Jordan Warford here, Editorial Manager for Guitar Tips.
Welcome to this edition of our Guitar Tips Newsletter. Join us as we
answer a few of the more mysterious questions regarding guitar maintenance.
do you keep your guitar sounding sweet? What could be the solution to that buzz?
What kind of yearly maintenance should I be giving my guitar? All these
questions and more will be answered as we enter the world of luthiery.
addition to the above, we also have a great site review for you this week. Check
out frets.com and learn other great methods to guitar repair. It's the perfect
launching point for any novice guitar technician.
Without further a due, let's get started!
Why It's Important To Maintain Your
Do your guitar a
remember when I received my first guitar. It looked great, and it didn't sound
too bad despite being made from lower grade materials. Upon receiving my guitar
I was young and inexperienced, I had no idea about properly maintaining my
me, maintenance consisted of constantly polishing off the finger prints and
occasionally changing the strings. While polishing your guitar may be
aesthetically pleasing, the fact of the matter is that it really can't be
considered as maintenance.
Maintenance involves physically altering/adjusting your guitar in various
ways to insure that you get the maximum performance out of your guitar. It is
similar to maintaining your car. Every now and then you need to get a grease and
oil change, check the battery, and insure the tires are balanced and in safe
driving condition. Why wouldn't we do the same for our guitars?
sad thing about all of this is that as many of you read this, you are the person
I'm describing who doesn't properly maintain your guitar. This isn't something
to beat yourself up over as you can't do something about the problem unless you
know a solution to it.
subtle adjustments can be done at home eliminating the need to drag your guitar
into your local shop everytime something doesn't sound quite right. You would be
amazed at how easy this maintenance is.
start off with some of the most easy yet major adjustments you can do by
Intonation is a fancy word to describe the proper creation of a tone that
is perfectly in tune. In other words, how well your guitar's notes are in tune
with each other. There's nothing worse than playing a beautiful chord and then
changing to a different progression only to find that it sounds out of tune.
becomes extremely frustrating and can often deter players from going to their
instrument to practice. When I had my first guitar, it had horrible intonation
and it got to a point where I wasn't motivated to play because I thought I
sounded horrible. It wasn't me that was the problem, rather, the
you haven't experienced this with chords, you may have when playing lead. You'll
find that you will produce a tone that "Quakes" and "Shifts." It will not sound
crystal clear, just wobbly. This is a symptom of bad intonation.
how can you fix this problem? It's actually quite simple. Here are some tools
that you may need:
- Chromatic tuner.
It is very important that the tuner be chromatic for the ease of use and
- Small phillips
reason your chords sound bad is because the individual strings are not at their
proper length for the frequency to vibrate at the correct period (some physics
for all of you science people). This requires a very slight adjustment to the
length, often just millimeters.
may have noticed that there are six screws located at the back of your bridge.
These screws are connected to the little piece of metal that holds the base of
your string in place. They can also move the string when those screws are
is a diagram from a Les Paul illustrating the location of these screws on the
order to know how much to turn the screw, you need to know how in tune your
guitar is with itself. To do this, place your finger on the 12th fret of any
given string. Let's use E (1st string). Press down on the string to make sure
the string is in tune. If it isn't, simply tune the string as per
second step is the most important. Play a natural harmonic on the 12th fret of
the same string you just tuned. Does your tuner say that the harmonic is in
so, your intonation is perfect! If it turns up being flat or sharp, then you
have to make an adjustment to the string length by using the screws located at
the note is sharp, turn the screw so the saddle moves towards the end of the
guitar. If the note is flat, turn the screw so that the saddle moves towards the
neck. Screw in or out (depending on whether the string is sharp or flat) until
the harmonic on the 12th fret of the string is in tune.
Repeat for every string. Yes, it may be tedious but it is relatively
simple once you get into it. Try not to strip your screws because you will need
important to remember to tune your string before you play the harmonic or you
will make your problem far more complicated and actually make matters
is probably the worse problem to have of them all because you know it's there,
you just don't know how to fix it. While string buzz rarely comes from the same
place on every guitar, there are a few things you can check out to see if you
can stop the problem. You should note that some of them require a trip to the
shop because they are more complex.
- Loose parts of
your guitar. Most of these problems are located in the neck area. You may notice
that there is a washer around the tuning peg on your neck. This is used to
attach the tuner to your neck but they can come loose with age as they settle in
the wood. This slight vibration can make a huge impact on your playing. To fix
the problem, simply take a wrench of the appropriate size and tighten them back
- Loose strings. If
you don't cut your strings, the loose ends can rattle against each other.
- Flat frets. After
time your frets become very worn. It takes many years but it is bound to happen
to well played guitars after a period of time. The normal guy can't repair this,
so it will require a trip to the shop.
- Low action. If the
height of your strings above the fretboard is too low they will hit the frets as
they vibrate, making them buzz. On the other hand, if the action is too high,
the string will vibrate out of control and hit the frets again. This requires an
experienced eye to handle this and I recommend going to the shop to get it done.
It's extremely inexpensive.
- Wrong string
gauge. If the strings are too light, they won't respond well. The heavier the
better in my opinion.
- May require a
truss rod adjustment. Your neck doesn't have enough strength to hold all of the
strings in place by itself without bowing (meaning to bend in the middle). It
relies on a metal rod that is inserted through the middle of the neck to
counteract these forces. This rod also has the power to bring your strings
closer and further away from the frets, which is called relief. This usually
should be done by a professional because you could ruin your neck.
is one aspect of guitar maintenance that is often overlooked. Wood is a very
unique material in that it shrinks and expands on a daily basis. For us, this
means retuning regularly, to the guitar it's like constantly running a marathon.
acoustic guitar should have a humidifier. They look like a little box and are
placed between the string into the sound hole. You fill them up with water and
the guitar takes in the moister it needs. In winter time, this is especially
critical. Why? Because the air is naturally dry.
dry air sucks the moister out of your guitar and can cause it to crack and/or
lose tone! To keep the wood stable and happy, you need to give it some
Another important thing to remember is to keep your guitar acclimatized.
What does this mean? When you see your favorite guitarists playing in the middle
of winter on a live stage, their guitar has been set up to meet the very cold
conditions. If you simply took your guitar in its case out of a room and opened
it in these frigid conditions, you would crack your finish or wood. This is
because of the rapid temperature change.
the other hand, if you leave your guitar in your car for a long period of time
during the Summer, the same effect can happen for the opposite reasons. So
insuring that your guitar is at the proper temperature is essential for playing
is one of the most popular issues regarding proper guitar maintenance that we
receive here at Guitar Tips. It is important to know how to travel with your
guitar because it's something that you'll be forced to do at some point in your
you're traveling in your car, it's pretty easy going. You should have your
guitar in a position where it won't move around a lot and is out of the sun. I
like to tune down a half step if I'm travelling longer distances as a
preventative measure. This isn't necessary for day trips.
you're flying, you enter a whole new world of protection. If your guitar is
small enough (like a classical for example) many airliners will allow you to
carry your guitar on the plane as a carry on. If this is the case, you have no
need to worry and there isn't any prep work necessary.
However, many will force you to put your baby in the cargo hold.
Unfortunately, this has been the final resting place for many guitars over the
years. Nothing bothers me more than to see someone let their prized guitar go to
the cargo hold in a normal hard shell case. This should be your first measure of
are cases on the market designed specifically to protect your guitar while
flying. Creatively enough, they are called "Flight Cases." They are made of
metal and range from $200-700. While they aren't cheap, there will protect your
investment from any damage.
Regardless of case, you should always make sure to reinforce the neck
with bubble rap and various other packing materials. It's extremely easy for
your guitar to fall over and snap its own neck under the forces of its weight.
Another good idea would be to detune your strings and relieve some pressure on
may have heard the words "Set up job" echo through your local music store
numerous times. What a proper setup job does is put your guitar in perfect
working order. A guitar tech will correct your intonation, adjust pickup height
if you wish, straighten your neck via the truss rod, and adjust the action to
all of these things are completely doable from home, many guitarists simply
don't have the time or interest in learning these skills. A setup job costs
around $40 and is worth the money. Aside from your intonation which should be
continually checked after every string change, a complete setup is only required
once a year.
it comes to do it yourself maintenance, there are a lot of questions to be asked
such as how do you know if your doing something properly and what safety
precautions should you take with electricity?
of the many guitar maintenance sites on the web took these questions and
transformed them into a step by step guide to fixing your guitar. They are known
quite simply as Frets.com and they have transformed how guitarists approach
has developed an amazing arsenal of lessons that cover everything from cracks,
truss rod adjustments, and re-stringing to stuck pins. This is the perfect
resource for anyone who is wondering how to spruce up their guitar and the best
way to modify it.
packed with pictures, advice, and warnings, it services everyone from the novice
to the expert. This is where I learned how to take care of my guitar and I think
it's only proper that you get the chance to learn from them as well.
you have questions, this site has answers. Check them out by clicking
Unfortunately, this marks the end of yet another newsletter. We hope that
you have enjoyed learning about some of the more basic aspects of guitar
maintenance. Taking care of your guitar doesn't have to be a chore. Learning how
things work will only help you on your road to success.
Having a guitar that is in great playing condition makes it easier to
learn and turns what used to be a frustration into a passion. While some parts
of maintenance are still best left to a professional, everyone can do the little
things like intonation.
Simply put, as you learn more, you will be able to do more. Speaking of
doing more with your guitar, join us next time as we learn about connecting the
spaces on your fretboard to create wicked solos. It's an issue that you won't
want to miss.
next time, keep on picking!