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How to Really Know Your Guitar

How well do you know your guitar?

Do you know everything there is to know about it:

from how it’s made, to how all the controls work, to what kind of wood it’s made of, etc.?

Depending on what guitar you have, there could be quite a bit to know. And it can be a little intimidating or overwhelming.

So many of us choose to ignore that stuff. We just want to pick up the guitar and play songs! Knowing all those details isn’t really that important, right?

Wrong.

Look, you can certainly learn to play your guitar, a song, a riff, without ever knowing that stuff.

I can also just go start up and drive a new car without knowing anything about any of the controls in the vehicle. At least until I need to know specific things to improve my driving experience: “how does this A/C work, it’s getting hot in here!”, “which lever works the wiper blades?”, “how do you set the cruise controls?”, etc. I think you get the idea.

Well, it’s the same with the guitar. The more you know about it, the better your experience will be when you play it.

I recently read this excellent article from Beginner Guitar HQ about How to Choose the Best Guitar. You really should take the time to read it. There are a number of things to consider when choosing guitar, they go through each of them.

But, I also think the article is excellent for all of us who already have guitars. We need to have some idea of what we have so that we can have a better experience playing them.

Recently I made a video series called Pedal Power. While it was mostly made for electric guitar players, the first part of the series can equally apply to all of you acoustic guitar players. Check it out:

Too many electric guitarists (and many acoustic players) who purchase pedals make the mistake that the pedals are going to make their sound.

I have news for you: they don’t.

You may have heard the saying: “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig

You can have all the latest and greatest effect pedals but with a guitar that is cheap, defective, or simply doesn’t sound good, your sound will never sound great.

Never.

I always advise students of mine, and people who simply call for advice, that before you invest in pedals, or even a decent amp, is to get a good guitar first.

It always starts with a good guitar. Notice I didn’t say expensive guitar. Price isn’t always the determining factor.

How is it made? How does it sound? How does it play?

These are things we all need to be looking for.

Then, when you have the guitar (as I am sure most of you reading this have one), you need to get to know what everything does on it.

How do the pickups work? How different are their sounds? What kind of strings do I have? Are they in good condition and the right size for me?

What condition is the guitar in? Does it have buzzing on the frets? Strings are too high (or low) off the neck? In these cases, take it to a professional who can set it up to be in optimal condition. It is amazing how much a setup can improve your playing! In fact, just like you should regularly get oil changes on your car, it’s a good idea to regularly take your guitar to a guitar professional to get it back in optimal condition. I like to do this twice a year (fall and spring) on some guitars.

And it’s funny, when you are truly familiar with your guitar (and amp for you electric players), you will have a better idea of what kind of effects will really work for you! For example, I know that some overdrive pedals work best with my guitar/amp setup. Whereas, for another guitarist with a different guitar (and/or amp), they will have better success with a different kind of overdrive pedal.

So think twice when you want a certain effect pedal just because someone else you know, or a guitar hero of yours, has that pedal, that you think it will work for you. Try them first. Then try others. You might find what works for you is completely different from what they use.

And that’s ok.

You are unique. Let it show.

I hope it helps!

Rock on until the next time!

Oh, by the way: Do your fingers need a workout? Here is a free mini course I made for you to help out with that. It’s obvious (just a click away), easy (just follow along the course with short videos), and satisfying (you WILL play better). Check it out here:

Or just click this link: Guitar Finger Gymnastics

Tony G.

PS: Here is my TOP 10 Favorite Alex Lifeson Riffs Video taken from his huge catalog of Rush songs. It was a lot of fun to make! Let me know what you think:

Best Rush Songs on Guitar

Closer to the Heart

PPS: Oh and hey, can you do me a favor? I’m starting a mission to grow my You Tube Subscribers to more than 155 (Ha!). No, seriously, if you can quickly hop over there and “Subscribe”, it would be so very awesome!

I promise that the videos (most of them at least) will be entertaining and/or informative!

Here is the path to arrive there:

6 String Corner

Guitar Pick Preservation

“Without music, life would be a mistake” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

“Music is to the soul what words are to the mind.” ― Modest Mouse

“I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws.”— Charles-Pierre Baudelaire

Guitar picks can be like socks.

Whatever happens to that other sock after we do the laundry?

Drives me nuts. I sometimes think that they simply fall into a black hole, never to return until the end of time.

I firmly believe that guitar picks have their own black hole that they fall into as well

I know that because I don’t always remember throwing them out or tossing them away…they simply vanish

So to “combat” that phenomenon, I hold on to a certain group of picks and keep them in a safe place (or in the strings of my guitar!)

And I use them over and over

But the inevitable problem with guitar picks is that they eventually wear out. And then you have to buy new ones, half of which will join the other socks in their own black hole

However, there is a trick, a trade secret if you will, that will preserve your guitar picks just a little longer. It is really simple.

It’s called the “Rug Rub”

Rug Rub

The success of this technique is dependent on the type of pick you use. I use Tortex picks, they are the best to do this with (I usually order via Musiciansfriend.com but you can get them at most any music store, Amazon, etc.). They come in all shapes sizes. This is the one I use for my electric guitars:

When you see wear on the sides of your pick, you find a rug made with a coarse material (like an indoor/outdoor type, or most types you would see on a stage if you gig a lot, even a lot of those welcome mats can work). And then simply rub the sides of the pick on the carpet surface to smooth it out. 

Do it like this:

That’s it. (Side note: I learned this from a drummer friend of mine some time ago! How about that!).

There will come a time where you will have “filed” enough that the shape of the pick gets deformed to point where it’s hard to play.

But the good news is that your single pick will last a whole lot longer! I usually will order a half dozen of the Tortex picks and, as long as they don’t fall into their black hole, I typically won’t place another order for as long as 6 months.

You can use many types of picks. Some would be more difficult than others.

For example, the more plastic type picks that Fender uses (the traditional kind that they have used for a long time) would take a little longer in the filing process. Sometimes they can wear so much that you can’t do anything with them.

There are other types of picks, such as those made out of bone, where this doesn’t work nearly as well. However, the nature of their construction allows them to last long on their own.

If you haven’t done so yet, try different types of picks of different material and thickness to see what works for you. Let me know if there is more you wish to learn about picks. Just reply back or leave a comment!

Rock on till the next time!

Do your fingers need a workout? Here is a free mini course I made for you to help out with that. It’s obvious (just a click away), easy (just follow along the course with short videos), and satisfying (you WILL play better). Check it out here:

Or just click this link: Guitar Finger Gymnastics

Rock On,

Tony G.

PS: Oh and hey, can you do me a favor? I’m starting a mission to grow my You Tube Subscribers to more than 149 (Ha!). No, seriously, if you can quickly hop over there and “Subscribe”, it would be so very awesome! When you subscribe, you get real time updates when videos are posted. You might find something useful and/or fun!

I promise that the videos (most of them at least) will be entertaining and/or informative!

Here is the path to arrive there:

6 String Corner

Guitar Maintenance for Guitar Players: What We Need to Know

How many car owners do we have out there? Raise your hand…

Even if you don’t, maybe you use someone’s. Regardless, you are most likely aware that you need to have regular maintenance on it in order for it to operate well.

You should be doing stuff like oil changes and tire rotations periodically to keep everything in optimal shape.

Then there will be times for larger, routine things like brakes and tires that need to be replaced.

It’s just part of everyday life in owning a car.

And if you miss doing these things, or at least put them off, worse problems can happen on your vehicle which are more costly.

Ever been there…?

Did you know that your guitar needs regular maintenance too?

Changing strings regularly should always be done. Of course it will depend on how often you play but strings do deteriorate over time causing them to not sound great and eventually break. Check out my blog article for more:

How Often Do I Change My Strings?

I think most players get that part (and if you didn’t, might want to consider changing those strings. Check out my blog article and video on how to do it yourself: How to Change Guitar Strings Myself ).

However, there are other things to be aware of regarding normal guitar maintenance:

Truss Rod

The neck on all guitars has what’s called a truss rod inside it. Here is the wikipedia definition:

“The truss rod is part of a guitar or other fretted, stringed-instruments that stabilizes the lengthwise forward curvature (also called relief), of the neck. Usually it is a steelbar or rod that runs inside the neck, beneath the fingerboard. Some are non-adjustable, but most modern truss rods have a nut at one or both ends that adjusts its tension.

Most guitar necks are not straight but actually have a slight concave bow. Those bows have a specific radius that they are set to.

Here is a neat article that describes this well:

Guitar Bitz Truss Rod Adjustment

But, what often happens is, from time to time, that bow will change. Most necks are made of wood which can change slightly depending on ambient conditions. The most common factors are related to the environment like humidity and temperature changes. 

Typically seasonal changes like summer to fall and winter to spring will affect your guitar neck.

One other factor to neck changes is changing your tuning. If you like to use alternate tunings or keep your guitar tuned low on a regular basis, the change in tension in those strings will affect your guitar neck.

These are normal occurrences. You can take it in to any guitar shop where they can adjust it for you. Or you can do it yourself. 

If this interests you, check out some of these videos that show you how to adjust truss rods (there are different places to make the adjustments, depending on the type of guitar you have, but the method is always the same):

Stratocasters

Acoustic Guitars

HOWEVER, heed the warnings: Be aware if you want to do it yourself! If you aren’t sure, have a pro do it for you. You could damage your guitar if you don’t know what you are doing!So, if you haven’t had this done in a while, you might wanna consider it. Some signs: fret buzz and dead notes are often the two main symptoms. It doesn’t always point to truss rod adjustment, but it’s probably the most frequent cause. Again, have a pro look at it to make sure.

String Height

You might not have to do this regularly. But, string height can be very important regarding how well you can play. I see many people come in to my studio with strings that are really high off the neck. It can really make it hard to play the guitar: particularly when you want to play barre chords or when you are soloing.

There are a number of ways to adjust the string height on electric guitars but they are all done at the saddle on the bridge. Here is an example on how to do it on a stratocaster (I do like this guy from Elixir, he’s kinda dry but is very informative):

string height

This is a procedure that would always be done if other changes have been made to the guitar (like truss rod adjustment).

Outside of that, you probably won’t have to make this change on it’s own.

For acoustic guitars this is a little more tricky. Oftentimes a tech would either file the saddle down or shim it up. Again, unless you are knowledgable with this kind of stuff and are confident in your abilities, have someone who knows what they are doing do this kind of procedure on your acoustic.

Nut Adjustment

Sometimes the height of the grooves in the nut of your guitar needs to be adjusted.  If you have lots of fret buzz or dead notes on the lower frets, or it is really hard to play on those lower frets (it feels too high off the neck) this might be a reason. This procedure requires a little more work (at least in my opinion). A pro would be able to diagnose it and take care of it (catching a theme here?). Here is the same Elixir guy to give you an idea:

Guitar Nut Adjustment

Acoustic guitars would have similar adjustments that a tech would make.

Intonation

For me, often times the nut is fine. Truss Rod Adjustment and string height might have to be adjusted from time to time. This is another maintenance item that I do myself (sometimes I’ll do the truss rod – depending on my guitar, and I’ll adjust string height).

In this case the string length needs to be changed a little bit. Here is how you know it needs to be changed:

tune your guitar like normal. Then, press down on the 12th fret of the same string and check your tuning again. They should match. However, when you press it down and the note is flat or sharp, you might need to change the string length.

On electric guitars, we simply move the saddle laterally in small amounts to get the 12th fret and open string tuning settings to match. (Here is one video example: Intonation Adjustment).

On acoustics, this is a little more tricky and you would definitely need a tech to make this adjustment for you (unless you are a confident and knowledgable “do it yourselfer”). It would most likely require some work on the saddle or the nut that they would know how to do. (If you are interested, I like this video of a guy showing how this all works, it’s a little raw but informative: acoustic intonation adjustment).

Bottom line, be aware of changes that happen to your guitar over time. Most times they require some routine, simple maintenance. Don’t miss this! If you stay of top of your guitar maintenance, you will have so much more fun jamming!