Can a guitar or bass guitar that you buy online be set up and adjusted before it’s shipped off? This is a question that we get asked a lot. As such, we’ve put this little blog together to explain what actually goes into setting up a guitar or bass and why it’s not possible to – or actually understandable that we don’t – set up a brand new guitar before sending it out to you.
Ordering a Guitar Online: Why Hasn't It Been Set Up Already?

Factory Settings or Personal Preference

Guitarists and bassists often have their own, very personal preferences when it comes to the set up of their instrument. Some prefer a set of really light gauge strings that sit super-close to the fretboard, while another will prefer a higher action and some extra thick strings with an uber-low tuning. Because it’s simply impossible to know who is actually going to buy an instrument and what they actually want in terms of the set up, manufacturers of electric and acoustic guitars and basses will usually opt for a standard factory setting. This set up is tuned according to the action, string thickness, and tuning preferences of the ‘average’ guitarist, simply because this means that, 9 times out of 10, most of the guitarists that actually buy the instrument will be able to tune up and start playing it straight out of the box.


Another reason for not setting up an instrument is that the guitarist or bassist who eventually plays it will probably need to spend a little time getting to know it. Acoustic guitars, for example, come fitted with a saddle that usually comes from the factory set too high. Here, you can always shave a little of the underside of the saddle off to reduce the action of the guitar. The guitar will also need a little time to adjust and acclimatise. Since the guitar is made of wood, it’s possible that the body and neck will need to get used to the new situation. In other words, the wood can expand and shrink depending on temperature and humidity shifts.

Playing it in

Pretty much all guitars are made overseas, and usually come from the far East or America. So, before reaching your grubby mitts, your guitar has had to travel for a couple of weeks inside a shipping container – without the luxury of any heating. If you order a guitar from an online store, then it’s also likely that it’s spent some time sitting quietly waiting in a warehouse. So, when you finally get it home, the wood needs to get used to a cosy house complete with central heating, and understandably needs a fair few hours of playing time so that it can settle. Once you’ve got to know each other pretty well, it;s only then that you can really start thinking about the adjustments needed to set it up.

Want to Know More?

> Setting Up Your Electric Guitar
> How To String & Set Up a Floyd Rose Tremolo

4 responses
  1. Ross Dunning says:

    I buy my guitars online which means I’m taking a chance on the quality of the set up for a start. It’s possible some guitars are set up well while others haven’t been checked at all. My position to minimise the latter is to buy B stock guitars. They are fully guaranteed and are probably ex demo models that are well set up for customers to try in house and in my experience are flawless and quite a bit cheaper. It’s possible to find a beautiful instrument well set up for 50 quid cheaper than the brand new version.

  2. Neil says:

    I agree. A setup is a must. Guitar experts should know this right ?
    Open the box, check it isn’t damaged in any way.
    Check the Frets are level
    Put new strings on it and adjust the action (ask the customer what they want)
    Check the intonation
    Close box and send.
    At the very most the end customer may have to tweek the truss rod because of humidity changes

  3. Some Guy says:

    What I find interesting is that every shop that sells instruments online always give out the exact same reasons for not levelling the frets, always giving the excuse to try and hide the fact that the frets are not level.

    If you do not check to see if the frets are level and crowned properly before sending it out then no one should bother buying from that place and giving the usual excuses of “Acclimatisation” is not going to be able to hide the fact if the frets are not level.

    It make sense to say that unlevel frets is the main reason why someone can not set up their own guitar or bass because everybody cant so easily adjust their bridge and neck with the Allen keys that COME WITH THE INSTRUMENT.
    If the frets are all level and crowned properly, it means that the action can be set to it’s lowest position WITHOUT buzzing.
    And don’t start going on about “doing it yourself” when it comes time to talk about fret levelling because then the guitar or bass becomes unreturnable if you start filing away at the frets, didn’t do it properly then there is no fall-back for the customer who SHOULD of got perfectly level frets especially after paying for one.

    In summary, places that sell stringed instruments should be checking the frets, levelling and crowning them PROPERLY before sending them out to people.

    It is lazy for a place to sell stringed instruments, not checking the frets and then putting buzzing frets down to “Acclimatisation” when it comes time to talk about high action guitars and basses with buzzing frets.

  4. Pete SI says:

    Learn to setup your guitar yourself.

Leave a Reply