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Telecaster setup

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Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Sun Feb 14, 2021 6:54 pm
by Lala

A couple of weeks back I was given an Affinity Telecaster, it was heading to the charity shop apparently and I was given first was purchased brand new in 2020 :roll:

I've been playing to varying standards for over 40 years and in that time one thing has held true - I've never worked on my guitars, I've always deferred to a very experienced luthier for setups etc. only trouble is he's a 3 hr round trip away, so I won't be visiting him any time soon.

I know this is the cheapest of cheap (another reason I don't want to send it to a luthier) but my God, it plays like a dog. The action is way too high for my liking and there's loads of fret buzz, particularly on the bass side which seems to get worse as you go up the neck.

I'm assuming that because the action is high but there's lots of fret buzz, this will need to be a combination of truss rod adjustment and a tweak in saddle height - are there any simple steps that a complete setup novice could try to get it playable ?

Many thanks for your time.

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 12:58 am
by Watchmaker
The basic setup routine is fairly well established.

Have a read through this. and holler with any questions.

You'll need a set of automotive feeler gauges and a small engineer's ruler, assuming you have a basic tool kit around that should be all you need.

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 1:09 am
by Sam Spoons
High action and lots of buzz suggests there may be other issues than just bridge hight and truss rod adjustment* but a cheap the is the ideal guitar to start learning on. :thumbup:

* High, loose or worn frets could be part of it, do the basic checks and come back to us.

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 2:14 am
by zenguitar
With the guitar tuned to pitch, sight down the neck from the headstock looking towards the body to establish if the neck is A) straight and B) not warped.

If it's warped, that's something that needs attention from a luthier or a replacement neck.

If it's not straight, does it bow back (the strings are closer to the frets around the 7th/8th fret) or does it bow forward (the gap between the strings and frets are largest around the 7th/8th fret).

If it bows back you need to loosen the truss rod, if it bows forward you need to tighten the truss rod. Adjusting the truss rod is always scary (I first trained over 30 years ago, I've adjusted more truss rods than I can remember - many hundred - and I am still nervous every time I adjust one because there is so much potential for things to go wrong) so you always do it in small steps. No more than 1/4 a turn at a time, usually 1/8 of a turn. And after each adjustment you need to reassemble the neck to the body, tune to pitch, and give it overnight to settle.

Once the neck is straight you need to assess the neck/body angle to ensure that the neck delivers the strings at the correct height at the bridge. You need to aim for about 12mm above the front of the guitar, no less than 10mm, no more than 14mm. You achieve that by using shims in the neck pocket if required. That's more removing and replacing the neck and retuning and allowing to settle before testing.

At that point you can set your saddle height and initial intonation.

Then you need to assess the action at the nut (typically too high in default factory set-up) and if necessary cut the nut slots deeper and refinish to avoid friction.

Then you can fine tune the intonation and saddle height at the bridge.

Finally, not all buzzes are strings buzzing against frets. So once you have the neck geometry sorted you may still have buzzes to track down and fix.

Best advice is to wait until we are free to travel and then give your trusted luthier the chance to look it over and give you a quote.

Andy :beamup:

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 9:53 am
by Lala
Many thanks for the replies guys :thumbup:

I'm kinda thinking along the same lines as you Sam, namely that if I'm gonna have a bash at my first set up, this is the guitar to try it on. I had considered giving it to the music dept at my sister's school but tbh, in its current state, any student given this to play on will be defeated before they start.

Many thanks for the detailed breakdown Andy, much appreciated. I'll work through your pointers and see where I get too.

Thanks also for the link Watchmaker will have a look there too.


Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 11:12 am
by Lala
On the subject of truss rods more generally, I meant to clarify if my understanding is correct...

If I tighten the truss rod nut (clockwise), I create more pull away from the strings, this will have the effect of pulling the strings closer to the fretboard.

If I loosen the truss rod nut (anti-clockwise), I reduce the pull away from the strings, the truss rod moves towards the strings and therefore the strings move further away from the fretboard (I think one video I watched from an American luthier called it an 'up-bow').

In general (and I know that's hard to say as there are many variables) are you looking to have as straight a neck as possible, neither pulling away from the strings or bowing up towards them ?

Many thanks once again.

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 11:34 am
by Sam Spoons
That's pretty much correct, ideally you want a slight bow in the neck so that, if you fretted at the first and, say, 16th fret the string wouldn't touch any of the frets between your fingers and there would be a fraction of a mm clearance about halfway. This is called 'neck relief' and it's purpose, simplistically put, is to leave room for the strings to vibrate. If the neck had no relief the vibrating strings may touch the frets where the movement is greatest causing fret buzz.

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 11:59 am
by Lala
OK, thanks Sam :thumbup:

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Wed Feb 17, 2021 11:26 am
by Lala
OK, so after a couple of days tweaking this and that I think the action is improved and the guitar more playable - it's still a bit buzzy here and there but I dare say it could benefit from a fret dress which I think is definitely a step too far for me lol.

The truss rod nut is recessed at the headstock which makes life a bit easier I guess and sighting down the neck towards the body, there was a very definite up-bow and I found this much easier to pick up if I sighted down the edges of the neck, concentrating on the fret ends. I initially tightened the truss rod about a 1/4 turn, checked it again and tightened it another 1/4 turn, checked again, wondered if that might be too much and loosened it about 1/8 turn...all very approx.

I know my eyes aren't what they were and I do need an eye test but sighting along the neck now, I actually think there is the slightest hint of an up-bow on the high E edge of the neck, whereas the low E edge seems to be pretty much straight so I'm guessing that may indicate the neck is actually warped in some way ?

Setting the action was much more of a pain.

I don't know about you guys but I find trying to read the increments on a 6" steel rule so bloody difficult if the light doesn't catch the surface quite right, I gave up in the end and resulted to YouTube where there is a tonne of people telling you how easy it is to set the action on your guitar :roll:

Anyway, in the end I came across this guy...oh and Andy, you might want to look away at this point :oops: ;)

I gave this idea a go and it did seem to work, as I say it's not perfect but it's better.

The only thing I did notice afterwards was that the low and high E strings were buzzing on the neck pickup cover when fretted at the last fret but a very small adjustment on the pickup height cured that.

I may continue to tinker with this since it cost me nothing - I have feeler gauges and the aforementioned steel rule but are there any other basic luthiery tools I could invest in that might be of use for this type of thing ?


Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Mar 08, 2021 2:53 pm
by Wonks
It is pretty common to have a very slight difference in neck relief curve from one side of the neck to the other. Unless the neck is quarter sawn (rare indeed on a budget guitar though sometimes you can get lucky), then the neck is likely to twist very slightly as it ages. As long as the high E side has just a bit less bow in it than the low E side, you can normally live with a slightly higher action on the low strings. Very few necks are perfectly straight or have exactly the same relief bow on both sides. Even high-end guitars can have different curves - I've got a Rickenbacker in for fettling at the moment that has a significantly different relief curves that even the double truss rods can't fix (they probably could if they were dual-action truss rods, but they aren't).

This is where fret levelling/dressing can come in as whilst the fretboard may not be perfect, you can adjust the relative fret heights to counter a lot of that, as it's the top of the frets themselves that really determine the playability of the guitar.

It really isn't hard to do it yourself. I've seen a lot of first-time guitar kit builders do it very successfully. You need a notched straight edge (Amazon or eBay) as you need to set the fretboard as flat as you can first, which a straight edge on the top of the frets won't tell you, so you need a straight edge with notches cut in for the frets. E.g. ... 159&sr=8-7

You'll need either a straight-edged piece/beam of wood or metal that you can double side tape some P240 paper to, or else a radius block to match the radius of the fretboard (probably 9.5" for the Squier Tele, though it may well be 12" as that's a favourite for Chinese guitars) Check on the Squier website for the model year specs. Something around 12" -14" long is ideal.

Then some masking tape, to tape up the board between the frets, a black permanent marker pen e.g. Sharpie, and a range of sandpaper grits from P240 upwards, to as fine as you can get (I use micromesh cloth for the really fine stuff).

You'll definitely need a fret crowning file of some sort. I use the ones with a curve built-in. I have got some flat triangular files with safe edges but find the rounded files a lot easier. One with a 2.5mm width should fit most standard electric guitar frets. I have one of these (amongst others) which works well and isn't that expensive. ... adius.html

The cheap orange-handled ones on Amazon/eBay do work but they are better for wide and high jumbo frets as they have a very large radius curve and start hitting the top of the fret before the sides are properly profiled on medium width frets.

Once the board is set flat (using the notched edge and the truss rod), it's then a matter of taping up the board, putting black marker on the top of the frets, running the small beam over the frets from end to end of the neck until all the black marker is off the top of the frets. High fret/fret areas get sanded down first, so you may end up with a low fret in between two higher frets that takes a while to reach.

Then put black marker on the top of the frets again, and run the fret profiling file along the length of the fret until you have just a very thin line of black left along the top of each fret.

Check the frets for any sharp ends. I use a flat needle file at a 45° angle to smooth these off. If the fret ends are sitting proud of the board (which can happen if the wood's shrunk), then file the ends flat first before filing at 45°.

Then it's just a process of sanding the frets to remove filing marks and then polish them smooth. I start with P240, which does most of the work, and then run up to really fine grits and finish off with a rub with metal polish.

Remove the masking tape and you're good to go.

What you ideally want to get want are some nut files, as taking the nut slots down below the factory setting can really make the guitar easier to play as well as making the intonation better and lowering the overall action. But good ones aren't cheap. This about the cheapest good set I've come across: ... -10-gauge/

You can get less specific gauge sets with more files in, but a set for 10s will happily do 9s (though if you only use 9s then you can get a set just for those).

Along with a good set of Allen keys, some good quality small to medium flat and cross-head screwdrivers, and 10, 11, 12 and 13mm spanners, those should be the tools you really need to cope with setting up most guitars.

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Mar 08, 2021 3:09 pm
by Watchmaker
That was very well said Wonks and exactly the procedure I follow.

Lala, re: up-bow, Fender factory spec is .012 in (30mm). Once you dial that in you can judge whether you want/need to tweak from there. Put a capo on the first fret, depress the low E at the 21st fret and measure the distance from the bottom of the low E string to the top of the 7th fret using a feeler gauge.

Re: Telecaster setup

PostPosted: Mon Mar 08, 2021 3:30 pm
by Wonks
As a general note, factory set-up values are ones that will normally allow the guitar to work when it reaches the guitar store after transport and often quite large variations in temperature and humidity. They are rarely the optimal values for any guitar or bass (how many store guitars have you played that have been really well set up?). But as starting point, they are a reasonable one if you are unsure about what you are doing.

But as long as you just adjust bridge saddle heights, and only make small adjustments to the truss rod (and never force it if it becomes very stiff), there is nothing you are doing to the guitar that is permanent and can't be easily rectified.