travel to fine tune the string from the ‘land marked’ measured position. Strings that are dented, grimy, or just very old may not play true and be very hard to make accurate intonation adjustments.

When setting the intonation on electric guitars using the bridge pick-up position tends to work better with electronic tuners.

If the string played at the 12th fret is observed to be flat compared to the 12th fret harmonic then we know that the string length is too long, and the string saddle needs to be adjusted forward.

If the 12th fret note is shown to be sharp relative to the 12th fret harmonic, that indicates that the string’s actual length is too short, so the string saddle is adjusted back.

The above illustration shows the 12th fret harmonic matching the 12 fret pitch. This string is correctly intonated.

Common Intonation Problems and Solutions

Question: A string can’t seem to get set correctly no matter how far I turn the intonation screws. It just won’t go sharp or flat the way it needs to. What is wrong? Answer: You can set the intonation so far off that it cannot be adjusted properly, though it will seem to be close. This is because the range of adjustment of the bridge saddles is very fine. A common problem is to have the saddle set too far forward or back to begin with. Solution: Use our ‘land marking’ trick (as described in this article) to get your saddles back within the proper range relative to your guitar’s scale length – then fine tune.

Question: Changing string gauge (from 9s to 10s, etc), do I need to adjust intonation?
Answer: A change of string gauge up or down one gauge may require fine intonation adjustment. A good rule of thumb is that the heavier the gauge of string the more the bridge saddle will need to be adjusted back.

Setting up the guitar is a process in several steps, each of them necessary to create a balanced state for optimal playability. By following the methods described in this article, you can effectively adjust and maintain the playability of guitars and bass instruments. With practice, these adjustments will become second nature, and are valuable skills in assessing new and used instruments for purchase or sale, as well as keeping your own instruments ready to play at their best.


Buying A Guitar: Budget & Recommendations

So, you’re looking to buy your first guitar? There are so many models, options, and features to compare, I thought it would be beneficial to outline some of the features to look for, some of my personal picks, and market trends.

Depending on your goals; wether you intend to dive in and learn yourself, take classes, or just dabble around a bit and see how you like playing, Adult player, or youngster there’s a guitar that’s just right for you.

Your budget is your first consideration. Have a price you’re willing to pay in mind before you go shopping. It’s real easy to get up-sold on features or looks when comparing instruments side-by-side. Even online shopping can be a kid in a candy shop experience with your credit card burning a hole in your pocket and thoughts of that shiny new guitar arriving at your doorstep.

With that in mind, here’s a chart outlining typical price points and features you can expect to find in your price range. As the chart shows, beyond a certain point you are mostly paying for cosmetics and/or other professional features. Those top of the line instruments are suitable for collectors, pros, and that retiree that always wanted a custom instrument. But realize this, in the hands of a beginning player they all sound about the same. There’s no magic wood or pick-up that will make you a better player quicker than practice, and lots of it. In fact, I’d wager that very few players are masters of their instrument to a degree that they can squeeze those mystical notes out of them. So, head out of the clouds, budget in mind, let’s find you a guitar.

This is how the market for instruments is trending as of Fall 2011.

$99 – $179 Beginners instruments, suitable for children, and those who really just want to give playing a try but don’t want to invest much in a instrument. There’s a lot of this sort of guitar around, you friends and neighbors probably have one collecting dust in a closet or attic.

Pros: Cheap enough to be pretty careless with them, no concern of collect ability. Generally good enough to learn the basics on. Good instruments for modders, a whole instrument for the price of custom parts.

Cons: Quality concerns. They may look the same to the untrained eye, and to a beginner might even seem to play as well as any. But very quickly the quality of really cheap instruments tends to overshadow their usefulness. Often the components are unique sizes unrelated to industry standard specs, making upgrades not worth the expense. One of my biggest concerns with starting a player off with a very low cost instrument is that the playability is not going to be as good as the mid line models out of the box. While they can be adjusted, fret work done, all the things a luthier (guitar maker/repair person) can do to improve the playability, by the time these things have been done the cost becomes equivalent to a better instrument.

How many new players have set the guitar down for good disappointed at their progress in learning to play never realizing that a lot of the cause was a cheap instrument with a bad factory set-up? I can only imagine.

To their credit there are some good bargain models out there. Today’s $99 big box store impulse buy is a much better instrument than those of just 5 years ago.

Conclusions: If you must and budget dictates shop around for a bargain instrument. Have a player with some experience go with you. Online purchases – as with other instrument purchases online, read the posted reviews, and get your ear to the ground to find out what others have found out about your prospective new instrument – before you spend a dime.

Also, at this level a good used instrument can be a real upgrade in quality though you don’t get to tear open the box.

Rondo music SX series:
Fender Squire series:

Note: often you can find entry level instruments sold as a kit, complete with a small amplifier a few picks and a starter booklet. Not a bad deal, generally, for the absolute beginner or a child.

HowTo Lessons

Logic Pro X and Reason – How to Rewire

Logic Pro x, a 64 bit app requiring OSX 10.8.4 introduces new routing options for rewire apps.

Reason 6.0 is required for 64bit computability.

1. Launch Logic Pro X.
2. Launch Reason
2a. Reason should launch into 64 bit (rewire 1.8.1) mode – as indicated in the master routing section.
3. Set-up your Reason interments or channels.
3a. Give each instrument a unique name distinct from it’s mixer channel.
3b. Route your instruments to individual “hardware” channels (1-64 in stereo pairs) in Reason.
4. In Logic X, create an External Midi, and a Summing “Folder Stack” set of channels for each instrument or mix group to be routed FROM Reason.
4a. The option to route audio internally FROM Reasons “hardware bus” is only available to Logic’s Summing -Sub tracks.

With this set-up you can play and record Midi data in Logic, while the datas triggers a software synth in Reason, then route the audio back to Logic to a summed track for recording or bouncing the audio output.

A bit of a workaround, but workable.


Used Guitar Buying Guide

Prices of new guitars keep going up. A used guitar can be a great value. Use this ten point guide to evaluate your used guitar or bass purchase before buying.

You can find used instruments online on Ebay, Craigslist, or the used section of your favorite internet music store. Private sales by individuals, second hand stores, or your local music shops. Before you buy familiarize yourself with this handy guide.

  • Is the neck straight? This is a key factor to evaluate when looking at a used guitar or bass. In person you can check this yourself, by eye. Sight down the neck from the peg head toward the body. The frets should be even with the top aligned without individual frets appearing higher or lower than the rest. A smooth sweep is what you are looking for with the slightest bow, without humps, waviness or twisting. Additionally you can hold a string down at the 1st fret and also a fret close to where the neck meets the body to evaluate the relief, the bow should be very slight. Also find out of the neck’s truss-rod is adjustable. Sometimes the truss-rod nut can be stripped or the neck bowed or twisted so much that it cannot be adjusted properly.
  • Are the frets worn? A well played instrument will show some signs of fret wear, particularly closer to the nut. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Very deep pits or groves in the frets can indicate a neck that may have a limited time before it will require at the least a fret level, dress and polish job, and at the most a total refret. Deeply worn frets my also cause the strings to buzz when played.
  • Are there deep scratches or dents in the finish? Minor surface scratches in the finish can usually be rubbed out, as long as they are not so deep that they have gone through the top coat of finish. Normal wear and tear and surface scratches are expected in used instruments and can even lend character to older instruments. Acoustics and instruments with lacquer finishes are typically thinner and may have less finish to buff out to remove scratches.
  • 4. Is the hardware clean and rust/tarnish free? Normal playing can put a film on metal and plastic parts. This can be cleaned up with a combination of denatured alcohol and a modern wax to make them seem like new. However, blue/green tarnish, pitting or rust is permanent damage, so make sure you can live with the appearance.
  • Are all the parts included? You may find used instruments with missing screws, knobs, strap buttons tremolo arms, etc. Consider if you will be able to find replacement parts if needed.
  • For Electric

  • Do all the knobs and switches work? If you are able, be sure to try an electric guitar plugged into an amplifier to make sure all the switch positions work, and the volume and/or tone controls function. These things can always be fixed or replaced, but that will be an additional cost to you.
  • Check the condition of the pick-ups. Are they clean? If they are uncovered, is the wrapping tape intact? Are there any visible loose strands of copper coil winding wire visible? This may indicate a pick-up replacement will be necessary. Also while plugged into an amp, make sure all the pickups are working. If the instrument is lacking strings a coin or other metal object tapped on the selected pick-up will be picked up and amplified.
  • 8. Are all the tuning pegs installed, and do they all match? They should turn easily, and be securely fastened to the peg head with metal nuts and/or the back of the headstock with small metal screws. Missing tuners can sometimes be bought individually.
  • Is the nut in good shape without cracks or chips? A nut can be replaced if needed.
  • Is the bridge in good condition and adjustable? This is important for maintaining the intonation of the guitar or bass. There shouldn’t be missing nuts bolts or string saddles.

Wrapping it up

We hope this guide helps you select a used instrument. Most of the key points are simply things to be aware of when evaluating a used instrument, to help you determine if the price is right. In the case of missing screws or other parts most American and modern imports there are parts available as replacements.

The only real deal breaker is a twisted or overly bowed neck. Everything else can be repaired, replaced, or polished to bring your latest used guitar find to an almost new state.

HowTo Review

Apple Garageband Virtual Guitar

Jamming on Apple’s Garageband App for iPad

Take a few minutes to check out the virtual guitar instrument in Garageband on the iPad. Lots of fun with guitar-like bending and playing techniques. It’s like GuitarHero on steroids! The recording and editing functions aren’t the same as the desktop app, but worthy of having fun and sketching out ideas on the road or on the couch. If you ever wanted a guitar set-up perfectly for tapping ala Eddie VanHalen – this app is for you!

HowTo Technology

iTunes Playlists, Export and Import.

Watch the video, it’s easy!

ModGuitar iTunes Playlist Import & Export How to Article

Share your playlists or save them. It’s easy to do, and fun to share with friends and family. *note the playlists do not copy music, they are just a text file that describes what songs are in your playlist.

Please note: or are not sponsored by or affiliated with Apple, Inc. in any way. This video is just for informational purposes.


Fender Strat Plus Bi-flex Truss Rod Fix and Pick-up Swap.

I’ve had this Strat Plus Deluxe for ages. Unfortunately the previous owner must have used the wrong hex wrench (I’m not ruling out the design of the Bi-Flex truss rod itself) which has led to the truss rod socket being stripped completely, leaving the neck unadjustable. This is a somewhat common problem for this model and others equipped with Fender’s Bi-Flex truss-rod design.
The 93′ Strat Plus Deluxe with pop-in trem bar, two point floating tremolo, locking tuners, roller nut, Bi-flex truss rod, in crimson burst finish.

1993 Fender Strat Plus Deluxe
The truss rod being unadjustable isn’t necessarily the end of the world. However, if you live in a climate zone that has big changes in the weather seasonaly, you could be stuck with a guitar with less than optimal playability. In may case, a guitar that has too much relief (back bow) in the neck, requiring a higher action to play notes cleanly.
Having given up on adjusting the truss rod, I had previously done a fret dress and level procedure on it, focusing on taking off some of the height off the frets at the nut and high end of the neck. This was a good intermediate fix which brought back much of the playability. I wanted this guitar to play as well as I know it can, so I ventured to dig deeper and find a way to adjust the truss rod – without resorting to costly factory authorized repairs, or attempting to replace the truss rod entirly which is a very tricky venture on this type of Fender neck – if that repair was even feasible. The cost of repairs alone makes replacing the neck the next best option, but I wanted to keep the guitar stock. It’s an American made Fender Stratocaster, a design no longer in production. After some consideration on what needed to happen for this fix to work, and an assessment of my tools, I came up with a plan.

Tools Used For The Truss-Rod Fix

  • Torx Bit – sized to just fit in the stripped socket
  • Hex Wrench – whatever size your guitar needs
  • Rotary tool + various bits
  • Hammer

This pic shows the roller nut with the set screws removed. I didn’t even remove the strings at first. If I was able, I’d make the adjustment with the strings just slackened, and the roller nut slid down out of the way.
Roller Nut

First I try to get the correct 1/8″ hex wrench to seat in the truss rod adjustment socket. No luck, the socket was truly stripped, almost totally rounded off inside.
Attempting to make an adjustment to the stripped truss rod socket with a 1/8

Before using a very small milling bit to cut a few ridges in the inside surface of the truss rod socket, I first used an abrasive bit to sand away some of the mahogany plug so that I can get in there with the other tools.
A sanding bit used to open up the work area.

This photo shows the truss rod end with a couple of ridge milled into it (it’s not real easy to see) so the Torx bit can get a grip. I ended up using a metric Torx bit that was slightly oversize, and with a hammer, tapping it into place. This was a very touch and go operation, and I might not be able to make another adjustment.
The truss rod socket end with ridges milled so a Torx bit can make the adjustment.

Finally, I was able to make the 1/4 turn adjustment needed to reduce the back bow and get the relief within a useable range. With this guitar on its way to playable status I went ahead and replaced the Blue Lace Sensor pickup that had stopped working as well as switching the positions of the three Lace Sensors that are stock to this model into their factory spots: Neck – Gold Lace Sensor, Middle – Silver Lace Sensor, and Blue Lace Sensor in the bridge position. At some point along the way the pick-ups had been switched around, and I thought it would be cool to check them out in the stock configuration. Lace Sensors are suitable for any pick-up position, though each one has a distinct tone as indicated by the color designation.

HowTo Tutorial

Mandolin Fret Dress and New Nut

Fullerton A Style Mandolin

I acquired this Fullerton “A” style mandolin a few years ago when one of the big retailers was closing out the brand. It’s a nice instrument overall, well constructed and for the price was a great way to learn some mandolin. What I’ve found lacking was the fret-work. So here we go, getting down to brass-tacks and doing a pretty thorough fret dress. What got me going on this was the nut developing a crack which made it necessary to craft a replacement.

Broken Mandolin Nut

Here you can see the nut, like a broken tooth, removed from the mandolin neck. Removing the nut makes an ideal situation for doing fret work, as the leveling files can go over the full length of the neck.

By sighting down the neck with the strings slackened and pulled aside, and the nut removed it’s pretty clear that there are some high frets which directly affect how low the action can be set. This becomes a major issue with a mandolin, as the frets are the smallest available, so that great care must be taken to only level them as much as necessary.

Leveling Mandolin Frets With A Leveling File

After an initial brush over with my leveling plane (an industrial diamond coated steel plate), it became clear that these frets had some very uneven tops. This was no quick fret dress.

Rocking A File Over High Frets

Using my rocker file up and down and across the neck confirms this with the clear clacking sound as the file rocks back and forth when balanced over a high fret.

A Sharpie used to ink the tops of all frets.

Using a sharpie I mark the tops of each fret, allowing the ink to dry before proceeding. Careful not to stain the binding or fret board with the ink. Another sweep across the whole fretting surface with a fine leveling plane reveals the high and low frets and the ink is worn off. This is work, observe and continue sort of process. Observing how the plane is removing material from the top of the frets guides me where to apply firmer pressure.

High frets after Going over sharpie marks

Unfortunately, a few frets were very high, and I had to move to a medium leveling file to get the frets leveled down evenly. This instrument is made in China and typically with this level of quality the frets are not made of the hardest form nickel-silver.

Using a soft paint brush to sweep away filing debri.

A soft paint brush is excellent for brushing the fret dust off. With a high quality instrument, (or a customer’s for that matter), greater care would be taken to mask off the instrument body to prevent the chance of scratches.

A triangle file with a rounded edge for fret side profiling.

A triangle file with a rounded edge for fret side profiling.

A triangular file with a single rounded edge is used to put a taper on the fret edges. These frets are pretty soft, so the final rounding is done with graduated grades of sandpaper.

An issue that came up as I worked through my various leveling files working down to the finest grade was that the frets are so small that none of my crowning files will work to give the frets the necessary angled side profiling after the tops are leveled. Ideally, the tops will be leveled, slightly rounded over, and the side tapered to create a finer point of contact for the strings. These keeps the notes accurate, and the tone clean without buzzes.

I put some extra pressure on the highest frets from the point where neck meets the body. This keeps the action low for the final set-up. There’s usually some slight rise in the fret board where the neck is glued in verses the part of the neck that is clear of the body. This mandolin doesn’t have an adjustable truss rod. Most likely there’s a plain steel rod set into the neck under the fingerboard to provide the rigidity to offset the pressure of the string tension.

Using sand paper to round over and polish frets.

Filing done, I move onto using sandpaper (grades 400, 800, and 1200) to put a bit of roundness on the top of the frets and polish them up to a bright gloss. Using finer and finer grades removes the scratches left by the former grade of paper. It’s important to work the frets over evenly, avoiding upsetting the delicate leveled state made during filing.

The Fretboard cleaned after filing and sanding.

Fretboard grime cleaned up with Denatured Alcohol.

Once the sanding is done I use denatured alcohol to clean the fret board. You can see the kind of grime that comes off on the rag in the photo. I keep going back over it using the solvent until the rag comes away clean.

Denatured Alcohol is pretty safe to use, and not nearly as harmful (potentially) as harsher solvents, like naptha or benzine. Still, care should be taken to avoid using any solvents near open flames, smoking, pilot lights, etc. I follow the manufacture’s warnings on the solvent packaging, including working in a well ventilated area.

A light coat of Mineral Oil rubbed in to seal and condition the fretboard.

The denatured alcohol dries the fretboard surface, a well as removing any traces of waxes or other conditioners. To offset this I use either lemon oil or simply mineral oil to condition the board. This gives it a nice luster and protects the fret board from drying out too much.

A new mandolin nut partially shaped.

Next the nut is cut from a scrap piece. And formed and fitted using files and sandpaper. It’s a back and forth process getting the shape just right.
Once the basic shape is formed, I use a feeler gauge with a grooved edge to very carefully cut the start of the new nut slots. While luthiers with busy shops might have a pattern for this, I do not, so the process takes some care to get it just right.

Cutting nut slots for the 4 courses of double strings.

Using a small diamond file to deepen the new nut slots

After cutting the nut slots using fine files to make them deeper the nut is then reshaped a bit and polished up before being fitted to the end of the neck permanently.

New Mandolin nut slots cut.

This mandolin is starting to shape up, the frets leveled, new nut, and now the bridge leveled and cutting fresh slots to space the strings evenly.

Tapping grooves in the leveled bridge.

I use a soft faced hammer to tap the string grooves into the bridge. A few turns of the bridge adjustment nuts and the bridge height is set.

The bridge set between the F-Holes.

The bridge is set so that the feet are at the mid-points of the two cut-out F-holes. That’s it, ready to tune it up and try my hand at playing some mandolin.

This is the kind of work you can do yourself if you’re handy. This article glosses over the key steps in performing a fret-dress.

HowTo MODS News Socialize

Mod The Ramen!

Just for fun! Get Your Lunch On, Mod The Ramen!


Tune Your 4 String Bass Standard Tuning EADG

Simple play this video and match your Bass pitch, string-by-string and you’ll be tuned up in just a few minutes. The videos can be played full screen, so you can follow along from across the room. Turn it up and get it tune!

Four string Bass in standard tuning from low to high E, A, D, G.


Tune Your Mandolin

Simple play this video and match your mandolins pitch, string-by-string and you’ll be tuned up in just a few minutes. The videos can be played full screen, so you can follow along from across the room. Turn it up and get it tune!

Mandolin 4 sets of dual strings tuned in unison. The strings are tuned from the 4th (thickest) string to the 1st G, D, A, E.

Please note the actual pitch of the note in this video sound 1 octave higher than the tuned string pitch on your mandolin. Be careful not to over-tighten the strings. Match the notes by using the 12th fret harmonic.


Tune Your Guitar

Here we have created several YouTube videos that you can use to tune your guitar by playing along. They are quick and easy to use, and can be accessed anywhere. No need to buy a tuner, a great resource for beginners and pros alike.

Play the video, match your string’s pitch, and you’ll be tuned up in just a few minutes. The videos can be played full screen, so you can follow along from across the room. Turn it up and get it tune!

Standard Six String Guitar Tuning.

The strings are tuned from the 6th (thickest) string to the 1st E, A, D, G, B, E.

Eb half step low tuning > next page)

HowTo Instrument Build MODS

Basic Tool Kit

Every mod, repair, set-up, or build project begins with the use of tools. Some specialized some common. Here we run down the basic Luthier’s tool chest as well as additional tools required to do mods, set-ups, wiring, building and making guitars. Doing your own set-ups and seasonal adjustments requires a basic set of tools.

Most of these you may already have, some you may need to acquire before doing your own set-ups or mods. Remember to always use the correct size tools for the job. Particularly screwdrivers and hex wrenches.

Once you’ve gathered you tools, put them to use: Set-up Guide

Screwdrivers, Phillips & Standard

Mini, small, medium and large. Extra long or short shafted sizes optional.

Hex wrench/Allen Keys

These are often supplied with guitars purchased new for truss rod adjustments. Sizes most commonly found for truss rods: 3/16″, 3.5mm


24″ and 6″ recommended in both metric and imperial (inch) markings.

Feeler Gauge Set

For measuring the relief of necks, nuts, saddles and more.

String Cutter

Wire cutters work fine for this application.

String Winder

A very helpful tool for changing strings.


Used to assist when measuring neck relief.


Used to drive screws and drill holes.

Other tool guides: Wiring Mod Tools, Fretwork Tools, and Building and Assembly Tools

HowTo Instrument Build MODS

Modder's Tool Kit Essentials

Wiring and other mods require a few more tools than the basic tool kit.

Remember: Follow all manufacturers instructions when using any of the tools or materials listed here. will have no liability for injury or damage caused by the use of any of our instructions.

Soldering Iron

40 watts or an adjustable temperature model suitable for fine electronics work.


High quality non-corrosive solder for fine electrical work (preferably lead-free for health).

Hook-Up Wire

Anything from high quality cloth shielded to regular copper plastic coated wire are suitable for guitar wiring. Cost and availability vary.

Electrical Tape

For wrapping soldered connections.

Wire Stripper

Many models available vary in price and quality.

Safety Glasses/Goggles

Essential for avoiding painful and potentially blinding and/burning accidents when soldering.

Other tool guides: Wiring Mod Tools, Fretwork Tools, and Building and Assembly Tools

HowTo Tutorial

Changing Strings: String Winding/String Snapping

This tutorial covers guitars with stop tail, or fixed bridges.

String winding seems simple enough, right? Put the string through the hole in the tuner and wind it up. What could be simpler? If I had a dollar for every time someone wanted to change their tuners, switch to a different brand of strings, have a new nut installed, switch out their tremolo or even swap out the neck of their guitar – all for the sake of “Tuning Stability” I’d have at least $1000 bucks.

String winding is the kind of thing that, done right, can have a real impact on how your guitar plays, and more importantly – stays in tune.

The Theory: Tight windings tune and play better. Why? As the string wraps around the tuning post tight, even windings distribute the pull of the string as it comes to tension – while allowing a little bit of flex. Strings that are wound sloppily flex unevenly, at times abruptly losing tension or causing one string to feel tighter than the next because it can’t flex.

Part One: The Wind Up

First a note about safety. String ends are sharp, and during tuning and winding the strings ends can whip around and catch you in the face or eye, so be careful. Un trimmed wound strings can snag clothing and puncture skin or poke your face or eye. Trimmed wound strings can still have a sharp end at the tuning peg. Be careful, wear eye protection.

  1. For best tuning stability change one string at a time, especially if you are restringing a guitar with a tremolo (Tremolo specific tutorials here).
  2. Remove a string by detuning it rather than cutting. Cutting is easy, and sort of cool, like tattoos. But it also jolts the neck, trem and other strings. At least don’t come crying to the crew when it takes days for your newly strung guitar to settle and hold it’s tuning.
  3. Load up a new string, align the tuning peg’s hole straight on with the path of the string by turning the tuning key forward or back, then pull the string thru th hole until it’s taught. Place your finger on the string at the nut and pull 2-4 inches of string back from the tuning peg. Wound strings take less pulled back string, because the peg can only take so many wraps before overlapping. The idea is to have an even winding of string without overlaps that ends just before the bottom of the tuning peg when the string under full tension. You can snap fresh strings easily if you over tighten them. Leave a little slack before your final tuning.
  4. With the pulled back bit of string held at the nut, take the end of the string going thru the tuning peg and crimp it in the opposite direction of the tuning pegs rotation. Six on a side guitars the peg rotates counter clockwise, 3 on a side guitars the pegs rotate from the inside out.The kink helps the string to grab onto the peg, keeping the loose end of the string from shifting.
  5. Now use your string winder (you’ll want one if you don’t have one, they’re cheap, get one). Steadily wind the tuning peg as you guide the string making sure that as it comes around the second time it doesn’t overlap and it settles in underneath the first winding. This is important. As the string winds around and down the tuning peg the correct angle is created at the nut to minimize pings and improve tone.
  6. Now as you finish winding the fresh string around the post, use your other hand to both press the string into the nut so the string winds down the tuning peg without overlapping and take up the slack on the string so that it winds up evenly.
  7. Ideally your freshly wound string will look something like this. If you end up with too much string at the bottom of the tuning peg and it starts to overlap, you can unwind it and take up a little more slack before re-winding, or chalk it up to experience, and try again the next time you change strings.
  8. Repeat five times (remember to use less pulled back string as you go to the lighter strings). At this point your guitar should be in tune and ready to be played.
  9. You can go ahead and clip the ends of the strings with a string clipper or a pair of nipper pliers available from most hardware stores, careful for flying string ends, which can be very sharp.

Wow! A lot of steps for such a simple task. Following this step-by step method should put you on the road to great tuning stability and long string life. Moving on… For even better tuning stability learn to also ‘Snap’ your strings.

Part Two: String Snapping

The tuning tutorial goes over tuning basics, but the first time tuning up a fresh set of strings you’ll want to do what’s known as “String Snapping” which is pretty much what it sounds like. What snapping does is to jolt the individual strings in a controlled way which tightens the windings on the post and helps the stabilize the strings tension, so you have less detuning and retuning to do with a fresh set.

  1. With all the strings wound up and roughly tuned, begin with the sixth (low E) string and using a reference tone – tune it up to pitch. Now, with your finger and thumb gently lift the string away from the fretboard, about an inch or so. Then let it snap back down. Do this three or four times, you’ll notice if you pluck the string that it’s pitch goes down as you snap flexibility out of the windings.
  2. Retune the string and snap it again. Repeat the snap & retune cycle until snapping no longer causes the string to drop in pitch.
  3. Repeat with all the wound strings, and sometimes the 3rd unwound G string. Depending on the gauge your using, the unwound strings – if they are wound correctly, don’t need much snapping, if any, before they are stable.

You’ll probably notice that as you go across the wound string snapping and retuning that you need to go round-robin and again snap and tune all the strings a few times before the tuning stabilizes. With this technique coupled with a tight and even wind on the tuning pegs, you’ll notice that your guitar stays in tune better, stayed tuned longer, and holds a tune sooner with a fresh set of strings (All fresh strings stretch a little, evan after snapping them).

Conclusions: Tight string winding around the post, and carefully snapping strings at tension to remove excess slack are the best ways to change strings and keep your guitar or bass playing in tune.

HowTo Lessons Tutorial

Tuning The Guitar

Follow along and learn to tune your guitar or bass. This tutorial demonstrates various methods for tuning the guitar.
The guitar is an imperfect instrument. The frets divide the strings length into segments according to a mathematical formula devised by Pythagorus thousands of years ago. Piano tuners have developed their own means to correct for the imperfect nature of mathematical sound versus musical sound. They use a tempered, or stretch tuning to compensate for what is known as discordance. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier compositions are some of the earliest musical compositions meant to take advantage of a tuning that is altered to get the best sound.

  • What we as guitar players end up with is a compromise between perfect tuning and a more pleasing sounding instrument when played. The frets divide the strings length into 12 tones per octave. The 12th fret producing a note one octave higher than the open string note.
  • The guitar is tuned in perfect fourths, that is, each string is tuned to the fifth note on the string before it – except for the 2nd (B) string which is tuned the fourth of the 3rd (G) string.
  • The 6 strings are tuned (from the lowest wound bass string to the highest treble string) E, A, D, G, B, E. The high E string is an Octave higher than the lowest E string. On the bass, the low E string is an Octave lower than the guitar’s low E string.

A bit confusing, as the 4th note on each string is not at the 4th fret, but rather the 5th. This is due to the musical scale having 12 tones, including a natural and a perfect 4th, the later being the 5th note of the 12 tone (western music) scale. Let’s take a look at some illustrations which will make clear our understanding of guitar tuning.


Tuning From A Reference Pitch:

As the illustration shows, the bass E string is tuned to a reference note from a piano, electronic tuner, or another instrument. Then the rest of the strings beginning with the A string are tuned by playing the 5th fret note of the prior string.

Example: Fret the 6th string at the 5th fret, hold the note and pluck the 5th string open note.

Listen to the sounds, when out of tune there will be a wavering or fluttery sound as the two strings sound together. Play them both back and fourth listening closely. Now adjust the 5th string using the tuning key. If the 5th string sounds higher than the fretted 6th string note, turn the tuning key counter clockwise to tune the 5th string down. If the 5th string open note is lower than the 6th string fretted note, tune the string up, all along listening and comparing the notes until they are in unison. This may seem complex at first, but in no time you will be tuning your guitar as second nature. This the simplest way of tuning the guitar, and it works the same for the bass. For the bass guitar tune the same as the bottom four strings of the guitar but an octave lower.

With this method you can match your tuning to other instruments, recordings quickly. It is also a good method for tuning a guitar “to itself” meaning when played alone the instrument will sound good no matter how accurately the bass E string is tuned to a source note, as long as all the other strings are tuned in relation to the 6th string.


Tuning With An Electronic Tuner: Using an electronic tuner is a quick and easy way to tune the guitar. It’s always a good idea to know how to tune the traditional way as outlined above for when you don’t feel like plugging into a tuner, don’t have a tuner handy, are matching someone else’s tuning, or your batteries have gone dead. Let’s go over some electronic tuner basics.

  • Electronic tuners work best with a fresh batteries. Many models will flash “bat low” or a LED light when they are low.
  • There are a few different types of tuners, which range from under $20 to hundreds of dollars. With accuracy and features to match.
  • The basic VU meter style tuner has a needle which floats over a display to show you how in-tune your string is.
  • LED based models tend to have faster response and be slightly more accurate than Vu display tuners.

More accurate and expensive Strobe tuners use electronics to show display the tuning of your strings using a sliding bar graph. These tuners are more accurate than Vu or LED tuners. The accuracy is not as big or a deal as you might think, aside from studio players and luthiers who specialize in setting up instruments and recording their performances much of this type of accuracy is lost during play and performance for the average tuner user.

From left to right, VU style, LED, and Strobe tuner displays.

When using an electronic tuner, use your bridge pick-up with the volume turned all the way up and the tone controls wide open (no high frequency attenuation). This give the brightest and clearest signal for the tuner to “listen” to. Electronic tuners can be Chromatic (able to tune all notes of the musical scale within several octaves) Or designed specifically for bass or guitar – often limited to just the 6 open notes.

Electronic tuners are convenient and simple to use. There are a few options to look for when choosing an electronic tuner. recommends buying a simple tuner for the beginner and more advanced models for hose who want to set-up their own instruments or those wanting to be in as perfect tuning as possible for recording.


Tuning With Natural Harmonics: A well intonated guitar can be tuned using natural harmonic notes.

  • The harmonic notes at each strings 5th and 7th strings are used as reference points to tune the other strings.
  • The second string (B) is tuned to the 6th strings 7th fret harmonic.

Harmonics are played by lightly pressing the string at the nodal point and plucking. Your finger acts as a “stop” at the nodal point. Nodal points are mathematical devisions of the string. The 12th fret is the easiest harmonic to play, it is the exact halfway point along the strings length. Other nodal points occur at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th frets. In actuality there are more nodal points, but thy are not all easily played on the guitar. After the twelfth fret the nodal point continue in the same progression as they do from the nut forward. Simply think of the 12th fret as the nut or open string, an count up. You can also slide your finger along the length of the string while picking to find other nodal points. Take a look at the following diagram to see how tuning with harmonics is done.

  • Following the above illustration beginning on the 6th string at the 5th fret, play the harmonic, then play the harmonic of the 5th string at the 7th fret – compare the notes and adjust the 5th string until it matches the 6th and so on for the other strings.
  • The 2nd string is tuned by comparing the 6th string 7th fret harmonic to the 2nd string 12th fret harmonic. Then the High E string is tuned by comparing the 5th and 7th fret harmonic like the first four strings.

Tuning by natural harmonics works best for guitars where the intonation has been precisely adjusted. Harmonics are very accurate- but the guitar itself sometimes is not. For this reasons you may find differences when tuning by fretted notes compared to tuning with harmonics or electronic tuners.

Guitar Tuning, Conclusions: In many ways tuning is a balancing act. Explore the tuning methods shown in this tutorial, and decide which method works best for you. This tutorial covered the basics of tuning by fretted notes, using an electronic tuner, and using natural harmonics.

HowTo MODS Tutorial

Quick Nut Fix

Pinging And Buzzing Are The Symptoms. How To Fix It Fast.

If you’ve ever worked on your nut, you know how easy it is to go a little too far in the search of comfortable low action ending up with some string buzz. The nut can wear down in time, or you may notice a pinging sound when tuning up or playing. Fortunately, there is a quick fix that can get your guitar up and running again in just a few hours. Ideally, you would cut and shape a new nut or have your tech do it for you. On the road or on a budget, sometimes a quick fix is needed.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  1. Cyanoacrylate glue; gel or liquid. Krazy Glue is one brand name. Follow all manufacture’s warnings and instructions when using Cyanoacrylate glues.
  2. Masking Tape. Low tack blue painters tape preferred
  3. Sand Paper: 600 grit or higher.
  4. Small files (gauged nut slotting files for the perfectionists). Your choice of files range from a fingernail file, cheap hobby shop files (as pictured) or specialized nut slotting files.
  5. Cyanoacrylate glue thinner. For clean-up of glue runs or unsticking glued fingers.


1. Loosen the strings and pull them aside. If you’re working on just a single nut slot set the string in the next slot or hang it off the fret board edge. You can use tape to anchor the string(s) to the side of the neck to keep them clear of work area.

2. Apply a small piece of tape firmly into the crevice between the front of the nut and the fingerboard. This creates a dam to hold the glue in the nut slot. The tape should come all the way up the face of the nut and can overhang the top of the nut slightly.

3. With the guitar on a stand apply a drop or two of glue in the low slot. It’s better to apply a small amount and let that layer dry, then apply more glue if you need to build up a really low slot. A pinch of baking soda can be sprinkled on the wet glue to build up the slot if it’s needed.

4. Set the guitar aside and let the glue dry for about four hours. When the chemical smell of the glue evaporating is gone, it’s dry and should be hard. If you can indent the dry glue with a screwdriver tip it still needs more time.

5. Use the small files to re-cut the nut slot. Careful you don’t go too deep this time! Use a feeler gauge to measure the relief over the 1st fret while pressing down at the second fret. Gibson and Fender specs call for between .014″ and .020″ (this amount varies for string gauge and fret style).

The animation above shows where to press the string to gauge the amount of relief over the 1st fret. The relief should be just enough to see, hear, and feel that the string can move freely over the first fret. Getting this just right is essential to a low comfortable playing action.

Use sandpaper to smooth out the repaired and re-cut nut slot.

Pencil lead rubbed into the slot helps keeps the string from binding.

Done! What once buzzed or pinged is again playable. This type of fix is permanent but not ideal. Replacing a nut with one that’s solid and cleanly cut is always the best for tone and playability.

HowTo Instrument Build

ModGuitar Custom Midi Guitar Build

Midi guitar has long been a frustrating goal of many guitarists intent on expanding their tonal options. A few consumer options exist though they tend to be subject to a new technology premium. Functional and affordable midi guitar options seem to be harder to find with fewer manufacturers devoting resources to the production of midi guitar. With that in mind we set out to design and build our own custom midi guitar.

Why A MIDI Guitar? There are a couple of different good reasons to consider a Midi guitar. There is the ability to play other instruments using the guitar as the ‘controller’, which comes in hand is you’re not proficient with a piano style keyboard. Secondly, there is the concept or recording your guitar performance as a midi file, which can be useful when it comes time to publish your musical creations. As we have discovered both of these ideas inspiring and a little disappointing given the current state of the art. With some patience, and a good system the results can be rewarding. We will take a look at getting great Midi Guitar sounds in another article, for now to get started with Midi Guitar, you’ll need an instrument…

Why A Custom Build? Here at the studio we’ve had a limited run Ibanez RG series guitar with a GK pick-up around for a few years. Coupled with a Roland GI-20 USB midi processor. This system works ok. The suggestion that a piezo based midi pick-up system might track faster and more accurately had us intrigued, so we decided to build our own midi guitar controller. We took a look at everything out there, from Roland and Casio models to Parker, Fender, Brian Moore, and even Ibanez offerings. The consensus seemed to be that while the Roland GK pick-up system works OK, and is easy to install, a custom system utilizing piezo saddles would likely track faster and more accurately due to the direct contact with the strings.

Back In The Saddle(s) Again: Graph-Tech saddles and a midi expansion for the Ghost pre-amp system offered the best look, feel and hopefully, playability. Graph-Tech is well know for it’s string saver saddles made to retrofit many bridges and it’s TUSQ bone-like synthetic nut and saddle material. The Ghost pre-amp, Hexpander midi processing add on card, and a set of Graph-Tech saddles with embedded piezo transducers were around $300 when they where ordered. The bridge itself is a custom part available from Stew Mac and other retailers. More on parts and components in a few…

The Concept: We began by considering all our options for a Midi Guitar. There are literally a dozen or more switching and tonal options that could be installed or added to a a custom midi guitar. Not to mention the standard electric guitar options. It was decided to go simple rather than complex with the on-board controls. There is always that temptation to do an “Ultimate bazzillion options” guitar. This guitar was intended to be more or less a studio instrument, so a complex control panel simply wasn’t necessary. A sequencer on the computer or a midi floor board can easily be used to control midi functions. The final configuration was set to be a single volume control, a three way switch. That’s it, simple as can be.

HowTo Instrument Build

Gibson 'EBO' Bass To 'SG' Guitar Conversion

EBO Bass To SG Style Guitar Conversion Project

Hidden away in the workshop we found a semi-vintage Gibson EBO bass. The headstock couldn’t seem to keep from snapping off. It had been repaired a few times already and was missing some parts and crucial components like the pick-up. It also just happened to not play or sound very good. Vintage SGs fetch high prices, and this SG body was still intact…so The SG BASS-GUITAR MOD is born.

It was a long and fairly involved mod involving removing the bass neck, reconfiguring the body to work as a guitar, building a new custom neck and then doing some finish matching to pull it all together.

We’re proud to say, this project was a huge success and our studio is now the proud owner of an almost vintage, almost Gibson, one of a kind SG.

Planing Stages

To determine if this project was worthwhile we spent some time laying out components and taking measurements. From our initial assessment we determined that a stop tail could be retrofitted to mount where the bass bridge had once gone. With a new tune-o-matic style bridge being added along with a pair of hum-buckers and the new neck.

Getting The Body Ready For A New Neck

Removing the old neck seemed simple enough. We were extra careful when removing material to avoid cracks or chips to the wood that was left. A hacksaw made quick work of the remainder of the bass neck, cutting through both the aged mahogany and the truss rod easily enough. Hated to do it, but the end result will prove to be worth the sacrifice. What was left of the original neck was then chiseled out of the tenon joint in the body. After that we carefully set up a router template to cleanly cut a pocket for a new neck. This was tricky, as the template needed to be angled slightly so that the new neck would tip back from the face of the guitar so that the strings would align with the top of the new bridge while still leaving room for fine tuning the string height. Too much or too little angle and the strings would ride high or low and no amount of adjustment would be able to correct it.

We turned down the original mounting screws that had held the bass bridge in place. They had gouged and jagged edges which would be uncomfortable to have your hand near while playing. With a drill press and a file, we were able to quickly round them over and then a careful cut to the top with a hacksaw made them adjustable with a screw driver. Luckily, the original bushings and screw placement worked with our new stop tail.

Here you can see the neck where it joins the body and the stop-bar tailpeice mounted were the original bass bridge once was.

For the new bridge, 2 holes were drilled just large enough to allow the larger bushing style adjustment screws to be carefully threaded into the body without the bushings. A hybrid between old and new. Templates were used to align and then route a new cavity for a bridge hum-bucker. The rhythm hum-bucker cavity was already cut from when this body was a bass. Although the cavity was a bit larger than your standard hum-bucker opening. We decided to use another hybrid approach and use a hum-bucker mounting ring for the bridge pick-up and a custom pick-guard for the rhythm pick-up. For pick-ups and electronics a set of Elitist pick-ups were found on Ebay and the other components, (switch, potentiometers, tone caps, output jack, etc) were ordered online. We’ve been impressed with the elitist pick-ups in an actual Elitist guitar, so this was a luck find. We tried to get away with a budget switch, but found that the solder tabs snapped when they were bent even slightly. So for that component we recommend a higher quality part such as Switchcraft. The pots are Alpha quality pots from Stew Mac 500k for both tone & volumes with a standard .22pf tone caps. Nothing really fancy there. Most of the time these standard quality components are just fine for a build of this type. Once it’s established that a guitar is a keeper, modding it additionally with high grade electronic components becomes an option.

With the body prepped and ready, we turn to creating a new neck to turn this ‘once a bass’ into a guitar.

We ordered a maple neck blank, and a rosewood fingerboard, pre slotted in Gibson standard 24 3/4″ scale, along with a dual adjustable truss rod, a tall and narrow vintage profile fret wire, pearloid dot inlay pieces and a bone nut from Total cost of parts was considerably less than what you will pay for a neck from any of the custom shops like Warmoth – though this is a very complex build project which takes a bit of time and experience to complete satisfactorily. So the cost/vrs end result becomes a factor in how you might decide to go about a project like this yourself.

From here on out we are designing, fabricating and assembling a custom neck. Which, aside from carving your own top on a solid body, is one of the most difficult projects to do on a solid body.

The fingerboard comes with a few extra slots, in case you want to make a 24 fret neck. We didn’t, so those are trimmed off using the band saw, cutting right down the 23rd fret slot. And then a touch-up of the edge with a file and sandpaper, leaving some material for a final fit. The fret board comes slotted and radiused, but is not tapered.

Left: The placement of the stop-tail, bridge and pick-up laid out. Right: Trimming the pre-slotted fingerboard.

Our maple neck blank is a standard plain hard maple plank long enough to get both the neck and headstock out of the single piece. We carefully traced out the fret board centered and at one end of our neck blank. From there we determined where our truss rod channel would need to be routed, the taper of the neck (matched to a favorite gibson neck in our collection), and where the headstock begins and ends.

HowTo Lessons

Beginning Guitar Lesson. Fretting Notes

Ready to begin learning to play the guitar? We’ll be starting with the very basics. You’ll need a few things to get started.

A little information about the frets and what they do

The frets divide the length of each string into segments. Notice the dots on the side of the guitar neck, blocks or dot inlays on the face of the fret board. They mark the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, etc. positions. When you press a string at the 5th marker, you’re limiting the strings length to the 5th fret. The note’s pitch is higher than the sound of the string played “open”. The markers are not exactly related to the musical scale (a concept we will explore in more depth later). They are visual landmarks that you use to guide your playing.

Let’s Begin Playing

Guitar tuned and ready to start? Let’s begin… You’ve probably already strummed the strings and experimented with pressing the strings down against the frets. Let’s go through some specific exercises to begin learning to play the guitar.

The picture below shows the basic position of the thumb and fretting finger and where to press the string down. The nut is at the left which means in this example we are fretting the not at the 2nd fret.

Right or left handed it’s the same for plucking the string and fretting notes. One hand is held in position on the guitar neck, the finger presses the string down enough to touch the fret, while the other hand plucks the string to make the note ring out. It’s important to get the hang of the correct way to fret notes to avoid problems which are difficult to “unlearn” later. Pay attention the position of the fingers, thumb, and wrist angle.



What you see in the picture below is called tablature. It’s an easy way to show you what notes to play and what to practice. Tablature is an old idea, originating in use as lute music. Study this picture to learn the basics of tablature.

Zeros indicate open notes (the open string), numbers indicate fretted notes – the number is the fret that the string is pressed behind. The lines represent the six guitar strings from the thicker 6th string at the bottom; lowE. To the thinest 1st string; High E.  The notes of all the string are from bass to treble are E, A, D, G, B, E in standard tuning.

Use the tablature (Tab) examples below we’re going to start teaching the muscles in your hands to play guitar. Your mind and muscles will learn as you play so that in time this type of exercise will be easy.



Pluck the string four times for each note, then move to the next string. Count notes as you go as, 1, 2, 3, 4. Play this exercise for 2-3 minutes at a time, gradually picking up speed (tempo). Don’t practice for too long, and stop if your hand cramps or you have any pain. Continue with the other patterns as you like.


All open notes, four notes per string, work on an even tempo. This exercise uses just the strumming hand to pluck the single open string notes.


First fret, four notes per string across all six strings, even tempo. For this exercise we add in using your 1st finger to fret the note behind the first fret.

Exercises continue on the next page…