Updated: Nov 23, 2019
Keeping good care of your guitar is just like getting an M.O.T on your car, it will sound and run much smoother if guitar maintenance is a part of your regular routine, from choosing and changing strings, electrical issues and guitar set-up everything you need to know to maximise your guitars performance is here.
Types of guitar strings
One of the biggest factors that effect the sustain and tone of your instrument are the strings, or rather how often you change them. There's no single metric to go by when deciding how often to change your strings but generally speaking if the strings lose their silver colour and go darker, they could do with a change. The more you use your guitar the ore often you should change your strings, I'm an active guitarist and I change my strings once every 3-4 weeks. Some guitarists change theirs once a week and some of them go months, If you're recording or performing it's usually a good idea to have strings that are fairly new but if you're just playing more casually you can leave it a bit longer without too many issues. If you want to get more milage out of your strings then you should always wash your hands before playing. For heavy metal, get some heavy strings and down tune the whole guitar down a few tones or use a drop tuning like drop D (tune the low E string down a tone to D).
In regards to choosing guitar strings you need to consider the string 'gauge', this is the thickness of the string, the standard string choice is .010–.046, the lowest number is the high E string and the highest number refers to the low E string, in the shop you would ask for 'gauge 10 strings', if you were to use gauge 9 strings your guitar will be easier to play due to the thinner strings, you will have slightly less tone especially in the bottom end, but that can sometimes be preferable and I personally prefer the gauge 9 strings, I feel that you can get the best bends out of them especially when bending 3+ semitones, on the opposite side of the spectrum you can go up and get a set of gauge 11 which will have the opposite effect- more full rounded tone, slightly harder to play especially when bending. As far as choosing which type of strings you need they're all similar, although I've used Ernie Ball strings all of my life and they're fantastic and pretty cheap.
Changing your strings
If you're using the most common 'fixed' bridge guitar click the link below for a step by step guide on how to change your strings. If you're using a floating bridge guitar or 'floyd rose', the process is a little bit more difficult but the link is also below. Make sure that all of your strings are wound from the inside like the picture to the right, it looks neater and the guitar is designed to have the strings in that position. Once you have your strings on, give them a few gentle but firm tugs, this allows them to stretch quicker so that they don't slip out of tune for the next 2 hours of playing.
If you're re-stringing your acoustic guitar then click the link below for a step by step guide for steel strings and classical style guitars. Make sure that when you start tuning you tune the low E string first, as this has the most tension. Always make sure that you're tuning up, by this I mean if you go too sharp then tune it down slightly and wait for the note to get in tune, this will prevent the string from slipping and going flat when you play.
TOP TIP - Always clean your guitar with a damp cloth before you put your new strings on,. Clean each fret individually while there are no strings blocking them, this also makes the guitar produce better sustain. While you're at it, give the body a good clean including the area around the pickups as that will soon be covered and harder to access.
Setting up your guitar
What does setting up your guitar mean? This is the steps you take to improve the performance of the guitar including the sound and ease of play. Many guitar stores/instructors offer the service to set up your guitar (for a price), sometimes this is a good idea especially if your guitar has a floating tremolo or 'floyd rose', these are notoriously difficult to get right, but it can be done, below are the main ways in which you can set up your guitar to feel and sound perfect.
The distance between the guitar strings and the frets is called the action and is a crucial element to get right, the action will largely depend on what guitar you have, the string thickness, tuning, style of playing and personal preference, generally speaking the closer the string is to the frets the easier it is to play, but too close and you will have fret buzz, the right balance is key.
To adjust the action you will probably need a small allen key that fits the holes pictured on the photo on the right, turning the key one way will bring the action up, and visa versa. When adjusting the action make sure that you listen to every fret on a range of strings as you might only have fret buzz on a few frets so being thorough is important especially if you're a gigging musician. About 3mm is a good action height but as I play a lot of metal I like to go as low as possible without fret buzz introduced.
This is a long rod that goes down the neck lengthwise and is responsible for stabilising the curvature of the neck, this is an important factor in the short term but also in the long term, if it's too tight it can cause the neck to 'bow' in the middle and too lose can have the opposite outcome, so if you look at your guitar using the method below and it's bowed in the middle then the truss rod needs loosening and visa versa.
To adjust your truss rod you need to turn your attention to the head stock there will be a small hole on the front that might be covered by a small guard just past the 'nut', you will need the correct size allen key just as you would for adjusting the action (although they might be different sizes), and you need to make sure that you're turning it the right way, as a reference the photo below is giving the neck more relief (counter clockwise) this will be done when the guitar is bowed inwards, so clockwise would give the neck less release. Make sure to always loosen it slightly even if you're planning on tightening it as this allows you to judge how smoothly it will turn.
TOP TIP - When you're buying a guitar if it has already been owned you can save your self a ton of money by holding the guitar up close with the neck facing away from you so you can see down the neck, if there's a dip in the middle then the truss rod has been too tight for a long time and it will dip in the middle of the neck.
Sometimes the wires for the tone/volume pots and the jack input can become lose or break, this will result in sound cutting out or buzzing, it's actually a very easy fix as long as you have a soldering iron, you can get them online very cheap, take off the pick guard at the front of any guards at the back and find the offending wire, it should have a little slack so you can cut the end a little bit to tidy it up and expose the wire, heat up the soldering iron and melt the solder onto the corresponding connection. Also make sure you check the connections in the tone pots as well as the jack connection. Thankyou for reading this blog entry, you can subscribe to blog updates on my main blog page at the bottom.
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