If you are serious about your guitar playing, a little bit of guitar repair knowledge will serve you in good stead over the years. You'll glean the benefit of playing an instrument tuned precisely the way you want it. Not to mention, you will obtain the skills and knowledge you will need to contend with the way humidity changes and the road affect your guitar. You will still probably want to bring your instrument to a good repair luthier for major repairs and maintenance, but minor adjustments will no longer require a trip to the shop (or a frantic search for someplace out on the road you can trust with your guitar).
The basics are straightforward, but it is important to approach the job in the right order because different adjustments affect one another. As you work on the guitar, keep in mind it is a system of flexible parts, constantly moving; more like a bow than a piece of machinery. This includes the strings, neck, hardware, and sometimes even the body as well.
Doing the Dirty Work: Evaluate and Detail
Start with a brief test, making note of any performance issues. Take your time and carefully evaluate the electronics as well. They are much easier to repair while the strings are off the guitar! If the guitar has a floating tremolo, it will probably save time if you secure it in playing position before removing the strings. Next, loosen and cut off the old strings and detail the guitar. To avoid marking older finishes, avoid spraying polish right on the guitar; instead spray it on a soft polish cloth and apply to the guitar in a gentle swirling motion before buffing out with the dry side of the cloth.
Get the Fingerboard Clean Too
Lemon oil makes a nice solvent for cleaning fingerboard grunge (hint: if it needs scraping try using a plastic razor blade or even a heavy guitar pick so you don't gouge the wood). If the frets have corrosion on them, buff them *gently* with 0000 steel wool to polish them. Repair suppliers carry little guards to protect the fingerboard while you polish frets, or you can just pay attention and use a light touch to avoid scratches. If you have a hard finish on your fingerboard (like maple) make sure to get the guards, they scratch easily. By the way, steel wool is messy stuff so take it outside and put tape over your pickups to keep the filings out. With a soft cloth, swirl a little paste wax around on the lid of the can and apply a thin layer to the entire fingerboard in circular motions. Use another clean cloth to buff off the excess wax.
"On Account of a Screw, the War Was Lost"
Don't be that guy! Loose hardware is a death-knell for reliability. Take the time to make sure all the screws and hardware are snug (but don't crush them). Remember to confirm that your strap buttons are tight and solid. Don't forget to check the strap lock hardware on your strap as well. Repair the electronics as needed, and test before proceeding. The bridge must be stable. If you have a tremolo, adjust it properly and secure it in playing position. Working as you go, lightly oil all the moving parts and wear surfaces. Wipe or dab away any excess oil with a soft cloth.
In our next article, we will learn the sequence of adjustments needed to dial in your guitar to perfection. What steps do you take to keep your guitar in top condition? Let us know in the comments below.
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