As a younger player, prior to getting into building and working on guitars I was constantly frustrated by poorly made and terribly setup guitars and so I did all I could to figure all this stuff out. My goal as a player was to have an instrument in my hands that would stay in tune, play in tune, play easily and allow me to focus on playing instead of worrying about something with my gear. This is my goal on all guitars that go out of the shop. If I would not play it or use it, it will not ship.
This being said, guitars do react not only to the rigors of initial shipping, but due to weather, playing styles, gauge changes and because they like to. As well as I can setup a guitar prior to shipping. It most likely will need some adjustment after purchase to get it to best suit your needs.
Contact your dealer with any and all warranty or adjustment questions as they should be able to handle any small issues (unless there is something defective that needs to be handled at our factory).
I set the Intonation here, however, I set it with my playing style so it may play perfectly in tune in my hands, but your particular hand pressure and where your fingers sit will have great impact on intonation. If you play "off center", meaning your fingers naturally fall somewhere other than centered evenly between the frets, you will find a guitar plays sharp. If you touch is especially light or heavy it will have an impact. The heavier your touch the sharper your fretted strings will sound. The guitars are shipped with 10-46 gauge strings (basses 45-105) so if you change gauges the need for setup and intonation is obvious.
We use Dunlop strings. 45-105 Standard Bass Sets and 10-46 Guitar Sets. Available at most shops.
More on strings. I personally have a very high acid content and large moisture output. This is a nice way of saying I am a sweaty, nasty bastard. I can only get about 5 hours of playing time on a set of strings before the intonation and overall sound quality is effected. I bring this up as you may want to look at your string maintenance schedule especially prior to wondering if your guitar is out of whack. "Out of whack" is a technical term meaning "in need of adjustment".
Tuning issues are by far the most mis-understood area of guitar setup and maintenance. Most tuning issues are caused by an improperly cut nut. This is especially the case with guitars having tremolos/vibratos. If the string does not move effortlessly through the nut slots, "slack storage" is the result. This is where the tension is not completely the same from the tuner all the way to the bridge. There will be one tension between the tuner and nut and another tension from the nut to the bridge. Pushing down or up on the tremolo and these different tensions are then evened out and your string is now out of tune. More will be said further down on nut slots, but for this discussion, two things thing I do is to make the nut slots much larger and with a shape that encourages even tension throughout and always use lubricant in the slot itself. I use chapstick as I always have some nearby. An easy test to see if you nut is correctly slotted and lubricated is to tune up your guitar, then press the strings behind the nut on the tuner side. If you press and release the string it should come back in tune. If it does not, it needs adjustment. Be sure that your strings are thoroughly stretched out and settled or you may get a false read. For tremolo users, if you dive bomb down and some of the strings come back sharp, this is a definite sign of a nut in need of attention.
More on tuning issues. I have yet to come across a guitar who's tuning issues were cased by the tuning gears themselves. Heavy duty and or locking tuners will do nothing for tuning problems if your nut is not setup right. It is my opinion (and shared by many others) that lighter tuners sound way better on fender style guitars. The added mass in the heavy duty and or locking tuners really changes the resonance and sparkle.
Nuts and Intonation
Nuts and intonation (playing sharp in the first few frets). For me this is really the biggest and yet least discussed or understood area of guitar adjustment and setup.
Here is a little theory for your head: If you were to tune your guitar down a half step and then capo up one fret your guitar would play consistently and have no tuning issues in the first few frets. 99% of the intonation issues in the first few frets are caused by nuts that are too high and improperly cut. When the nut is to high the added tension and pressure needed to press the string down causes the problems of those first few frets playing sharp. It is especially prevalent on the G string when playing the G# and A as it is the thickest of the unwound strings and is more reactive to tension. This tendency towards sharpness decreases rapidly as you move up the neck as you are increasing your distance from point zero (the nut) so rapidly in the first few frets. Once you are above the 6th or 7th fret each move is less of a change from point zero and the guitar starts intonating better. My approach is to cut the nut to behave as much like a zero fret as possible.
I also shape the nut to have fall-off so it is deeper towards the tuner side. This gives the string the most natural travel with the least resistance and really helps with tuning issues cased by "slack storage". If there is a downside to my way of doing this it is that you will end up with a bit more fret rattle in the open strings, but no more then what you would have on any fretted string. The problem is that virtually all other guitars are made with nuts that are very high so our ears and hands have been trained to hear / feel no fret rattle in the open strings. The fret rattle that I speak of is what you hear acoustically and is virtually non-existent through an amp. If you have recently purchased a Nashguitar and think the nut is too low or you have more rattle than acceptable, chances are it is not the nut but the truss rod needs adjustment as the neck is over-straight. That or you are just not used to it.
Neck/Truss rod adjustment. A neck should have slight "relief". This means that it should have the slightest bit of concave bow. Once again playing styles do have some impact in the area. A player that is really aggressive may want a bit more relief as added string vibration can cause more fret rattle or buzz. There are many theories about just how much relief is correct and some guys use calipers and other tools and get really ultra-fussy in this area. My way of telling if the neck is right is to hold the guitar in the most common playing position tuned normally (gravity will straighten you neck out if you lay it flat on a table, so unless you play lying down do not check this with the guitar flat on it's back). If you do play lying down I think that is really cool. In your playing position, press on the low (thick) E string at the first fret with your fretting hand. With your picking hand, press the last fret on the same string. While holding the string like see if there is just a smidgeon of clearance in the middle of the neck under that string. Smidgeon is a technical term meaning a little thicker than a piece of paper but not as much thickness as a Fender Heavy pick. Do the same test on the high (thin) E string If there is no relief, your neck is over straight and needs to be loosened. If there is too much relief then it needs to be tightened. Truss rods generally need only a quarter to half turn to make a difference. If the testing show that the high and low sides are different which is common as the thing is made of wood and the strings are of uneven tension, adjust for an average. It is better to have less relief on the treble side if that is an option. If the sides are radically different you may need to have a pro look at it to diagnose a possible twist. This is very rare.
I adjust the action so that you can bend a minor third up on the high E string without fretting out. For those of you brought up on tablature, this is "like a really big bend of three frets, dude". If you need to bend more than this, you have listened to too much Dream Theatre and will either need to raise the action or buy an Ibanez. The low side action is adjusted so that though there may be some fret rattle it will not come through an amp. If you play aggressively or through a really clean amp, this may need to be raised.
This is a common issue with bolt on necks. If the strings seem to be too close to either edge of the fretboard. No worries, the bridge has not been installed off center. The neck has simply shifted in the neck pocket. Loosen the 4 neck bolts about half a turn, put the guitar flat on your lap, grab the headstock in one hand, the body on the bottom near the strap button with the other (depending on whether it has shifted towards bass or treble side), use your tummy area as a fulcrum point and pull the neck back into place. Once done, tighten the neck bolts as tight as you can.
Sharp Fret Edges
Sometimes we must allow for a bit of inconvenience to gain a very important feature. Most “component” necks are dipped in a sealing and stabilizing solution at the MFG level. This is done to stop the neck from loosing or taking on moisture. The benefits of this practice is that the necks will rarely warp and thus very few necks will need to be taken back and replaced under warranty. This all sounds positive, however, these sealed necks do not sound nearly as resonant as a neck that is left unsealed. We order our necks with no sealer/stabilizer so we get the optimum resonance from the neck. This means, we will end up with a few warped necks once in a while and I am happy to replace those few necks in order to gain the better sound. Now to take this all a step further, we use nitrocellulose finish, most of which is removed during cosmetic aging. This does allow the neck to change in moisture content just slightly over time. This little bit of change is completely normal. What will happen on some necks is the wood gets smaller (on a near microscopic level) and yet the metal frets are not subject to any change. This means a very small edge of the fret may stick out. Fix is simple. Just sand the edges of the frets with 600 sandpaper and touch up with 000 steel wool. In a pinch an emery board will do for those of you who wish for an excuse to dig through your wife or girlfriend’s purse. After doing the frets, give yourself a manicure and pedicure. You deserve it. This may need to be done 2 or 3 times over the life of the guitar, but once your neck has lost the maximum moisture, it will not happen again. Sorry that there is no way around this while still keeping the resonance at its best. Footnote on this is that we only use the old fashioned single truss rod. As nice as a double expanding truss rod system may be, it is heavy and dense and really sucks the tone out of the neck We are happy to perform the sanding and re-buffing to the edges of the neck as a warranty fix in the first year to the original owner. Please contact us for shipping details. Keep in mind that this is not a defect.
Pots and Switches
Get some contact/electronic cleaner spray, open the patient up and spray into the little holes near the solder posts on the pots and all over the switch. Move everything back and forth and do it again. You cant hurt anything and your spouse will be impressed at your handiwork. You can pick this spray up at Radio Shack, where you will be hounded about switching your cellular phone service by a young person who has no clue about ohms, watts (except Naomi), caps (unless busting one in your ass), pots (except for cooking utensils or dope) or any other related subject.
From time to time when re-stringing it is nice to polish up your frets. With strings off, use 000 steel wool and rub back and forth lengthwise on fret tops until shiny. Cover your pickups with tape or you will spend the next year trying to get the steel wool dust off your pole pieces.
Pickup height adjustment. I adjust with the neck pickup medium high and the bridge pickup high - much closer to the strings. Usually the treble side should be closer to the strings than the bass side to make up for larger mass and vibration. Adjustments should be made for your own ear. If your low E string is not intonation and sounds a bit like two notes fighting each other chances are one or more pickups are a bit too close.
Neck Shims (AKA - I just took the neck off my Nash and those bastards used a guitar pick to shim the neck!)
We shim just about every neck. This is not because they need it or there is something wrong with neck pocket, fit or anything else. It is that we want the most angle over the bridge saddles possible. This gives us the maximum tension and sustain as well as giving us the ability to get all or most of the saddle adjustment screws below the surface. This makes the guitar much better for those who rest their hand on the bridge for muting. If you do not want the shim, take it out and lower the bridge saddles, but you may notice that the guitar does not sound or feel as good.
IMHO. Way too many guitarists have no clue how to perform the most basic setups and adjustments. You are doing yourself a huge dis-service by not having these skills. Empower yourself and pickup a book on setups. Not only will you be able to get your guitar playing exactly how you like it, but you will not be at the mercy of high priced guitar techs. The humidity, temperature, aging and many other factors will constantly be changing your guitar. If you do not keep up on it, over time it will play like shit.