Episode 34 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at four ways you can maintain and adjust your guitar to keep it in the best condition possible.
Learning how to properly maintain and adjust your guitar is easy and can make a big difference to how comfortable your guitar feels to play.
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Check out these resources to help you learn songs faster on guitar:
I recommend reading through all four guides above so you can build up a solid understanding of these important topics. Even if you don’t plan on making any adjustments to your guitar now, reading the above guides will teach you how to look out for potential problems.
Podcast Episode 34 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 34 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In this episode, let’s walk through four things you should regularly do to your guitar to keep it in good condition and avoid some problems that can creep up over time.
I know that a lot of guitarists are intimidated by the thought of adjusting their guitar or doing any sort of maintenance, but in this episode, you’ll see that it isn’t hard to learn. Anybody can learn to properly adjust and set up their own guitar and I highly recommend everybody learn how to do it.
There may be times when you might want to pay somebody else to fix or adjust your guitar, but let’s go through four simple things you can regularly do to keep your guitar in top performance condition and how each one impacts how your guitar feels to play.
Clean Your Strings and Fretboard
The first thing you should regularly do to your guitar is to keep it clean. Regularly cleaning your guitar is such a simple thing to do, but it can make a big difference in how good your guitar feels to play.
When you play, oil and grime from your fingertips transfers to the strings and fretboard. If you take a close look at your strings, you might notice some buildup on the underside of the strings. The top side of your strings stay clean because your fingers keep running along them. But the underside quickly builds up grime and gunk.
This can speed up how soon your strings degrade. This grime and gunk also changes the way the strings vibrate, so it impacts your tone. This is a gradual change, so you’re not likely to notice any difference over time. But everybody has heard how much of a difference a new set of strings can have. Part of why new strings sound so different is due to there being no grime or gunk on the strings.
There are two main ways you can regularly clean your guitar.
The first way is to wipe down your strings at the end of every playing session. When you’re finished playing guitar, grab a microfiber cloth and run it up and down each string from the underside. Slide the cloth underneath the string and apply tension so the cloth can properly remove any gunk.
In the guide on the website, I’ve included step by step photos to how how to clean your strings and I show how much gunk can come off when you do this. If you haven’t done this before, you might be shocked by how much grime gets removed.
If you play your guitar after you properly wipe down your strings, it will be obvious how smoother they feel to play.
Get in the habit of wiping down your strings after every playing session. It’s quick and easy to do, extends the life of your strings, and makes them feel better to play.
The guide goes into detail on different cleaning products you can use, so check it out on the page for this episode for more tips and advice.
The second major way you can regularly clean your guitar is when you change your strings. When you remove your old set of strings, you have a good opportunity to access the fretboard. This is a good time to remove all the gunk that builds up during play.
As well as removing the gunk from your frets, you can also think about giving your frets a light polish or adding any fretboard products if you want. Some guitarists will give the fretboard a quick clean every time they change strings while other guitarists will give the fretboard a full overhaul. It’s up to you how far you take it. The main point is to regularly keep your fretboard clean.
Okay, so keeping your guitar clean is an easy way to keep it in good performance condition. The next thing to regularly check is your guitar’s intonation.
Intonation is how well your guitar is in tune with itself. When you tune your guitar, you’re tuning the open strings. When you fret a note, how well that note is in tune depends on your guitar’s intonation.
A quick way to check your guitar’s intonation is to play a 12th fret harmonic, then compare that pitch with the fretted note. If they sound exactly the same, it means the intonation is correct for that fret. If they sound even slightly different, it means the intonation is out.
You can use a chromatic tuner to check your guitar’s intonation. If you notice that the higher you move up the fretboard, the more the notes drift out of tune, that’s a good sign that your guitar’s intonation is out.
Bad intonation is something that guitarists tend to only start noticing once they hit the intermediate level. As you learn guitar, your ears gradually get better at noticing slightly out-of-tune notes. So you may play your guitar for years as a beginner and think it’s fine, then eventually you might start noticing that the higher frets sound slightly out-of-tune when you play along with a song.
I experienced this first hand when I was learning guitar. Once of my guitars would sound fine when I played rhythm parts and riffs, but whenever I would go to play a solo, it would sound slightly off. My guitar was in tune, but the intonation was off. The higher I moved up the fretboard, the further each note went out of tune.
After I learned about intonation and learned how to fix it, it became obvious how important good intonation is. A guitar with bad intonation will make you sound horrible.
If you don’t know how to check intonation or how to adjust it, read my detailed guide on intonation on my website.
While you shouldn’t need to regularly adjust your guitar’s intonation, you should regularly check it. It’s possible for a guitar’s intonation to change over time, so get in the habit of regularly checking it. Every time you change your strings is a good reminder to check your guitar’s intonation.
The next thing to regularly check and adjust on your guitar is the action height. Your guitar’s action height plays a big role in how comfortable your guitar feels to play.
The action height is the distance between your strings and your frets. High action means a large gap and low action means the strings sit close to the frets.
Now there’s a couple of things to keep in mind with action height.
The first thing to keep in mind is that there is no ideal action height. Every guitarist has different preferences when it comes to action. Some guitarists like to have the action height as low as possible. Some like high action and most guitarists sit somewhere in between.
So if anybody tells you your guitar has a bad action height, it only really matters whether you’re happy with the height or not.
The next thing to keep in mind with action height is that your preferences may change over time. You might think you want to have super low action height, until you play a guitar with higher action and you realize you prefer it. Or you might lower your guitar’s action slightly and notice an improvement in how comfortable it feels to play.
So be open-minded about action and realize that even if you set your action perfectly in the past, your preferences may change over time.
The last thing to keep in mind about action is that you only learn what your ideal action height is by experimenting. Most guitarists never adjust their guitar’s action, so they never experience what a slight increase or decrease in action actually feels like.
Even if your guitar feels amazing the way it was set up when you took it home the first time, you may find that a slight adjustment makes it feel even better to play.
Once you learn how to adjust action, you can experiment and figure out what your ideal action height is.
I recommend regularly checking your guitar’s action height and think about whether you’re happy with it or not. Do you notice any buzzing on your fretboard? If so, a slight adjustment to action might fix it. Do you feel like you’re fighting against your guitar to play certain things? If so, that might be a sign that the action height isn’t quite right for the style of music you play.
Read the guide on action height and learn to adjust yours to figure out what’s best for you.
The last thing I recommend regularly checking and adjusting if necessary on your guitar is the truss rod.
The truss rod plays a crucial role in the straightness of your guitar’s neck. If you look down your guitar’s neck from the headstock and along the strings, the amount of bow you see is controlled by the truss rod.
I explain how truss rods work and how to properly adjust them in a guide on the website. The main point to keep in mind for now is that the bow in your guitar’s neck can change over time.
Your guitar might feel perfect to play when you take it home from the store, but six months later you might notice that it feels different. Regularly checking your guitar’s neck and making adjustments to the truss rod is an important way to keep your guitar in good performance condition.
Depending on where you live, the changing seasons may be enough to throw your guitar neck’s relief out. Some guitarist find that they need to adjust their truss rod a few times per year to adjust for the changing seasons.
So if you notice that your guitar feels different in summer compared to winter, a simple truss rod adjustment may be all that your guitar needs.
There’s a lot more I could talk about on each of these things, but everything is covered in detail in the guides for these topics.
I recommend reading through the guide on cleaning your guitar strings, the guide on intonation, the guide on action height, and the guide on truss rods.
Once you build up a solid understanding on each topic, you can make adjustments to your guitar and figure out what the ideal setup is for your playing style.
Get into a routine where you regularly check these things and you’ll enjoy playing your guitar more.
Check out the resources for all of these topics at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-34
I know a lot of guitarists are intimidated by the thought of adjusting the truss rod or adjusting action or intonation, but once you read the guides, it’ll make a lot more sense on why it’s important to do these things.
See how you go adjusting and maintaining your guitar this week and I’ll talk to you next time.