Do you have a problem with your guitar that has you baffled?
Guitar Do's and Dont's
DO keep your fretboard clean, a clean fret gives a better tone and less muck gets on your new strings. Use Fast-Fret or fretboard conditioner/cleaner for frets and fretboard or lemon oil on dry fretboards. But READ THE INSTRUCTIONS some oils like to be left to soak in... but others DO NOT!
DO wipe your strings after every use, they will last MUCH longer. And intonation will stay more accurate.
are.. what we call in the trade... "A sweaty bastard"...
DO check your strap buttons for security regularly, a broken headstock is a terrible thing! I can refit loose strap buttons while you wait... usually at no cost... but headstocks take a little longer and cost a whole lot more!
DO rub a little pencil lead into the nut grooves when fitting new strings, this helps them slip through the nut easily and makes a huge difference to the tuning stability.
a GOOD Quality case for your guitar. This applies particularly to acoustics
and LES PAUL type guitars. The headstocks on these can break off by
hand with surprising ease.
DON'T leave your guitar on its stand when not being used. I get more repairs from them getting knocked of stands than any other cause. Put it in the case.
DON'T leave your guitar in direct sunlight even for a short time, particularly inside cars, whether in the case or not. The damage that can be done in a few minutes is frightening, particularly on acoustic guitars which can warp badly... very quickly! The same applies to storing in garages and lofts.. DON'T!
DON'T let "your mate down the road" set-up your guitar, I can think of quite a few professional luthiers who don't know what they are doing, let alone amateurs. Most amateurs know how to do it... they just don't fully understand the theory behind what it is they are trying to do! Before having your guitar set-up, ask your "luthier" if he/she can do a refret on a 1960's Les Paul Custom and remove a warp in the neck at the same time. If the answer's "no"... think again. For a pro this should be no more difficult than a professional setup... it just takes longer!
DON'T try adjusting the action on your guitar with the truss rod! (see "truss rods?") ...CRRAACK!
DON'T Keep adjusting the trem height posts on "knife edge" tremolos. The knife edges wear out extremely easily and the posts get damaged. The guitar will not stay in tune after that and trem base plate replacement is the only cure!
DON'T try gluing broken guitars unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing, it makes further repairs very difficult and I will end up having to re-glue it at considerably extra cost than if it was left alone.
DON'T try adjusting parts on your guitar unless you are sure what they do. You can cause severe damage in some cases.
expect a brand new guitar to have a perfect set-up, this is rarely
the case. If you want a real good one, budget for at least a "CLASS
B" SGL Guitars set-up on top of the purchase price or at least
ask at the shop for some kind of set-up included in the price.
Rose type floating tremolos...
These can cause all sorts of problems for the musician who does not fully understand the physics behind the system. With a little knowledge, setting up your Floyd is straightforward.
How does it work?
The secret behind the whole system is BALANCE. The tremolo is "floating" i.e.. not fixed to the guitar body and acts like a seesaw with the strings pulling it forward and the springs in the back of the guitar pulling it backwards so the tension of the strings MUST equal the tension of the springs to keep the trem in balance. This is why the whole thing goes out of balance if you break just one string or if you fit strings of a heavier or lighter gauge.
When do I need to set-up my trem?
What about just changing the strings?
If you are just changing your strings and as
long as everything is in balance before you change them, there is no need
to adjust anything. The easiest way is to change each string individually
and only unlock the nut clamp for the string you are changing, replace
that string, and fully stretch it in and retune to pitch before touching
the next one.
If, on the other hand, you want to remove ALL the strings (to clean the fretboard for example), just wedge the trem level before you start to tune up the new strings (don't forget to stretch-in) and in theory, as you bring the last string up to tune, the plate should just drop out and all will be in tune. But things don't always go this well and you might be better off following the instructions in "How do I set my trem up from scratch?"
They are not all the same
Virtually all guitars today are fitted with a Japanese type "Aluminium channel" type rod. The adjusting rod comes pre-fitted into a box section length of aluminium as a complete unit which is then simply dropped into a channel cut into the neck and the fingerboard is then glued on the top. This is an extremely cheap and efficient method of making necks. Unfortunately it also makes a neck with hollow cavities that lacks resonance, tonal quality and ridgidity. This is one of the main reasons that expensive guitars sound so much better than identical, less expensive ones.
The better quality guitars are generally fitted with "traditional threaded rod" type of truss rod originally invented for Gibson USA. These are made by lining a rod with tape or a sleeve to stop it rattling inside the neck and fitting it into a curved channel cut into the neck with cutouts for the anchor points for each end of the rod using special templates and jigs. It is time consuming and difficult to do but results in a neck with vastly superior tonal benefits and ridgidity due to the total lack of airspace inside the truss rod cavity. Guitars will generally only have this type of rod if they are at the upper end of the market but one dead givaway is if you have a solid maple Strat type neck (no seperate fingerboard) with a 6mm wide "skunk stripe" down the back. The stripe is where the rod was fitted in from the back and channel type rods are twice as wide as that, so it will undoubtedly have a traditional style rod... but only if there is NO SEPERATE FINGERBOARD. Basically, if it also has a glued on fingerboard the skunk stripe is purely for show!
There are other variations of truss rod sometimes used in quality instruments such as: The double truss rod used in some basses, the twin bar rod used in some Rickenbackers and the dual action "Bi-Flex" rod used in top draw Fender Strats and other expensive guitars which can adjust both ways.
The biggest misconception regarding truss rods is that they are used to raise or lower the action (the string height). While adjusting it does actually alter the action slightly, this is simply because adjusting the rod actually BENDS the neck!
It is made up of a curved rod set into a channel running through the length of the neck. When you fit strings to the neck, the tension (maybe 100lbs or more) pulls the neck forward into a slight bend, this bend is referred to as "neck relief". The truss rod, when tightened, tries to straighten inside the neck, thus pulling the neck back against the string tension. The theory being, that the neck ends up straight again.
In practice however, all guitars are different. Some like to have a little bit of "relief" and others play better with a dead straight neck. Although the truss rod is a very simple device, the truth is it can be the most destructive part of a guitar if adjusted by a novice.... yet most guitars usually come supplied with the tools necessary to do the job!
Generally speaking, before calling your guitar
technician (me), if your guitar is buzzing on the first four frets but
nowhere else, then the truss rod probably needs loosening a little. If
it buzzes around the sixth to the twelfth frets (and ALL in between...
not just one or two) it probably needs tightening a little. If however,
you have buzzing on individual frets or adjustment doesn't help, the frets
probably need more attention from an experienced luthier (me again!).
Also see Setups
If you have a strange hollow sounding vibration when picking certain notes on the frets (which might come and goes as you flex the neck), this strongly suggests a rattling truss rod inside the neck. It can be fixed but the work is a little involved although not necessarily expensive
Unless you have a full understanding of the physics behind truss rods, they are best left alone. But for the "compulsive tweakers" among you, adhere to these few words of advice......
Why should I? !
Basically, clean frets give a clearer tone and
a generally clean fretboard stops your strings from getting gungy and
therefore, last longer. It also costs less to have the frets dressed when
it becomes necessary... if the luthier doesn't have to scrape the fretboard
What do I use?
For bare wood fretboards, there are all kinds
of cleaners and conditioners on the market today and they are all very
good. But, they are different. The fretboard benefits from an occasional
clean with lemon oil which cleans and nourishes
the wood but it will deaden the strings quickly so it should only be used
with the strings removed. Some brands work best if left to soak in for
a while... some must NOT be allowed to soak in at all... so read the instructions!
The most effective way, by far, of keeping a
guitar clean and fresh, believe it or not is to wash your hands before
each use. All that muck and grime you see on the fretboard is a combination
of sweaty grease, dead skin and... DRIED BOGEYS.. I got enough off a customers
guitar once to fill an egg cup......AARRGGH!
What could it be?
There are many possible reasons for instability
in tuning some are easily sorted, some are more complex. Below are a selection
of the most common reasons, the ones in black.. you can probably sort
out yourself. The ones in green.. you might have to leave to an experienced
more string around the machinehead won't
help tuning stability... in fact it will make it worse!
have heard that it is not good practice to remove ALL the strings at once...
This is not necessarily true and in my humble opinion, only really applies
to the finest and most delicate of classical guitars.
If the bridge
pins pull out every time you try to bring the string tension up to pitch,
a common misconception is that this is caused by the pins being too loose
and I see all kinds of efforts to make them stay in... from bits of paper
stuffed in the hole to oversized pins forced into the bridge... one guy
actually GLUED the bloody pins in! (Ahem!) STOP, they are MEANT to be
loose! The ball end should rest against the SIDE of the pin inside the
guitar causing a wedging effect when the string is brought up to tension.
If the pin pulls up every time you try to tune up, the ball end on the
string has got itself caught on the END of the pin!
If you have an Ovation or Takemine with the "string through back of the bridge" style bridge (which don't need bridge pins), you may sometimes find it difficult to get the pointy end of the string end to go through the hole and over the saddle without getting caught. First, just pull the first couple of inches of the string, at an angle through tightly pinched forefinger and thumb. This puts a slight curl in end of the string (like a sailmakers needle) making it easier to feed through the hole.
Apart from the first part of this section.... Pretty straightforward really! Unless you have a locking trem of course. If you do, have a look at FLOYD ROSE trems at the top of the page if you have one fitted to your guitar... and DON'T tighten those locking nuts and bridges more than a pinch!
I am amazed at how often I see players who don't have any clue whatsoever on how to apply the strings to the machinehead. One unbelievably common technique I see is to pull the string tightly through the hole in the machinehead and then the loose end is just wrapped around the post two or three times. Please understand that when the string is fed through the hole, any part of this string that is now on the "dead" side of the post (ie, the loose end) is redundant and plays no part in tuning stability... and should be cut off.
The string should be fed through the post leaving enough slack to WIND the machinhead up until about 2 - 4 turns are TIGHTLY wrapped around the post.
LEAVING BIG COILS OF STRING ON HEADSTOCK:
Another very common myth is the technique of leaving the excess string ends neatly wound into ridiculous looking little coils on the headstock instead of cutting the excess off. This is a popular fad from the 80's, the theory being that if your string snaps, you have a spare bit on the end! This is pants!
Why is it so hard to fret the strings properly
Usually, this is the result of the action (string
height) being too high and could be due to one of... or a combination
of the following: The nut may be too high, the action may be set too high,
the truss rod might be adjusted badly, the guitar may have been assembled
It is very rare that a guitar is difficult to play due to just one problem. It is nearly always a combination of several factors and these would probably have existed since the guitar was new. Most of these problems can usually be remedied relatively easily, so call me to arrange a visit and I'll check it out at no obligation.
Also see Setups
Can it be Dangerous?
Lets start by clearing up one misconception!
An electrical fault in a guitar is about as dangerous as dropping your
McVitie's digestive in your cup of tea! There is no "electricity"
to speak of, in a guitar. The only voltage in a guitar is produced from
the vibration of the string over the pickup and is not even enough to
make a flea's hair stand on end.
Anyway, in my experience as a repairer, more guitarists are killed by wives hitting them over the head with the guitar than by any electrical problem I know about. So if you get killed by your guitar.. don't come complaining to me!
My guitar buzzes electrically, what's wrong?
Most guitars will have a very slight electrical
buzz in the background, it's just interference being picked up from electrical
appliances and lights etc. The guitar acts like a sort of aerial which
uses your body to shield it. So if the buzz reduces greatly, or even disappears
completely when you touch the strings or a metal part of the guitar, then
this is normal and is not a fault.
It's totally dead!
This is usually caused by a signal wire shorting
out on an earth point inside the guitar somewhere, most commonly this
happens on the jack socket as a result of it getting loose and spinning
Nearly all electrical problems are easily and cheaply fixed... many while you wait. There is always the possibility that you have a faulty pickup but this is extremely rare unless it has been physically damaged by someone and can prove a little more expensive.
It should be noted that if you have LACE SENSOR
pickups fitted to a Strat, there seems to be a growing problem that can
occur with these. They can just go dead without warning and is caused
by the resins inside the coils eventually attacking the windings and damaging
them. If your guitar is outside warranty, you can try approaching the
Fender distributors in UK about it but in my experience they are totally
unhelpful with respect to this and deny that any problem exists. Fender
USA, on the other hand are VERY understanding and seem to take a more
sympathetic view on this and I have seen them replace pickups well outside
the warranty period. (After all, they should last 30 years!)
Common problem this.
If this doesn't cure it, the controls are probably worn.. or just plain cheap! Give me a ring.
The body groans!
Quite common in a lot of guitars. The internal
bracings can come loose either from age, dried up glue, not enough glue
or from shock or vibration. The result is a loss in general tone or strange
noises when played, or you might notice creaking and scratching noises
when the guitar is flexed or pressed.
It is easily identified by an experienced luthier who will usually give you a fixed quote on the spot. Contact me if you would like me to check yours out.
Clonking noises in acoustic guitar
This is nearly always due to one particular
problem.... A half a chocolate digestive biscuit inside the guitar, it's
always HALF of one though. The reason for this is simple, when you are
practicing at home and you have your mug of tea and you pack of biccies,
an idea for a tune comes into your head, you have a biccy in your hand
so you stick the biccy between your teeth and start playing, as soon as
you hit a wrong chord you bite the biscuit and half of it clatters over
your guitar and disappears. After you have spent ten minutes crawling
around the floor trying to find it, you give up and carry on.
DONT PANIC! This is probably the most common
repair of any experienced luthier. Particularly GIBSON LES PAUL's. They
are heavy and mahogany is about as soft a hardwood as you can get in a
guitar! They can break of with very little effort.
These points are important if you have a broken headstock...
A common problem with all types of stringed instrument, often caused by incorrect use of the truss rod! Many .. so called.. "guitar technicians" will try to adjust the action (the string height) by adjusting the tension on the truss rod. While this is technically possible, it is most definitely NOT the way to do it. The truss rod's function is purely to BEND the neck backwards to counteract the tension of the strings in order to keep the neck straight. It will most certainly cause damage of the highest degree if used for any other purpose!
A Cautionary Note First!
As the saying goes... "A little
bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing!"
I have to admit to making a similar cock-up with my
Marshall amp... and learned the hard way! I decided I didn't like the
rubbishy plastic sockets on my amp so I replaced them with good quality
metal ones (Ken already begins to cringe as he reads that part!) When
I switched it on...... BANG!... BIG time!..
and it cooked. What I never knew, and it still doesn't make sense
to me, was that the metal control panel is supposed to be isolated
electrically from the sockets... hence the plastic ones fitted!
I have one piece of advice when booking your amp in to a technician, ask if he does valve amps too, if he says no... walk away. He might be highly qualified but if he doesn't understand VALVES, he probably doesn't understand GUITAR amps at all!"
A note from Andy Blake - THE PICKUP WIZARD ANSWERS!!
I am delighted to help Simon Jones with the development of his terrific website by contributing some pickup type stuff.
So what do you do if your much-loved pickup dies on you, pull it apart realise you can't do anything and throw it away? No speak to Simon or better still contact Andy at www.wizardpickups.co.uk
I've been repairing, designing and making pickups for more years than I care to remember, I am the UK's leading pickup repairer and restorer and can name many leading Artistes and most shops and retail outlets among my customers.
So why repair it? -Well if you liked it's tone then why buy a new one that may not sound the same plus it's nearly always cheaper to repair than buy new.
What if I want a different sound? - No problem I can normally boost output or change the tone just tell me exactly what you want.
I've read about RW/RP what is it?- It actually stands for reverse wound / reverse polarity and is most commonly found with single coil pickups like those on a Strat. The middle pickup is RW/RP and when this is used with either of the other two pickups it produces a hum-cancelling effect, making a full rich warm and thick tone.
What are Alnico Vs? - They are a type of magnet, Alnico/Nickel/CObalt , They are the type of magnet used in most vintage humbuckers and give that full rounded tone.
Why do single coils hum, is shielding any good? - This is probably the question I'm asked most. Single coils hum because they allow unwanted electrical interference to enter the electrical circuit of the guitar. There are longer and more technical answers but that's the situation in a nutshell. I've done a lot of work on shielding over the last couple of years with one of the Universities in the US of A, and to summarise our findings we have established that to prevent any hum from a single coil pickup you'd need to shield the whole pickup inside a 10mm copper box! Then the pickup wouldn't work anyway! But back to the point, well fitted shielding does help, speak to Simon for details.
But Fender and Kinman make quiet single coils as do many others - No they don't, they make stacked humbuckers that sound similar to single coils but eliminate the hum. But they don't sound exactly like true single coils and I've had many customers returning this type of pickup as they sound too clinical and characterless.
Can you make pickups? - Yes, I make a standard range of Custom Handwound pickups for most of the popular types of guitar. I can make special one-offs and I've made pickups for double basses, violins, harps and even for a set of Welsh Bagpipes! I do a lot of work developing new designs and specifications for leading guitar manufacturers, if you've an idea speak to me and we can discuss its merits and practicality.
Come back often and I'll slowly add more comments to Simon's website when time permits, but as a passing thought, are pickups important to electric guitars - WITHOUT THEM YOU'RE PLAYING AN ACOUSTIC!
Bye for now, Andy Blake (The Pickup Wizard)
So what's a setup?
It's a new guitar... it shouldn't need any setting up... right?
WRONG!.... Unfortunately, in the UK at least, guitars arrive from the distributors with no more than a "factory set-up" which to quite honest, is usually of an appalling standard! Sometimes they have a little tag with "inspected by: blah, blah...." and "action on the first string at the 12th fret is...blah... blah.. blah..."
Well I'm afraid most of it is meaningless. With the exception of a very few guitars, most are banged together at the factory, the inspection card is stamped and ticked and on the wagon to good ol' GB it goes! Some conscientious guitar shops will set-up all their guitars before they go on sale.. but not many... and it's particularly rare amongst the high volume turnover mail-order houses, so buyer beware! That mail order bargain may not be such a bargain after all when you have just spent the best part of fifty quid getting it all put right at your local guitar repairer!
If your guitar is in need of fret attention,
this is NOT a fault of the shop you bought it from... it is surprisingly
common on nearly ALL guitars regardless of price as the factory set-up
is usually only good enough to make the instrument "playable"
but it's not necessarily perfect!
Remember that most shops DO NOT have a professional
"in shop" guitar tech.
As a general rule... these brands are usually particularly well prepared straight from the factory:
This list is a new addition and will be updated and added to as circumstances change... so keep in touch. The quality of set-up is not necessarily reflected by the actual build quality.
This is a difficult
one. Generally speaking, the more you play.. the more often it will need
a set-up. The harder the frets... the longer they will last between set-ups.
It also depends on the type of wear you cause. If you move around the fretboard a lot and bend strings a lot, the wear is very even and doesn't cause problems. But if you play the same ol' few chords in the same place on the neck, week in, week out... you will end up with notches in the frets that will need skimming out... sometimes as often as every 3 to 6 months.