Setting up your electric or acoustic guitar is crucial to having it play well. You also want to know how to maintain it throughout the year and the changing of seasons.
Guitars, being made of wood, react in many different ways to things such as changes in climate, temperature, humidity and moisture. The two biggest factors to keep in mind are that the air is cold and dry in the winter and warm and humid in the summer.
During the winter month’s when it is dry, wood tends to contract and shrink. Something that you should keep an eye out for here is the frets on the fret board. When the wood shrinks, sometimes the frets will protrude and you can get some sharp edges sticking out.
In the Summer time, the wood expands again and usually corrects the problem if it does exist. This is just one example of the things that you want to keep an eye out for. Another typical thing that happens is that the fret board may start to bow a little bit which creates higher action (string height) and possible intonation problems. This can be fixed quite easily with the proper truss rod adjustment.
In the spring and summer months, the air gets much warmer and more humid. This is usually a time when guitars freak out and get a little out of whack. Acoustic guitars tend to get more bent out of shape than electrics because they are more fragile and made of thinner pieces of wood.
I noticed this on my acoustic a couple weeks ago when I was sitting in on a friends gig. I was playing for a little over an hour and I noticed that my left hand was cramping up and getting really tense. I could tell that the neck was getting really bowed and that the action (how high the strings are from the fret board) was getting pretty high.
So what to do…
Electric guitars are typically much easier to adjust than acoustics because all of the adjustments that you typically would make are not permanent.
Acoustics are a little more difficult because you sometimes need to raise or lower the nut or shave down the bridge piece, both pretty permanent procedures. It of course depends on what your guitar needs.
Sometimes just a few turns of the truss rod will get you back into shape and your good to go. What I would recommend doing is first of all take a minute to examine how your guitar plays. Does it feel comfortable and easy to play or does it put a lot of strain on your hand when you are practicing.
If it’s the latter, I would suggest taking it to a local music store/repair shop and see what a professional guitar tech thinks. If you want to do the work yourself, I would recommend checking out the Guitar Setup & Maintenance videos on the RGP website. You can get to them here: http://www.rockguitarpower.com/guitarlessons/guitar-maintenance/
If you don’t have access to these video, you can also find them on my YouTube channel. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/rockguitarpower
If the possibility of making things worse than they already are is scaring you, then by all means take it to a local repair shop and have a professional work on it. You will be amazed at how much of a difference it can make to play a guitar that is fine-tuned and setup properly.
When I got my acoustic back from my repair guy, I couldn’t put it down because it played so good. It certainly gave me some new inspiration to play and write some tunes on it.
If some of the terms and descriptions in this post are confusing to you, don’t worry! Next time I will be talking about all the components that are critical to guitar setup in detail.