How To Adjust An Electric Guitar Without A Ruler


    I was stationed in Kunsan Air Base without many of the nice tools that I needed.  I had just put a Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded set of pickups into my ESP electric guitar.  I needed to somehow get my guitar set up properly so that I could use it.  If you've ever needed to do something similar to this, continue reading and I'll show you how I got around this!

Keep the Change

    Seriously, hold on to change: coins are not the most accurate measuring devices, but each has a known thickness.  Using a search engine and reading Wikipedia, I found the answers.  The Wikipedia lists them in millimeter form:

Thickness (mm)
US Quarter
US Dime
US Nickel
US Penny
Canadian Dime

    Sort of funny how I found two Canadian dimes near the soda machine one night.
    From here, if you read the Fender Owner's Manual and the Seymour Duncan (SD) pickup manual, you will notice the following measurements that they specify:

Fender Recommends:
SD Recommends:
Coin Used:
Minimum String Height (bass)
3/32" (2.4mm)  -  2 CND Dimes
Minimum String Height (treble)
5/64" (2mm)  -
US Nickel
Bridge Pickup Height (bass)
4/64" (1.59mm)
3/32 inches (2.38mm)
2 CND Dimes
Bridge Pickup Height (treble)
3/64" (1.19mm)
1/16 inches (1.58mm)
US Penny
Neck Pickup Height (bass)
4/64" (1.59mm) 1/8 inches (3.175mm)
US Nickel + CND Dime
Neck Pickup Height (treble)
3/64" (1.19mm) 1/8 inches (3.175mm)
US Nickel + CND Dime

The Seymour Duncan manual comes in inches, while the Fender manual comes with both.


    Obviously, I had to choose.  I decided that first, I needed to set the string height, since this is used to measure how far the pickups are.  I also decided that it was best to go over the recommendations rather than under, since the Seymour Duncan guide's listing of pickup height is the minimum they recommend.  The bass side was set using a US nickel (since 0.05 is hardly room to get worried about, what with my lack of exact tools).  The treble side was set using a penny.
    Then I looked at the slightly conflicting Fender and SD bridge pickup heights.  I decided on the larger of the two for both measurements, since it's best to be on the safe side (as pickups too close to the strings can muddy up the sound).  This means that I set them using the SD measurement.
    Be sure that you always do the final adjustment by ear.  While the measurements are nice, they're only a starting point. I recommend adjusting the height so that neither of the pickups sound distorted, and so that they sound balanced to each other's output level. Usually the bridge, if any, should be only a little louder, since it's usually the "lead" pickup for solos.

How I do it

    Me, I set the guitar on my lap so that the pickups are facing straight up and the guitar is level.  Then I put the required change, stacked, on the pickup at the high E or low E (doesn't matter which side is done first), then fret the string at the highest fret and check to see if the string is contacting the change by doing small string bends back and forth.  If it's at the right distance, the coin(s) will move with the string because the string is grabbing them.
    Of course, the above applies only when I do not have a ruler and other proper tools.  I prefer a ruler to this method, but this method does work.


    Sometimes you have limited tools, but a little thinking and internet searching can change that.  I decided to write this down so that if someone somewhere needed help, they could find what they are looking for.  Enjoy!


Seymour Duncan, Basslines, and the stylized "S" logo are all registered trademarks of Seymour Duncan Pickups, with which I am not affiliated.  Fender is a trademark of the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, with which I am not affiliated.