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How To Set Up A Bass Guitar: Best Thing You Need To Know 2023

  • Max Kuehn

Learning how to set up a bass guitar can be a daunting task, but with a little patience and attention to detail it can be easily accomplished. This guide will walk you through the process step-by-step, so that you can have your bass playing like a pro in no time.

What Exactly Does It Entail To Set Up A Guitar Or Bass?

What Exactly Does It Entail To Set Up A Guitar Or Bass

Guitars and basses are primarily wooden instruments with strong metal strings that must be balanced to stay in tune and play correctly. The purpose of the setup is to get a new guitar or bass to sound and play as good as it did the day you got it or to get your old favorite to perform as well as it did the day you bought it.

This means, among other things, no buzzes on any string at any fret, consistent intonation across the fretboard, and string height that’s appropriate for your playing style (for most beginners, this usually means “low”).

The phrase “setup” encompasses a wide range of modifications, and you may require not all of them for your specific instrument. Some changes are simple enough for a novice to perform, but others require knowledge or special equipment.

Truss rod

The truss rod controls the string height, or “action,” of the guitar. The instrument might be challenging to play if the motion is too high. The strings can buzz at specific frets if it’s too low.

The truss rod is a sturdy metal rod found inside the neck of most modern guitars and basses that helps to relieve string strain. The truss rod would be the bow, and the strings would be the strings if this were an archer’s bow. By altering the amount of bend or relief, in the neck, the truss rod elevates or lowers the strings on the midsection of the fretboard.

After the strings leave the tuners, there’s a thin piece of (typically off-white) material at the top of the neck that the strings rest on. This is referred to as the nut. It retains the strings in position on the fretboard, horizontally and vertically.

In contrast to the “global” adjustment of the truss rod, the nut, coupled with the bridge at the other end, allows per-string height modifications. Adjusting the nut necessitates physical alterations via filing, and you cannot reverse the changes without replacing the nut.

Truss rod


The bridge is the nut’s counterpart at the other end of the strings. The strings may come to a lot here, or they may pass through the body or to a separate tailpiece, depending on the guitar’s construction. Most electric guitars and basses’ bridges allow three different string height adjustments: global string height, individual string height, and string length.

String length affects the intonation, which is the degree to which notes are in tune across the entire fingerboard, not only on an open string. Your guitar would measure in tune on your tuner, sound great with most chords, yet sound off as you progressed up the neck without perfect intonation.

To offer an extreme example of bad intonation, imagine tuning the open string to E but playing the 12th fret with an E flat instead. Getting this right is critical.

Acoustic guitars often lack the bridge modifications seen on electric guitars, opting for a saddle resembling the nut at the neck’s top. This is more difficult to change (as we’ll see in the next section).

Frets and fretboard

Hopefully, the frets (metal bars across the neck) and fretboard (the rest of the neck’s front side) of a new guitar or bass won’t require much attention. However, smoothing rough frets and making sure they’re all uniform can be necessary.

If one of the frets is slightly out of place, it may scrape against your fingertips or cause a buzz when you play particular notes or chords. This is especially true of older guitars, which may have frets that are unevenly worn. Steel wool is commonly used for smoothing; however, playing a new instrument for a few weeks may suffice.

You might be wondering why we haven’t discussed ukuleles yet, given that we have a guide on them, and they’re comparable to guitars in many ways.

Because ukes are rarely played above the seventh fret, and nearly none of them have the adjustments we’ve outlined here, setup isn’t as important. In addition, practically all of the ones we’ve tried have performed admirably right out of the box.

Frets and fretboard

You’ll Require The Following Tools

  • Spanner wrench or Phillips/large flathead screwdriver
  • Socket wrenches or Allen wrenches
  • 6′′ ruler with 1/32′′ and 1/64′′ increments (0.5mm increments)
  • Tuner for electronic devices
  • To keep the instrument in place, use a neck rest.
  • a cappella (optional)
  • Having a decent pair of eyes and hearing is essential.

You'll Require The Following Tools

How To Set Up Bass Guitar

Truss Rod Adjustment

Truss Rod Adjustment

Tuning your bass to pitch and adjusting your neck to the proper relief are the initial steps in dialing your bass guitar’s setup. The amount your neck bows away from the strings is referred to as this.

If your strings are old, don’t stay in tune, or have lost their luster, you should replace them first. (I know, we bass players have to pay more than the other guys in our band, but dig deep and get it out of the way now.)

Step 1: Checking your neck relief

On the first fret, place a capo. (If you don’t have a capo, you can use your finger instead.)

Where the neck meets the body, fret the lowest string (in pitch).

You’ve achieved this by drawing a perfectly straight line across the fretboard. Examine the distance between the 7th fret’s top and the bottom of the string. If you have a feeler gauge, you should measure it and write it down.

It’s beneficial to have a tiny gap there, as a perfectly straight neck will result in a lot of buzzing. To perform their vibratory pattern, your strings must have enough clearance. Consider a pebble that you’ve dropped into a pond. This is a bass. Put yourself in the position of dumping a boulder into a pond.

When you play bass, the waves that erupt from the splash are what your bass strings are doing, and you must clear the frets out of the way. Target relief measurements range from 0.008′′ to 0.014′′ in some cases.

Step 2: is to fine-tune your neck relief.

Turn the truss rod counterclockwise if you have no relief or if the neck is bent against the strings (back bow). You’ll notice this right away since the bottom of the string will rest on the top of the 7th fret due to the straight line you made in step one. On open strings and in the middle of the fretboard, this will result in excessive fret buzz.

You can tighten your truss rod by turning it clockwise if you have too much relief. Excessive bowing away from the strings will result in overly high action, intonation issues, and buzzing near the fretboard’s end.

Pro Tip:

  • At a time, just make a 14-turn modification.
  • Before taking any measurements, make sure your instrument is tuned to pitch.
  • Don’t overtighten your truss rod or make any modifications that you’re not sure about.
  • Take your guitar to a competent luthier or technician if your truss rod reaches the limit of its journey before the necessary adjustment is accomplished.

Change The Bow

It’s up to you how much concave bend your bass’s neck requires, known as “bow” or “relief”. Because they have an aggressive approach and prefer to dig in, players who want their string height (i.e., the “action” of the bass) to be high may add some bow.

Bassists with a lighter touch often choose a straighter neck to keep the action low and avoid fret buzz.

The truss rod is adjusted to increase or decrease the bow. This steel bar runs from the nut at the top of the neck to the point where the neck meets the body underneath the fretboard. Its purpose is to counterbalance the constant string tension that would otherwise draw the bass’s headstock toward the bridge, rendering it unplayable.

Depending on the manufacturer and the age of the bass, you can adjust the truss rod with a socket wrench, an Allen wrench, or a screwdriver. To get to it, remove the truss rod cover (typically placed just behind the nut or underneath the pickguard) using a screwdriver, as illustrated in the photographs below.

Start by detuning your bass (this relieves string tension and makes the procedure easier). Then remove the truss rod cover and locate the appropriate wrench or screwdriver, making sure it fits securely against the truss rod head.

Give the truss rod a quarter-turn counter-clockwise (to loosen and add a bow) or clockwise (to tighten and remove the bow) (to tighten and straighten the neck).

Retune the bass, then fret the lowest string at the first fret with one hand, using a capo (or your finger). Fret the exact string where the neck meets the body with your second hand, as illustrated below.

Examine the distance between the seventh fret’s top and the bottom of the lower string. You’ve nailed it if there’s less than.015 inch (1/64 inch) of room there. If the string is contacting the seventh fret, give the truss rod another quarter-turn (or less) counter-clockwise to create more bow.

If your initial change does not yield the intended outcome, repeat the process, but this time with caution and caution.

Change The Height Of The Strings

This is done by modifying the height of the bridge saddles, which are positioned on top of the bridge and have two per string (one on each side of the string), as seen below.

It’s easy to adjust one saddle, but getting all of them to the same height might be difficult because the string height off the fingerboard should generate a consistent arc over the fingerboard’s radius when measured width-wise; this is the case.

Begin by identifying which screwdriver or Allen wrench you’ll need. Ensure you have the right tool for the job because the wrong one can strip those tiny screws. Counter-clockwise turns to boost each saddle’s height, whereas clockwise rounds lower it.

You can eyeball this while adjusting or use a ruler to measure the height of each saddle for more precision. Play a note at each fret after each minor adjustment to ensure no buzzing.

Continue tweaking if there are any, or if you’re not satisfied with the general “feel” of the fingerboard at this stage (if the saddle heights are uneven, you’ll probably sense it when playing). Be patient since this is a precise correction. When you’re happy with the results, it’s time to go on to the next phase in the setup process: altering intonation.

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Change The Height Of The Strings

Change Your Intonation

Intonation is perhaps the most time-consuming and aggravating stage, but it’s essential unless you prefer being out of tune (which will likely result in your having to play solo for the rest of your life).

To achieve proper intonation, position the saddle at the correct distance from the nut so that any note played anywhere on the fretboard matches the mathematical pitch. The higher up the fretboard you play, the more obvious and pronounced your intonation is.

When the saddle of a string is closer to the nut than it should be, notes become increasingly flat as you progress up the fretboard. The notes will be sharp when the saddle is more away from the nut than it should be.

You can fix this by turning the saddle screws on the bottom of the bridge slightly, as shown below. This adjustment will allow the saddles to be moved forward or backward to their proper position.

To begin, connect the bass to a tuner, then tune it. Now, at the twelfth fret, play the harmonics of the string you’re starting with while keeping a close eye on the tuner to confirm that the tuning is correct. Then fret the same note on the twelfth fret and check the tuner once more. If the tuning is the same, you can proceed to the following string; if it isn’t, you’ll have to adjust the saddle.

Detune the string slightly before making any modifications so that the saddle screws glide effortlessly across the bridge rather than scratching it under strain. Find the saddle screw for that string now.

If the note was sharp, half-turn the screw clockwise, retune the string, and check the harmonic and the fretted note at the twelfth fret with the tuner. If the note was flat, repeat the process but spin the screw clockwise. You know you’ve got it correctly when the harmonic and fretted notes are identical.

Rep this procedure for each string, then retune the bass to ensure that all strings are in tune. This is required because intonation affects all of the strings in the same way that tuning one string affects others.

It’s usual to have to fine-tune your intonation several times before you get it just perfect, and it may take some time to figure out how much of an adjustment you need to make. Eventually, you’ll get it if you keep your eyes fixed on your tuner. (I guarantee you, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.)

Pro Advice:

  • Your bass will buzz more if your action is lower.
  • Fret buzz doesn’t always translate well through an amplifier. If fret buzz is a deal killer for you, make sure you double-check that it will be audible through your bass rig.
  • Don’t set up your bass until you’ve gotten a solid notion of how it’ll sound after it’s connected in.
  • Your ruler is your most trusted ally. A professional guitar technician will measure action all along the fretboard to account for the big picture. We don’t only play in one place, after all.
  • Measure your action at the third and seventeenth frets as well.

The height of your strings should follow the radius of your fretboard. You shouldn’t have to worry about having a 2-post bridge because your saddles will be pre-slotted.

If you’re modifying individual saddles, you’ll need to keep that radius by cascading down your measurements from the lowest-pitched string to the highest or using a radius gauge to make the necessary adjustments.


FAQs About How To Setup Bass Guitar

What Is The Cost Of Setting Up A Bass Guitar?

The cost will vary depending on the region and the amount of repair required on the guitar or bass. A professional setup costs roughly $50 on average, but it can cost up to $100 if there is much work to be done. Because the gauges of the strings affect intonation, new strings are frequently part of the setup process.

How Far Away From The Pickup Should Bass Strings Be?

For J- and P-basses, Fender recommends a 2mm space between the bottom of the string and the polepiece for the treble side and a 2.8mm space for the bass side.

What’s Up With My Bass Strings Slamming Into The Frets?

The following are the three most typical causes of fret buzz: The frets are not parallel to one another (some are taller, some are shorter), and The string action isn’t high enough. There isn’t enough “relief” in the neck (the neck is too straight or bowing backward)

How Do I Get Rid Of The Buzzing In My Bass Frets?

The neck angle can be changed (by a guitar tech or luthier). If your neck is too far back, it might cause fret buzz by reducing the strings’ height over the fretboard (action). Make sure your neck is at a comfortable angle. By raising or lowering the bridge, you can adjust the activity.


Fidlar hope this has helped you learn a little more about setting up your bass. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below, and we will get back to you!

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