At the beginning of a luthier’s carreer one starts to obsess over how to make that special instrument and where the secrets are: is that bracing the best one, are thinner sides better or worse, will a heavy neck improve a guitar or a light one will? Many more of these relatively pointless questions fill up much of the overloaded brain of the aspiring luthier.
Truth is, there are no clear cut answers to most of these questions, since the instruments one makes are so complex and all the details have to work with each other. You’ll have to learn how to combine all of it in a harmonious way to get as close as you can to the desired result. And, of course, there is no ‘best’ instrument to begin with…
Still, some things are very important for the technical functioning of the guitar and do make a difference regardless of the acoustic peculiarities of the instrument. Although these aspects do not make good guitars by themselves, they are needed in order to express any instrument at it’s best. It might be boring to learn and perfect these details, but it’s essential.
A flawless setup has advantages over a mediocre one in two key aspects:
- It maximizes the acoustic potential of any given instrument, avoiding energy loss through moving or vibrating parts that do not contribute to audible sound (frets, nut, saddle…).
- It enables the player to express more freely, not having to worry about buzzes, inconsistent strings position, unconfortable neck and fingerboard etc.
Other than the physical dimensions being correct, the fingerboard and frets have to be clean and well dressed; perfecdtly polished frets also help improve string life.
Fret ends need to be polished too; they will feel smooth to the touch and since they are very visible to the player, if rough they can give a negative impression, that can impact the trust the player has in the guitar.
Nut an saddle:
The bridge saddle is extremely important for the transmission of the string’s vibration to the top; no slop have to be tolerated here and it has to be shaped carefully.
The nut, although not as critical as the bridge saddle, is very important nonetheless, hence it also needs to fit perfectly and be shaped accordingly well.
After so much time devoted to build each instrument, the las few hours are probably the most demanding, but also key in order to maximize the instrument’s potential and to fully express the maker’s worth.