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Guitar Setup Tools (How To Make Your Own Player’s Tool Kit)

if you had to start from scratch, what would be the essential must-have guitar setup tools you’d need to get started?

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Guitar Setup Tools 101

Whether you prefer electric or acoustic guitars, here’s a comprehensive guide to all the guitar maintenance tools you need to tackle most common guitar adjustments like a pro!

Even better, when combined with our guide on How To Set Up A Guitar, you get the full power of a one-two punch!

In other words, if you like doing things yourself, this is the perfect guide to assembling your own guitar tools kit – without having to break the bank, or be a rocket scientist.

guitar setup tools
Setting up a ’52 Telecaster Reissue bridge

Furthermore, if you’re new to the instrument, it’s still totally possible to set up your own guitar without having to pay a pro and wait while it’s in the shop.

Or maybe you just want to improve the factory setup so it plays exactly how you like it.

Whatever your reasons, if you’re confident you can do a reasonably good job, you’ll at least need a basic guitar setup kit to get started.

With experience, you can always add more specialized guitar luthier tools that let you deal effectively with bigger problems.

Acoustic Guitar Action
Checking String Height

We hope you find this article helpful, informative and unbiased. By using links on this page we may receive compensation at no extra cost. If you do use them, thank you so much!

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What Tools Do I Need to Set Up a Guitar?

For convenience, the tools are broken down into three main sections in order of priority starting with guitar tools for beginners. The individual guitar tools sections are:

Essential Tools, Intermediate and Advanced Tools respectively.

The first list is the basic tech guitar tool kit anyone should need to start working on their own guitars.

As your skills improve , the remaining guitar adjustment and repair tools in remaining lists can be added gradually.

Fender and Gibson truss rod wrench adjusters
The best guitar setup tools include correct truss rod wrenches!

Since many players appreciate a fine setup but don’t service their own guitars, either because they don’t have the time or the desire to do so, you might even consider doing guitar setups for other people.

Other than the following straight forward items, the remainder of the tools you’ll need will be a little more specific to working on guitars.

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30+ Guitar Setup Tools That Work

Let’s be clear about one very important fact; there are gadgets designed to give you the illusion of practicality, then there are those essential guitar setup tools that actually function in the real world, and you can depend on on a regular basis.

Question is: do you prefer the former, or the latter? Personally, I prefer to get the job done with as few headaches as possible.

Having said that, what follows is a comprehensive, meat-and-potatoes list of guitar setup tools derived from practical (and professional) experience spanning over 30+ years:

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Essential Tools

KLIQ UberTuner - Professional Clip-On Tuner for All Instruments (multi-key modes) - with Guitar, Ukulele, Violin, Bass & Chromatic Tuning Modes (also for Mandolin and Banjo)

Basic Guitar Tuner

A guitar tuner is a must have tool. Handy for everyday use and absolutely necessary for calibrating exact intonation on guitar or bass. if you’re using it strictly for intonation purposes, spend the money on a good one – it’s well worth it.

Get a guitar tuner here >>


D’Addario NS Tri-Action Capo, Black – For 6-String Electric and Acoustic Guitars – Micrometer Tension Adjustment for Buzz-Free, In-Tune Performance - Single Hand Use – Integrated Pick Holder

Guitar Capo

A guitar capo used intelligently for setups is like having a third hand. It can be used mid way up the neck while you thread the string post on Bigsby fitted instruments, or at the nut to keep loose strings organized.

Get a guitar capo here >>


MusicNomad MN221 GRIP Guitar String Peg Winder, Rubber Lined & Dual Bearing

String Winder

For an inexpensive item, a string winder magnificent at saving your wrist and your valuable time. Tip: on cheaper models, put a metal washer between the key holder and handle, and use a wood screw to hold it all together. It’ll last for decades!

Get a string winder here >>


IGAN-P6 Wire Flush Cutters, 6-inch Ultra Sharp and Precision Side Cutter Clippers with Longer Flush Cutting Edge, Spring-loaded, Ideal Wire Snips for Crafting and Any Clean Cut Needs

Side Cutters

From chopping off fresh string ends to dispatching any kind of continuous wire that needs to be removed, side cutters are a super handy tool for general use around the guitar. A much better alternative to the kitchen scissors!

Get side cutters here >>


Lisle 68100 Deluxe Feeler Gauge, Regular

Feeler Gauges

A feeler gauge set comes in handy for checking fret wear, neck relief, and any other small gap that needs exact measuring. To measure worn frets in an affected area, hold a string down directly on top of one fret and the next fret to it, then use the feeler gauge to measure the gap under the string.

Get the feeler gauge set here >>


Mitutoyo 182-105, Steel Rule, 6' X 150mm, (1/32, 1/64', 1mm, 1/2mm), 3/64' Thick X 3/4' Wide, Satin Chrome Finish Tempered Stainless Steel

Precision Ruler

A ruler for guitar setup comes in handy for checking nut width, string height, saddle width and more, a good precision ruler gets the job done in a flash. Luckily most small precision rulers these days come with fine incremental markings in both inches and millimeters – and they’re cheap!

Get a precision ruler here >>


IRWIN VISE-GRIP Long Nose Pliers, 6-Inch (2078216)

Needle Nose Pliers

Once again, one of those must-have tools for wrangling small parts and getting into tight spaces where your fat fingers can’t. Needle nose pliers are a great tool for all sorts of fine guitar setup tasks.

Get needle nose pliers here >>


Excel Blades Needle Point Awl Tool, .060 inch Steel Tip Hobby Punch Tool for Flooding and Vinyl Air Release Tool for Vinyl Crafts, Car Wrapping and Weeding

Needle Point Awl

It might seem inconspicuous, but this tool gets more attention than just about any other small hand tool on the workbench. From prying up cavity covers, priming new screw holes, to poking out unwanted small bits of debris, the needle point awl is an indispensable little workhorse.

Get the needle point awl here >>


TEKTON 6 Inch Adjustable Wrench | 23002

Adjustable Wrench

It might seem inconspicuous, but this tool gets more attention than just about any other small hand tool on the workbench. From prying up cavity covers, priming new screw holes, to poking out unwanted small bits of debris, the needle point awl is an indispensable little workhorse.

Get an adjustable wrench here >>


MusicNomad F-ONE Fretboard Oil Cleaner & Conditioner 2 oz (MN105)

Fretboard Conditioner

A good quality fretboard-friendly fretboard conditioning oil will go a long way in keeping your instrument’s playing surface in good nick. A fretboard conditioner will help replenish open-pored woods natural resiliency, especially after cleaning. Plus northern climate conditions can tend to dry them out over time.

Get fretboard conditioner here >>


Dunlop 654 Formula 65 Guitar Polish & Cleaner 4oz.

Guitar Polish

You’ve done a lot of work achieving a great guitar setup. Considering you just had your dirty fingers all over the most intimate parts of the guitar, let’s make it look new with a good guitar polish – clean it up!

Get guitar polish here >>


Fender and Gibson truss rod wrench adjusters

Truss Rod Wrench

For adjusting the neck relief, truss rod wrenches are absolutely indispensable. Most modern off-shore guitars use a 4mm hex drive – but! – there are truss rod adjusters that are specific to branded instruments and high-end manufacturers. If you’re unsure, a quick visual inspection and a little Google-ing about you guitar will clarify what the right tool should be. Otherwise, the most common truss rod adjusters (other than 4mm hex) are:

  • Gibson USA 5/16″ Drive: for adjusting the brass nut most commonly found on North American made instruments.
  • Fender USA 1/8″ Hex Key: since US-made instruments require extra reach for adjustment, the extended drive is the hallmark of Fender guitar tools, particularly with Bi-Flex truss rods.

Screwdrivers

Other Basic Setup Tools

Thankfully, guitars tend to have fairly standardized hardware. In the same way. there are a few basic hand tools, particularly screwdrivers, that are must-haves for working on your own instruments. Whether you play acoustic or electric guitar, these are the guitar-specific tools to have:

  • 1/8″ Flat Screwdriver: particularly useful on vintage instruments and reissues with fine slot screws. It also comes in handy when small Phillips screws are degraded as the right angle edges of the blade provide a good bite when extracting them.
  • #1 Phillips Screwdriver: ideal for dealing with fine Phillips head screws commonly found around truss rod covers, pickup surrounds, pickup height screws, control plates, pickguard screws etc.
  • #2 Phillips Screwdriver: absolutely necessary for things like neck plate screws. An ideal choice is the 12″ version which provides stellar control when adjusting claw plate screws.
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Intermediate Tools

Korg OT-120 Orchestral Tuner

Orchestral Tuner

In a good guitar tuner, absolutely NOTHING beats the visual accuracy of an analog needle, except for perhaps high-end strobe tuners. A precise visual representation, when combined with refined digital readout information, is as good as it gets.

Get the orchestral tuner here >>


Fret Rocker AND String Height Gauge - Deadly Accurate 100% Made in the USA

String Action Gauge / Fret Rocker

A string action gauge or fret rocker is great for checking short sections of neck straightness, finding problematic frets that may be too high or low., and getting as good read on string height. What your eyes miss, this tool will see no problem.

Get a string action gauge here >>

MusicNomad MN220 GRIP Drill Bit String Peg Winder

String Winder Adapter

If you find using a hand crank string winder cumbersome or uncomfortable, a string winder adapter makes winding up stress excess a breeze. Be sure to use a power with relatively low power and spin rate like a cordless screwdriver. Unless you’re extremely careful, we don’t recommend using a power drill, it has the potential to destroy your tuners!

Get the string winder adapter here >>


Breman Precison Metal Ruler 18 Inch - Stainless Steel Corked Backed Metal Ruler - Premium Straight Edge Metal 18 Inch Rulers - Flexible Stainless Steel Ruler - Inch and Metric

Precision Straight Edge

For a fool-proof method of checking general straightness of a guitar neck, a precision straight edge is the setup tool to use.
Pro Tip: With the strings off of the guitar, flex the middle of the straight edge while setting it at different points around the neck. This will give you an instant read, and allow you to straighten the neck properly for further work.

Get a precision straight edge here >>


Dunlop NC65 Formula 65 Neck Cradle Maintenance Station

Neck Support

A guitar neck support is a key investment as it keeps the neck and headstock safe by elevating it off the work surface. Plus it gives you room to work around the tuners and rest of the instrument hands-free.

Get the neck support here >>


MusicNomad MN208 Premium Instrument Work Mat, 17' x 36'

Guitar Mat

A guitar neck support is a key investment as it keeps the neck and headstock safe by elevating it off the work surface. Plus it gives you room to work around the tuners and rest of the instrument hands-free.

Get the guitar mat here >>


Micro-Mesh 3 x 4 Soft Touch Pads

Micro-Mesh Sandpaper

Micro-Mesh Sandpaper works wonders for polishing frets and other metal guitar parts to a new shine. When used in the proper grade sequence and with proper technique, you can also use it for minor finish touch-ups. The best part? It lasts virtually forever!

Get Micro-Mesh sandpaper here >>


Vangoa Guitar Luthier Tools Set Including String Action Ruler Gauge and Guitar Notched Radius Gauges for Guitar Bass Setup

Guitar Radius Gauges

For measuring fretboard curves, these guitar radius gauges are better than the currently popular under-string radius gauges – though those do have their place. With this set, the notches let you measure the neck’s radius directly on the fretboard without interference from the strings.

Get the guitar radius gauges here >>


Weller WLC100 40-Watt Soldering Station

Soldering Iron & Solder

If you’re working on electric guitars of any kind, a good soldering iron is an absolute necessity for repairing guitar electronics. Be sure to use the highest quality solder, avoid cold solder joints, and of course refrain from using marettes in guitar wiring!

Get a soldering iron & solder here >>


Hosa D5S-6 CAIG DeoxIT 5% Spray Contact Cleaner, 5 oz.

Electrical Contact Cleaner

Especially useful for rejuvenating scratchy sounding pots, electrical contact cleaner is a must-have to keep your controls working and sounding great. But be warned – DO NOT use it around lacquer-based (like Gibson) and vintage finishes as it will eat into the finish.

Get electrical contact cleaner here >>


11PCS Mini Precision Screwdriver Set, Small Screwdriver Set for Electronics, Toys, Computer, Watch Repair

Precision Screwdriver Set

There are those small screws and parts around a guitar that require a little more finesse to deal with. To do the right job without destroying a part, that’s where a small precision screwdriver set comes in handy.

Get the precision screwdriver set here >>


Inspection mirror

Inspection Mirror

Particularly useful for acoustic players. When combined with a bright little flashlight, an inspection mirror helps you see internal guitar problems such as broken braces and cracks. You can also check out the cabling of an onboard pickup system,  and easily determine the source of other problems.

Get the inspection mirror set here >>


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Advanced Guitar Setup Tools

Allparts, Knob Puller Replacement and Small Parts for Electric Guitar (LT-1401-023)

Guitar Knob Puller

Many press-on knobs, especially acrylic, will crack without uniform pressure when trying to pull them off. To get around the potential cost of damage and replacement, particularly with original vintage parts, this inexpensive guitar knob puller tool will do the job safely.

Get the guitar knob puller here >>


Adjustable Toggle Switch Wrench

Adjustable Toggle Switch Wrench

If you’ve ever tried to tighten up the toggle switch nut on the poker chip on a guitar, you know the frustration. The adjustable toggle switch wrench from Allparts makes this job soooo much easier. It is without a doubt, another one of those “Why didn’t I get one of these sooner?” guitar maintenance tools.

Get the adjustable toggle switch wrench here >>


Grizzly T25458 Nut Files, Set of 8

Guitar Nut Files

A set of guitar nut files are crucial for finessing guitar nuts and saddles. Better tools = better results. A single file designed to cut one gauge only is worth its weight in gold. Pro Tip: Until they’re broken in, new nut files can have a lot of “bite” which can lead to chipping or binding with harder materials – take it easy, take your time and be careful!

Get guitar nut files here >>


Hex Keys, Allen keys with handles

Hex Keys With Handles

Hex keys with handles. It’s one of those things where you ask yourself, “Why didn’t I get these sooner?…” Once you use these sublime little guitar setup tools you’ll know why – easy precision and control!

Get the hex keys with handles here >>


StewMac Neck Shims for Guitar, Made of Solid Maple, For Bolt-on Neck, Shaped, Set of 3

Guitar Neck Shims

If your strings are too high or low, and all the other obvious  adjustments have been done, the problem may be in the neck angle. These precision-sanded guitar neck shims are designed to help correct the neck angle with respect to the body. With bolt-on neck guitars, like the majority of Fender guitars, full contact = full tone.

Get guitar neck shims here >>


Digital Caliper

Digital Caliper

A digital caliper is indispensable for checking string gauges, fretwire dimensions and other measurements that require a high degree of precision. It’sot just a specialty item just for machinists,  it’s a guitar tool for taking exact readings.

Get a digital caliper here >>


AstroAI Digital Multimeter TRMS 6000 Counts Volt Meter Auto-Ranging Tester; Fast Accurately Measures Voltage Current Resistance Diodes Continuity Duty-Cycle Capacitance Temperature for Automotive

Multimeter

With the exception of purely acoustic instruments, electronics are the engine that powers your guitar’s sound. Because pickups and controls can develop shorts or open circuits through wear and tear, a multimeter is the tool of choice for tracking down these electrical problems.

Get a guitar multimeter here >>


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Some Guitar Setup Tools are Obvious, Others Can Be Repurposed

Even the best guitar setup tools kit includes items that are relatively obvious. They can be found in utility drawers, in the garage, or your existing arsenal of general tools.

Everyday tools you probably already have:

  • a utility knife
  • crazy glue
  • painter’s tape for masking
  • lots of sandpaper in various grades
  • screwdrivers of various kinds
  • utility files of various types
  • a small 1/4″ socket wrench set
  • scissors
  • toothpicks
  • cordless drill with adjustable clutch
  • drill bits of various sizes
  • small (very bright) flashlight
  • a small hammer
  • Cleaning cloths or quality paper towels

Oddly enough, a couple of the more frequently items I personally use for guitar maintenance are tongue depressors and fine wooden dowels (about 1/8″ – 3/16″). They’re dirt cheap and you can find them in just about any craft store.

The tongue depressors come in handy for keeping strings away from the fretboard area (loosened strings can be safely corralled under the neck).

Tongue depressor at work
Tongue depressors come in handy!

When making floating system adjustments, a tongue depressor can be set flush under the back end of the trem system to keep it from drawing back down into the body.

Another trick is to taper the flat edge so it can be used to gently pry up guitar knobs.

sorts of things; from filling larger holes, to probing and safely cleaning out gunk in tight spots when sharpened to a point.

Another way to look at it is to think a little outside the box. You don’t necessarily need all the setup tools mentioned on this page.

You can also find substitutions and variations for each tool, but the list as it is makes a great start!

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What Tools Do I Need to Change Guitar Strings?

tuning an acoustic guitar, tools for changing guitar strings
A quick string change and tuneup

The tools required to change strings on a guitar are pretty minimal, especially if it’s just a matter of replacing your strings without any other guitar maintenance issues.

Here’s a quick list of guitar restringing tools every player should have readily available:

Tools for changing guitar strings

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Getting Started With Ready-Made Guitar Setup Kits

If you want to keeps things quick and simple, here are a few pre-packaged guitar setup kits and guitar tech equipment to help kick-start your skills:

2 Responses

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    Ben Jam' in
    | Reply

    Hello,
    Two days ago (12-14-2019) I came upon a used Telecaster MIM 50’s Butterscotch Special Edition FSR… &c and so forth. It’s a 2014-2015 year model. I already had an original USA CBS ’72 model Tele-Deluxe that I bought new in 1976 and a MIM Standard Strat that I picked up two years ago just for fun. I did not need another guitar but I had a hankering’ for a standard tele to get me some TWANG. I had advised my brother NOT to get the barrel saddles when he was looking about due to the oft reported tuning issues.
    But when I walked in to the geetar store she called to me from her spot hanging on that hook. Her strings were like wrought Iron and the frets corroded a bit but everything worked and she looked hardly played so I took a chance.
    So many articles online advised replacing the bridge at least with compensated saddles and wails about bad tuning no matter what. I was going to restring her and went looking on u tube for how to do some more in depth set up while I was at it and came upon yerself playing with that 52 . I watched all of it in one sitting and then did mine. Took my time, ventured into new territory put on some nines even did that 12th fret harmonics thing ( I also have an analog tuner along with my digitals) No neck work though it looks fine. When I was done stretching and getting the strings in tune I hooked her up and holy moly – sweetness.
    And that was on a little 15 W solid state Fender Bronco Amp. I played with her till my hand cramped up. After all that I rechecked her tuning, still danged near perfect no wild swings- hell fire no swings at all. I was so inspired I made adjustments to the Strat which were way out of spec.
    So I stopped by to say thanks for the videos. I do believe that folks involved with music have the best jobs / hobbies, I could tell you enjoy your work.
    P.S. been listening to some Roy Buchanan and Booker T and the M.G.’s on the vinyl tip.
    Thanks again & hasta la vista baby…..baby, baby, baby.
    Ben jam’ in – Houston, Tx. – A jester in the courts of the kings of C’s, G’s & D’s.

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      Steve B.
      | Reply

      Thanks Ben, that has to be one of the best damn stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. And I’m glad to have had a part in it.

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