Get the Most from Your Guitar Tech by “Speaking Repairman”
THERE ARE A LOT OF TIPS
for getting better tone out of
an electric guitar, but this
month we’re going to focus on
things you can do to improve
the tone and intonation of your
acoustic. Many of these tips
come from client questions
and problem solving.
You can dramatically personalize
your guitar tone by
trying out different materials
for nuts and saddles. The
saddle influences all the notes,
whereas the nut comes into
play primarily on open strings.
Typically, the rule goes like
this: The harder and denser
the material, the louder and
clearer the tone. Most production
guitars come with
some form of plastic or Corian,
which are ripe for change. We
went over many alternative
material choices in the June
issue, but no matter what the
material, be sure your saddle
has a proper fit. The saddle
should be tight enough not
to fall out when turning the
guitar over, but should come
out smoothly when you pull
On electric guitars, the plain
G string is most often the
tuning/intonation culprit. On
an acoustic, it is usually the
difference between the plain
B and wound G. In most cases,
a well-set up guitar with low
nut slots and saddle compensation
won’t experience tuning
problems. Other times it takes
more effort, and you might
need a split saddle or a wider
saddle for more intonation
compensation. Keep in mind
that a wider saddle will absolutely
change the tone of your
guitar. If you’re into dropped
tunings, you may notice that
the low strings intonate sharp,
especially if they’re really heavy.
In extreme cases, like tuning
a heavy-gauge string down to
C#, you may need to have the
saddle as far back as possible,
and a three-section saddle
(optimizing the scale length
for each pair of strings) will
do the trick. In many cases
we’ll add a small shim on the
front edge of the nut to not
only make the first few frets
intonate more sweetly, but also
improve the intonation along
the entire length of the string.
The Earvana nut is designed
to bring the notes back into
tune and compensate for the
fact that while the frets may
be in the correct place, the
lower frets need some compensation
to make up for the
strings going sharp when
pressed down to the fret.
There is a lot of talk of aging
instruments to make them look
vintage, but there are things
you can do to give your guitar
a more vintage, broken-in sound.
You can put your guitar on a
stand in front of your speakers
and blast it with your favorite
tunes or try the ToneRite, a
device that transmits constant
vibrations to your guitar to
open up the tone, the same way
that years of playing would do.
We have been experimenting
with the ToneRite here at the
shop and after five days we
could really hear the guitar
break in. It’s an easy, D-I-Y tone
enhancer that’s virtually noise
free when operating.
We were recently given a
list of upgrades to do to a client’s
Martin D-18 to make it
as loud and clear as possible.
First, we refretted with extralarge
frets. He asked for stainless
steel, but I suspect that
standard materials would give
comparable results. We then
replaced the stock nut and
saddle with vintage bone and
made the action as high as the
player could comfortably handle.
While some of the warmth
went away, the guitar had amazing
volume and clarity.
The point is, if you have a
cool acoustic that just seems
like it’s lost a step, don’t give
up on it. Think about these
fi xes and see if they don’t breathe
a little new life into that old
Gary Brawer runs Stringed
Instrument Repair in San Francisco.
His many clients include Joe
Satriani, Metallica, and Neal Schon.
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