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Thread: Set up

  1. #1
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    Default Set up

    Simple question , why when you buy a new instrument does it not already come with a pro set up,

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    Default Re: Set up

    I've wondered the same thing. My tech simply said the luthier(s) just wasn't as "particular" as he is. There is also different ideas of what good set up entails. Finally, there are different playing styles that require different set up. I play mostly acoustic so I'm playing hard to get volume and need a bit higher action. There are folks here who are much more knowledgable than I on this subject, however.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Set up

    A pro setup is an individual thing. It can mean one thing to a person with large, strong hands and something entirely different to a person with small hands. Each player will have their own setup and string preferences. Knowing this, instrument manufacturers will strive for a compromise and leave the fine tuning to the owner after the sale.

    Len B.
    Clearwater, FL

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Set up

    Well said Len, factory instruments come to the retailer in a "playable" set up. Rarely is that really acceptable, some are better than others. The fine tuning is where the shop guys at a brick and mortar store earn their keep! Back when...... we used to do a lot of adjusting and then when someone made the choice, we'd finish the setup fresh strings and all that.
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Set up

    The "set up" that many of the lower-end (budget) Pacific Rim mandolins come with is pitiable. These instruments tend to come straight off the assembly line, or so it seems, with high action and little (if any) custom work to get the nut and bridge heights, and their individual string notches, just right. They tend to just box 'em and ship 'em. These adjustments need to be done individually for each and every mandolin. Some American re-sellers, including ones that tend to advertise on the Mandolin Cafe, will carry out this missing setup work for you, before selling you a mandolin. They know what they're doing. Other re-sellers, particularly the "big chain" outfits and many of the online wholesalers, will not do that. Or they will do it, but the person charged with the work is not a mandolin expert. Either way, the dollars you may save initially by buying from one of the big chain outlets will likely be spent later on getting a knowledgeable luthier to put the mandolin into a more playable condition. So, if you're looking to buy a less expensive instrument, you are best off getting it from one of the places that specializes in mandolins. Alternatively, if you are handy with such things, and also have some experience under your belt, you can do the setup yourself. But rest assured, someone will need to do it! Mandolins are persnickety little things that are VERY sensitive to tiny changes in setup -- much more so than guitars, for example. Folks point that out all the time, here.

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  8. #6
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    Default Re: Set up

    Theoretically, the major manufacturers expect the retailer to do any final adjustment to each buyer's specific needs, one of the reasons that list prices are so much higher than street prices.

    The less-major manufacturers are competing mostly on price, and simply can't afford (or, probably can't comprehend!) putting an extra hour or two of meticulous hand labor into something that, to the casual eye, already looks like a finished instrument.
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  9. #7
    Bob Remington
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    Default Re: Set up

    I've found that off-the-shelf retail setups tend to have action that is too low. Often the techs in retail shops are electric guitar guys and set up all instruments for ease of playability rather than tone. This is true even in some acoustic speciality shops. I bought a Red Diamond from a respected acoustic shop that had low action and did not sound great. I asked them to raise the action slightly and even they were amazed at the difference this small tweak made in volume and tone. It sounded great and still does.

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Set up

    Exactly, little last "touch" phase tweaks can make a real difference.
    Bob, is the mandolin of which you speak the one in your avatar?
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

  11. #9

    Default Re: Set up

    When a customer requests higher action, there is always the danger that the luthier may go into shock or become dizzy with disbelief!

    Although, it does happen. A bass player friend of mine has such strong hands that he can play guitars with terribly high action with no problem. Certainly increases his selection, especially on the used market....

  12. #10
    Bob Remington
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    Default Re: Set up

    Timbofood: The one in my avatar is a Vintage 23 varnish model by Canadian builder David Sohn. I also have this custom Red Diamond with a black lacquer finish, which is the one I referred to:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by bobrem; Oct-25-2015 at 5:04pm.

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    Default Re: Set up

    Both, very pretty, indeed!
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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    Default Re: Set up

    Aside from the discussion of how to do your own set up, Rob Meldrum's ebook has great explanations of what set up is and involves as well as why it is important. I recently went through the process of setting up (my first mando) an inexpensive used Rover I bought on Craigslist and the improvement was phenomenal. I personally was a little intimidated by doing it, but it was really not difficult at all and highly recommend anyone who feels so inclined to do it to get this free ebook.
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    Default Re: Set up

    If you are buying a new instrument from "Big Box" stores or online through bulk retailers, the simple answer is "No".

    Once or twice a year I'll get a mid-range ($1,000-ish) new mandolin just to see where the quality is at (and to see what kind of work I need to put in to get them playing well). As delivered, they are, consistently, almost unplayable. Instruments priced under $1K are increasingly worse as you move down the price scale.

    I believe the #1 reason new adult players quit the mandolin is because the entry-level instruments are so uncomfortable that they are really not playable. String spacing and string height off the nut are the usually the first and worst problems. And, since most new players stay in the first position (frets 1-6), that really makes playing painful.

    Action down the neck is a completely different matter since bridges are usually adjustable and tops will shift up and down as they age and acclimate.

    New players, do yourselves a favor and start with a well-set-up instrument. Then you only have impatience and practice to blame for how quickly you progress and how much fun you are having.

    Steve

    PS - And you do need to build up those mando-calluses . . . even if the set-up is fantastic.

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  17. #14

    Default Re: Set up

    The simple answer to a "why" question isn't "no".

    The answer to the OP however is that when buying online at discount prices the manufacturer/seller leaves the setup for the end buyer to worry about as a way to keep prices low.

    Setup isn't that hard and most inexpensive mandolins that I've seen have the nut height about right and the bridge is adjustable so it's not been a big problem.

    If the nut isn't cut deep enough, then yes, your fingers will be hurting but I haven't run into that in my limited experience.

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    Default Re: Set up

    As mentioned above, Rob Meldrum's ebook covers this reasoning (and I've been playing a long time) and it finally clicked for me when Rob pointed out that they come from the factory in a playable state, but a very generic state, so that you can then lower the action to where you want it, have the bridge how you want it, etc. It's shipped from the factory as "one-size-fits-all" and the setup is sizing it to you personally.

  19. #16
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Set up

    Quote Originally Posted by withfoam View Post
    As mentioned above, Rob Meldrum's ebook covers this reasoning (and I've been playing a long time) and it finally clicked for me when Rob pointed out that they come from the factory in a playable state, but a very generic state, so that you can then lower the action to where you want it, have the bridge how you want it, etc. It's shipped from the factory as "one-size-fits-all" and the setup is sizing it to you personally.
    No, not quite. The lowest common denominator, or "generic state" (your term) is not exactly equivalent to "one-size-fits-all". In fact, it's a bit more akin to "one-size-fits-none"! The bargain instruments that get shipped from the factory are not, at least in the opinion of some MC experts, in a fully "playable state." See Steve Sorenson's comment, above. They are in a barely playable state, just as he said.

    Furthermore, as other experts have often noted, higher-end mandolins do not tend to get shipped in this barely playable state, for that matter. That fact demonstrates that it's not a matter of the manufacturers choosing a "one-size-fits-all" solution, and then allowing for folks to customize their instruments further. (If so, all mandolins would come that way, even the higher-priced ones.) That would be mis-characterization of the situation. The bargain instrument makers are simply omitting a necessary, but time-consuming (read: "costly, labor-intensive") step from their manufacturing process. This allows them to drop their wholesale price, of course, but the buyer usually winds up having to spend additional money later, just to get their mandolin into fully playable shape after the sale.

    Let's call a spade a spade. Poor setup is just that: poor setup. It's not a form of "one-size-fits-all," or generic, marketing. It's releasing an incomplete product to save money.

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  21. #17
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    Default Re: Set up

    My favorite topic! Yes, low-end PacRim mandos come straight from the factory floor and need to be set up in order to be acceptably playable. This can be done in an hour or two with a ten-dollar investment in tools and my free ebook. In addition to mandolins I also set up my guitars and those of friends. Mandolins are so much more finicky than guitars that once you learn how to set up a mandolin a guitar setup is a walk in the park.

    I think it is great that a budding mandolinist can buy an instrument for under $250, learn about it by setting it up, and have a playable mandolin for the first year or two of learning. Then Mandolin Acquisition Syndrome (MAS) kicks in and you have someone who is hooked for life!

    So if you want the ebook, please email me at rob.meldrum@gmail.com and put Mandolin Setup in the subject line. I usually reply within a day, but if I am on vacation or out boating it might take me a couple of days. But hey, it's free! :-)

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  23. #18

    Default Re: Set up

    There's no simple answer, depends who you buy the instrument from. I've made adjustments to neck relief and bridge height on all of my mandolins.

  24. #19
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Set up

    Invest in Rob's book! Lessons learned there will help with any skill level.
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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    Default Re: Set up

    I just think if you pay 3000 bucks or more, on a good mando , why not put a an 80 dollar set up on it , makes a he'll of a difference

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    Default Re: Set up

    Quote Originally Posted by soliver View Post
    Aside from the discussion of how to do your own set up, Rob Meldrum's ebook has great explanations of what set up is and involves as well as why it is important..
    That, to me, is one of the greatest things about the ebook. Whether or not I feel handy enough to actually do the set up, myself I know what is needed and why.
    Having something to say is highly over rated.

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  28. #22
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Set up

    Robs book makes you understand what is involved and how to talk to a luthier about what you might wants one have done. It offers a few more tools even if you don't need or want to do it yourself.
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

  29. #23
    Registered User Atlanta Mando Mike's Avatar
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    Default Re: Set up

    To me, this is really on the store selling the mandolin vs. the maker when discussing the pac rim mandolins like Eastmans and the like. A good store will do a basic setup of new/mid and below priced mandolins before selling them to make them playable. Then, they will offer to do a full set up once it is sold (some for a price, some as part of buying it). That should be the model of quality acoustic stores that sell those brands. Maple Street Guitars in Atlanta does that.

  30. #24
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Set up

    Builders build, some setup, some leave that to "underlings" and, I see no fault in that. Fine tuning of set up needs to be in the hands of the "end user". It's like adjusting the seat in your car, it either feels right or it needs to be changed, maybe only a tiny bit, but, It NEEDS it.
    To be honest, I have not done anything to my setup, aside from slight bridge adjustments, for many (30+) years. Set up feels right or it doesn't. Good set up when you buy the instrument will serve you well. Small adjustments now and then are a different story. Learn the language, talk to the shop guy, get it right. It's worth at least reading the(free) book so you can have some concept of what the heck needs to be done.
    All the threads about needing to have new bridges, nuts, truss rod nuts, colors of tuner knobs, really don't have much to do with changing set up, it's "hot rodding" which is fine but not critical. Unless something is seriously damaged, I guess I just don't see the need for so much hooraw.
    Buy something, dial it in, play.
    I do understand the pursuit of perfection but, play more, it's not always the instrument.
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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