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The Arts Music Store has been renting all kinds of musical equipment for the last
30 years. As technology changes, so does our gear.
There are many opinons on how a guitar works and wise tales on what to do, and if you're doing something that works for you, keep with it and don't change it if it ain't broken, as my grandfather used to tell me. The following tips are based on fact and are for use by those who are not biased by preconceptions.
A good time to inspect your guitar is during a string change when the strings are off. This give you a chance to clean and maintain the instrument. Please inspect the following as your guitar will play better and last longer
People string their guitars in a many ways and the golden rule remains, "if it works for you, keep doing it." The following stringing methods have been borrowed from technicians and luthiers we've consulted over the years. We've chosen these methods based on tuning stablity, ease of installation and how well the method avoids common errors involved in string replacement.
Click here to proceed to Restringing your guitar.
The definition of a well functioning machine is one that is clean and well lubricated; the guitar is no different.
When removing dust off the finish, remember that if you dry dust it with a cloth, you are grinding the dust and dirt into the finish giving your guitar a hazy look after time.
The very act of playing an instrument creates vibrations that the human ear can hear and enjoy. The same vibrations that we enjoy have the negative side-effect of slowly shaking your instrument apart until hardware starts to come loose and fall off. When you change your strings, check the most common places like strap pins, volume and tone controls, machine heads, the neck bolts and any other places on your guitar that are screwed or bolted together.
If your notice your strap pins are coming loose, remove them, fill the holes with toothpicks dipped in white glue, shave off any toothpick protruding from the hole with an Xacto style knife and screw the pins back in. This should hold your strap pins on securely for years.
The most volatile part of any guitar has to be the neck. 100 years ago, this was not the case as guitar necks were much thicker and gut strings had considerably less pull. Now that guitar necks are thinner and steel strings having over twice the pull of nylon are the norm, they are more suseptable to humidity changes causing neck fluctuations that can hamper the action of your guitar.
The best way to check the neck is with the strings up to tension, and comparing the curve of the neck to a straight edge. Since most of us do not carry a 20" long straight edge around with us, we can the strings themselves in theis manner:
1. Using your left hand, press on the low "E" string on the first string (shown in image below)
2. Place the pinky finger of your right hand on the same string at the 14th fret (shown in image below)
3. Keeping these fingers in place, use your thumb of the left hand, to tap the string at the 7th fret and measure the gap between the string and the 7th fret. As a rule, you want .75mm of space there, although more agressive players or those using thinner gauges and doing string bends may need more space as their "greatest possible error" of string travel will be more than say, a jazz player with a heavy gauge who plays lightly.
Comparing the distance at the 7th fret on the Low "E" string and at the 7th fret on the High "E" string is a very accurate way to tell if your neck is twisting at all. If your neck was twisting slightly to the High "E" direction, you would notice less space at the 7th fret on the Low "E" string.
A neck that is too flat or "humped" will produce buzzing at the first fret with the buzzing spreading towards the centre of the neck as the "hump" gets worse. A neck that has too much relief will sound slightly sharper in the middle of the neck and be uncomfortable as it will seem to have higher action. The action will be the same, but the distance will be greater at the 7th fret.
If you notice any of these changes, bring the instrument in for sevice immediatly. If the correction is minor, it may be done on the spot for no charge. If the neck is twisted, or this is a symptom of a greater problem, you should speak to a tech for further courses of action.
At least once a year, it is a good idea to have your guitar set up by a professional to ensure it's playing at peak performance. When a guitar is neglected, a funny thing happens. The player starts to change his or her playing to accomodate the instrument, very similar to the way that a driver will unknowingly apply more pressure to a brake pedal as his or her brakes wear out until the day they realize that they can no longer "stop on a dime". A guitarist should be able to express themselves without compromise because of a poor playing instrument.
Once the instrument is set up, it is crucial that the player refrain from changing string gauge as the change in pull will ruin any changes the technician has made and the instrument will not perform well at all. Once the guitar is setup with a particular gauge of strings, ensure you ALWAYS replace them with the same gauge, or the setup will be altered.
I won't discuss the importance of humidity, as that is another chapter, but I will show you what to look for in case your guitar is being damaged by drastic humidity changes. You should inspect the acoustic guitar top by looking across the top at the sound hole. If you notice the soundhole is no longer flat like the rest of the top and developing a depression between it and the bridge, it should be seen by a technician immediatly to see if anything can be done. You should also examine the bridge to make sure there are no gaps between it and the top, and it's not tilting forward because of the top itself lifting because of separated braces inside the guitar body.
On all guitars, acoustic or electric, inspect the fret edges. A sure sign the guitar is drying out is the fret edges sticking out of the neck and becoming sharp. A guitar humidifier in the guitar body cannot prevent this so you must make sure it's environment is above 45% percent humidity. If the frets are sticking out, see a technician for servicing this problem.
Plug your instrment in and rotate the knobs and flick the switches. Listen for any crackling caused by dirt or wear. You can usually spray out your potentiometers and switches with a contact cleaner from an electronics store (make sure that it says it leaves "no residue", and is "safe for plastics", this is very important as some automotive cleaners will eat your switches almost immediatley) to get rid of dust and dirt. Cigarette smoke is extremely dangerous to electronics as it produces a sticky acid that eats your contacts. Smokers, or those who play in smoky ares should regularly spray their electronics to remove contaminants that could reduce the life of their guitar. Avoid the temptation of rapidly turning or flicking your switches to make the problem go away as this is a temporary fix and the contaminants will wear away at the graphite in your potentiometes and switches and cause premature failure. If you don't feel safe opening you rguitar up, see one of our technicians and they can book your instrument in for a cleaning.
It is often said that the only stupid question is the one that is not asked. If you suspect your guitar of simply "feeling funny", don't be afraid to have an un-biased eye look at it. Bring the guitar in for a staff member to look at. If we notice something wrong, we'll tell you. If it's something that needs a "tweak" and it's something we can do on the spot in a minute or two, we'll usually whip it off for you free of charge, and if not, we'll direct you to one of our technicians who can give you a more in-depth diagnosis so you can decide what you'd like done to your guitar.
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