4 Must-Have Tools for Easy DIY Headless Guitar Setup and Maintenance

Whether you just bought a sweet new headless guitar and need to set it up to your liking for the very first time or you are just doing regular maintenance, having the right set of tools is important. Needless to say, a good set of quality tools can be the difference between a smooth setup and one that is… well, not so much— leading you to take it to a guitar shop instead.

One might think that a headless guitar needs a range of specialized tools, but that’s not entirely true. When it comes to string changes, you do need a hex key, unlike with a traditional guitar. However, this actually makes string changes much faster since you don’t need to wind each string around the tuning pegs. So, with that being said, there really isn’t much that differentiates the process of setting up and maintaining your headless guitar from that of a traditional one.

Now, let’s jump into it!

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1. Folding Hex Key Set

When it comes to changing strings, adjusting the action, setting the intonation, or adjusting the truss rod— all these things have one thing in common, they require a hex key (or Allen wrench) to be done. Sure, your headless guitar may have come with most of the hex keys needed, but keeping track of them isn’t always easy. Especially if you own multiple guitars. The good news is that if you have a set of folding keys, like the ones shown above, it will most likely be the last set of hex keys you’ll ever own. The Stanley Folding Metric and SAE hex key set covers all the sizes you will need on virtually every headless model out there.

2. String Cutter

After you have changed the strings on your headless, you will, of course, have to cut them. That task is made very easy with a pair of good quality wire, or string cutters. However, not all string cutters are equal. On a headless instrument, it’s best to cut the string as close to its exit out of the headpiece as possible in order to not have any sharp points sticking out. For that reason, you want a pair of string cutters which will do just that. The MusicNomad Grip Premium String Cutter has a “side cutter design” to help you cut the string as closely as possible. It features an ergonomic and compact design so that it can easily fit in your gig bag or case.

3. Truss Rod Neck Relief Gauge

If you’re setting up a new guitar or the climate has recently changed, it’s important to check and make sure that the neck has the proper amount of relief. If there is too much relief, the action can be too high as you go up the frets (no matter how high or low the saddles are set), and if there is too little relief, you may experience fret buzz— particularly as you approach the 12th fret and up. A great way to take the guesswork out of finding the ideal level of relief for your neck is to use a truss rod neck relief gauge tool like the one shown above.

Figuring out if you need more or less relief is very simple. First you insert the included “pick capo” by placing it over the E string, under the A string, over the D string, and sliding it up to the 1st fret. This is to free your hand from holding down the E string on the 1st fret. Then sitting with the guitar in playing position, you hold down the E string on 12th fret while using the .006 gauge to insert between the 6th fret and E string. If there is heavy contact between the string and gauge tool, then your neck needs more relief. That’s accomplished by using a hex key and turning counterclockwise. If there is a gap between the string and gauge tool, then your neck needs less relief, in which case you would turn the hex key clockwise.

The goal is to have the string make very light contact with the gauge tool— that’s when you know your neck has the perfect amount of relief!

4. Action Gauge

Once your neck is set with the appropriate amount of relief, you can adjust the action to your desired liking. A great way to do that is to use an action gauge so you don’t have to guess what your current action is. Let’s say you already have the action set perfectly on another one of your guitars and you would like to set up your new guitar the exact same way— well, that becomes very easy with an action gauge. If you don’t know what the typical ranges are, the MusicNomad Precision Action Gauge shows a chart with the typical heights from low, medium, and high, so that you can more easily find the appropriate action and find what works best for you.

To measure the action of each string, simply place the gauge on the 12th fret while holding down the string on the 1st fret. The point where the bottom of the string meets the top of the white line is the point of precise measurement. The tool includes both metric and SAE measurements.

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