Episode 12 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at how to think about whether you should upgrade or replace your guitar.
Even if you’re not considering upgrading your guitar now, this episode will explain how to get the best performance out of your guitar.
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Here are some helpful guides covered in this episode:
- Guide to Intonation
- Guide to Action Height
- Adjusting Your Truss Rod
- All About String Gauges and Tension
- Upgrading a Guitar’s Pickups
Read through the above guides to get the best performance out of your guitars. Learn to check your guitar’s intonation, action height, and neck straightness and make adjustments as needed.
Podcast Episode 12 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 12 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In this episode I’m going to help you answer a question pretty much every guitarist faces at some point. Some guitarists face this question every few years, so it’s worth thinking about how you will answer it.
The question is whether you should upgrade or replace your guitar. Maybe you’ve grown as a guitarist and you start noticing problems with your current guitar. You might start to notice that the neck isn’t very straight, the pickups hum or something else bugs you about your guitar. Is it time for you to buy a better quality guitar?
Or maybe you tried out a guitar in a shop and you’re shocked by how comfortable it feels to play compared to your guitar. Should you make the switch?
Everybody will have a different answer to this question and there’s no wrong answer, but in this episode, I’ll go through a checklist on things to go through before you consider buying a different guitar.
The reason why it’s so important to go through the steps I’ll cover in this episode is to avoid gear acquisition syndrome or GAS. When you get accustomed to the guitar or amp you already have and you feel the urge to get something else, that’s GAS kicking in.
It’s why some people buy brand new phones every year, they don’t really need a slightly better phone every year, they’ve just been sucked into thinking that what they have isn’t good enough anymore.
If you follow the advice in this episode, you’ll know whether the urge you’re feeling to buy a different guitar is GAS, or whether you really have a good reason to buy a different guitar.
Have You Outgrown Your Guitar
Before we look at the checklist, let’s look at why sometimes it makes complete sense to upgrade to a better quality guitar.
The most obvious example of when this happens is when a beginner starts to really take guitar seriously. They may start out on an entry-level guitar that is good enough to learn on, but isn’t the best quality. A beginner isn’t going to notice the shortcomings in a budget-level guitar until they start to grow as a guitarist. Eventually, they’ll start noticing things like tuning issues, low-quality pickups, uneven frets, or bad intonation.
When a beginner starts noticing problems with their own guitar, it’s a clear sign they’ve outgrown it and should consider an upgrade.
But what if you’ve been playing for years and you’ve been happy with your guitar the entire time. You try out a guitar in a shop and are blown away by how good it sounds and feels. Does that mean you’ve outgrown your guitar?
Well, it can happen. Intermediate or advanced guitarists can definitely outgrow the guitar they play.
Sometimes you outgrow a guitar by improving your skills or your ear and you start noticing shortcomings in your guitar. For example, you might start learning how to use the whammy bar on your guitar and you notice how it throws your tuning off.
Other times, you may outgrow your guitar by gradually changing your taste and style as a guitarist. You may have started playing on a guitar with a fat neck, but over time your playing style shifted to the point where you would be far more comfortable playing on a thin neck.
Or maybe you’ve always played guitars with humbuckers, but you’re starting to get into styles of music more suited to single-coil pickups.
There are so many ways you can outgrow a guitar that it’s actually rare for somebody to not outgrow their guitar at some point.
If you’ve been enjoying your guitar since the beginning, that’s great. I still play my first guitar and love it. But I definitely notice the shortcomings and have other guitars to cover for those areas.
So the key point I want to leave with you so far is that it’s normal for a guitarist to outgrow their guitar at some point. As you learn and grow as a guitarist, your needs change. Take it as a good sign if you start noticing problems with your guitar that you never noticed before, because it means you’re growing as a guitarist.
On the other hand, if you never feel the urge to upgrade to a different guitar, that’s also fine. As long as you’re happy with the guitar you’re playing, you don’t need an upgrade. It may be that you were lucky and the guitar you started on still suits your playing style.
It’s likely there will be a guitar out there that’s better suited for you, but if you’re happy with your current guitar, that’s all that matters.
Get The Best Out of Your Current Guitar
Now that we’ve looked at why you might get the urge to buy a different guitar, let’s take a step back.
Before you go out and buy a different guitar, are you sure you’re getting the most out of your current guitar?
This is a good question to tick off before you decide to buy something else. Make sure you’re getting the best performance out of your current guitar before you decide to switch to something else.
Let’s go through a quick checklist to make sure you’re getting the most out of your guitar.
First, check the intonation on your guitar. If your intonation is even slightly off, it’s not going to sound good. Buying a new guitar because your intonation is slight off is like buying a brand new phone because you have too many apps on your current phone.
If you don’t know how to check your intonation, here’s a quick test. Play the natural harmonic on the 12th fret on any string and use a tuner to put it perfectly in tune. Once that harmonic shows as perfectly in tune, fret the 12th fret and watch your tuner. Is the pitch exactly the same as before or did it change?
You’ll need to use a sensitive tuner that displays the tuning down to the cent (see the best guitar tuners here). So if you have a pedal tuner that doesn’t show this, download a tuner app on your phone that does.
If the pitch of the fretted 12th fret is exactly the same as the 12th fret harmonic, then your intonation is correct in that position. If the two pitches don’t exactly match to the cent, then your intonation is out. The bigger the difference between the two pitches, the worse your intonation is.
Check across all of your strings as intonation can be different from string to string.
If you want to learn how to adjust intonation, read my detailed guide on intonation here.
If your intonation is out and you fix it, it’s like playing a brand new guitar. Even if you didn’t notice the problem while playing before, you’ll notice the improvement after you fix it.
The next item to check before considering an upgrade is your guitar’s action height.
Action height is the distance between your guitar strings and your frets. A guitar with low action height has a small gap between the strings and frets, and a guitar with high action has a big gap.
If you ever play a guitar and it feels uncomfortable to play, one of the main reasons is usually due to action height.
Some guitarists like high action, while others prefer low action, so there’s no ideal action height every guitar should be set to.
What this means is that your guitar may not have an optimal action height for your playing style. It may be slightly too high or too low for your playing style and slightly changing it may improve how your guitar feels to play.
I explain this in detail in my guide on action height, so the key point I’ll leave with you is to consider whether you should change your action height.
If you feel that you really need to press down hard to play chords, or you regularly hear buzzing frets while you play, then you definitely need to change your action height.
But even if you don’t notice any major problems, a slight change in action height may improve how your guitar feels to play.
One more thing to consider is the string gauge you’re using on your guitar. String gauge plays a massive role in playability. Changing to different gauge strings can make your guitar feel completely different.
Most guitarists haven’t spent much time considering string gauge – if they’ve thought about it at all. Usually, the string gauge that came on their guitar is the gauge they’ll stick with.
It’s only until you start experimenting with different string gauges that you realize how important it is to find a gauge that suits you.
If you look at what string gauges famous guitarists use, you’ll notice that they’re all very different.
String gauge changes the tension in your strings, which affects how easily you can bend and move the string. While some guitarists consider how string gauge impacts your tone, I recommend ignoring tone altogether. Focus on how string gauge impacts playability.
Before you go and buy a different guitar, try out a few different gauge strings.
Try a lighter set, then try a heavier set and see what you prefer. You’ll need to make some adjustments to your guitar when changing string gauges, so read my guide for more information.
The key point here is that the gauge strings you use plays a massive role in how a guitar feels to play. Changing string gauges can completely change the feel of a guitar. So before you go out and buy a different guitar, try out a few different string gauges to see what suits you best.
You may find that your guitar feels a million times better with a different set of strings.
Think About Simple Upgrades To Your Guitar
Okay, so far we’ve looked at intonation, action height, and string gauges. These are all very simple adjustments that can have a big impact on how your guitar feels and sounds.
Once you’ve gone through all of these things, the next step is to consider whether you can upgrade features on your guitar instead of buying something else.
There are a lot of ways you can upgrade features of your guitar. You could have work done to the frets, you could upgrade your pickups, change the saddle on an acoustic guitar, wire up a coil-split mod, or change almost any other part.
All of these things cost money, so the question you need to ask yourself is whether it makes sense to spend money on upgrading your current guitar, or put that money towards a different guitar.
The way I suggest thinking about this is whether the problems your having with your guitar or what you don’t like about your guitar can be fixed or not.
For example, the scale length of your guitar cannot be changed. It is what it is. If you find that you prefer playing a different scale length, then it makes sense to buy a different guitar.
On the other hand, if you really enjoy how your guitar feels to play but you don’t like the tone, well, you can easily upgrade the pickups. Buying a new guitar seems like overkill if the only thing that’s bugging you is a low-quality pickup.
If your guitar has a Floyd Rose tremolo and you have issues with tuning stability and you don’t use the whammy bar at all, try blocking the tremolo before you buy a different guitar. You may find it solves your problem. If it doesn’t solve your problem, then you can look into other guitars with a different bridge.
Some things you can fix, while other things are unfixable. So try to identify what you feel is lacking or annoying you with your guitar, then look at whether those things can be fixed or not.
If a guitar feels amazing to play but poor quality pickups ruins the tone, then it makes sense to replace the pickups.
But if a guitar feels bad to play and you’ve already set it up as well as you can, it might make more sense to get a different guitar.
So to recap what I’ve covered here, the first thing to keep in mind is that it’s perfectly normal for a guitarist to outgrow a guitar. You may need something higher quality or you may change your preferences over time. That’s fine.
But before you do buy a new guitar, make sure you are getting the most out of your guitar. Check that your guitar is set up perfectly for your playing style. Once your guitar is set up perfectly for your playing style, consider whether the shortcomings of your guitar can be upgraded or not.
If you go through these steps, you’ll know whether the urge your feeling now is gear acquisition syndrome, or whether you really do have a need for a different guitar.
Check out the guides for intonation, action height, string gauges and more at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-12
If you have a guitar question you would like me to answer in a future episode, ask me it on the page for this episode. I hope you found this episode useful and I’ll talk to you next time.