Setup requires the neck, frets, nut and saddle/bridge to all be adjusted in unison. Oftentimes it will become apparent that the frets need leveling or can’t be leveled because they are too worn, or the nut needs replacing. This should be done with the gauge of strings you intend to play with. I will ask what kind of action you like. It depends on how you play. A proper setup will never take less than 1 hour. When a setup is done properly the frets will have a constant height. The nut slots will have the proper depth, the intonation and string height at the saddles will be correct, and the action will be right for you. The truss rod nut will sometimes be lubricated. Although rare, it’s important to know that truss rod nuts can sometimes freeze up and break the rod or strip if they haven’t been maintained or adjustment has been abused. I will notify you of this condition before performing any work. If anything changes after a proper setup it will be the relief in the neck, which in most cases is minor and is adjusted out with the truss rod. Wood properties vary with humidity and temperature. This is what causes the neck to change shape. On higher quality guitars the effect is minimal but still occurs.
Example: Here is how Joe Satriani’s guitar tech sets up his guitars. I lifted this from his site to show you that for a given setup it can take days to do it. Of course you and I do not have days and we do the best we can in a few hours at minimal cost to you, but you get the idea. A setup like this would cost upwards of $150.00 and could go to $500.00 if neck and fret work is considered. Most production guitars will not provide adjustment to 2/64″ without buzzing and fretting out unless you do some fret work.
Low and even, that’s how Joe likes his string height. The measurement from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of each string is just over 2/64″. There are reasons for this (See Joe’s Set-up Ideas)
This is low!
The final setup goes like this:
I arc the bridge saddles so the string height matches the fingerboard radius. Now strung to pitch I tighten the truss rod until the neck is perfectly straight.
At this point I adjust the bridge as low as possible and still allow 2 things: clean string bends above the 10th fret and a clean low e from the 10th fret up to the 22nd fret. Joe’s touch is light so low works out fine.
Next we loosen the truss rod to create a very slight bow in the neck. I cannot say how much, each guitar has its own place that it wants to be. What we are trying to do is clean up the low strings from the 1st to 7th fret. I find this out by playing and experimenting.
There is a very tight tolerance in adjustments for the guitars to play well. Before the final intonation the nut must be lowered to the correct height. In Joe’s case very low about .010 on the high e string to about .013to.015 on the low e string.