Tonight's patient: my Fender Jazzmaster. I'll be setting it up (it never has been) and doing some preventative maintenance, and I'll show you the process so you can do it too. Save yourself approximately $35 vs. having it done by a pro!
I love to get my hands dirty. Some guitarists don't. They play for a while and then decide their guitar sounds like crap and they take it to a repair shop and pay someone to fix it. That's fine, but setting up and maintaining a guitar really isn't all that difficult, and it'll help you feel more of a connection to your guitar. It'll sound and feel the way you want it to. And if you can do it on a Jazzmaster, one of the most intricate instruments out there, then you can do it for any guitar. One of my most popular posts here has turned out to be my earlier Jazzmaster post, so it seems like there's plenty of interest in these guitars out on the interwebs.
I basically followed Angel Romero's great Jaguar setup guide, now hosted at the Higher Evolution of Offset-Waist Guitars site. I didn't really get quite as precise as he does in the guide, but I don't think it's really necessary. When you're doing a setup for yourself, you just do it by feel.
Also, make sure before doing any of this that you first do a tremolo setup using the excellent guide for it at the same site. This doesn't take very long, but you should do it first.
Here are the tools you really should have (though the ruler's honestly kinda useless - a straight-edge is recommended):
The capo and file are also sort of optional; the setup guide says to use a capo, but I didn't. The file is for your nut if it happens to bind (as mine did - explanation to come later). The other tools that you really do need are an electronic tuner, a small Philips screwdriver, a large Philips screwdriver, and a hex driver that matches your bridge hex nuts. (I'm pretty sure the size varies between US and Japanese models.)
One simple question that gets asked a lot in discussion forums is how you remove the Japanese tremolo arm. The simple answer is you just pull it out. It can be very tight and feel like it won't budge, but you just get some good leverage and make sure you're only pulling straight up and you just firmly (but gently) pull it out. After the first 2 or 3 times, it slides more easily.
After removing the superficial hardware (including the bridge cover), it was time to do some neck work. I'd never removed the neck on this guitar before tonight, but my neck had developed a slight bow and I wanted to correct it. In addition, the extreme low humidity in this area at this time of year had sapped the moisture out of the fretboard and I wanted to remedy that. I also have been having a little trouble with the guitar staying in tune, and after someone suggested checking my nut, I discovered the strings were binding. This happens when the slots in the nut just aren't quite wide enough to accommodate the strings.
A little digression: yeah, I'm dumb, I wasn't using a humidifier during this year's winter. I am now. That may have caused my slight neck bow, and it can cause other problems too. Make sure to maintain your humidity. I now have a hygrometer and a humidifier near my guitar.
Because I was going to completely remove the neck to do some more in-depth work than most setups require, I removed the strings rather than simply loosening them. This neck has never been totally de-tensioned before - I always change my strings one at a time. So even this part was a little scary for me. Here it is without strings:
Time to remove the neck. I flipped the guitar over, being careful to buttress both the body and the neck with foam blocks that I salvaged from the box that my wife's new guitar shipped in. The last thing you want is to break the pickup switch off or something while unscrewing the neck. Of course, you can always just buy a guitar work stand, but I don't think it's strictly necessary unless you plan on doing a lot of work on a regular basis.
The screws are coming out...
And there it is, the CIJ Jazzmaster neck. No neck stamp like the American version, just a JM-66 model number near the heel.
I was surprised at how easily the neck popped out. It didn't stick to the body; if I hadn't been holding it, it would have fallen right out of the neck pocket. That made it pretty easy; older necks that haven't been removed in a lot of years can stick and mar the finish if you yank it out the wrong way.
Here's what the neck pocket looks like:
No shims! Most Jazzmasters have at least one to maintain the correct neck angle; it's normal for a Jazzmaster. Mine has none. Doesn't need one, I guess.
The first thing I did was a truss rod adjustment; just a quarter-turn to tighten and get rid of that bow. I didn't want to go further than that, and that is the recommended increment. If you need more, you can always do more later. But a quarter turn is supposed to be enough in most cases, and it was in mine. You won't really want to go further anyway; you can really feel that rod pushing against the wood as you turn it, and there's a certain point where you say "ok, no more."
The second thing I did was file the nut. I just gently filed the sides of the slots a tiny bit with a metal emery board, making sure not to file downward and also trying my best not to overdo it. I figured I can always file more if I need to, but if I go too far and need a new nut... well, that's probably beyond my ability right now.
I left out one tool I used in my tool photo above because it's strictly optional and somewhat controversial:
Some say it's unnecessary, others say it's actually harmful (they're flat wrong), still others swear by it. I'm in the last camp.
The people who say it's harmful have confused two different products. There's lemon oil furniture polish, as in the photo above, and there's lemon (or orange) oil cleaner. The cleaner is a mild solvent - it's citric acid, it will eat your guitar's wood for breakfast. The furniture polish actually has no lemon or citrus in it at all. It's really mineral oil with a mild lemon scent (hence "lemon oil"). It's probably the best thing possible to use on unfinished wood. This is the stuff Queen Elizabeth's staff uses to refresh and maintain the antique wood furniture in Buckingham Palace. I always say that if it's good enough for her, it's probably good enough for your guitar.
Those who say it's unnecessary are probably right in certain environments. But I live in an area of extreme humidity swings. Humidity drops under 20% in winter and stays there. Even with a humidifier, I'm probably not going to be able to keep the humidity at really optimal levels all the time. If you're like me, you're gonna need to oil your fretboard to keep the frets from popping out and to avoid other problems (like a bowed neck). Some people swear by olive oil, and I dunno, it might work. (Probably smells, though.) But lemon oil is really, really good for wood. I use it on all sorts of things, and have for years.
After the neck work, it was time to screw the neck back on, re-string and tune up - I made sure to keep my bridge straight as I did so. I've learned from experience that it's easy to let the Jazzmaster's floating bridge fall backwards when re-stringing, and that makes for massive bridge saddle buzz.
And no, it's not your imagination, the neck did darken nicely from the oil:
Then I let the guitar sit for about an hour to re-set, and then I tuned again. It's at this point that you should check that your neck really is straight, using a straight-edge or the string itself as mentioned in the setup guide. I just did it visually, looking down the neck from the bridge.
Now to adjust the bridge height. My action has always been kind of high - within spec, but not completely satisfactory for me. The neck bow made it even higher near the top of the neck. With the neck now back to spec, my action was about where it was when I bought it... but still a little high for me. Adjusting this is as simple as turning the two hex screws that the bridge rests on, lowering the bridge:
There's obviously a compromise required in action height. Too low and you will fret out. The Jazzmaster's not really intended as a shredder guitar, so you're never gonna be able to get your strings pressed right up against the frets (well, not if you want to actually play it). I got mine pretty low, though, and I only get some occasionally slight buzz on low E on certain higher frets. I'll see if I can live with it; if not, it's simple to just raise it up slightly.
By the way, you should technically lower your pickups if you're lowering your strings. For me, I don't notice much difference with the strings lowered by a millimeter or so, so I didn't bother. I also am planning to replace my pickups within the next couple weeks, so I'll deal with pickup height at that point.
Now for intonation - time to make the guitar sound good!
Ok, for the beginners looking here for info on their new guitars: intonation is how well your guitar stays in tune all the way up and down the neck. It's kinda pointless for your guitar to be in tune on open strings but not when you're actually playing notes somewhere else on the neck. So this is really important.
Adjusting intonation can be kind of a long, laborious, annoying process. It's simple (the process is described in the guide), but there's just a lot of back and forth checking and re-checking and adjusting and re-adjusting, because to a certain extent the strings are interactive with each other and the tunings need to be absolutely perfect. You can't just do one string and call it done, you have to assume that any other adjustments you make will affect that string and go back and re-check them all again afterwards. And you have to do it multiple times.
My intonation was atrocious when I first checked it, as I kinda suspected from playing it that it would be. It took me about 45 minutes of checking tunings and moving bridge saddles back and forth before all of my strings were in tune both open and at the 12th fret. But when I got it, holy crap! It's a huge difference. It's the difference between sounding like a beginning amateur and sounding like a pro. Seriously.
And with that, it's done!
And hung back up on the wall:
It really is amazing how much better a guitar can feel and sound after a proper setup. And now that I've done some neck adjustments, it really doesn't seem so scary to me. Most setups won't even require adjustments like that, so really anybody can do this. It just requires a little time and patience, but not much skill. If you've never set up your guitar or had it done for you, do it and do it yourself!