Sunday, July 19, 2009

Guitar Maintenance

One of the most frustrating things a guitarist can experience is playing an improperly set up or poorly intonated guitar. I remember playing gigs with guitars so badly intonated I'd have to avoid playing particular chord shapes, because if I did, they'd sound horribly out-of-tune. It goes without saying that worrying about whether the next chord you strum is going to make your audience cringe does not make for a particularly fun gig.

After a few embarassing moments, though, I learned my lesson. By taking a few steps address these problems, I've created a lot less hassles and worries for myself. I thought I'd share a few of my remedies here with you.

If you've ever played a G chord that sounded fine, only to play an E chord which sounds out of tune, you've experienced an intonation problem with a guitar. Intonation problems can be a nightmare, and can sometimes be a symptom of very serious problems with a guitar, but often can be corrected with a minor adjustment. has a quick description on how to adjust intonation on an electric guitar (this includes information on Floyd Rose systems). Adjusting the intonation on an acoustic guitar is somewhat trickier, but with a few tools, is something most guitarists can do themselves at home. Luthier Jim Sullivan explains exactly how to handle this in an acoustic guitar intonation video (scroll down to the second video on the page).

Fret Buzz

Fret buzzing is another problem that plagues many guitars due to poor manufacturing or set-up. Although fret buzz can also be caused by significant problems, in many cases, simple adjustments like raising string action can make these problems go away. The website has put together The Big Buzz List, a comprehensive list of the specific problems that cause fret buzz, and offers suggestions on how to correct it. Although the list is geared towards acoustic guitars, virtually all of the same conditions occur in electric guitars.


Another guitar problem common in the winter months is neck shrinkage, top cracking, or body bowing, due to loss of moisture within the wood of the guitar. Although significant damage due to dryness is probably going to require professional repair, a few simple tricks might help you rescue your instrument from the brink of disaster. Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars has put together a very informative YouTube video on humidifying your guitar. If you're interested in keeping your guitar at a proper level of humidity, but are short on cash, this tutorial on building a humidifier for your guitar should help.
Scratchy Pots

"Scratchy pots" - dirt that gets into the tone and volume knobs on electric guitars resulting in scratchy sounds - can be an annoyance to guitar players in live situations. Often, relieving yourself of this problem is fairly quick and painless procedure. David Taub of has put together this video outlining how to clean scratchy pots.
Neck Bowing

Unfortunately, guitar necks can bow over time. Occasionally, it may be necessary for the "truss rod" - the metal bar that runs down the neck of the guitar - to be adjusted. This might just be something you consider letting a pro handle - it is possible to do serious damage to an instrument by improperly adjusting the truss rod. For those willing to take the risk, has put together a nice tutorial on adjusting the truss rod on a guitar.

There are unfortunately still dozens of things that can go wrong with a guitar, no matter how well maintained its owner keeps it. One of the best books I've come across on the subject is the highly regarded Complete Guide to Guitar and Amp Maintenance by Ritchie Fliegler. It is an excellent resource, one that all guitarists would do well to have in their personal library.

I hope this feature has been informative to all of you. With a little luck, a few preventative measures, and a bit of maintenance your guitar should keep providing you pleasurable playing experiences for decades.

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