For every guitarist, having their instrument professionally set up is important to ensure your instrument is sounding and playing great and keeping it that way over its lifetime.
But how much does a professional guitar setup cost? I’ve seen so many conflicting opinions, vague estimates, or even estimates that don’t apply to everyone.
In this guide, I’ll try to explain why professional setups are important and clear up some of the confusion surrounding how much they cost.
Table of Contents
Why Is a Guitar Setup Important?
Before getting into how much a guitar setup costs, I’d like to go over why we have them done and what a setup actually involves. Understanding what you’re paying for can help you know how much you should be paying.
I’d say there are two main reasons to get your guitar set up: when you just bought the guitar to make sure it’s in good shape, and then probably about once a year. Some guitarists say that you should have at least two setups done a year, but I wouldn’t call this a must for most people.
If you’ve just bought a guitar, I would say a setup is in order. I’ve never felt it necessary on brand new guitars, but on second-hand guitars, I would always get them at least checked out.
Even if the guitar sounds and plays great, a second-hand guitar might have a small issue that you can’t really notice unless you know what to look for.
After the initial setup, I generally only have another setup done about once a year. This is usually just as a checkup or if I need something specific done like having the electronics checked or an acoustics saddle adjusted.
What Goes into a Professional Setup?
This might differ slightly from place to place, but I’d say there are generally 12 steps in a full setup, not including removing the old strings and cleaning before the setup.
A full setup should go something like this:
- Adjust the truss rod
- Adjust the bridge and saddle
- Adjust the string radius and action
- Adjust the pickup height
- Check the tremolo system if the guitar has one
- Adjust the tuning machines
- Check the nut and lube slots
- Check the fret wire for wear and tear, then polish
- Condition the fretboard if the wood is unfinished
- Put on new strings
- Calibrate the intonation, usually digitally
- Clean the guitar
Some places might do a bit more like also checking the electronics on an electric guitar, but I’ve also heard of some places only doing the bare minimum of adjusting the truss rod and replacing the strings. If they’re charging you less than you expected, then that’s probably the only setup you’re getting from them or you have to actually specify that they do a full setup.
I’d recommend finding out what the setup involves at the guitar shop you’re going to before handing your instrument over and possibly getting a bit ripped off. Also, a good setup should include new strings in the price.
How Much Can You Expect to Pay for a Setup?
Now that you know why setups are important and what they involve, you should be able to make a decent guess as to how much they should cost.
The most common price range I see is $50 – $100. This is a fair estimate, but I find it a bit vague and can still leave a lot of people guessing.
A big factor in how much you’re going to pay for a setup is the guitar itself. Acoustic guitar setups are usually going to cost less since they’re a bit easier to work with than electrics.
I’d say that $50 would be about the right amount for an acoustic setup with a truss rod and saddle adjustments, polishing the frets, and replacing the strings. If the nut needs to be filed, an additional $15 could be added on top.
For electric guitars, you’ll probably be looking at an extra $25, so $75 for a setup. Depending on the guitar, you might pay a bit more or a bit less. Meaning an SX will be cheaper to set up than a Fender Squier.
I’ve also seen a difference in cost between guitars with a Bigsby or Fender-style tremolo system, and guitars with Floyd Rose-style systems. A Floyd Rose system can easily cost an extra $20, but I’ve even seen it going as high as $60.
The reason for this is that Floyd Rose systems are a bit harder to restring, and they usually require extra calibration to set up correctly to make sure the intonation is right.
Another big factor that I’ve noticed is the area you live in. The cost of living in an area affects goods and services and can make a guitar setup either cheaper or more expensive depending on an area’s cost of living. Seattle, for example, has a high cost of living, and a setup there is about $20 more than say Denver.
With all these factors, I think the estimates for a guitar setup should look something like this:
- Acoustic setup: $50 – $65
- Electric guitar: $75 – $100
- Electric guitar w/ Floyd Rose: $100 – $125
- Cost of Living: -+$10 – $20
Just to be clear, these are still just estimates, and prices in your area may be very different. I’ve seen a lot of mentions of people paying as little as $25 for a setup, although usually, this excludes strings.
I should mention that a setup isn’t the same as a repair or replacement. If you need something repaired or want to replace a part, you’ll have to ask your local shop how much they charge since it will depend entirely on the part and you’ll probably be charged per hour.
Can’t I Just Do a Guitar Setup Myself?
At this point, you might be wondering why you can’t just do a guitar setup yourself. The simple answer is you can, and I would even recommend every guitarist learn how to do a guitar setup, even just a basic one.
If you know how to replace strings, adjust your guitar’s truss rod, bridge, and string action, you could end up saving quite a bit of money. These are usually the only things that need to be done, and if you can do it yourself, then you don’t have to send your guitar in every time it needs to be done.
I wouldn’t expect or even recommend doing a setup if you’re still a beginner. Start with something simple like restringing your guitar and adjust the action, then slowly move up to truss rod adjustments as you get more comfortable.
Of course, some things will still need to be done by professionals with not only the experience but also the right tools.
Ideally, a guitar setup should be around $50 for an acoustic guitar and around $75 for an electric guitar, $100 if it’s an electric guitar with a Floyd Rose-style tremolo.
I always over-budget and usually add an extra $20 or so to account for any extra charges like unforeseen repairs or a price increase I didn’t know about.
With all that said, I hope I’ve given you a better understanding of how much a professional guitar setup costs and what you can expect to pay.