Setting Up Guitars
I'm here with Keaton Rich and he's guitar-teching for John Brown on this session. He also works with bands like Periphery and Animals As Leaders, right?
Yeah. Touring tech?
Touring tech, yeah.
Cool. How long have you been touring for?
About four years now. Since 2011.
And you tell me that you went to guitar-building school?
Yeah. Musician's Institute. Their Guitar Craft Academy.
So you're actually like a guitar-player guitar player?
Yeah. I did their guitar program before that.
What do you got here?
We got John Brown's Katsi from A&S. 7-string, of course. And his wacky tunings. Just setting it up here.
What is his tuning here?
It is, I have to look at the piece of paper because it's all weird. G#, so everything a half-step down, so G#, D#, G#, C#, D#, G# and C#. So it's an interesting open-tuning on a 7-string.
Do you approach that differently than more standard tunings?
For the set-up?
Yeah. For the set-up.
No. They're s...
till all the same, no matter what tuning it is.
It's all the same.
All right. And so, what's the first thing you do when you go to get a guitar ready?
Take all the strings off. Clean it, that's the number one thing.
Have you found that when people don't clean it, it messes the guitar up?
Yeah. And then it looks bad.
But more importantly, the frets. Keeping them nice and smooth so for bending, you don't hear it coming out of the amp. No scratching.
Yeah. What would you recommend for cleaning the frets?
WD-40 works. Flitz Metal Polish works. Or steel wool. And Stew-Mac has these new, they call them fret erasers. They're different grits but they look like erasers. They have super-fine grits so you can really polish them up and it's a lot cleaner than steel wool. It doesn't get all over the pick-ups.
And so you, I mean I know for a fact that if you don't clean that stuff it will a) start to destroy your guitar tone from all the gunk that ends up on the strings, and yeah, sometimes your bends will just die.
So at what point, though, do you recommend that someone just gets frets re-dressed or changed out?
When they need it. Frets can last a long time. It depends on how hard they're playing, how often, or how acidic the person's sweat is, I guess.
Yeah. I guess some guys will eat through strings in one night.
All right, so after you clean it, then what?
Throw the new strings on and I stretch them. I stretch them quite a bit so they stay in tune.
Do you stretch them before or after you tune them?
Tune them up, of course.
You tune them up to pitch, then I stretch each string and tune it up until it stays in tune so I abuse it more than the player actually would.
Have you noticed that when guys try to stretch things for the first time, that they end up literally ripping the strings out of the guitar?
It definitely takes a finesse.
What's your trick for it?
It's basically like this, but I use a cloth to keep my oils off the strings. You just bend it against itself, and I usually hold it at the first fret so it doesn't mess with the, put too much tension on the nut or the tuning peg. So just hold it there and stretch it a couple times, tune it up until it finally stays in tune.
And then what?
And then put it always in playing position. That's how I always do set-ups. You should always do it that way.
Because gravity, here, gravity's pulling the guitar down. So when you pull it up, it's out of tune again.
So you need to tune it back down to playing position because now it's resting where it's always going to be.
And then tune it back up that way, and then I start my adjustments from there.
Okay. So let's talk about your adjustments. What's next?
First is the truss rod adjustment, after you've tuned to pitch.
I have had an experience where members of bands have used my studio instruments and tried to adjust the truss rod and have completely destroyed $3,000 instruments.
And so that's one of the reasons I don't let clients tech their own guitars anymore. So I actually impose my guitar tech on people.
Yeah. That's good.
And they don't regret it. They love him, because he's awesome, but a lot of guys think that they know how to do it themselves and end up destroying things. So what's the trick with truss rods?
Well, if you're a beginner, it's small adjustments. Always. Quarter-turns or less. And just keep checking to see where you want it. But I use measuring tools, I use feeler gauges and a capo.
To check the relief of the neck. But you can eyeball it, that's what we did at ESP with some of our lower-end models to get it quickly out in quality control. Just look straight down the neck and see the curvature of it. And kind of after a while you get where it should be and you can see it if you just adjust it that way. But I suggest a feeler gauge.
I was about to say, isn't that kind of scary? Maybe at first?
Maybe at first. Yeah. I was, at first, doing really small adjustments. So it took me a little longer but then it just got quick.
So for people learning, don't just start turning.
Don't start cranking.
Like a drum key.
Yeah, yeah. No. It's small adjustments.
Okay. And like, what are you going for? Is it different per player?
Or do you have a set way...
I have my own set way, which is about 6/1000s relief. Somewhere in there.
I have no idea what that means.
So usually I hit the capo here. And then you hold it at the neck-to-body joint. And then you take the feeler gauge. So I do 6/1000s. And at the 8th fret see where it's at. It just needs to be tightened a little bit. You see how much space there is? There needs to be just a hair of light between the top of this, between the fret and the bottom of the string. And that's your neck relief.
Or you can do like that. And see how much relief is there by that method.
So if you're going by a hair of light between that, how does it change per player? What kind of things do different people prefer?
Some guys like it to be more bitey, more grab in their fingers, for more space. And other guys like it tighter, closer to, super-fast shred. So preferences that way, yeah, I guess.
All right. Then what?
More grab, less grab. That's how I look at it.
Fair enough. That works. How do you get comfortable knowing what a dude is looking for when it comes to that? Say that you're talking to a guitar player who's not literate with this kind of stuff. They just talk to you, normal-people terms. Much like when someone is in the studio like, "I want it to sound like it's in space." Like, "Well. What does that mean? "There's no sound in space." So how do you know how to interpret what they mean about the neck?
Just talk it out, I guess.
Just try stuff.
Yeah. Try it out. Trial and error, I guess. That's when you adjust it a certain way, give it to them, have them play it, and they're like, "Well, I could use "a little more of this, "a little more relief in the neck "or a little more grab."
Once again why you shouldn't go to a corporate place and you should get with someone that you trust.
And is willing to go the distance.
All right. So after that, what's next? Intonation?
Nope. So it's truss rod, and then bridge heighth.
So then I adjust the bridge heighth. And then the next step is the nut heighth. And always do it in that order.
Because you have to adjust the foundation, which is the neck, and then you adjust your height here, and then your nut heighth to get your strings right, and then you do intonation. Always final is intonation.
So the tech that I work with, he always asks me if the guitar's going to be set up for rhythms or for leads.
The reason being that for low action, that he can get more or less buzz in that area to keep the strings super low. I mean to get that action super low. Do you ever do stuff like that where you'll set it up to be different here than there?
No, I've never thought of it that way. That's interesting.
Yeah. I've never heard of it anywhere else either.
That's something to look into.
Well I guess the idea is just that it's okay to get some buzz here if here is super easy to play and you're not going to be playing down there anyway.
Oh, of course. It's like throwing a sock or something over this.
Where you're doing leads. Is that what he's meaning?
But it's in the action.
That sort of thing. All right, so once you set that, then it's intonation.
Then it's intonation.
Why do people screw that up so much?
It's hard to get.
It's an interesting process. Of course you check it with the harmonic and then the fretted notes, see if they're the same. If it's sharp, you lengthen the string. If it's flat, then you shorten the string. And sometimes people get that backwards.
Yeah. A lot.
Yeah. It's really simple but it's hard to get at first.
One thing that I think people should know is that guitar is a totally imperfect instrument.
So it's almost impossible to ever actually get it completely in tune. Or completely in tune across the neck. How do you account for that? Because, I don't know, I've just had plenty of experiences where, at least in the studio, live, it's a little more forgiving, where if you get it perfect for octaves here, down here it just won't be quite as in tune.
Well that's what the intonation is for. It's so everything is intonated with each other across the fretboard.
I've never been good at doing it.
Yeah. So what else you got here, why do you like the Peterson?
Because it's super accurate. I got this because I had to compete with the Ax-FX Tuner with Periphery and Animals as Leaders because that tuner is really good. And I was just using a BOSS TU- and it just couldn't keep up with it. I'd give it to them and they were like, "This isn't right. It's all out of tune." So I got this and it's been the best thing ever. It's super precise and then it really picks up the pick, so how hard you pick, it will show on there. So you can strum it really hard, hit each string super hard.
That's actually a really good point.
And I get a good tune.
Do you tune to the pick attack or do you tune to the sustain?
Pick attack. Always.
Why is that, because the string then detunes?
Yeah. Because it's in a live setting, they're going to be playing harder than they normally would outside of that.
Yeah. That makes sense. I've always wondered why people tune to the sustain. It makes no sense.
Yeah, because then they go to hit an open chord, like super hard, and it just (explosion noise) all out of tune.
Yeah. Absolutely. Do you find that the Peterson picks up low frequencies well? Like, just as good for bass?
Yeah. This one's got different settings on it. Sweetened tuning settings. So I usually use the 7-string and the bass tuning, which are for basses and lower tunings.
Have you noticed that certain tuners are just not friendly to bass?
I find that I like to use the same tuner for every guitar and every bass on one album because I feel like, even though they say they're the same, there's tiny differences between every tuner.
Mm-hmm. Just like guitars. Their production.
There's always going to be minor details that are different from each other.
All right, so I'm not being crazy.
Okay. Yeah. I've always insisted on that. And then I've always insisted on using a tuner that can actually pick up bass.
So you also set up basses, right?
Is that a different ordeal?
A little bit. It's basically the same. But dealing with thicker, bigger strings, longer scale lengths. You set a little, little more in the measurements than a guitar. It's a little higher. Of course, think how many of the bigger strings.
Yeah. Bass. My favorite instrument, actually.
Are you a bass player?
No. But I end up having to play bass a lot on records because a lot of bass players aren't bass players.
Yeah. So, anything else that we should cover? Like... I don't know.
Just keep 'em maintained. Keep 'em clean. Every time you change the strings you should get it set up.
Yeah. I feel like I get guitars set up every single album. And multiple times sometimes. Because I feel like they'll go out sometimes. Do you think every time you should change strings, you should get a set-up?
Yeah. At least keep it maintained, of course. It's not always going to need an entire full set-up, but it's always good to keep it maintained.
What's funny about that is I tell people to change strings every single day when they're recording and on every single song.
So that would mean having to do it multiple times a day sometimes. But I think that's what it takes.
So yeah, so if you were teching for Periphery in the studio or something, you would probably be setting up a guitar multiple times every single day?
Possibly, yeah. Depending on how many times they want the strings changed. But sometimes you change the strings and you check it and it doesn't need any adjustment.
But you should still check.
Always still check, yeah.
Yeah. And I think that people should know, to get a really, really huge guitar sound that's modern, if your guitars aren't in tune, there's nothing you're going to be able to do, mix-wise, to get it to work. Your guitars have to be absolutely 100% in tune. Same with the bass. What do you think of Evertune bridges, by the way?
I think they're pretty cool.
Do they actually work? I've never tried one.
I've kind of played on a couple. I've had friends that had 'em. But it was like 10 minutes of playing on it and it seemed cool. I never really had the chance to set one up or own one.
Yeah. I've never messed with one.
Well anyways, thanks for being here and thanks for setting this up.
Yeah. Thanks for having me here too.
Yeah. I don't know, how many guitars did you do?
Six. Guitars and basses.
Six guitars and how many basses?
It was six in total.
Okay. Yeah. Cool. All for one song.
Awesome. Cool. Well thanks, dude.