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Keep your Guitar in Peak Shape with Tips from Scott
Today’s topic is neck adjustments. Every guitar will eventually need a neck adjustment. Here’s how you can tell if your instrument needs one:
Symptom 1: Fret buzz in the lower positions, neck arched. This is caused by the truss rod being over-tightened. No amount of raising the bridge will correct this problem.
Symptom 2: High action in the middle positions, normal elsewhere, neck bowed. This is caused by the truss rod being overly loose. Lowering the bridge will have the same result as above, that is, no fix.
Next time, I’ll discuss how to remedy these problems for you confident do-it-yourselfers.
Neck Adjustments- Part 2
Recalling our last chat, let’s follow it up with the “how-to” portion of neck adjustment. Typically during a setup, I adjust the neck directly after restringing the guitar. There may be further adjustments down the line.
Let’s take, for example, a neck with too much relief (bowed). To correct this, turn the truss rod clockwise, like tightening a screw. Small turns are best, and don’t force it. You should see results almost immediately. A perfectly straight neck is not necessarily the desired result. That will depend on the instrument and the player.
For a neck with not enough relief (back-bowed), simply turn the rod in the other direction.
To check your work, sight from the headstock toward the body down either edge of the fingerboard. The strings will form a perfectly straight line. Compare that to the edge of the neck. Check both sides, high E and low E.
There are a variety of truss rod adjustment tools, from screwdrivers to sockets to allen wrenches, available at any hardware store. The only wrench I’ve encountered that must be purchased from the company is Rickenbacker.
Since the warm weather (and by warm I mean sweaty) is upon us early, let’s talk about intonation, the ability of your guitar to play in tune with itself up and down the neck.
Let’s preface this whole conversation by assuming your guitar is already properly set up.
Nothing kills strings faster than sweaty hands. You’ll notice your intonation deteriorating the longer you keep dirty strings on your guitar.
Of course, the best solution to this problem is to change your strings often. Short of doing that, however, cleaning your strings after each gig will go a long way toward preserving good intonation.
Products like Fast Fret will do the job, as will a dab of rubbing alcohol on a clean white cloth. Clean the strings top and bottom with the alcohol-dampened cloth.
At the very least, dry the strings off after you play.
Don’t Make Trouble for Yourself!
A few days ago a customer brought in an acoustic guitar with fret buzz in the lower positions. Being a do-it-yourself kind of guy, he had filed the third fret lower in an attempt to correct the problem. Needless to say the guitar still buzzed, and he turned a simple repair into a more expensive, complex repair.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a do-it-yourself-er (John & Sam are always screwing up their guitars and having Scott fix them). I was and it worked out well for me. But after years of experience, I’ve found that it’s usually the simple things that cause problems. In this customer’s case, a simple neck adjustment would have fixed his guitar.
Moral of the story: If you’re not sure how to fix something on your guitar, call us or bring it in. We are always happy to take a look at it. That’s why we’re here.
The Other Side of Dryness
Since we’re having an early spring — Yay!! — let’s look at the other side of the dryness issue.
Assuming your acoustic guitar made it through the winter with no problems (low action, sharp frets, cracks, etc.) you may find that as humidity increases, your guitar’s action appears to get higher. This is just the normal effect of extra humidity on your guitar. The simple remedy is to remove the bridge saddle and shave the appropriate amount from the bottom of the saddle. I don’t recommend you try this yourself, but it can be done easily here at Pittsburgh Guitars.
Traveling musicians often carry 2 or 3 different height saddles, so that they can adjust on the road.
Simple Pre-Gig Maintenance
It’s a proven fact that the parts that get the most action are the ones most likely to fail. (No, I’m not talking about the lead singer who truly is too sexy for his shirt!) I mean input jacks and strap buttons.
Simple tightening before you hit the stage can prevent a world of hurt. A strap lock is only useful if the buttons stay in the guitar. Carry a Phillips head screwdriver and tighten the strap buttons before every gig.
If your input jack is loose, do the same. In most cases the previously-mentioned small crescent wrench will work. For Strats and Teles, the best choice is a 1/2″ nut driver. (Looks like a screwdriver, works like a socket.) If you can, it helps to hold the jack from the inside when you “tighten up.”
More DIY Tips From the Bench
Everything we’ve talked about so far are things that I do for every set up. Here’s another: If your frets are dull and your fingerboard is grungy, here’s an easy way to clean them.
This involves removing all the strings at once. Try not to leave them off for too long, or it could affect the neck adjustment.
First let’s do rosewood and ebony (dark wood). For simple cleanup, use lemon oil, available here at Pittsburgh Guitars or at any hardware store. Apply the lemon oil to an old sweat sock or washcloth, and wipe across the fingerboard the short way (from high string to low string). You’ll need to apply some pressure.
For really dirty fingerboards you’ll need some #0000 steel wool, also available at any hardware store. Make sure to use only #0000, because anything else is too scratchy. Rub the fingerboard the same way as with the lemon oil, and apply lemon oil when finished.
Let’s move on to maple fretboards. Lemon oil again, but never use steel wool. If the lemon oil alone won’t clean it, I use Meguiar’s #2 Fine Cut Cleaner. Use the same sweat sock (or washcloth) and rub in the same direction.
It sounds like a lot of work but this is really a 5- or 10-minute operation. This will make your fingerboard and frets shine, and will make your string bending slick and easy!
I’m In Tune
Is your guitar getting difficult to tune? The answer could be as simple as installing a fresh set of strings!
Dirt and oils from your hands get into the windings of the strings, and that can cause them to vibrate irregularly. This, in turn, can cause tuning problems.
It’s not always this simple. But putting on a fresh set of strings is a good place to start!
Keeping It In Tune, Part Deux
The last time we talked about changing your strings as being the simplest and most common fix for tuning problems.
While you’re changing those strings, make sure that that tuning machines are snug on the headstock.
There are basically 2 types of tuning machines:
1.) Those that are attached with a hex nut on the face of the headstock, and 2.) Those that are attached with screws on the back of the headstock. Sometimes they’re a combination of both.
While the string is off the guitar, tighten the hex nut. (My tool of choice is a small crescent wrench.) If there are screws on the back of the headstock, tighten them with the appropriate small screw driver.
Strap locks can save your guitar from needing a serious repair!
Strap lock buttons are made to be a direct replacement for the original strap buttons on your guitar. The only problem you’re likely to encounter is the original screw hole being too large. The quick fix is to insert a 1/8″ dowel (available at any hardware store or hobby shop) into the hole, snap it off, re-drill the hole, and insert the screw.
If you run into any trouble, bring in your guitar with the strap locks. It’s a quick and easy installation.
As a Christmas Week Special, we’ll do a free installation on any strap locks you purchase at Pittsburgh Guitars!
Humidify! Humidify! Humidify!
Cold, dry Pittsburgh winters can be dangerous for guitars. When the wood dries, it shrinks. That can cause sharp frets, a change in action, even top cracks.
When it’s time to turn on your furnace, it’s time to use a humidifier in your guitar case.
Acoustic guitars are more susceptible to dryness damage, but electric guitars can show symptoms as well.
There are different models of humidifiers, but they all act on the same principle: getting moisture into the guitar to keep it from drying out. Some fit right in the case, but the most effective designs get right into the sound hole (of acoustics).
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