In order to achieve a good sound and keep your instrument in good condition, it must be maintained. Doing so will generally result in greater satisfaction when you play, and get you as a musician in a more receptive head-space to think about, and improve upon your unique sound. If you are at all unsure about any of the procedures I put forth in this document – go and see a guitar tech. These guys know what they're doing, and have all the necessary tools and experience.
After playing remember to wipe your strings and fingerboard down with a cloth to remove finger grease – It'll make your strings last longer.
If you lean your guitar up against a wall – make sure you have the fingerboard side facing the wall, this will stop your neck from bending – (see truss rod), and your strings will last longer as moisture and other contaminants falling from the air won't be falling on your strings.
NEVER leave your instrument in a hot car, it can and will warp, buckle, melt, crack, de-laminate and generally wreak havoc on you pride and joy
No, I'm not going to try and tell you how to suck eggs, but there may be some things you didn't know.
Some guitarists love new strings, while others prefer the strings once they have been 'played in' and lost some of their treble and bight, others again, esp. jazz guitarists, play flat wound strings with a distinct lack of treble to achieve a smooth syrupy tone.
Whatever kind of Guitarist you are, at some point you will need to change your strings. You probably already have a brand and gauge of string that you prefer, if so, restringing is pretty straightforward, if you change the gauge of string, you will probably need to adjust the intonation. (see below)
The quickest way to remove the old strings is to cut them with wire cutters – otherwise just unwind them. If you have a Fender Stratocaster, or any guitar with a whammy-bar, before you remove the strings, it can be a good idea to remove the back cover, and wedge a piece of wood between the butt of the bridge and the neck end of the cavity (you may have to remove one or more of the springs to do this. This will stop the springs from tilting the bridge backwards once the tension of the strings is removed. And make the guitar much easier to get back into tune once restrung.
This is because the tension of the strings, and the force of the springs balance themselves in an equilibrium holding the instrument in tune. Therefore, if you were to put one string on the guitar, and get it to tune, the addition of another string will cause the first string to go very flat. You can work around this with the block of wood idea, or by only changing one string at a time – but then you can't clean your fingerboard. :-P
Before you start putting the new strings on, rub some graphite powder (available from hardware store) into the nut. This will prevent the string from sticking in the nut and make tuning in future much easier, and is essential for whammy guitars allowing you the stretch and relax the string seamlessly from bridge to machine head. This however is superfluous for Floyd Rose type guitars with locking nuts.
This bit is simple, and most of you probably have this worked out. My pointers here are; don't leave the string too long, this results in excess string would around the capstan and often forces the string to wrap back over itself – which in turn causes a much longer bedding in period (string keeps going flat). Ideally you want about two or three revolutions on the capstan on the top E, not more than a ½ dozen on the bottom E, and somewhere in between for the others. Make sure that you wrap the string from top to bottom, and that each revolution butts nicely up against the previous one, this increases the angle that the string takes over the nut – improving tone and sustain
This is why Strats and Tellies have 'string trees' on the B and E strings, and Gibsons have tilted head-stocks.
This a part in the neck of the guitar that counteracts the pull of the strings from bending the neck. It can usually be adjusted with an allen key.
The idea here is to maintain a basically straight neck. Have a look along the fingerboard from the head-stock of the guitar to check the curvature, and adjust accordingly. Remember to do this with the strings on, because they affect the curvature of the neck. Sometimes it's not always possible to leave the strings on, eg. Some Fenders actually require you to completely remove the neck from the body the get at the adjustment for the truss rod. If you take the neck of with the strings under tension, the guitar can go off like a steel trap. :-O
Gibson type guitars gave a small plastic cover on the headstock behind the nut for accessing the truss rod adjustment.
When you do adjust the truss rod, you should tighten to fight the strings and loosen to allow the strings to pull more curvature into the neck. When tightening – always “help” the neck along by firmly bending it against the pull of the strings while synchronously tightening the truss rod itself. Unless the neck is seriously bent, somewhere between a ¼ turn and ½ turn on the truss rod adjustment should do the trick.
This must be tweaked when the guitar has new strings, and is best done with a tuner. The idea is to get the 12th fret note on a given string to play exactly the pitch as the 12th harmonic on that same string.
In a perfect world, the distance between the nut and the 12th fret would be exactly the same as the distance between the 12th fret and the bridge. But it's not. Here's why:
The string is stretched by pushing it down to the fret, which sharpens the note.
'Compensation' is the amount that the bridge has to be moved beyond twice the distance from the nut to the octave fret (12th) to get it playing in tune.
More compensation is needed for a higher action.
More compensation is needed for a slacker string - such as low E or plain steel G on a guitar. Hi E only needs a couple of mm. Low E more like 7 mm. Nylon strings don't change pitch as much as steel when stretched - however on ukulele the low C string needs almost 5 mm more compensation than the Hi A.
Classical guitar needs less because the strings are tighter. Classical saddles are often cut to try to make the G string longer, but there's not enough width in a classical saddle to get the required amount of compensation.
Since the frequency/pitch of the harmonics is set by the tension of the string, and the frequency/pitch of the fretted notes is a product of the tension and the length of the string, this allows us to change the pitch of the fretted note by moving the saddle on the bridge and leave the harmonic unaffected. In essence, we can tune the fretted note to the harmonic. If the fretted note is sharp, make the string longer by 'tightening' the saddle screws on the bridge moving the saddle back, and vice-a-versa if the fretted note is flat. As you make small adjustments at the bridge, keep checking the open string or the harmonic is in tune with your tuner and make adjustments as necessary with the machine head – (because as you adjust the intonation at the bridge, the overall string will go out of tune).
Happy maintaining! (written by Josh Bell)
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