Ian Noyce 1/8/96
In this article I want to cover the basics of
maintaining your guitar; the sort of stuff you can safely
do yourself, and to give you some idea when you should see
a professional repairer.
Firstly, we need to know that the guitar set-up is O.K. in
the first place, and there are a few checks we can make to
To check that the fingerboard has been slotted to correct
height, follow this procedure for each string. If you fret
the string at the third fret, the string will be held down
over the second fret. Now look at the string clearance over
the first fret; there should be only a minimal gap and if
you tap the string with a finger of your free (right) hand,
you get a pinging sound. If there is too little or no clearance
you don't get the ping, if there is too much clearance you
also don't get a ping. Minimum clearance is a cigarette paper
(0.05mm.) and maximum clearance is the cardboard cover on
the Tally Ho pack (0.2mm.). This is for acoustics or electrics,
according to taste.
This is the slight concave bow in the neck, which facilitates
a more uniform action than a dead straight neck. If you fret
the neck at the first and thirteenth fret there should be
about a business card thickness of clearance (0.25mm.) between
the low E string and the fifth fret. For the high E, a tight
Tally Ho pack thickness (0.15mm).
Given the nut height and neck relief are O.K. the action can
taken as the string clearance at the twelfth fret. This can
cover quite a range depending on the player, strings etc.
but a very low electric action would be 1.0mm.- 1.5mm. (high
E-low E) and a high acoustic action about 2.4-3.2mm. Electric
Bass measurements are similar to acoustic guitar.
(A $2.00 coin is 3mm., 20c is 2.3mm., 10c is 1.8mm. and 5c
Now, if you think your guitar is not set-up to
the above description, then maybe you should see a reputable
repairer; it won't cost anything for an appraisal and
at least you've got an appraisal of your appraisal!
The adjustments made by a repairer in setting
up a guitar include a combination of nut slotting, fret dressing
/ shaping / polishing, truss-rod adjustments, and bridge/saddle
adjustments all done in conjunction with each other.
Once you know your guitar is set-up right for you, there's
a few things you can do to keep it that way and that's really
1. Machine Heads;
Check firmness of mounting screws, button tension screws and
top mounting nut.(cheaper machines will only have mounting
screws to attend to.)
2. Fingerboard nut;
If it's a plastic nut (preformed) there's not much you can
do. If it's set up reasonably low, it 'll wear lower and eventually
buzz on open string notes, so if you can, have a bone nut
installed-it 'll sound better, tune more easily and last a
lot longer. If it pings when tuning, you can rub the slots
with ultra fine sandpaper to get rid any metal scrapings/grit
3. Fingerboard and frets;
Depending on climate and your skin, a fair bit of gunk can
build up on the fingerboard and the frets can corrode a little
and get rougher in feel. Most supermarkets or hardware stores
have OOO steel wool (superfine). A small piece of this can
be rubbed up and down the fingerboard, cleaning and polishing
simultaneously. If the fingerboard is too dry for you then
a swipe and rub with most "fingerboard oils" available
at music stores will fix it. If the neck feels too dry you
can rub it too.
On acoustics the saddle should sit up straight in the slot
and not develop sharp bits that can help break strings. Again,
with plastic saddles, the strings will wear into them and
cause problems; the best solution is replacement with a bone
On electrics, all bridge components should be
firm. Loose bits usually make all sorts of buzzes and this
generally means if you can't stop the rattles, get a new bridge.
Thread locking products can bog up loose threads but are not
an ongoing solution.
5. Other stuff.
Check strap pin screws and all other screws and jack socket
nut for tightness.
6.Clean and Polish.
General cleaning and polishing should be done with a guitar
polish but particularly grimy jobs might need starting with
warm soapy water on a soft cloth.
So, that's a very brief overview of checking
that your guitar is in reasonable shape and keeping it that
way between visits to your repairer for that refret you've
played your way into!