Does your guitar need a setup?
A well-kept and setup guitar makes playing so much easier and more enjoyable. Not only will you not be fighting with the instrument to produce a sound, it will sound so much better when you do.
- Rusty strings
When your guitar strings start to show signs of discolouration or wear it is a good time to change them. Sometimes rusty strings are due to the temperature and humidity of the environment they are in; in many cases the cause of this is a result of sweat being left on the strings after playing which corrodes the metal. Rusty strings can be a hazard as they are more prone to breaking, feel terrible beneath your fingers, don’t sound very good and struggle to hold their pitch! You can prolong the life of your strings by giving them a wipe down with a dry cloth after each playing session; even coated strings won’t last forever so if your strings start to look like they’re on their last legs it may be time to put a fresh set on them. If you are tired of restringing frequently I recommend trying coated Elixir strings, as the coating on the strings helps to protect your strings from rust and they can give you a much longer life-span.
- Bent neck/hard to play
If you notice your strings are sitting a lot higher than they normally do and the guitar is feeling harder to play up the neck this is a sign that the tension from your strings is pulling the guitar neck and causing it to bow. As a guitar ages the neck can sometimes become a bit weaker causing it to bend, or the wood of the guitar and the metal strings may have been affected by changes in temperature. Not to fret though your guitar is not broken! There is a metal rod implanted in the neck called the truss rod which is used to counteract this and balance out the tension of the strings to keep your neck relief even. It is recommended that your neck relief gets checked once every year or so. I myself give each of my guitars a checkover once every 6 months or so just to see how they’re going.
You can check your neck easily simply by looking down your neck from the headstock; if your guitar is electric your neck should be as straight as your strings are, if your guitar is an acoustic a little tiny bit of neck bend is okay however it should be fairly straight most of the way along the neck.
If you decide to change guitar string gauge it is recommended that you also have the guitar setup to best suit the new gauge you have selected.
- High action or hard to play
If you’ve checked that your neck is straight but the guitar still seems to be harder to play as you go up the fretboard that is a sign that your action may need to be adjusted. The action of strings refers to how close the strings are set to the fretboard. Some players prefer a higher action so that the notes sustain a little bit better, some players prefer a lower action so that holding down the strings feels effortless which can allow you to play faster, and some players prefer it somewhere in between. String action is very subjective from person to person and everyone has their own preference, however the strings should not be so high that you miss notes and have to put down so much pressure that your hand strains or pushes the notes out of tune. For electric guitars action adjustments are quite simple if you have the right tools and a good ear for how you want the strings to sound. However, for the acoustic guitar adjusting the action can be substantially more difficult and time consuming as you have to take the strings off, remove the saddle, sand it down evenly, put the saddle back and bring the strings back up to tension over and over again until you hit your ideal action height, being careful not to sand it too low as then you will need a completely new saddle.
- Scratchy/crackling electronics
If you notice that adjusting your volume knob, tone knob or switch on your electric guitar results in any crackly or scratchy sounds this is a sign that there is an issue with your guitar’s electronics. Sometimes this is a case of the electronics’ internals needing a clean, however sometimes one or more components may need to be completely replaced and rewired. Regardless this can cause issues to the sound coming out of your amp, every player wants their guitar to sound as best as possible and have no issue finding that perfect tone.
Electronics will not last forever, especially when they get dirty, so if you notice any irregularities with your controls I highly recommend getting them checked up and cleaned to prevent any unnecessary rewiring.
- A jiffy input
If the signal is cutting out when the cord moves, has come loose from the fitting or is producing no sound at all through your amp it is likely your input jack will need a repair. Thankfully, this is a relatively easy and cheap repair only costing around $10. Input jacks go through a lot of wear and tear after a while so this is not uncommon. I normally go through my guitars and replace the inputs once every few years or so, or as they need it.
- Grounding issues
Another common issue with electric guitars is grounding. In the ample amounts of wiring inside an electric guitar every piece of metal on your guitar (including controls, pickups, input jack and even the bridge and strings) are connected together for reasons which are quite complicated and too lengthy to explain in this post. If any one of these grounding connections come loose from their contact point the guitar will become ungrounded, resulting in a quiet buzz coming through your amplifier which can often be very noticeable when playing with distortion. Touching the strings or a metal part of the guitar will result in the current being grounded by your skin which will silence the hum temporarily, coming back again when you take your hand off. In very rare cases this can have some dire consequences such as your amplifier being shorted out – or worse – you might receive an electrical shock!
Many single coil pickups will have a very quiet hum to them which is normal, however if this hum becomes more noticeable when your hand is not touching the strings the hum is likely a result of a grounding issue.
Repairing a grounding issue is normally not too expensive depending on how bad it is, however it is definitely worth getting fixed or at least looked at.
- Cracks in neck/joint
A crack in the wood of your guitar is never a good sign. It may not have any immediate effects at first, but if wood anywhere on your guitar has started to show cracks your guitar is a big warning sign and can put your guitar at risk. Small cracks under tension and stress generally grow into bigger cracks over time, and the bigger it gets the more risk of significant damage and significant costs to repair. If you’re unsure of whether a crack is of any concern bring it to one of our guitar repairers and they will give you an idea of whether it is likely to grow and whether the guitar is in fact worth repairing.
- Some notes on fretboard not playing in tune
If you notice one or more strings going out of tune the further up the neck you go then it is likely your guitar needs to have the intonation adjusted. This is especially common after recently changing string gauge. Intonation refers to making sure that the 12th fret harmonic is in tune with the 12th fret when pressed down. If your guitar string is in tune in that spot, then the rest of your guitar’s frets will also be in tune. Too high or too low and the further up the neck you go the more the frets will be slightly out of tune which can cause some uncomfortable sounding chords.
- Strings slipping
When you tune your guitar if you notice that you hear any creaks coming from the headstock or hear the string suddenly shift tuning this is a sign that the strings are slipping on the nut of the guitar. This can cause a lot of instability in your guitars tuning especially when bending. This is generally combatted by applying string lubricant, recutting the nut slots or replacing the nut with a lubricated Graphtech nut. Taking care of this issue can result in an improved string life, as strings slipping or getting caught in the nut can result in the strings getting cut or having excess tension on the string which can cause breakages.
- Buzzing frets
If your strings buzz over some or all frets when playing this may be a sign that your neck is bent out of alignment or your action is set too low. However if you’ve checked your action and neck relief but the issue is still prevalent this may be a more serious issue. If your guitar’s wood swells due to moisture or humidity it can sometimes cause the frets to burst out from the neck just enough to cause buzzing. In extreme cases this may result in 2 or more frets playing the same note rendering parts of the fretboard unplayable. I would recommend getting this issue looked at to prevent it getting worse, however these repairs can be quite expensive sometimes and it may be more worthwhile to write the guitar off and look into a new one.
- Dirty fretboard
Your guitar’s fretboard will build up amounts of finger grime on the wood over time, leaving a nasty looking layer of grossness. This effects the tone of your guitar and the sound of your bending, preventing your axe from reaching its full sound potential. This can be cleaned off with the right tools and materials, however the cost normally depends on how much work needs to be done. Get this done regularly to prevent build-up.
- Bridge sticking up
If you own a Strat-style guitar with a floating bridge, it’s important to make sure it remains level. Having a bridge stuck up in the air affects your tone, intonation, action and playability dramatically. This sometimes occurs when changing string gauges, and is generally not too difficult to amend. However, if your guitar’s bridge is a floating Floyd Rose tremolo this is issue becomes a lot more common and a lot more time consuming to resolve. Your guitar’s bridge should always be in parallel with the guitar’s body. Look for this on your bridge, if it looks like it may be an issue have it looked at or mention it to the repairer when you get your next restring.
While it is possible to carry out these repairs yourself, it can be a better option to have a professional perform the necessary adjustments and repairs, especially when it comes to neck adjustments and repairs to the body. Engadine Music offers quality repairs for all this and more, so if in need of a repair for your guitar (or other instrument for that matter) call the store on (02) 9520 3044 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.