Guitar Setup and Tuning


Gear Gods presents Studio Pass: Kurt Ballou


Lesson Info

Guitar Setup and Tuning

Guitar, my favorite instrument and the best instrument and the reason why drums existence to support the guitar is way, haven't you? How many guitarist do we have here? Oh, you're outnumbered. So, yeah, we're gonna talk a lot about guitar and, uh, you know, let's, just kick it off with a little video of me recording. Nice. Those guitars in my studio feels a little squashed to me, actually, which is why I'm grabbing his pedal. My strategy, I guess right now is this pedal this cme back have for you. Yeah, that seems hard for both of you school and then the other penalty. Other head with the same cab. Yeah, to work. Yeah, it doesn't got a fancy prototype. Like to try a car. Oh, yeah. Shane guy, eh? In twenty two active. Wouldn't like any buzzwords. Do anything? Wait. Yeah. Three bread. You up on your for it. Here I am. Come again to me. The first note seem weird to me. Yeah, I'm supposed to be kind of like, I'm bending it in different places just to make it. It doesn't sound like perfect ...

every time. I kind of kind of wants some groups. Well, you've achieved your that's hanging out my studio on, uh it's, what I do, it's, uh, finally get to hang out with your friends all the time and make cool tunes and that's, what nice clothes are I really thankful of those guys were able to make it out and make some cool tunes of may. So, um uh, I was going to get right into the basics of guitar sounds, and so the first thing we'll be setting up your guitar when a man comes into my studio, what I like to do first, if especially from not already familiar with them that we don't already have ah, recording plan is to take a listen to what they sound like already before I try to change what they're doing, try to, like, give them my stuff to play on, you know, I want to hear and feel what what they're sound already is, and if they're playing on gear that you know, they love or they're playing on certain gear just because that's, what they happened have, you know, so the first thing they'll do is check out their instruments, you know, much like a lot of drummers aren't so hot it tuning their drums, a lot of guitarists aren't so hot it setting up their guitars, and so come quickly, go through guitar set up to give you guys some background on on what to do to kind of optimize the guitar that you have and if you're you know if you have trouble playing your guitar or it's not if it's not set up well then it's not going to accord wells have come out in tune and it's gonna be more difficult to play and it's going to be challenging all around to record so if your guitar style then everything else is gonna be that much easier so just do some examples with with my guitar over here I've actually never even checked any of the stuff on this since I got it so let's go through that together all right so hopefully it won't attack me um let's weigh pull up pro tools on the big screen and the amplitude three running there and the tuner yeah there's a tune over there so um uh yeah so first thing before we start setting up the guitar I want to make sure that you have a good instrument inappropriate instrument for the style of music to be working on you know if you're doing like some medal you probably don't want something with single coil pickups you know if you're doing you know some some funk you might not want some bunkers eso try to get like a good instrument for you're doing if you're doing like low tuned stuff you're probably better off with heavier gauge strings and a longer scaling because that'll give you more attention on your strings and if you're playing a lot of rhythm stuff and not really doing any lead guitar or any bending that is totally fine if you have a wound g string on your guitar but if you're doing a lot of lead guitar and bending and stuff you might want to go with a wound g string so my sort of based tuning I do a lot of different techniques and my band converge but my my basic tuning is de standard I think that's approximately what this guitar is in right now and this one is a twenty five point five inch long scale length which is the typical fender stratocaster, her jazz master and telecaster scale length you know the typical gibson scale length is more like twenty four and three quarters or twenty four and five eighths or something like that so this is, you know, with like a gibson a lot of like lead guitarist like that because of the shorter scale length it can be a little bit easier to bend strings where it's like I'm mostly a rhythm player so I like having a little extra tension I feel like I get more tone and um mohr consistent pitch in um in the extra tension that I get from a longer scale length and have your gay strings this particular guitar right now has I think some clear strings on it that our gauge fifty four on the low string on the low d all the way through twelve on heidi before I get into this stuff, this is something one thing kind of interesting about guitar set up this probably maybe a little beyond the average guitar player's ability, which is the height of them not if you're playing primarily rhythm stuff, sort of down in first position, especially like if if you're playing acoustic guitar typically you want tohave a nut set pretty low so that the string height at the nut is, you know, just barely above the first the first fred so going from, like open to first fret should feel about the same distance as going from a first rate front of note to a second fred, fred and note, when you do that, you sort of have to set it up so that the bridge is that kind of high and the strings have ah, hi action further up on the neck, which is why it can be kind of difficult to solo on the typical acoustic guitar. If you are a lead guitar player and playing a lot in high register, you might actually want your nuts said a little bit higher, and then so when you have the nut set high down low, you khun set the action of the strings at the top of the guitar a little bit lower so let's just say for argument's sake, assume that your friendly guitar attack has set up you're not in the right way and you're happy with that and then you know as you've you're getting ready to record and you want to make sure your guitar styled in for the songs will be playing the tuning you're using the string gauge the atmosphere conditions and what not because everything effects the action and the intonation so would move would used to be alive would moves you can't rely on would always be in the same place so as you change elevation and humidity, sometimes the neck moves around on dh when that happens, you might need to make adjustments to the rest of the tar for that and as you change string gauges and tunings, the neck moves as well so this compensations you need to make for that stuff so step step one is teo check out your neck and see if you need to address your adjuster trust rod and the way that I like to do that is tio press down at the first, fret on any of the strings and then press down with with your other hand around, say the fifteenth threat and then look about halfway in between there to see if there's any gap between the strings and the fretboard and there is a slight gap between the strings and the fret boards here um yeah there's a slight gap between the strings and the top fred here which means that there's some relief in the neck and you won't always wanna have a little bit of relief in the knack typically if you have three arms and you could press down here and here you could take a hand and slide a pick in between one of the threats and the strings and you should see about a pix with of gap between the top of the threat and the bottom of a string the neck on this guitar right now is a little bit two straight it doesn't have a whole lot of relief I'm not going to take the time to do it right now but what I would do if I if I were to adjust the trust rod would be to take the trust rod cover off on this style neck where it has a tilt back had stock the trust rods up here but a lot of other guitars you'll find like an offender you might actually have to take the next off to do it because the trust rod adjustment is at the back of the neck occasionally you'll see it at the side of the neck this one's up here so what I would do to impart more relief in the neck which is to bend the fretboard maurine this direction is I would take the trust recover off and do about a quarter turn counterclockwise soto loosen the trust rod and which will, which will allow the strings to pull the neck up giving you a little bit more relief in the neck and you want to do that? Those adjustments slowly and you want to allow a chance to settle in. So if you just it you know, you might not want to do more than you know, a half to three quarters of a turn per per day. If it's a desperate situation. If you flew into a show somewhere that's, totally different elevation or climate, you might have to do it more quickly than that. But I try to do those adjustments slowly. So once you have your trust rod set so that there's only a small a small gap giving you just a little bit of relief in the neck. The next thing to do is to just buy feel dial in the action on a bridge like this. This happens to be a ah shaller roller bridge. So the radius of the strings is in a fixed position on all of the cinematic style bridges and, like the gretch type bridges and I think like mustang and jaguar type bridges. Unless you have an aftermarket one do sort of some of the men on mustang jazz master one's got a fixed um I can't remember now anyway, um I don't have control individual control the action of each of these strings, but I have master control of the base in trouble side so what kind of like by adjusting these thumb wheels? And sometimes they're really tight sometimes have to loosen the strings in order to do it or grabbing with some kind of pliers or something adjust the action so that it's comfortable I personally don't care on guitar buzz is a little bit I like I like pretty low action not just because I'm lazy but because the less I have to deflect a string were really trying to work trying to make it easy for myself to the left side teo I deflect a string thie easier it is, but also minimal deflection will create fewer intonation problems so it's just you know, when I started playing saxophone was a kid my instructor always hold me like the smaller movements or faster so you know if you have a guitar with just with kind of low action you khun do smaller movements and and you can you can play faster and more fluidly and you're less likely to kind of bump into the adjacent strings and you don't want to be a reason for higher action is if if you're playing really clean and you I don't want to hear any buzzing you might wanna have higher action or if you have a particular particularly highly radius fretboard like a lot of old offenders do you particularly like mustangs and jaguars have extremely radius fred boards so those guitars like if you try to bend something on the b string you're bending into the radius of the fretboard it'll bottom out unless you have kind of action this is this neck has a compound radius on the fretboard so it's pretty flat when you get to the top so bending is is easy up there I don't really have to worry about that on this guitar so I can have pretty low action if you have individually adjustable saddles like a lot of fender guitarist and a half for things with a lot of hard tail bridge guitars have ah individually adjustable sandals I think think like tailors and floyd's might also um then you want to try to be aware of the radius of your fretboard there are radius gauges that you could buy but you can also kind of do it visually and try to you know try to set it so that the the radius of the top of the strings or follows a similar radius to the top of your fretboard okay so now you have you're at the point where you have selected great a great strain gauge that's appropriate for your tuning you have you're not dialed in where you want it there's a little bit of relief in your fretboard you have the action so it's feeling great and at this point to you may also want to adjust your pickup height to make sure that it's close, but the strings don't bought him out like if you do some kind of beauty techniques like that's kind of bottoming out you you want me to pick ups are out of the way on then the final thing to do, which is the thing that seems to confuse most guitarists, is thie intonation. So the principle of intonation is that you want to make sure that each string will play in tune over the entire length of the fretboard. So here's my my high d string, I'm looking at my tuna if you want switched approaches for a second, so I'm gonna tuned up and actually can't really see it well from where I am, but it doesn't go green the middle, all right, pretty much in tune, so what I want to do is sort of make sure that over the entire neck that will still play in tune, so the easiest thing for me to do is to instead of just oh, actually one little trick sometimes tuning down, turning down the tone knob, which removes the attack a little bit from the from influencing the junior will give you a more accurate read out, um, I'm gonna play the twelfth fret harmonic on my high d string twelve for harmonic has nothing to do with where the french position that will always be dead. Center in the string. You're sort of creating a node with your finger that puts a dead spot in the center of the strings with two sides on either side of your finger are vibrating independently of each other, always dead center so you know that that's exactly one octave up from from open okay, now I want compare the twelfth, fret harmonic to the twelfth fret fretted note so it's a little bit flat, but watch this yes, bye, fred hard see how sharp it is. Five pick hard see how sharp it goes now. I'm to pick now to confront very lightly and pick it softly it's kind of flat and this is where and also I'm holding the guitar in my lap and I'm putting some tension on the neck. As I fret, I have my form on the edge of the body. I'm pulling back on the neck as I fret, so where I think a lot of guitar techs fail and is that they do this on a table with the guitar like this, the head stocks and cradle and there's, just the weight of the guitar is pushing down in the center. Whereas when you're playing guitars particularly when you're sitting down you're in the opposite position where we're pulling tension on the neck so sometimes people will get their guitar set up before they come into my studio and then they come into the studio and the intonation is not good and we have to redo it. Um so it's it's good, I think it's great if you can do your own intonation because on lee, you know how hard you you're gonna pick at how hard you're gonna fret? Um, so if you see that you're twelve, fred is, uh, hard for me to see there is that this will not be an exact science, but if you see twelve threat harmonic is reasonably in tune and then that it's a little bit flat from the way that you position it, you know that the distance between the twelfth fret and the saddle on that string senses coming out flat that distance is a little bit too long. We want to shorten that distance to raise the pitch of the string between the twelve threat and the saddle. So I kind of hate adjusting to pneumatic bridges because they're hard to get to, but I have this, uh, flathead screwdriver and I'm going teo going to turn so that I can hopefully not break the string and shorten the distance between, um the saddle anatole france it's going to throw off the tuning of the entire string so you want to retune the string first so it looks better now not perfect but um for the sake of this discussion I think that's good enough and you would then do that across the course of the entire guitar um and you know, you can also do other tests and other points on the fretboard to see how it looks you know, if you find that you're playing primarily in, you know, first or second position you know, you really want to dial it in there and if you find yourself playing what higher stuff you want to dial it in there the final thing that I'll say about guitar tuning before moving on to the tar camp stuff is that it's important to have understanding about how the gears within your tuners work and a lot of like cheap acoustic guitars actually offer a better example of that than the typical electric guitar tuner. Um so like you see like if you see a chief acoustic, you can actually have see like the open gears of the tuner so imagine like my fingers are the teeth of the gears, okay as you tune up there's a little bit of this a little bit of play and you can always feel this in the tuners as you do it play between the teeth so as you're tuning up the guitar, it does this and pushes up you don't and then the string tension sort of poles in this direction to what you don't want to do is tune down the guitar because when you tune down the guitar the gears are pushing in that direction but the string tension then has this room to play so as you start playing your guitar, you have this much slack in the tuner that the string tension will pull out of the tuning back so you always want to do is tune below the pitch and then back up to it and that will engage the tuning peg most effectively and you'll stay in tune longer and you'll you'll just gently tune better. Yeah so and just actually one other quick statement about tuning is with regards to really love training sir let's take this down to ceo okay, so I mean, see way just hit see real lightly dial it in the other thing you could do if you don't feel like tuning below and then back up is just give it a stretch between every tune all right um so lightly a little sharp but hit it hard it goes away sharpe so if you're doing low tunings and you're playing really hard, you might you might actually want to intentionally tune your bottom string flat there's been some records that I've done where I've tuned the base as much as thirty cents flat intentionally to get the base to sound in tune with the guitars, so be really careful with low jennings you'll see less of that phenomenon with longer scale length guitars and that's not that I would ever play fan fred guitar, but that's that's, the reason why people do that stuff is to be ableto handle those really extreme low tunings. All right, so, uh, that's it for this guitar set up stuff really quick just to let you know john doe says, wow, I finally understand intonation is such a good explanation so well, whatever. Yeah, think pulling the wool off people's yeah, really? What I'm doing is hoping that future bands that I recorder watching this segment so I don't have to set up their guitars for them, by the way, like for anybody, who's watched a few of our classes note that you know, everybody. Kurt andrew wade, jesse cannon ale levy like it might seem like tuning guitars, basic stuff, and it is but there's a reason why all of them, like beat you over the head with it like people show up with their guitars opportune all the time don't know how to tune them. Not set up properly, not intimated, and if your guitars not intimated properly, guitar is not in tune, you will never be able to get the tone you want out of it, period. So that's why this stuff is so critical and it's not super fun and sexy, but it's the first step in if you don't get this step right, the other stuff doesn't matter. I agree, and I'll just say one more comment about that is I find that I play much differently when I'm recording that I do, I'm playing live like I'm playing live it's no fun to rock out, get into it, but I'm with recording I'm actually playing not softly, but much more controlled because I want that sort of I feel the cords have more impact when they hit in tune, especially once you start layer if you choose to layer your guitars and bass, if you have, like several layers were all struck really hardly, and they're all kind of wobbly then you know it's just going to sound like a mess, but if you if you strike them with with control than just will have that much more impact and maybe one final question from maple bacon sounds like what if you do a lot of lead and rhythm playing? Where should it not be set? Somewhere in between? Yeah sure I mean you'll know when you play you know if you if you've been playing for a while you'll you'll know that it feels good or it doesn't or or also you know it's always it's always worthwhile to go into like if you've if you've had the same guitar for a long time and you're really married to it it's uh it's worthwhile to go into guitar shop sometime and just just play stuff it's on the wall and say like oh yeah this one feels like this and that one feels like this hey maybe this thing is you know like I want to get our shop on time played uh this rickenbacker six fifty and was the first time that I ever played the guitar that had ah one and three quarter inch wide fretboard typically guitars have one in eleven sixteenths wide front boards and I was like whoa I have these like giant hands and for the first kind of have this little extra space on the fretboard it's it's only a thirty seconds of an inch but it made sixteenth of an inch and it made a huge difference in my ability to play and so sometimes like you know, same thing with a nut you might go into a guitar shop and realized like oh, you know what like jumbo frets works better for me or like a taller nut or a lower nut or shorter frets or whatever works better for me like this guitar that I built like I personally don't like really tall fret some people love them because they could get underneath the threats and bend more easily for me tall frets just give me more space to fret too hard and so with tall frets especially like when it has they're so tall they always have a scallop feel you know it's you've got a lot of space before you your finger bottoms out on the fret boards you can really go quite sharp just by just by fretting hard so for me I use pretty flat low frets so there's not a lot of space rita press too far into the neck and helps me play into better to educate wasn't in here oh yeah uh yeah I just want to say intonation and playing positions huge yeah. And then also another thing with passive pickups that magnets and pull on the string so that's the back way off while you're doing that yeah, these ones were actually probably little high right now. Yeah, it is a fine balance between between output and magnetism and if you want our sustain so if you want a law sustain you do wanna lower your pickups that is on argument for passive pick for active pickups you know, I know a lot of people aren't fans of active pickups but they do have less magnetism so you can position on closer the strings and not have many sustain issues and I know off I know other people particularly bass players who've complained about certain really high output pickups hyo put passive pickups really putting too much drag on their strings and interfering with sustained so yeah that's another crucial thing. Thanks for bringing it up and maybe one more from danno. What about guitar cables? What makes a good cable from a bad one? Yeah. Um ah, well, that's certainly along and hotly contested thing. Certainly if you've ever good a good a good thing you can do is take your take your regular guitar cable plug into your amp see how it sounds, then get like the smallest guitar cable you haven't stand right of being syrian plugged in and see how that sounds. You will absolutely here mohr sparkle coming out of the shorter cable there's, a phenomenon called cabled capacitance, which you'll hear as a sort of ah narrowing of the frequency response that happens with long cables there are certain, you know thyself cables that are better than others, you know good oxygen free copper your cable or are silver plated copper is great, people have here difference between stranded wire and solid core wire. Typically guitar cables are screened a wire just for the flexibility of it and there's also cables that have, like little wall words built into him that are active cables that will remove cable capacitance. I know some people who say they prefer the sound of a wireless because the cable runs shorter, so it's ah that's something for you, determine for yourself, but good quality cables like nogami tze and red cozaar our great I what I have here is a new line of american made planet weighs cable, which has especially designed jack that's sort of meant to be universal and worked with a lot of different female jacks so you can plug this into any guitar and not worry about it working well, and I think these cables sound great. They're super durable and mostly what I'm thinking about it when the cable is his durability and field serviceability, I try to steer away from cables with molded strain release on the end because those cables you can't open up if something goes wrong, you know you cut the end or sort of guess where the short might be. Cut the end off and install your own connector later, which I do sometimes but it's nice to have, you know something like this if somebody you know stan, you know, had not uncommon in a convert show for somebody like yank on a cable or stand on the cable or you know, one guy's running one way while now is run the other way. Someone stands on the cable and cable gets ripped in half or something. You can just, you know, cut it down, sort of the connector back on the straight half. So it's mostly. I think for me cables are mostly about serviceability and, you know, reliability than they are about ultimate sound quality. But I do try to always keep my cable runs as short as possible. And then when I'm tracking guitars, I tryto keep us few effects in single chains possible. Just so it's it's a pure sound getting to the amp. And, you know, when I need petals will plug in just the pedal we needed in a given time. And then I also when possible, I try to run pedals off batteries, too, because there's less opportunity for grounding problems when you're running on batteries. Next time someone yanks out your cable show, just tell him to get back in their seat. Keep sipping their glass of wine and wait for the show to be over. Yeah, then proceed in an orderly fashion to the exit. I usually just get even.

Class Description

In this two-day course, prolific producer Kurt Ballou will take you behind-the-scenes of GodCity Studios to show you exactly how the magic happens. This all-access studio pass will immerse you in every aspect of Kurt’s distinctive sound — from choosing and setting up gear, to tracking and mixing.

Kurt will show you the basic and advanced techniques he uses in his studio every day, and teach you how to apply them to your own recording — regardless of whether you’re working in a studio or at home with a DIY setup. Using anecdotes from his years behind the board, Kurt will also teach you his best practices for working with bands to extract the best and most inventive sounds.


Keith Foster

First off, even though I'm neither a beginner nor a recording professional, this class is absolutely worth the money you spend on it - especially if you plan on making heavy music. There are enough tips, tricks and guidance in here to get your money's worth many times over. That said, as an indie artist who goes to a studio to record drum tracks, then does the rest ina home studio I found some of the things disheartening. Much of the class follows a "I do this thing using item / amp / microphone / plugin (X), it's pretty cool" vibe, and it sounds cool.... until you check the price. As an example, the 'stereo buss processing' section sounds fun to try, except for the part where the three pieces of gear cost about $8K. As a result I found myself figuring out how to incorporate the essence of what he was saying without the gear budget to do so. Maybe I'm not the intended audience but a little more concept and less gearhead would have been even better. That said you should totally get it, it's a low price for so many hours of great content.