This video is a great place to start for setting up your guitar

Checking a guitar's neck relief
(Image credit: Future)

To coin the old Faces song, I wish I knew then what I know now. When it comes to guitars I could have saved so much time, money and poor playing experiences if YouTube had been around when I was a teenager. The biggest part of that is setups – things as simple as the amount of winds around a string post. But there's good news – you can do a lot to get your guitar playing well by setting it up yourself.

My growing confidence with this side of things since lockdown has found me levelling and crowning my own electric guitar frets – something I just wouldn't have considered going near before. But that's another step that's best built up to or left in the hands of an experienced pro. It's reassuring how much you can do fairly easily to get your guitar set up how you like it, without paying someone else to do it.

We have our own guide to setting up an electric guitar, but the Stew Mac video below is also a great place to start. Stew Mac sells a wide range of guitar maintenance tools in the US, so it's worth its while encouraging players to do their own work. But regardless of whether you buy the company's products or not, the guidance here is valuable for anyone. 

You will need to invest in some tools but the key word is invest here because you can use them for every setup you do in the future, and for regular checks to see if your neck has been affected by seasonal and string gauge changes etc. 

The video goes through string action and truss rod adjustment. I use a string action gauge a lot to judge neck relief and our guide and the video above explain how to do that. A radius gauge can also help you set the string heights for your guitar's specific radius – you can learn about that in the video and our guide too.

I wish I'd known all of that before, but I'm making up for lost time now and I hope more players will too. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.