The Full Beans is a service I settled on for my own guitars back when I was gigging an awful lot. My guitars were regularly covered in sweat, blood and Newcastle Brown ale and after only a couple of gigs they would start to stink. Once they were in this state the strings wouldn’t last as they got dirty quickly from the fretboard, and thus the guitars wouldn’t stay in tune. It got to the point where doing a ‘service’ on them every month was less time consuming than dealing with the issues that my hard use brought up. If you’ve got a guitar that’s been hammered extensively and needs some real TLC, the Full beans is a great place to start.
First up I have a good look at the guitar, give it a play test and check the condition of the wiring and fretwork. If there are any problems I will let you know at this point. If the frets are excessively worn there’s little point in trying to do a full setup as the condition of the frets will limit the results. Same with wiring – if there are problems I will let you know.
Next I carefully remove the strings from the guitar and throw them in the bin. At this point I also remove any parts that are kept in place by the strings such as tailpieces, locking nuts or floating trems and put them to one side for later. I am particularly careful when removing strings as I don’t want to a) scratch your guitar or b) poke myself in the eye. 🙂
Now I pretty much take the guitar completely apart ready for the next cleaning stage. Of course, I don’t remove the pots or wiring but I do remove as much as I can. The neck comes off the body and I remove the tuners, bridge and control knobs as well as loosening scratchplates and pickup surrounds so I can clean right into the corners.
I think that a full clean is a much underrated part of any guitar’s setup. You’d swear that a clean guitar plays and sounds much better than a dirty one, even if nothing else has been touched! Using Dunlop guitar polish and cotton or microfibre cloths I clean all grease, fingermarks, fluff and dirt from every part of the guitar. Tuners are individually cleaned, paint is polished, dirty plastic parts are soaked in warm soapy water. I clean bridges and other metal parts using a paintbrush to remove as much dirt as possible and then finish off with cotton buds and guitar polish. Basically, every part is cleaned and please note – I don’t use any solvents or silicone based cleaners that could cause problems either now or down the line.
If the guitar requires fret dressing I would do it at this stage, but it isn’t a routine part of the Full Beans setup. However, every Full Beans victim does get a full fret polish. I carefully mask off the entire fretboard leaving only the frets visible. I then polish the frets using the finest grade steel wool. If they are really gunky I may even start with 1000 grade wet ‘n’ dry paper to do the heavy lifting, but this is rare. Once polished, I remove the masking tape and give the neck another wipe over with guitar polish to remove any residue.
If the guitar has a natural finish fingerboard I’ll give it a dose of Jim Dunlop lemon oil at this stage. The trick with this stuff is to apply it and leave it for a while to soak in, and then use a cloth to remove the excess oil, along with all the muck off the fretboard. If the board is really dirty I will take a lot longer over this and I will probable use scrapers to help get the dirt off. I use plectrums for this as they are tough enough to do the job yet will not scratch or damage the wood.
REASSEMBLE & RESTRING
Now the guitar is beautifully clean, it’s time to put it back together. I carefully reassemble the whole guitar and put a fresh set of strings on it. When reassembling I use a little bit of lubricant on all nuts, bolts and screws where necessary – usually a dab of vaseline, some candle wax or soft pencil lead. This helps to avoid seized fixings in the future.
I don’t supply strings as part of the setup, but I do sell them, or you can supply your own. Once the strings are on I tune them up roughly and give the guitar a quick play check just to make sure everything is reasonably as it should be at this point. Nothing majorly wrong and nothing missing!
Now it’s finally time to adjust the guitar so that it plays the best it possibly can. This involves adjusting many different things, each of which have some level of interplay. It’s often a case of tweaking various things and chasing yourself round in circles until you achieve the perfect result. In no particular order:
The nut is the part of the guitar that the strings go over at the headstock end. It keeps the strings the appropriate distance apart, and the correct distance from the fretboard. While it’s unusual to mess with the string spacing, the height of the strings at the nut can often do with looking at. New (especially cheap) guitars are often made with the nut too high – just to be on the safe side I guess. I look at the nut and assess the height of the strings from the fretboard (known as the action) at the first fret. If the action here is too high it can cause problems with tuning on the lower portion of the fretboard, such as playing open chords. This is because you will need to press the string too far before it touches the fret, and this can push the string sharp, and out of tune. Conversely, if the action on the nut is too low it can cause buzzes and rattles as the strings will touch the lower frets.
Guitars with bone, graphite or plastic nuts are adjusted by either filing the slots out to make them deeper, or by building them up a little with glue mixed with the appropriate material (such as bone dust) and then re-filing the nut slot profile. Locking nuts are metal and filing is not an option, but they usually include brass shims underneath so these can be removed or replaced to higher or lower the nut height.
The height of the nut affects the overall action of the guitar, along with the intonation and then to a lesser degree the amount of truss rod adjustment that may be required.
The action is the height of the strings from the fretboard, and when referred to in this way it is usually meant that it is being adjusted from the bridge end. As we’ve said, the height at the nut is important too, but assuming that’s now optimal I sort it from the bridge end too.
Action is a preference, and also a compromise. If you want super low action for fast playing you are going to have to accept a greater degree of string buzz (on the frets) as you go lower. Higher actions will sound cleaner, and subjectively better, but are harder to play. Most people have a preference, and if you let me know how you want your guitar to play I’ll set the action to suit your taste.
Most guitars have a radiused fretboard i.e. a fretboard that is curved over its width. using special radius gauges I work out the radius of your fretboard and set the strings to suit. The action of your guitar will affect the intonation, the necessary height of the nut (to a point), the amount of truss rod adjustment and even if neck shimming is required. Remember when i said that all these things are connected? 🙂
Ah, the truss rod. The one thing that strikes fear into the hearts of guitarists who fancy having a go at setting up their own instrument. Many people seem to think that one slight turn of the truss rod with an allen key has the potential to wreck your guitar’s neck. In reality, this isn’t true, but you do need to be careful.
When a guitar is strung, the strings exert a lot of pull on the neck. Much like a bow, this causes the neck to bend a little under the strain. the truss rod is essentially an adjustable strengthening rod that runs along the length of the neck and can be tweaked to give just the right amount of effect to keep the neck as straight as is required.
I adjust the truss rod to give the neck just the right amount of bow (called the ‘relief’) as a perfectly straight neck is not always desirable. the amount of relief required depends a lot on many of the above setup factors, so more chasing in circles is required here.
The intonation of the strings is adjusted so that each string is as close to being in perfect tune wherever you play it on the neck – from the open string, up all of the frets to the very top. The guitar isn’t a perfect instrument and intonation is a bit of a compromise, but if this is done carefully a good balance can be achieved.
The intonation adjustment is done at the saddle end, and most guitar bridges have screws that make this relatively pain free. Locking trems are a different matter – unless the have the original style square saddles it’s just a case of undo the saddle, move it, retune and recheck. Happy days… 🙂
If your guitar has a set neck (neck glued to body) or a through neck (neck part of body) I can’t change the neck angle. if your guitar has a bolt on neck (and many do) this is something I can look at.
On many guitars, once the setup is complete (especially with a low action) the grub screws that set the action on the bridge saddles can protrude from the top of the saddles and stick into your hand. This isn’t a great feeling, as you can imagine. To allow the action to be raised to the point where the grub screws don’t protrude, I add a slim piece of brass into the neck pocket at the widest end. This tilts the neck back a fraction, thus lowering the action. I can then increase the action on the bridge saddles, hide the grub screws, and get the action back to where we started. Perfect.
FINAL CHECK & FINISH
Nearly done! At this point I’ll put the guitar on a stand, go and have a cup of tea and then come back and give it the final once over. I’ll play it through an amp and make sure everything is spot on. Once i’m satisfied, I’ll give the guitar a final clean with polish and a cloth before sealing in it in a clear poly bag and putting it back into its case, ready for you to collect.
HOW MUCH DO YOU CHARGE FOR ALL THIS?
A Full Beans can take anywhere from three to five hours and it’s a pretty intense process, especially if the guitar doesn’t behave right away. I’m obsessive about delivering a guitar that I would be happy playing, and despite what they often say about guitar tech’s OWN guitars usually being knackered, I’m quite the opposite. I wouldn’t be a guitar tech at all if it wasn’t for the continual setup and maintenance i’ve done on my own gigging machines over the years. Your guitar, regardless whether it’s a £99 Argos special or a £3000 PRS, will get the very best treatment I know how to give, every single time.
Full Beans (TM) Setup – £85
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