As we musicians surely know, playing your instrument – in my case the acoustic guitar – is often a source of great joy and happiness. To be sure, mastering a certain technique or learning a difficult piece of music can be frustrating, aggravating, or annoying if your progress isn’t what you desire. But the sense of accomplishment when you finally get through that song without a mistake is an undeniably fantastic feeling. It took me a couple of years before I could play an un-barred F chord on the first fret – but when I finally got it (at age 15) I could not have been happier!
Keeping your instrument in good playing condition will prolong its life and will enable you – the player – to get the greatest satisfaction from making music. Although I’m certainly no virtuoso on the guitar, I’ve played 6- and 12-string acoustic guitars for more than four decades and own several “axes” of both types. Following are some simple guitar maintenance tips that I humbly offer to the guitar-playing readers of MakingMusicMag.com.
As with any instrument, keep your guitar in its case when it is not being played. Keep the case latched. These two actions will protect your instrument from inadvertent damage.
Use a dry cloth to wipe off the strings after playing. This will help remove oils left behind by your fingers and prolong the life of the strings. Keep the neck and the surface of the guitar clean, again by wiping with a dry cloth. This will protect the instrument’s finish.
How often to re-string your guitar is certainly a personal preference and depends largely upon how much the instrument is played; a fresh set of strings will always improve your sound. When you change strings, be sure to clean the fretboard and the frets – this will also help keep your guitar’s sound at its best.
After removing the strings, it is a good idea to check both the nut and the saddle to ensure they are securely mounted and not loose. It is also wise to ensure that the mounting screws on the guitar’s tuning pegs are secure and tight. This helps keep the instrument in tune.
All wooden instruments are subject to expansion and shrinkage due to the relative humidity of the location in which the instrument “lives.” An in-case humidifier can help keep your guitar at its optimum humidity to prevent surface cracks and joint ruptures.
When storing your guitar for an extended period, loosen the strings to relieve tension on the neck. There is no real need to keep all that stress on the neck if the instrument is not being played.
Unless you really know what you’re doing, it is unwise to attempt to adjust the guitar’s truss rod (if it has one) to remedy a warped neck. In the same vein, regluing loose bracing, replacing frets or the fretboard itself, and other significant repairs/adjustments should be left to an experienced luthier or guitar technician. Your local music shop or instrument dealer can help you find such assistance.
One good resource for folks who decide to tackle certain guitar repairs on their own is the book “D.I.Y. Guitar Repair” by Pieter Fillet, published by Amsco Publications. It contains detailed instructions, photographs, and drawings to guide the reader through a variety of tasks such as setting up your guitar, changing strings, adjusting the action, fixing loose strings, adjusting the nut and saddle, and, yes, adjusting the truss rod.
Following these easy tips will help you get the most out of your acoustic guitar and keep you making music for years to come.