What I wish I knew to Start With

That the string height has to be correct or your stuffed.
In hindsight, the first thing i should have done; before even attempting to learn acoustic guitar, was to buy a string action gauge.
For months I’ve struggled with my chord changes and finger tip pain, to a point where i was about to give up.
Then after some google searches i decided to invest a few € on a fret gauge.
The height of the high E on the 12th fret was 3mm, far above the recommended 1,5-2,0 mm. A quick bit of tweeking with an allen key and i brought the height down to 2mm.
The difference is amazing, no more need for the grip of death, my chord changes are coming much easier as well.
However now I’m having to unlearn the grip of death and press far less hard.
It makes me wonder ?, how many people have given up because of something as simple as a a badly set up guitar that cost me so little to resolve ?


Glad to read you are sorted now Richard and yes time to untrain the brain from that death grip.

I think back to 1998 when I bought my first acoustic. The guy I lived next door to had been playing guitar for years and we went off and he helped me pick one. Neither him nor the expert in the shop said anything about string height and that how much I would benefit from having a setup done.

I’m still trying to get out of the habit of the death grip all these years late and I gave up back in 98 because of how hard I found it.

Maybe it should be something that you are told in a shop or even something on a piece of paper that is shipped with new guitars.

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I agree. I have wondered how many people gave up due to poor equipment. Probably quite a lot and that is unfortunate.

Heck, I go into a big (not to be named here) chain guitar store and 90% of their entry grade instruments are out of tune and often completely unset up. Many unplayable unless you already know something about guitars or aren’t afraid to ask.

My guess is most starting players, due to age or uncertainty, buy inexpensive instruments and are reluctant to spend even more for someone to set it up properly. If they even are aware that is a thing.

Another good reason to start with the best you can afford, but also a coherent program with a supportive community. Like we have here, for example.

The largest music chain in Canada includes a free set up on every guitar they sell. The sales staff tell you this when you buy your guitar. They tell you to take the guitar home for a few weeks and play it and let it acclimate to your home. They explain how the guitar is set up and if that changes bring it in for a free set it up.
I’m not sure if they set up their inexpensive guitars before selling them but I know they do go over their mid to high end ones.
My wife bought a new guitar in 2020 and hasn’t had to take it in at all. It’s been good since day one.
This should be standard practice for all guitar sales. Sadly it isn’t


all you need is a ruler or tape measure

There are guitars that can’t bet set-up properly without major work. I’m thinking of a lot of older ones. It’s hard to know when you first start off what is a train wreck and what isn’t. There are heirloom guitars out there that some would consider unplayable that newbies are trying to learn with. I can just imagine how frustrating that might be. When I purchased my first guitar ('74) I bought it from an experienced player who showed me the specs he set up to and what a properly set-up guitar it supposed to do. I appreciated that learning moment than came prior to the purchase. When I started learning I could have the confidence to know that things were buzzing, or were difficult, because of me or because there is a learning curve.

This was me over 10 years ago when I gave up after a month or so with a badly setup medium-string Yamaha FG700. IMHO for acoustic, going down to an extra light/custom light string gauge then setting up the guitar absolutely matters to get through the painful induction, no matter the guitar’s price.

Having my fingers flutter around the fretboard while semi-playing my favourite tunes around that 3mth mark ranks up there as one of the best feelings I’ve experienced.

Indeed a ruler and tape measure is ok, I have an engineers rule but its next to useless to measure string height. The string gauge with the printed on height blocks is so much more accurate and easy to use.
My main frustration is that as a total novice you don’t know what you’ve never heard of do you ?
Thankfully my stubborn Yorkshire streak kicked in, plus I am an engineer so i basically think; rightly or wrongly, that i can do most things i turn my hand to :grinning:
So I put on my logical head and went snooping for answers.
I’m not saying that I’ve set it up remotely as well as a professional, but it’s a damn site more playable now, and im getting the feeling back in my finger tips.

That it’s gonna take longer to “not suck” in my mind than I ever thought it would, but, it WILL HAPPEN! :slight_smile: