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Guitar Maintenance - The Basics

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

“Everything Requires Maintenance”.

It’s a pretty simple concept to understand and an easy one to ignore until things start falling apart.

I believe the phrase applies to all aspects of life, however, today I’m just talking about carrying out general guitar maintenance and not your playing skills.

I am not suggesting anybody unskilled take on any major guitar work at home. But what I am suggesting is “simple routine maintenance” of your guitar, leaving all the micro adjustments and major work to your local Guitar Technician with a good reputation.

The Mechanics of the Acoustic Guitar

The acoustic guitar is a fairly straight forward instrument in terms of how it operates. Tensioned strings run up and down the neck, secured at each end by the tuning pegs and bridge pins. The pressure you apply by strumming or picking the strings causes the strings to vibrate and amplify within the hollow timber body of the guitar and…. PRESTO! The amplified sound is projected out of the sound hole.

Of course better quality guitars produce this effect far better than cheaper guitars due to quality exotic tone woods, master luthiers, precise measurements, computer engineering, etc, etc, but this is a subject for someone else on another day.

In terms of maintenance however, the key factors are all based upon quality of tone, playability and the lifespan of the instrument.

Changing the strings on your guitar is a straight forward exercise and it’ll give you an opportunity to look over the instrument, clean it up and check for anything that might need further attention.

Fact - If you play rusty worn out strings the guitar won’t hold tune, the guitar will sound like junk and the rusty strings may damage the frets and chew into the fretboard creating permanent damage and a bigger repair bill than just a service.

The action of a guitar is measured by the height of the strings sitting above the neck of the guitar. As the guitar neck is constantly under the pressure of the strings. The neck can have a tendency to bend.

Bending upward causes the neck to bow so the strings sit higher on the fret board, which creates more travel for the fingers to press the strings against the fretboard, making it harder to play.

Bending down causes the strings to touch the fretboard in various unwanted postions along the neck, which cause annoying buzzes when certain strings are pressed at certain locations. It only takes a guitar to be out of whack by less than a millimetre to start producing problems.

For this reason a threaded steel truss rod is installed down the length of the guitar neck to allow for neck adjustment. Tightening the truss rod causes the neck to bow, loosening causes the neck to relax.

These are all micro adjustments and, as stated, it is best to give this job to the guitar tech when setting up your guitar, but the bottomline is that the longer this is left unattended, the worse the situation becomes and ultimately, especially in a humid environment, ie Sydney, the unserviced guitar becomes an irrepairable, unplayable piece of art hanging on your wall.

Every time you change your strings it's an opportunity to give your guitar a bit of a “once over”.
  • Check the tuning peg screws and lightly tighten if required.

  • Check the bridge for signs of cracking or lifting

  • Check the bridge pins for wear

  • Clean the buildup of grime along the frets

  • Polish the guitar with a quality guitar polish

  • Change the pickup battery

Check how straight the neck is by looking down the neck like a gun barrel. (crude method but effective)

After every performance or jam session, wipe down the neck and body of the guitar with a soft cloth. Your sweaty fingers will eat into the guitar finish and reduce the life of the strings.

In transit keep the guitar in a hard case. A gig bag can be convenient, but as far as protection goes. Nothing beats a hard case.

Keep the guitar out of the sun and don’t lock it in the boot of the car on a hot day to avoid coming back to a cooked, expanded instrument.

For the most part, this is about common sense and how much you care about your guitar.

I am not a guitar geek, but I love the sound of fresh strings on a guitar that is serviced and playing well. They are a joy to play, making every note and chord ring with “sustain” forever.

A freshly serviced instrument is also easier to play as the neck has been adjusted, the frets polished and the strings changed, which makes your playing technique stand out and the guitar sound larger than life and……who doesn’t want that?

That pretty much wraps up my take on guitar maintenance. It’s all fairly obvious information and probably aimed more to the beginner player rather than anyone with a love of guitars and a decent amount of playing experience behind them.

If you need the name of a good technician, help with buying a guitar or a hardcase, or some guitar lessons, send me an enquiry from the website and I'll get back to you asap.

All the best,

David Mark Felgar

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