I sometimes get questions from people who’d rather do their own guitar work than pay me $45 to do a setup and fret work on their instrument.
I won’t get into the “how-to” because you can find all that on YouTube and in Stewmac’s manuals, etc.
Besides, unless your guitar is fairly new, not much wear, no damage and completely stock – you really should let an experienced repair person work on your axe. There are just too many issues that can crop up that need experience and know-how to tackle.
But if your guitar is pretty new, etc. (as above), then sure – you can do some very important work on your guitar, like set relief, string height and intonation.
So what are the minimum required tools? You don’t need the understring radius gauges, notched straight edge tool, or some special setup to hold your guitar.
A simple metal ruler showing 1/32nd inch markings will work, but Stewmacs “String Action Guage” is really nice, and I use it all the time. But the ruler will do everything the guage does.
A feeler guage is not necessary, but can be helpful in cases where it’s sometimes hard to read the ruler, such as checking string height at first fret.
The fret level checker (rocker) is nice, but any straight edges of the proper lengths (must span 3 frets – no more, no fewer) will work fine. Be sure to check each string path. That’s six checks per fret. (Yes, this requires patience.)
Good allen wrenchs of proper sizes for your saddle screws and truss rod nut and good quality screw driver (for most guitars) for adjusting intonation.
Now you’re ready to set your relief, string height and intonation – three of the most important settings (after nut slot height).
I don’t recommend fret leveling, crowning or cutting nut slots for the inexperienced. Proceed only if you’re ready to pay someone to fix your mistakes or ready for a new axe!
If you are going to work on your nut slots, you will need those pricey nut files that Stewmac sells. Don’t fall for the DIY sets on YouTube! Ideal clearances at 1st fret are .04 to .02 inch. Go below .02 by very much and you’ll be replacing the nut!
If you’re going to do fret leveling and crowning, eBay has some great (i.e.: cheaper) alternatives to Stewmac’s tools. I recommend this $19 file for crowning: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07D64LQGG/ The only problem with it is it’s a bit long for easy use between the horns. For that area, I prefer the shorter Stewmac file, but if you’re careful and protect your guitar body, you can get by.
Almost forgot dressing the fret ends. Stewmac sells a triangular file with rounded edges for this, but I don’t see why you couldn’t round edges of your own file with a bench grinder. I like to follow this up with some 320 grit or a paper nail file.
Make your guitar body shine with Carnauba spray cleaner wax from Turtle Wax. If you have some light scratches to remove, first use Meguiar’s – something between a 3 and a 9 depending on the severity of the scratches.
So all it takes to set your relief, string height and intonate your guitar is –
- metal ruler with 32nds of an inch.
- some items with straight edges for fret rocking
- good allen wrenches
- good phillips screwdriver
- 320 grit sandpaper
- Carnauba spray cleaner wax