A small investment can make the difference between
a fun night of playing your
favorite guitar and a disappointing performance.
Getting the most from your guitar actually isn’t very difficult. And in fact, taking care of your guitar is easier—and cheaper—than you might think.
at some tools and products you
can invest in—as well as a few
adjustments you can do at
home—that can help
you avoid common problems.
1. Get the basic tools required for string changing. A
string winder—manual or electric—will save your wrist and
save you time. If you have a
Floyd Rose-style bridge, a
string cutter is a must. It will
also keep you and your bandmates
safe from dangerous,
string ends. If you don’t have a
string cutter, you can curl your
string ends like you would a
ribbon by grabbing the string
near the tuning peg with a
screwdriver, a key, or a coin,
and dragging it to the end.
2. Learn how to adjust your bridge saddles and truss rod.
Occasionally, a saddle can
vibrate lower—especially when
you have individual saddles—and a string or two will become unplayable.
If you look closely at
the alignment of the saddles,
you should be able to tell which saddle
has moved and, if you have the
correct wrench, adjust it back.
Almost all individual saddles
can be adjusted with a small
hex wrench or screwdriver.
As for truss rods, most can be adjusted
with larger screwdriver or with a hex or socket wrench.
For that matter, most guitars come with the appropriate
wrench for the job. If you open your
case and notice that the
strings are higher
or lower than the last time you
played, you probably have to adjust the truss rod. The bridge height
can’t change by itself, but the
neck can move on its own. Rather
than trying to compensate
with bridge height, in this instance
you want to adjust the
truss rod. Remember, tightening
lowers the strings, and
loosening raises the strings.
3. Invest in
a small ruler or “action gauge”
so you can measure and note
your ideal string height. Once
you start looking closely at
string height (and have a way
to keep track of it), it’s easy to
maintain action that’s
4. Use Super Glue to patch up nicks in the finish and repair the nut. Super
Glue, or cyanoacrylate, is handy for this purpose. It
comes in a few viscosities, as
well as a debonder to clean it
up and get it off your fingers
and an accelerator to make it
set quicker. You can wick the
thin glue into the chipped area to keep
it from eroding further.
You can also mix the
glue with baking soda or bone
dust to make a very hard compound
that you can use to
shim up a low string at the
nut, or rebuild a broken plastic
part, such as a saddle. If you
need to file the nut a little
bit afterward, use a set of nut files. If
you are in a pinch, try picking
up a set of welding tip cleaners
from your local hardware
store. These aren’t the best—and will not last too long—but they can file a nut slot in
an emergency. It’s fun to look
outside the box for tools and
products that can help you
adjust you guitar and keep it
For that matter...
5. Nail polish makes for great,
cheap touch-up paint. It comes in
lots of colors and is easy to apply. Some players prefer the reliqued look, and that’s fine too. But for fast, easy and inexpensive fixes, nail polish does the job.
If you need help finding guitar tools, check out
places like Luthier’s Mercantile
, and eBay. Stewart MacDonald
kits, as well, for maintenance
and adjustments, and great
online tutorials and support.
Bicycle shops have some great
multitools, hex wrenches,
and sockets. And of course Amazon
is a good all-in-one place to find just about anything you'll need.
Gary Brawer runs Stringed
Instrument Repair in San Francisco.
His many clients include Joe
Satriani, Metallica, and Neal Schon.