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:
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:
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:
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):
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.
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):
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.
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:
Acoustic guitars would have similar adjustments that a tech would make.
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!
Memorizing the Notes on Your Guitar? Ain't Nobody Got Time for That!
Check out this proven 7 Step System to help you quickly identify where all the notes are on your guitar!
IN ADDITION, YOU GET
- Weekly 'Tuesday Tips' newsletter with tips, tricks, and video tutorials to help make your playing better!