Posted by: kubiakl | June 29, 2010

The Neck’s In The Mail

Warmoth shipped my neck today.

Which is great, because I’ve been really unmotivated to play my Strat since I know it’s going to get an upgrade soon.  The fret buzz (due to inconsistent wear and dents in the spots I play most) has become more noticeable.  It’s probably because I know that the new neck won’t have these issues, so it’s mostly in my head, but still.

In the meantime I have my acoustics.  I put Martin strings back on my Epiphone Masterbilt and it’s a HUGE improvement over the Ernie Ball Earthwoods.  Makes me excited to play again.

Which brings me to my thought for the day: the importance of being earnest in guitar maintenance.  If your guitar sounds or plays poorly, you’re not going to be excited about playing it.

I remember a guy who waited tables with me back in the day, another guitar player.  One day he needed a lift (his wife couldn’t pick him up), so after our shift we headed to his house.  He showed me his 100 watt Marshall head (that worked intermittently) and his ESP guitar that was missing a string, had rust on the remaining five, and whose volume pot wouldn’t adjust anything.  Then he talked about how he’d been in a rut with his playing.

Really, guy?

Now, obviously most musicians aren’t flush with cash.  But even if you’re a hobbyist, sparing $5 – $10 for some new strings every few months doesn’t seem like a crazy expense.  $5 is less than a drink at some bars.  Cleaning and restringing your guitar takes all of ten minutes, so don’t tell me time is an issue.  Why would you buy a nice amp and guitar only to let it go to waste?

Different people have different methods for maintenance, but here’s mine:

Remove all the strings from the guitar (some suggest one at a time to keep the tension on the neck, but it’s not strictly necessary).  Take a slightly damp cloth and wipe down the guitar, especially the back of the fretboard where your nasty hand rubs its oils all the time.  Use a pencil to rub a little graphite in the nut slots – this lubricates it and helps you stay in tune.

At some point I may try to illustrate restringing with pictures or a video, but for now I’ll try to describe it.  First make sure that the holes in the posts are almost perpendicular to the frets, but tilted inward on a 3×3 tuner setup (on a 6-on a side tuner setup, they’re tilted to the right).  You thread the string from the top of the post (so it goes up from the fretboard, then curves down into the post).  Pull it through enough to leave about a thumb width of slack between the post and the string, then wrap it upwards around the post and back down underneath the slack.  Then pull up with the end so that the slack part (the part that will be tightened) bites down on it as you tighten the string to pitch.  This keeps it from slipping back through the post.  Keep this part held tight as you use your other hand to tighten the string until it becomes taut enough to hold on its own.

Don’t tighten it to pitch just yet, but tighten it enough to take all the slack out and then some.  You should start with the bass string, then put the other five on in ascending order.  After all of them have been strung up you’re ready to tune to pitch.

One mistake I see a lot of people make is assuming that’s the end of it.  There’s one last step – stretching.  Tune everything to pitch, maybe even a little sharp.  Hold the guitar in your lap facing upwards and pinch a string around the 12th fret.  Pull it up (not so hard you snap anything, it will hurt when a string slices your palm because you pulled too hard) and wiggle it a little.  Gently let it back down, then repeat for all the other strings.

Now re-tune.  Quite a few of the strings were flat, right?  Now imagine if you just starting playing without doing that.  A few songs in and everything would sound wrong, so you’d have to stop and re-tune.  Then repeat.  And repeat.  This saves you some time later by making your strings more stable.

This kind of upkeep is easy, but makes a huge difference.  It also may save you from having trouble later – those rusty strings can’t be good for fret wear.

And maintenance will be cheaper than repair.

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