PHIL KEAGGY - Grammy nominated and seven-time Dove Award winner, is one of the world’s great guitar players and a pioneer in contemporary Christian music.
- May 15, 2017
- Guitar Repair
The nuts and bolts of the guitar are fairly simple. It’s the structural stuff that requires an experienced luthier in order to repair. To some, changing a broken string might be a repair. If you don’t have knowledge, anything new can be intimidating. We’ve all put a string on the pole backwards or in the wrong string position. We’ve all cut a string too short. As you learn guitar and spend quality time with the instrument, you’ll become more aware of its parts and adjustments. Screws, nuts, and bolts need regular tightening or adjusting. Let’s dive into what kind of guitar repair you can do yourself and the other stuff you might need some help with.
Changing Strings is Guitar Repair 101
The main thing with changing strings is to get the right gauge and put them on in the right order. That would be E, A, D, G, B, and E if it’s a standard guitar. Be careful not to pick the wrong string for the hole and cut the string too short. Some people take off all the strings to clean and polish. If so, just get the string order correct and make sure the string wraps around the string pole or tuner the right direction. How you connect the string to the pole is up to you. There’s a couple of ways to do this. Some just put the cut off string through the hole and wrap it around the pole with the winding going below the string stem. Others create a loop and tie the string on first. You can certainly change your strings one at a time to keep the order right. If you decide to change string gauges, you may need a new nut or bridge at the top of the neck. The slots in the nut may be too small or large for the new string gauge. That may require a guitar tech at the local music shop. Some nuts can be purchased ready to go, but others have to be cut and slotted.
Adjusting The String Action
Every guitar comes with a manual that demonstrates how to adjust the truss rod that goes through the neck and even the screws that adjust the intonation at the bridge. There’s a couple of things that determine how low or high the string action is. One is the truss rod. There’s usually a plate on the headstock that, if removed, will reveal a hex wrench or some other kind of nut. With the correct tool (usually comes in the case), you can adjust the tension of the rod, making the neck relax or tighten up and the string action rise or lower.
The other place this can be adjusted is the bridge height. If it’s an acoustic guitar, the bridge saddle might have to be sanded evenly on the bottom to lower the strings a little. Better watch a YouTube video on this one if you want to get it right. Too much sanding and you’ll need a new saddle. Electric guitars have set screws and long screws, etc. that determine the string length and height. Here again, watch a video online, but you should be able to do this yourself.
If the guitar neck is warped or the neck set is wrong or needs resetting, this is a job for a professional. Don’t try to take the guitar neck off yourself unless you know what you’re doing, especially if it’s your Grandpa’s old Martin or Gibson. If you’re gonna try something like this, get a $20 guitar from a pawn shop and experiment first. No need to completely ruin a classic guitar or even a good playing guitar. Guitar repair like this is easy to screw up.
Fretboards can move around and swell or dry out. Frets can pop out or get worn down or uneven. This causes buzzes or fret outs. Strings will stop making clear notes and, although a truss rod adjustment or string height adjustment may do the trick, sometimes a fret job is the only thing that’ll fix the problem. This is a job for a pro. First of all, you need the right tools to work on the frets. There are files and sand blocks etc. that are necessary to do it correctly. Once in a while, a slight tap on a fret will reseat it but you’ll likely be looking at a fret crowning or new frets altogether. After a guitar has been played a while, the frets where the neck was played the most get worn, making them uneven. It’s a $100 - $175 fret crown job or a $250-$400 fret replacement that you might need. Crowning or replacing frets is for a luthier or guitar repair man. It’s time-consuming and needs attention to detail. Only after practicing on a cheap guitar should you attempt this.
The Electronics in Guitar Repair
Acoustic or electric, if you have pickups or pots, you might need help getting the guitar repaired. If you’ve had experience with a solder gun, you might can replace an input jack or swap out a bad pot, but there are secrets to even getting this right. Get the gun too hot on the pot metal and you can mess it up altogether. One tiny drop of solder can drop on the pot or a wire and you’ve got a short to fix. If it’s a circuit board part, you may need a whole new part. There are so many variables. Over the course of a guitarist’s lifetime you will learn and do a lot yourself. If you’re just getting started, though, get some advice or let someone else do it.
The Guitar’s Structural Integrity
Tuners, knobs, screws, and strings you can change or repair yourself, but if you need a neck reset or if your bridge pops up, seek help. If your bracing comes unglued or you get a major crack in the body or neck, you need to see a professional luthier. Getting this stuff right is paramount. Again, if it’s an old beat up guitar and not worth much, watch a video and try it yourself with the right tools. Just don’t tinker around with a beautiful instrument and destroy it in the process. Ask around in the local music store. They’ll either have someone on staff or know a place where you can take the guitar. If it’s a classic guitar, call the factory and ask them for a price first. Gibson, Martin, and others are good about helping you get your guitar put back to factory settings.
Guitars are not that overly complicated except for the structural part. We suggest that, if you have the aptitude and interest in learning guitar repair, you should collect a few cheap ones and use them for practice. Once you’ve successfully repaired one of the disposable ones, then try repairing a nicer guitar. Still, get some help and advice when you can. Being cocky won’t help you here.
Guitar repair is an important part of getting used to your instrument and understanding its sound. Another vital component of your music education is taking guitar lessons to keep you on a consistent path of improvement. When you sign up for Pro Lessons, you are enlisting the help of many great musicians who can help you become a better guitar player at an affordable price. Find out more by clicking below.