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A Concise, Easy-to-Understand Guide to Selecting a Quality Guitar and Keeping it in Good Playing Condition
Illustrations by Aldo Perdomo
Copyright © 2008. by Juan Vega International Copyright Secured All Rights Reserved No part of this document may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the Author. .
baby. Jimmy. Ray Perdomo. I always try to listen. Deborah Holland. Jeff Benedict. and life general. Ron Javorsky. cuz! A shout out also goes to Gil Chavez. Jeff Fish. Thanks. Matthew Elgart. Vic Estrada. I also acknowledge the pleasure and challenges I get from all my kids: Mikey. the music business. who keeps my guitars in tip-top condition. Aldo Perdomo did the guitar illustrations. and countless others whose musical path has intersected mine. or who has had an opportunity to hear my music. never mind. Kim Diaz. Edmond Allmond. but sometimes I’d sure like to try…no. Eddie Resto. Steve Elder.Acknowledgments I am grateful to my musical friends and colleagues. Vincent. Luis Rojas. These people include (in no particular order) Tom Hynes. Geoff Dunbar. and learn. Aaron Arakawa. Kurt Festinger. from you all! iii . I also have fond memories of many hours’ pleasure playing in musical situations with great musicians such as Terry Cano. and Lucy Vasquez. Erin. Kurt Medlin. playing guitar. te quiero. Frank Rico. Life would be so dull without you all. and for putting up with the interminable rehearsals and lessons. I hope I’ve helped you all sound as good as you’ve made me sound! My wife Carmen deserves a lot of credit for holding down the fort on all sorts of fronts. Mike Celenza. Dorrance Stalvey. Jeff Donavan. you are truly the “Yoda” of jazz guitar. who have taught me so much about music. Peter Hata. whose patience and wisdom helped me grow as a musician. great job. Ana. being a steadfast and supportive partner. and “Sacagawea”. I cannot overstate how much of an influence Jimmy Wyble has been on me as a guitarist and musician. My appreciation and gratitude as well to anybody and everybody who has either studied guitar with me. Richard Pattie.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments.........................................iii Introduction..............................................1 Buying Your Guitar........................................2 What Makes a Good Guitar?.................................9 How Much Will It Cost?...................................12 What Kind of Guitar Should I Buy?........................13 Where Can I Buy My Guitar?...............................14 Upkeep and Maintenance...................................15 Strings, strings, strings................................18 Changing Strings.........................................24 Minor Adjustments........................................31 Guitar Accessories and Gadgets...........................37 Resources................................................46 Glossary.................................................48 About the Author.........................................50
The guitar is a wonderful and fascinating instrument! I have been playing guitar for more than 35 years, and it still challenges and amazes me with its ability to create many different kinds of music. Unfortunately, in many aspects the guitar is very much the “Rodney Dangerfield” of musical instruments, i.e., it doesn’t get much “respect”. Nobody in his right mind goes out and rents or purchases a piano, violin, flute, or even a trombone, then brings it home and either attempts to learn it on one’s own, or hands it over to a child and says, “here, learn it”. Aspiring players on piano, violin, etc, often have lessons to accompany the investment made on the instrument. Conversely, too many would-be guitar players are often given hand-me-down instruments, or worse, instruments found at a local garage sale or secondhand store that have significant structural problems and left to learn to play on their own. Given that the instrument is an important part of the process of learning to make music, not surprisingly, many aspiring guitarists simply tire of fighting these instruments, and quit. These days, one doesn’t have to spend an outrageous amount of money to buy a guitar that is well-built, playable, and sounds good. And once we’ve gotten an instrument, a little bit of knowledge and care will go a long ways towards keeping it in good working condition. It is my hope that the information presented here will serve as a practical reference for those who are interested in the guitar, and that using the material will help you find a decent and playable instrument, and keep it in good shape. PLEASE NOTE: There are many, many guitars and accessories available on the market. If I refer to any particular brand name of instrument or product, I am expressing an opinion or providing information. I neither endorse, nor do I receive any money or courtesy from any of the manufacturers of these products or services. Same thing goes for businesses or Web sites mentioned or listed. Likewise, I assume no responsibility or liability for any damage to instruments or injuries incurred by readers of this document. Always go slowly, and if you’re not sure or confident about what you are attempting to do, stop, and take your guitar to a qualified repair person. Good luck!
If. In the old days. and now you need an instrument. you should be ready to go out and purchase an instrument. here we go! You’ve decided to learn guitar. Let’s push on. If you’re serious about playing guitar. If someone wants to give you a guitar as a gift. guitars are available in either right. Only solid-body electric guitars will be illustrated and/or discussed in this book. 2 . after reading this material you will be able to determine whether the guitar is worthy of your time. and archtops. All of the information discussed here applies to right-handed guitars. Electric guitars fall into four sub-categories: solid-body instruments. I recommend “southpaws” learn on a righthanded instrument for the following reasons: there is a much larger selection of right-handed instruments. Acoustic guitars are guitars whose sound can be heard without the aid of any electric or electronic equipment. and electric guitars require some sort of electric/electronic device (and “amplifier”. someone already has a guitar they’re willing to loan or give you. the choice is yours. Additionally. or “amp”). electric/acoustic flat tops. As always. and only after reading and understanding this section of the book. which are hollow-bodied instruments with electronic components attached. the nylon-string instruments were also referred to as “Spanish” guitars. there doesn’t appear to be any added difficulty for left-handers to learn to play right-handed. Types of guitars There are lots of guitars on the market. and “electric”. Acoustic guitars fall into two sub-categories: steel-string. interestingly. and nylon-string or “classical” guitars. you can swap guitars with friends or band mates. semihollow instruments. or “flat top” guitars. Although it is indeed possible to buy a left-handed guitar. as often happens. to make the sound from the instrument audible. but the majority of them fall into two categories: “acoustic”.Buying your guitar OK. My left-handed brother learned to play guitar as a “righty” with no problems. after you have assimilated this information. and. you will be better able to communicate your requirements.or left-handed models. left-handed guitars generally cost more than a similar right-handed instrument. The first thing to note is that this section is titled “buying” your guitar. or whether you will have to nicely say “no thanks” to the offer.
Electric guitar 3 .
Nylon-string guitar 4 .
Flat-top guitar 5 .
The strings sit on a piece of white or beige material (usually plastic). and there are two primary varieties. All the way down the neck. or chords.to mid-priced instruments. notes. The end of a Florentine cutaway comes to a point. The strings sit on top of another beige or white piece of plastic attached to the body of the guitar. these are the frets. The saddle sits on the bridge. between the neck and the fingerboard to help the neck stay straight. particularly electrics and even some acoustic and acoustic-electric models.) The back is the part of the guitar that is closest to the player’s body. Most sound holes are round. Starting at the topmost (skinny part) of the instrument is the peghead. and allows tuning each string. These days. Bridge pins are made of plastic or wood. The guitar’s strings are wound around the tuners. and surrounded either by a decorative abalone or mother-of-pearl inlay. When they’re in place. called the nut. so when the string is struck. actually) inserted across the fingerboard at different distances from each other. have a part of the body removed in order to allow easy access to the upper frets. and transfers vibrations from the played strings to the top. with rosewood being prevalent on most low. to secure the strings to the bridge. 6 . The top holds the bridge. in order to make it seem more exotic. by a decal or wooden inlay decoration known as purfling or a rosette. The body of acoustic guitars is made up of three principal pieces. The nut suspends the strings over the fingerboard. and look like nails or brads with a ball end.Acoustic guitars Acoustic guitars look somewhat similar. Manufacturers often also use alternate names (such as “nato” or “sapele”) to describe fingerboard material. Florentine and Venetian. or. Fingerboards are often made of rosewood. called a truss rod. most guitar necks have an adjustable metal bar. (None of these decorative touches has much influence on the sound. and the back and top are connected by the sides of the instrument. which changes the musical pitch of the string. and the body of the guitar. Some guitars. and share many parts and characteristics. which is glued to the top. and usually has some sort of sound hole which amplifies the sound of the vibrating guitar string. also referred to as tuners. which is attached to the neck of the guitar. often with a decorative dot on top. Steel-string guitars usually employ bridge pins. while a Venetian cutaway has a more rounded end. there are pieces of metal (wire. The nut has grooves in it that roughly correspond to about half of the diameter of each string. ebony. only the ball end is visible. or maple. and turning them in one direction or another increases or decreases tension on the strings. it vibrates freely. These are called cutaways. whose purpose is to allow the guitar player to press down on string(s) up and down the neck to produce different pitches. The saddle and nut allow the strings to be suspended above the neck. More on this later. which houses the tuning machines. the saddle.
such as a mahogany body with a thin piece of highly-figured maple on top. and even curvature of each string adjusted individually. Humbucking pickups utilize a pair of magnetic coils. and many others have used the whammy bar to create some very interesting electric guitar sounds. These saddles allow the guitar to have the length. mahogany. in order to create sound effects. the body is a slab of wood that’s usually cut into a distinctive shape. and if you look into the sound hole towards the sides. so without getting into a long. strips of wood with small slots cut into it in order to allow it to conform to the shape of the guitar. Materials used for solid-body guitar bodies include swamp ash. The solid body provides little or no resonance. Guitarists like Edward Van Halen. and some players and builders claim certain woods provide certain tonal qualities. most flat-tops and some nylon-string guitars have a strap pin that sticks out of the lowest part of the side. which enable the sound of the vibrating string to be converted into electrical energy to be made louder by the amplifier. which is another piece of metal that holds each string. height.The inside of the guitar’s body contains braces that add structural strength. and attach to a tremolo bar. maple. many electric guitars have a combination of single-coil and humbuckers for added tonal flexibility. Electric guitars contain pickups. tuners. and combinations. so an amplifier is needed to hear the instrument at anything but a whisper volume level. Electric guitars Electric guitars have a peghead. These days. I will say that some players prefer humbuckers because they have a little darker sound. but solid-body instruments are just that. also known as a “whammy bar”. 7 . with individually-adjustable saddles. There are many different kinds of pickups on the market. Most solid-body guitars utilize a metal bridge. Another area where solid-body guitars differ from acoustics is in the bridge/saddle setup. basswood. There is some “mythology” about the material used for solid guitar bodies. involved discussion. while other players prefer the brightness of sound that is more characteristic of single-coil pickups. Steve Vai. There are two primary types of pickups. The whammy bar is a floating device that allows the guitarist to manipulate the tension of the strings through a lever-like device. I don’t personally believe the differences are all that marked. or the strings might run through the body of the guitar. nut. The main difference between the electric guitar and its acoustic counterparts is in its electronic components. you may also see kerfing. The solidbody guitar may have a hard-tail bridge. and reproduce sound with no electrical hum. and a bridge. poplar. while single-coil pickups have only one magnetic coil. Finally. and may produce some electrical hum along with the sound. but your results may vary.
8 .Most electric guitars will have volume and tone control knobs. and multi-pickup instruments usually have a switch (or switches) that allow the player to turn pickups on or off. or use them in combination. An output jack on the instruments will accept a cable that connects the guitar to an amplifier.
do you hear anything move? If you do. Since acoustic guitars produce sound independently. This doesn’t just happen on cheaper instruments. and laminated. and quality of construction and components. acoustic guitar’s top is its most important component. maybe there’s a loose brace (or braces) that will produce annoying buzzes when you play. with lots of complexity. Try a few solid-top models. and gently shake it. that’s a sign of poor construction. Another important aspect is quality of construction and workmanship. A guitar with a good solid top will have a rich sound. although “knowledge is power”. or even gobs of lacquer or varnish on the instruments. This kind of thing is usually cosmetic. Acoustic guitars The primary factors that influence cost in acoustic guitars are quality of materials. and mahogany. Also look to see that the nut and bridge appear to be smoothly finished. respectively. Try out guitars whose tops are made of different types of wood. Give the guitar a thorough once-over visually. or are there globs of glue and sawdust present? The latter may signal an instrument that was assembled quickly or sloppily. Is the inside of the guitar clean. and could cause the guitar to be structurally unsound. while a laminated top may produce a good enough sound. Grab the guitar with both hands. you may find you prefer one over the other. Sitka Spruce. and get a bit of a price break. the materials used in their construction have a huge influence on how they will sound. maple. which is a fancy word for “plywood”. Look inside the sound hole. I bought 9 . Popular guitar top materials are spruce. If the bridge looks as though it’s pulling away from the top. and see the plies on the laminate top models. if not. or whether there are glue marks. either. Like most things in life. and note whether the finish spray appears to be smooth and consistent. ask the salesperson. one gets what one pays for. and are firmly attached to the neck and the body. or a problem looming. tilting the guitar all around. or do some Internet research. Certain varieties of wood. sometimes it’s possible to look at the edge of the sound hole. There are two types of acoustic guitar tops: solid. cedar.What makes a good guitar? Good question!!! Here are some things to consider when looking for a guitar. Sonically speaking. you may find the difference in sound isn’t enough to justify the higher price. and then some with laminated tops. Let’s talk about acoustic guitars first. too. but you may be able to point it out to the sales person. If you’re not sure about whether a guitar has a solid or laminated top. and guitars are no exception. Both will give important clues as to the quality of the instrument. for example. but by virtue of its construction the quality of sound may not be as complex or defined. are regarded as having better tonal characteristics than others.
or the height between the strings and the fingerboard. Another very important thing to check is the action. or press down right behind each fret of every string. If there’s much more clearance than that. The heads on the tuner screws shouldn’t look as though they were forced into place. or you may even have to lift the string a bit to get both pennies in there. or may require adjustment. run your fingers down the side of the neck on both sides. or is it difficult to turn. they should just make it. If that all seems OK. then play the string. so I was able to get it fixed under warranty at no cost. Sloppy fret ends may signal poor installation. The frets shouldn’t move when you press down on the string. 10 . and slide them under the strings at the twelfth fret.a $2500 archtop that had some finish “warts” on it. with no buzzing or other noises. If you hear buzzing or something else along with the musical note. does each one turn easily. and that there’s no gap between the base of the tuner and the peghead. the instrument will be more difficult to play. and fret. Last thing to check is quality of tuners. One quick and easy way to do this is to take two pennies. either. Rotate the tuners. clear sound. and not much seems to happen? The latter may indicate tuners that are of poor quality. and change the tension on the strings. or just inoperative. Next up. there is probably something wrong with the fret work. Press firmly. Poor action is far and away the most common problem with poor-quality instruments. and it directly affects playability. to make sure there aren’t any fret ends sticking out. you should hear a clean. Also check to see that the tuners are installed well. next thing is to take the index finger of your left hand (for right-handed folks). and they can hurt when you play. either.
Electric guitars either have a set neck or a bolt-on neck. 11 . and if you’re buying an instrument with a “whammy bar”. The pickup selector switch should function smoothly and noiselessly. and without any static. Make sure the tone control actually changes the sound from bass to treble. Also. while bolt-on necks are secured to the body using screws. Make sure the tuners turn smoothly. if the guitar has more than one pickup. check that there is a good connection between the neck and the body. if you do. and is of good quality. make sure it seems to move smoothly. and make sure each pickup is working individually. Check to see that the bridge doesn’t have any rough edges. especially where the strings come into contact with it. Set necks are glued into the guitar’s body. The neck should feel firmly attached to the body. shouldn’t have any looseness in it. all the hardware should look as though it was installed carefully. and returns the strings to pitch pretty consistently. that will cause premature string breakage. The volume and tone control(s) should turn smoothly. where you connected the cable. you should not hear any noise or hum when both hands are on the guitar and it’s connected at the amp. and the neck joint at the body should be nice and tight. In order to test the electronics. that could be a sign of a poor ground connection or a bad electronic connection in the instrument. and actually work. and in combination with the others. Likewise. plug the guitar into an amplifier. Another critical component of an electric guitar is the bridge/saddle. or crackling noise. and no end of headaches. or make any noise.Electric guitars When examining an electric guitar’s body. and the jack.
without the amp. but all of the checks should be done with an even keener eye (and ears). and how to weed out turkeys. it’s highly doubtful you will be able to buy a new nylon-string guitar of reasonable quality for about $100. etc. the next question is: how much is this thing going to cost??? In my experience and opinion. be prepared to spend about $130 or so. or on television. now that we know about guitar types. These prices are current as of mid2008. so it’s possible you might score a better deal. construction. materials. components. as you might find a good deal. Can you beat those prices? Maybe a music store is trying to move old stock. If you’re feeling adventurous. and if you insist on the electric. or check an Internet retailer. many (if not all) of those instruments are cheap junk. the same quality steelstring guitar will cost around $130. you may want to check Craig’s List in your area for used instruments. but if you walk into your local music store. and you will be wasting your money and time.How much will it cost? OK. 12 . or they might have a one-odd instrument. that’s what the price-point is. Don’t be tempted by “too good to be true” deals on eBay.
don’t ignore that sense. Finally. after many of my students have been playing for a bit. nylon strings are easier on the left-hand fingers. First off. 13 .What kind of guitar should I buy? Now THAT’s a great question! There are a couple of factors that will influence your choice of guitar: the kind of music you like and want to play. and this makes it a bit easier to fret (play) notes and chords for beginners. That is. These are all acceptable factors. If you use the criteria I’ve laid out as a guideline. or you prefer the way it feels or sounds when you play it. you should be OK regardless of what type of guitar you decide to get. or “pads” on the left-hand fingertips. having friends or family who play guitar and wanting a similar sound. and my friend Chuck refers to as the “comfort blanket” syndrome. The above recommendation is based on my years of experience as a guitar teacher. they start asking about playing using the fingers of the right hand (instead of a pick). it just doesn’t feel quite as crowded. making it easier and less painful for the beginner to start to play and build calluses. Nylon string guitars also tend to stay adjusted more than the other two. probably due to the fact the strings exert less tension on the instrument. A guitar you really like will keep you coming back… That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. If you’ve checked out a couple of instruments and one in particular “calls” you. the fingerboard on a classical guitar is slightly wider than that of flat-tops or electrics. or even wanting to look like someone whose music you like. but I am going to tell you straight-out: if you are a first-time guitar player/buyer. I strongly recommend you consider buying a nylon-string or “classical” guitar. Another important and somewhat intangible characteristic of the guitar you choose may also be what I call its “mojo factor”. and having a nylon string guitar makes it possible to introduce basic techniques (and repertoire) for the classical guitar. something about a particular guitar may appeal to you on some sort of emotional level. Next.
com. You may also want to do some research online (at musiciansfriend. etc) and find out what’s available at what price. Although they may appear to have some good deals from reputable makers. You might also come across an instrument you really like. One last bit of advice: don’t buy your guitar at a “big box” retailer like Wal-Mart or even Costco. 14 . or Sam Ash. Wherever you decide to go. when the big stores are super-crowded. If you can. and the locals get busy too. when things are quieter and it will be easier to get sales people to answer questions. try to set some time aside so you have an hour or more to check out instruments. and don’t go on weekends.Where can I buy my guitar? Another great question! I strongly recommend you go to a local music retailer. Most music stores check out instruments before they go out on the sales floor. and if your purchase has some sort of problem.com. SamAsh. and try again. et al) will be able to offer you a bit better deal than an independent. the big chains (Guitar Center. keeping one’s options open is always a plus. whether it’s one of the big chains. or an independent music store. Most stores can order you a specific brand/model if they carry the line. they are not music stores. too. your only recourse may be to return it. Frankly speaking. and when investing in an instrument. go on a mid-week afternoon. but the offsetting factor is that the independent will provide more individual service. and get a physical sense for each instrument. something you don’t always find at the big shops. and they make minor adjustments if necessary. The main reason is so you have an opportunity to see and try different types of guitars. etc.
so you’ll have the right size for the job. here is some information and tips on keeping it in the best playing condition. and trimming string ends. etc). Try to find an assortment of both SAE (American) and metric keys. and you can also find it on the Internet. Again. Use with caution. and some powdered graphite. or environment. 15 . Hexagon wrenches: “Hex keys” are good to have. and these also work well. Lighter fluid: Lighter fluid (naphtha) is good for removing gunk on fingerboards. Some of this stuff is available at your local music store. or to loosen tight parts before applying a screwdriver or pliers. well-adjusted guitar is a happy instrument that will give you many hours of pleasure. don’t buy junk. It’s not unusual for your guitar to require minor adjustments occasionally. loosening. Regardless of which you choose. will have everything you need. Lubricants: Get some WD-40. and sometimes other hardware have hex heads. These are handy for grabbing small parts. Generic tools can be purchased at your local hardware store. and wood reacts to changes in the weather. you will need a few tools and accessories. a small can of “3-in-1” oil or similar. and you might be tempted to set it aside. t-shirts. Here are some basic tools/accessories you should have on hand: Guitar polish: Any brand of liquid guitar polish will do (Martin. and it’s also important to keep it clean. or similar spray lubricant. as many electric guitar bridges. on the other hand. if your guitar is out of adjustment. diagonal cutters. All are handy to keep parts moving smoothly. Your guitar store will likely also have “guitar polishing cloths” available for purchase. while they’re a bit more expensive. or you can buy pre-configured tool kits for guitars.Upkeep and maintenance Now that you have a guitar. but the home-grown stuff will work just as well. Dunlop. You can get “microfiber” cloths at automotive supply stores. You can usually find sets with all three at hardware stores. A guitar is made of wood. Pliers: Mini needle-nose pliers. it won’t feel or sound right. Tools and accessories In order to keep your guitar in good working order. etc. Lint-free cloths: Old cotton dress shirts. A clean. make good polishing cloths. which. and keep away from kids. Fender. Hex keys are also used for truss rod adjustments. and end-nippers. as a little goes a long way. etc. and it’s cheaper. rest assured it will last you a long time.
and ruin itself at the same time. String/peg winder: Although I don’t really like using ‘em when I change strings. Don’t spend a bunch of money on one. Steel wool: Steel wool is good for polishing chrome parts like the tuner knobs. buy the 0000 or “4-odd” which is the finest. along with “mini” screwdrivers. and worth seeking out. but make sure it has a bridge-pin puller on one end if you do get one. It comes in various grades of coarseness. Tuner: Besides their obvious use (tuning your guitar). 16 . Screwdrivers: Mid-sized flat-blade and Phillips screwdrivers. tuners are also handy for adjusting intonation on electric guitars with tunable bridges. Don’t buy bargain junk. Electronics stores have mini screwdrivers with reversible blades that are just right for guitar hardware. and most any will do. there’s nothing worse that having a cheap screwdriver strip a screw head. One bag of steel wool should last you your whole life. peg winders do come in handy sometimes. Tuners come in a wide variety of price ranges.Q-tips: Cotton swabs are also handy for cleaning or applying lubricants. they are handy for cleanup jobs where you want some push. but don’t want to scratch or mar a finish. Toothbrushes: Don’t throw away old toothbrushes. Always have a few on hand.
for the most part. Guitar polish usually has additives that help maintain the quality of the factory finish. and you should be able to get the shine back. Rub the steel wool gently and firmly over the affected areas. Make sure you give the top. use the steel wool to restore shine. and use firm pressure with the cloth to pick up dust. and it should come off after the spray has soaked through. as that might gum those up. Avoid getting polish on the strings or the fingerboard. or snake the tip of the cloth through. use a rag to protect the surrounding areas. and put a nice gloss on the instrument. put some lighter fluid on a cloth. sides. spray some WD-40 on the sticker. and the back of the neck as well. doing the cleaning at the same time will keep your guitar looking and feeling good. spray a small bit of polish on the guitar. Same thing for near the bridge under the strings. Since you will be changing strings approximately once or twice/year (more if you play a lot). and use that to remove accumulated gunk. you can usually remove them using the WD-40. If you do need to clean the fingerboard. for example) that are difficult to get at. You can also use a Q-tip moistened with lighter fluid to remove crud that’s on either side of the frets. 17 . too. Keeping your guitar’s body clean is easy. use a Q-tip to get under there. It’s a good idea to take the opportunity to give you’re a thorough cleaning every time you change strings. If there are any areas (under the strings behind the nut. If the hardware on your electric guitar is dirty or a little pitted.Keeping it clean A clean guitar is a happy guitar. If you have a guitar that somebody put stickers on. new guitars don’t need the fingerboard cleaned. and back a good rubdown. You’ll feel the difference when the back of the neck is clean and polished. Get your guitar polish and one of the lint-free cloths.
Strings, strings, strings
Your guitar’s strings are one of the most important, and most frequently ignored, components of the instrument. A $10,000 archtop with old strings will sound like 50 cents, while a $130 instrument with new strings will sound just fine. Strings, like dairy products and most food, don’t last forever, they’re perishable. They pick up chemicals from the player’s fingers, the air around them, and their ability to resonate freely and cleanly is negatively affected by these factors, which cause corrosion and breakdown of the string material. Pressure against the frets over a prolonged length of time also tends to create flat spots and wear, again affecting the sonic and playability quality of the strings. This holds true for any and all types of strings. Far and away, a new set of strings is the quickest and cheapest way to restore any guitar’s sound and playability. Types of strings There are two primary varieties of guitar strings: steel and nylon. Before we go any further though, here is some important information regarding guitar strings: Never, ever, put steel strings on a guitar designed for nylon strings!!! Steel-string guitars are designed and braced for the additional tension the steel strings produce. Putting steel strings on a nylon-string guitar will damage or outright destroy the instrument. Don’t do it. Guitar strings usually come 6 to a package, and the strings are labeled from 6 (the largest diameter) to 1 (the skinniest string). Generally they’re tuned to the following notes: 6/E, 5/A, 4/D, 3/G, 2/B, and 1/E. It’s generally OK to refer to a particular string by either its numerical name or its pitch name, but if you refer to the “E string”, you’ll need to specify whether it’s string 6 or string 1 in order to prevent confusion. Once upon a time, certain electric guitar strings came with extra B and number 1 E strings, but I don’t know if that’s still the case. Strings can also be purchased individually, but that’s usually more expensive. If you break a string while playing or tuning it, that’s a good indicator the rest of the set is likely fatigued or old as well, so just buy a whole set of new strings, and get to work.
For our purposes. Nylon strings are usually plain. as most beginners do. Some nylon strings are called “ball-end”. Nylon strings are available in extra-light.Nylon Strings First we’ll talk about nylon strings. When you unwrap nylon strings. wrapped with metal. This is especially true if you will be playing your nylon-string guitar with a pick. I recommend sticking with either normal-tension or high-tension strings. There may be cheaper strings available. medium/normal and high-tension varieties. sound good. The difference between type is the force or tension produced when the string is tuned to pitch. especially if you have a lower-priced instrument. light. you will notice that the 3 bass (thicker) strings appear to be made of metal. Some widely-available and well-known nylon string brands are: • • • • • • • Aranjuez Augustine Black Diamond D’Addario La Bella Savarez Thomastik-Infeld You can expect to pay between $8 and $12 or so for a set of nylon strings. 19 . usually silk. but in this price range you will be able to buy strings that will stay in tune. The bass strings consist of a core. as the other types may not be worth the additional effort or expense. or even carbon-fiber material. and these have a small fitting on one end in order to make stringing easier. and last a reasonable amount of time. but I don’t recommend these. and the 3 treble (thinner) strings are either clear-colored. while the treble strings are made of a nylon composite. they don’t have any fittings or other material other than the string itself. ie. or perhaps black or even red.
The ferrule is there to anchor the string against the bridge or tailpiece on electric guitars. which is also important.056” for the same strings. the terms will become less important. Acoustic steel strings Acoustic steel strings are packaged with descriptions such as bronze. Another distinction with steel strings has to do with the 3rd.e. or “thickness” of the string. and decide which sound you like best. experiment. basically a solid length of wire. or ferrule on one end. 20 . Interestingly. and this nomenclature is different between acoustic and electric strings. Steel strings also have a fitting. the ferrule end of the string will be attached to the body side of the guitar. which is a good compromise between light and heavy. string gauge isn’t standard.012”. or brass.052” for the 1st through 6th string respectively. a term that refers to the diameter. Some people like the sound and feel of a wound G. “sparkly” sound with lots of volume. Gauges range from extra-light to medium. but we’re primarily concerned with the acoustic and electric varieties. sometimes you’ll also see numbers like 80/20 or 85/15.. as the quality of the sound is influenced by your guitar and its construction. though. or “warm” sound. while a medium-gauge set might range from . rather than on the manufacturer’s description. phosphor-bronze. and decide which you prefer.013” through . These strings come in different gauges. the strings are thicker. and which string feels better under your fingers. the diameter of each string is listed on the packaging. and so on.011” to . than electric strings. referring to the ratio of one material to another. if the G string is wound. i. while the wound G will look like the bass strings. with wrapping. A light-gauge set of acoustic strings may run from . and usually. String gauge is measured in thousands of an inch.Steel strings Steel guitar strings come in a few “flavors”. and the choice is up to you. and you might find yourself buying strings based on the string sizes themselves. A plain G string will look like the other two treble strings. and on acoustic guitars that’s what the bridge pins use to hold the string in place. You might think a thousandth of an inch isn’t much. while others prefer a plain G. there is usually a letter “w” next to the gauge measurement. believe me. one manufacturer’s “light” will be another’s “medium”. and between manufacturers as well. I recommend starting out with a set that has a 1st string gauge of . As you try out strings. Experiment. Brass strings tend to produce a bright. while the bronze and phosphor-bronze varieties might have a less bright. The 3rd string is available either plain or wound. When looking at a set of steel strings. Either way. or “G” string. These are generalities. but your fingers will feel the difference. This refers to the material they’re made of. The gauges for acoustic guitar strings are generally bigger.
Martin D’Addario Dean Markley Ernie Ball Guild Thomastik-Infeld You can expect to pay between $5 and $15 or so for a set of steel strings. These days.Some widely-available and well-known steel string brands are: • • • • • • • Black Diamond C. the consistency of steel strings among manufacturers is very good. and err a bit on the more expensive side of the equation if you can. but you may find you prefer the sound and feel of one maker’s strings over the others. 21 .F. Let your budget be your guide.
Electric guitar strings For the most part. There are also string makers who produce “signature” strings. I switched strings to get a different sound. and the gauges. A light-gauge set of electric strings might run from . I played one brand for years. such as “Carlos Santana Signature”. Bronze is a non-ferrous metal. or “Light top/heavy bottom”. while a medium-gauge set might range from . the strings are thinner. You can find strings with descriptions such as “Super Slinky”. “Mutts”. than acoustic strings.011” through . and I went from playing pop and rock to jazzier music. 22 . although there are several manufacturers who use a different ferrule. and everybody carried it. for example. “Boomers”. simply because it was relatively cheap. The gauges for electric guitar strings are generally lighter. I’ve never tried using acoustic strings on an electric guitar). ie.038” for the 1st through 6th string respectively. so that type of string won’t work as well on an electric guitar (to be honest. primarily because if a player wants more volume. There is a huge variety of electric strings available today. endorsed by individual players. Again. you might find you like the feel of one brand of string over another.010” 1st string. and use that as a starting point. but. Electric strings must be able to produce a magnetic field that the pickups will respond to. Electric strings can be thinner than their acoustic counterparts. or a combination thereof. and on and on. but sound-wise with electric guitar. As my playing tastes and needs changed. that’s accomplished by simply turning up the volume on the amp.054” for the same strings. the two main differences between acoustic steel strings and electric guitar strings are the materials used in their manufacture. Like the acoustic strings. and this can make the purchasing process a bit confusing. they usually have a ferrule on one end. referred to as a “bullet end”. or nickel. Electric strings are made of steel. I suggest you find a set that has a . so there’s more flexibility when it comes to buying strings.008”(!) to . the amp is a factor. if the store is out of “my” brand. I’m usually able to buy something similar in the same gauge without too much discernible difference.
You may want to try them and find out for yourself. the consistency of steel strings among manufacturers is very good. but if they indeed keep their sound quality longer. As with acoustic strings. Two brands currently available are D’Addario EXP. I haven’t tried coated strings. Coated strings One final word on strings: a relatively recent development in guitar strings has been the coated string. you may find you prefer the sound and feel of one brand of strings over the others. and that’s only a partial list! You can expect to pay between $4 and $15 or so for a set of strings for your electric guitar. 23 . around $15 per set. but since I have not used them. Some manufacturers are marketing guitar strings that have been treated with a proprietary material or substance that supposedly resists corrosion that results from chemicals in the hands. or the environment. the price differential may be a wash. but more may be coming. Coated strings are more expensive than non-coated strings. and Elixir Nanoweb. but again. I also have questions about whether they maintain their ability to stay in tune longer. but I wonder whether the coating in any way extends the kind of wear resulting from left-hand finger pressure. I am withholding judgment. for example. there are quite a bit of electric strings available.Some widely-available and well-known electric string brands are: • • • • • • • • • • • • • Black Diamond D’Addario Dean Markley DR Dunlop Elixir Ernie Ball Fender GHS Gibson Rotosound Snarling Dogs(!) Thomastik-Infeld As you can see.
which isn’t that long. or potential problems. etc. in order to maintain tension on the neck. take your time. When I change strings. but this is time spent with your instrument. I usually start with the 1st (thinnest) string. and require an adjustment. and gone out and bought some new strings for your guitar. My recommendation is to change one string at a time. it may take you a bit longer to swap out a set of strings. and work my way up across the neck. the primary advice is to change one string at a time. However you choose to do it. but there are differences for each type of guitar. then 5. some people start with 1. We’ll start with the nylon-string. 24 . all things considered. then change 6. Now we’ll talk about how to go about putting them on the instrument. you’ve done some research. The procedure for each has some similarities. that might affect the neck. then 2. and a good opportunity to clean it up. and check for any loose parts. Also. too. or classical guitar. At first.Changing strings Hopefully. Once you’ve done it a few times. and enjoy the process. since that one is a little more involved than the other two. you can usually switch out a set of strings in about 20 minutes. if you remove all the strings.
and then it’s a hassle to determine which string is which.e. or an inch (you should have plenty of string left over). but you’ll get the hang of it. Remove and discard the old string. particularly with the trebles. you will need to keep tension on the string so the loop doesn’t undo itself. pushing about 1. the sound becomes lower. and tune it to pitch.) Thread the new string through the hole in the bridge from the front (sound hole side) of the bridge towards the back. ie. You might have to pull up a bit on the loops in order to loosen the string from the bridge.Changing nylon strings We’ll start by removing the first string. Leave the sticker(s) on. Turn the tuning peg so that the string loses tension. and tuck the remaining string under itself so it’s hanging behind the bridge.) Keeping tension on the string. 1st. Next. and all you need to do is to keep tension it with one hand. (Don’t laugh. Make sure the string is routed through the nut as you continue tightening. and measure the string about one extra tuning peg’s worth. Turn the tuning peg so the hole in it is perpendicular to the neck.. Pull on the string to draw the loop down. Nylon strings are either packaged individually in little paper envelopes with the string name on it. if you look at the front of the peghead. keeping tension on the string so the loop holds the string. or don’t take the strings out of their envelope until you’re ready to install it. i. Now. and turn the peg with the other hand. Take the threaded end. begin turning the tuning peg to tighten the string. so that when you begin turning the peg. From now on. or something similar). Keep loosening until you can remove the string from the tuning peg by gently pulling on it. E. Thread the string through the hole in the peg where you measured it. it should hold itself in place. (eg. if it doesn’t. and set the string in the bridge. 1E. then bring it back to the front. it can happen. in which case there will likely be a small sticker on each string to tell you which is which. and loop it around itself. take the new corresponding string from the package. and the string becomes loose. go to the tuning peg for that string. so you don’t get them confused.5 inches of string through. 25 . and loop it around the string a couple of times (at least 2 times). the string will lock itself in. but with practice it’s not too difficult. or you can push the string back into the hole in the bridge to loosen it. note how the string is looped through itself at the bridge. or in “environmental” packaging where all the strings are in a single bag or pouch. Once the string has begun to turn. this is the most challenging part of the process. loosen it a bit and rewind it so the winds are pretty close to each other. The string should wind nicely around the peg. You may have to push on the string to keep it where it needs to be. Keeping tension on the string. (This may also be a little tricky at first. you should be able to see through the hole. then unthread the string from the bridge.
and you want it to be consistent. and it was incorrectly wound. and 1.Now. At least once I thought I was loosening a string on a student’s instrument. counterclockwise to loosen it.. so my cutters don’t come into contact with the top of the guitar at any time during the process. and this is distracting. was it? The first thing you’ll notice is that the string will almost immediately go flat. 2. end of lesson. and it helps them break in more quickly. stretching it) about an inch or so. There. Now all you have to do is clip the leftover string at either end of the instrument. Nylon strings. Use your diagonal clippers to carefully trim as much of the extra string as possible. then retuning. and pulling it away from the fingerboard (i. I do this a couple of times for each treble string. There’s a very practical reason for this: you want to make sure you know what’s going to happen when you turn the pegs. 5. This is normal. I slip an index card (or one of the envelopes the strings came in) under the extra string “tails” on the bridge end. Caution: don’t pull up too much. or you could break the string. and downright frustrating. particularly the treble (clear or colored) ones need about a day to “break in” and hold their pitch. an inch or two is all you want to do. or not hold pitch. For strings 3. being careful you don’t nick or scratch the guitar. was it? Good!!! Please note: It’s very important that when you re-string your nylon-string or classical guitar. you’re done! That wasn’t that hard. that wasn’t so tough. or by grabbing each string at about the 12th fret when it’s tuned initially. and then clip them close to the bridge. I’ve had students who bring guitars where every other string tunes in the opposite direction. it’s the opposite: clockwise to tighten the string. and readjusting them. and 4 (on a right-handed instrument). turning the peg counterclockwise will tighten the string. and the string will loosen if you turn the peg clockwise. Avoid this kind of silliness. so I inadvertently broke the string. I’ve found I can help minimize the break-in period by either tuning the strings to about a half step higher than pitch when I install them.e. time-consuming. and another one learned. 26 . For strings 6. you make sure the pegs turn in the same direction to tighten or loosen the strings located on the same side of the peghead.
forget the winder. Hopefully this won’t happen to you. unless you’re changing strings on a Sunday evening. and don’t force anything. don’t take the strings out of their envelope until you’re ready to install it. and gently and carefully poke up the corresponding bridge pin for the string you’re replacing. and use your diagonal cutters to gently and carefully poke up the bridge pin until you can grab it with your hand and pull it up and out. try using it. Turn the tuning peg so that the string loses tension. Once you have the pin out.Changing acoustic steel strings Again. we’ll start by removing the first string. so you can tell which string is which (this is very cool!). The ferrules on some strings are also color-coded. and head to the music store to buy another one. Bridge pins are interesting animals. Next. and the string becomes loose. Gently and carefully is underlined 3 times. If this is the case. go to the saddle. Then. and I ended up having to loosen adjacent strings to the point where I could put my hand through the sound hole. in which case there will likely be a small sticker on each string to tell you which is which. Put the bridge pin aside where it won’t roll away or get misplaced. Have a look. and push the stubborn sucker out. I’ve come across some that were really stuck in there tight. pull out and discard the old string. the sound becomes lower. You have to put everything down. and snapping the head off of it. take the new corresponding string from the package. 1st. Steel strings tend to “remember” how they were wound. turn the tuning peg so the notch in it is parallel to the nut. You also don’t want loose strings all over the place. and most of the time it’s relatively easy to poke them up. That said. but don’t be surprised if you don’t have enough room between bridge pins to get a good grip on the pin. If you have a winder. E. (eg. Keep loosening until you can remove the string from the tuning peg by hand. 27 . and notice the bridge pin has a groove or slot notched along its shaft. Steel strings (like nylon strings) are packaged individually in little paper envelopes with the string name on it. then you’re really out of luck and will have to wait until Monday. so you don’t get them confused. 1E. so don’t be surprised if the string remains kind of curled up. Now. so the message is clear: take your time. There’s nothing worse than whaling on an uncooperative bridge pin. or in “environmental” packaging where all the strings are in a single bag or pouch. Unless your strings have the colored ferrules. or something similar). ie.
make sure you’ve got correctly oriented such that the groove in the pin is facing the string. and close to the saddle. The bridge pin should be seated pretty snugly in the hole. Like nylon strings. and they should loosen when these pegs are turned clockwise. Once steel strings have been wound around a peg. Now go to the peghead. they “remember”. The opposite holds true for pegs 3. and you’ve done it! As with classical guitars. so the bend holds the string in the peg. that is. carefully put the string in the notch in the peg routing it such that the string end is pointing towards the outer edge of the peghead. Additionally. and try again. it shouldn’t come out. Route the string through the nut. then bend the string at a 90-degree angle away from the peg. steel strings also need a break-in. and keeping tension on it. then re-insert the bridge pin in the hole. but if there’s a tiny bit of gap. in order to stretch the string a bit. six more times. Don’t say I didn’t warn you… 28 . but it’s not as long as long. If the bridge pin doesn’t go in. and measure one peg’s length away (or an inch or so) of string. That’s it. Pull the string up gently until you feel the ferrule come into contact with the bridge pin. if your steel-string has 3 tuning pegs on each side of the peghead. and it’s difficult (if not downright impossible) to reverse-wind them. if you don’t. Take your diagonal cutters. that should be okay. Once the string is held by the bridge pin. and tuning will be a hassle. all strings should be routed through the nut and wound towards the outer edge of the peghead on either side. then gently. and cut off and discard the excess string at the peghead. on the opposite side of the peghead. but firmly push the bridge pin back into the hole as far as you can. and 1. slowly bring it to pitch. 2. turning pegs 6 through 4 counterclockwise should tighten the strings. you’ll have to live with it until next string change. Be sure you get this right before you start winding the string.Push the ferrule end of the string through the hole in the saddle. or even ½ step higher than pitch. Don’t be surprised if the string (particularly if it’s a wound string) makes a bit of noise as it’s being tuned. being sure the groove in the pin is facing the string. the string might move a bit over the bridge as it comes under tension. the string should be in the groove.
and some guitars use a string-through-body setup. Once that’s done. Once that’s done. usually on the bass side (so the pegs are pointing upward if your guitar is in playing position). and then wind outwards. If you need additional information. Take the new string. then remove the string from the body. and the string becomes loose. I guarantee you you’re going to poke a friend’s eye one day (ouch!). and it is riding on the appropriate saddle or spot on the bridge. and routed through the body itself then to the bridge. 29 . consult one of the resources in the “Reference” section. so they point down when playing. the sound becomes lower. If your guitar has inline pegs.Changing electric guitar strings Electric guitars have quite a few different bridge configurations. and re-route it so it is secured by the ferrule. Then. or they wind it into these cool-looking little circles. and clockwise rotation will loosen them. This guide will just focus on string changing basics. Keep loosening until you can remove the string from the tuning peg by hand. locking tuners. Route the string through the correct slot on the nut. and bend it 90 degrees away from the nut in order to hold the string in place. get rid of it. and the time you spend making those cool little circles would be better-spent practicing. Some strings ride over a separate bridge. and a “whammy” bar. start by removing the first string. turn the tuning peg so the notch in it is parallel to the nut. others use a combination bridge/tailpiece. i. Cut the excess. Turn the tuning peg so that the string loses tension. it’s important to make sure the strings go through the nut. Regardless of how your tuning pegs are arrayed.e. Some old Gibson guitars had the pegs on the opposite side. where the string is inserted into the body of the guitar through the back. familiarize yourself with what you have. If you leave them sticking out. take your diagonal cutters. etc.. Note: some well-known guitar players leave the excess string sticking out of the peghead. and you’re done changing out the string. Your guitar likely has one of these 3 bridge setups. Insert the string into the notch on the tuning peg. and are held in place by a tailpiece. where the string may curl under itself. As with the flat-top. or even polishing your guitar… Many electric guitars have all 6 tuning pegs on one side of the peghead. Keeping tension on the string. or even ½ step higher to help it break in. carefully snip off the excess string sticking out of the peg. tuning it to pitch. and some of them feature things such as locking nuts. begin winding it on the peg. and discard it. then measure out about an inch past the tuning peg. and a few modern guitars even split the pegs so 4 are on one side and 2 on the other. then turning any of them counterclockwise will tighten the string. note where and how the string is connected to the bridge end of the guitar.
as with flat-tops.If your electric guitar has 3 tuning pegs on each side of the peghead. turning pegs 6 through 4 counterclockwise should tighten the strings. 2. The opposite holds true for pegs 3. 30 . and they should loosen when these pegs are turned clockwise. on the opposite side of the peghead. and 1. Additionally. all strings should be routed through the nut and wound towards the outer edge of the peghead on either side.
This may be either many. even solid-bodied electric ones. I have more than 20 guitars. depending on the condition of the guitar in question. 31 . your guitar “changes”. Many great luthiers got started this way. As I said before. pick up a “beater” instrument. Consequently. In most instances. I strongly recommend you have your guitar set up when you buy it initially. The following information is presented to inform and enable you to make minor adjustments to your instrument. and there’s no feeling quite like that of having an instrument that’s in tiptop shape. The process of adjusting a guitar is called a setup. and practice on it before having at your “real” guitar. whether it be temperature. a little tweak goes a long way. If you really want to develop expertise at this. conversely. This will give you a sense of how it should feel when it is in the best playing condition. guitars. or just a few steps. and one of them usually is in need of some adjustment. for example. you may find that at certain times of the year. When I get a guitar back from my luthier (guitar maker or repairer) it’s always a pleasure to play it. humidity. especially when adjusting the truss rod. they can recommend someone in your area. it’s been played a lot).Minor Adjustments As previously mentioned. Some music stores have repair departments. Likewise. and wood reacts to changes in the environment. sometimes even just changing strings will require you to make minor adjustments. you might want to search out garage sales in your area. and it will need minor adjustment(s) to get it back in top playing and sounding condition. proceed slowly and with caution. then the best thing to do is to take the guitar to a qualified repair person. and it’s money and time well-spent. or a combination of both factors. and if they don’t. particularly if it hasn’t been played in a while (or. are made of wood. and if it doesn’t. especially if you’re changing to a different gauge on an electric guitar.
this compensated bridge helps the guitar play more in tune. in any key. on one of my classical guitars. it’s possible to adjust the bridge in order to improve intonation. the guitar will sound pretty much “right” regardless of where on the instrument you play. This relationship or ratio is what makes a guitar play in tune up and down the neck. but isn’t very noticeable unless you know where to look. and it’s possible to adjust the intonation. and if the intonation is set correctly. in order to allow small adjustments of the string’s length. I prefer using the “rhythm” pickup (the one nearest the neck) for doing this. If a string is a little too long or too short. tune the string to pitch. Tunable bridges. turn the tuner on. the bridge is made such that the G (3rd) string is slightly longer than the other five. and the distance between them. let’s get started. the bridge may stick out in either direction under certain strings. just be aware that there is a relationship between the nut and the bridge. though.Setting intonation This section applies only to electric guitars that have tunable bridges. The strings are suspended over the guitar between the nut and the bridge. Most acoustic guitars. These days. This is more about physics than music. For example. look closely at the bridge. and you may notice that instead of being a straight piece of plastic. a lot of acoustic guitars have what is referred to as a compensated bridge. you will need the following: • • • Guitar tuner (read the “Tuners” section first) Guitar cable Mini screwdriver or hex keys (depending on what your guitar uses) OK.or steel-string. where the string rides. Connect the guitar to the tuner using the cable. Without diving in too deep. 32 . and cannot be moved. and in all musical keys. on the other hand. the guitar’s ability to play in tune will be compromised. Intonation is a term that refers to a guitar’s ability to play in tune. have movable parts at the saddle. but any should work. on electric guitars. and turn the volume control up full on your guitar. If you have an acoustic guitar. whether they are nylon. The position of the bridge is calculated and set at the time of manufacture. In order to do this adjustment. feature fixed bridges that are attached to the saddle. Play the 1st string. and using the tuner’s display as your guide.
and place the tip of your finger on the string directly over the fret. try again until you are able to “see” the sound. Again. or very close to the same. you have effectively split the length of the vibrating string in half. 2nd. and release the string at the 12th fret. you’ll be able to cop some harmonics along other locations on strings. Next. Check it out. They should be exactly in tune. this time actually playing the fretted string. Once you get the hang of it. so the string is physically vibrating between the bridge and the “node” you created by damping the string. “chime” sound. then play the 12th-fret harmonic. If not. Steve Howe. then the string length is OK. and 1st strings. If you’re really cool. and the display should react. That sound is called an octave harmonic. you’ll get a very good demonstration of the sound of harmonics. by the British rock band “Yes”. and then again between the node and the nut. playing harmonics at the 12th fret is a piece of cake. notice whether the tuner displays it in tune. it’s probably time to head to the luthier. If you do this. and that’s it. One of the most famous recorded examples of harmonics in pop music is the beginning of the song “Roundabout”. turn the saddle adjusting fitting (usually a small threaded rod with either a screw or hex head) a little so the saddle moves away from the neck. and 9th frets and see/hear what happens. Check the fretted note against the harmonic until they’re the same. and compare the two displays. adjust the saddle so it moves towards the nut. play the open string. and there are other places on the guitar you can produce harmonics on the guitar in this fashion. If the fretted note sounds lower (flat) than the harmonic. Yes’ guitarist. try doing it at the 5th. If the fretted note matches the harmonic.Now go to the 12th fret. essentially making the string longer. Keep in mind that these are pretty small adjustments. and you may even hear it. too (hint: try near the sound hole). it occurs because by damping the note at the 12th fret. If you listen to this tune. If you try and try and are unable to get the intonation adjusted. shortening the string. the tuner should register a sound. 7th. You do this for each string individually. If the fretted note sounds higher (sharp) than the harmonic. and check the tuner. 33 . 3rd. just damp it) strike the string where you would if you were playing. check and adjust until the fretted sound and harmonic match. a very smooth. and no adjustment is needed. plays the harmonics at the 12th fret on the 6th. Once you’re able to get a good-sounding harmonic. press down lightly at the 12th fret. apply gentle pressure (don’t bring the string into contact with the neck.
I recommend you leave these alone. the bridge may sit on fittings that ride two threaded rods. and that might take care of the problem. particularly the individual action adjustment. If you mess it up. Action is adjusted by raising or lowering the guitar’s bridge. usually shaped like a little wheel. can be turned so the bridge goes up or down. so save the time and frustration… 34 . but do try to adjust both sides of the bridge equally so the guitar feels and plays consistently across all strings. Ideally. If your guitar has a bridge that is anchored to the body at its opposite ends. making the instrument easier to play. These fittings. the action on a guitar is adjusted to the point where the strings are as low as possible. you’ll have to do that anyway. You really can’t “hurt” anything with this adjustment. have a luthier set it up. if it’s so low that you’re getting a lot of buzzing when you play. because you can really mess things up. If your guitar’s action appears a bit high (check with the two pennies). raise the bridge a bit. Unless you are really sure about what you’re doing. try lowering the bridge. If you’re experiencing problems with one of these kinds of guitars. but very little or no buzzing sound occurs when the guitar is played. Some electric guitars enable each string saddle to be adjusted individually for intonation and for height.Adjusting the action This section applies to electric guitars and to archtop guitars whose bridges allow them to be raised or lowered. As previously mentioned action is the term used to refer to the distance between the bottom of a guitar’s strings and the top of the frets.
while the opposite end is unattached. Most truss rods have a hexagonal nut on the end. When the guitar is tuned. The truss rod provides resistance by exerting an opposite amount tension on the neck. which is the distance between the bottom of the string(s) and the top of the fret(s). If the truss rod adjustment fitting is located at the peghead. but the groove it’s resting in provides resistance. here goes. so carefully find the hex key that fits. and you should see a fitting. if a guitar’s truss rod hasn’t been adjusted for a long time. Whatever you do. Make sure you don’t lose those tiny screws. right behind the nut. and adjustment isn’t a good idea. On some lower-end guitars. never force the truss rod. have a luthier look at your guitar. It is secured to the neck on one end. if you’re still game. 35 . Tightening or loosening the rod will increase or lessen the amount of relief. so take your time and don’t force it. Go slowly. and a little goes a long way. keeping the neck relatively straight. it may be either SAE (American) or metric. and has a washer and nut that can be loosened or tightened. the strings exert tension. Check to see where it is on your guitar. have a metal bar that helps the neck remain adjusted correctly despite the pressure exerted by the tension of the strings. repairs are often either prohibitively expensive. The truss rod adjustment fitting is located either at the peg head. If it breaks. Truss rod adjustment is probably the area where it’s very important to take your time. it might be a bit stubborn. on the neck. A little relief is needed to avoid string buzzing in the upper fretting positions. threaded. or at the base of the neck under the top. Relief is forward bowing of the neck resulting from string tension. so the neck stays straight. Most guitars built today. if it’s the latter. sometimes there’s a cover that you’ll need to remove. a job left to the pro. The truss rod is metal bar that rides in a groove in the neck. Tightening the nut on the truss rod the rod tries to become smaller. Likewise. including many nylon-string instruments. the truss rod may already be forced (or stuck). or downright impossible. or pull.Truss rod adjustment The last adjustment we’re going to discuss is the guitar’s truss rod. If you’re not sure. look through the sound hole towards the neck. I sometimes take a piece of tape & sink them onto it so they don’t roll around & fall. This type of adjustment might be tried out first on that garage sale guitar… OK.
Press down on the 6th string (low E) right behind the first fret with your left-hand index finger. Some guitars are designed to play with little relief. and check how much gap is between the string and the frets. These are guidelines. there’s “back bow” in the neck. reach with your right-hand index finger and press down around the 10th fret. sideways across your lap. and adjust the truss rod until you get the least amount of relief with no string buzz. while others play and feel better when there’s a bit of bow. Keeping your thumb in place. If your guitar plays and feels OK. and there may be buzzing noise when you play in the upper frets. If there’s too much relief. and produces more bow. That gap is the amount of relief. If there’s no relief. This can be removed by loosening the truss rod a bit (no more than a ½ turn) using the hex key. 36 . let sleeping truss rods lie.Put your guitar in playing position. Turning the truss rod adjuster clockwise tightens the rod and pulls the neck back. turning the adjuster counterclockwise loosens the rod. and use the tip of your right-hand thumb to press down behind the last fret on the same string. producing less bow. and check again. so tighten the rod a bit. the action may be too high. Check the relief on the 1st (high E) string next. not absolutes.
That’s quite a range. or required for high-volume or extremely accurate applications. a microphone. and the red light on that side will turn on. Anything more expensive than that is either a vanity purchase. so the signal can be perceived by the tuner. connect the guitar to the tuner using a cable. and possibly some blinking lights. in the case of cables. Tighten or loosen the string until you get the desired pitch in tune. I’m going to discuss some accessories and gadgets that we guitar players use. Tuners Devices which use electronics to “hear” a guitar string’s pitch and display whether the string is tuned to pitch are called tuners.Guitar accessories and gadgets In this section. downright necessary if you’re playing an electric guitar. your tuner’s display may vary. These include tuners. you can get a tuner with all the basic features. If the string is flat. input/output jacks. turn the unit on. or F#. In today’s world. and if the tuner has some sort of needle indicator. 37 . The above is a general description. To use. there is a wide range of guitar tuners to choose from. usually a red light to the left of center on the display will light up. and their accuracy. picks. or. and possibly additional adjustment features. Most tuners have the same basic features: on/off switch. usually two red ones and a green one. etc. The green light will light. that’s not a typo. $3500) dollars. the needle will be off-center towards the right. the indicator will display left of center. and you should see the display. such that the guitar is physically close to the tuner. there are tuners that clip on to the peghead that will cost between $50 and $60 or so. running in price from around ten dollars ($10) to thirty-five hundred (yes. put the tuner on your lap or on a table. For around $20. There will also be some sort of indicator or display of what the pitch of the note heard by the tuner is. If you want to tune an electric guitar. but in essence it will be the same thing. the display will indicate the pitch name. stands. for example. a display. If you want to splurge a bit. If you are set on something really special. Some or all of these are useful. Bb. and the needle will be in the middle of the display. then you can step up to the units in the $250 range. and pitch pipes. and the primary difference between them is in the quality of components. gig bags. If the string is sharp. and look at the display. If you have an acoustic guitar. Play an open (unfretted) string. cables. such as a repair shop. and make sure the volume controls on the guitar are turned up.
Experiment by tuning the 1st string to A440. If your tuner lets you change the reference. which is just a bit sharper than 440. Likewise with stand-alone tuners. then tuning the rest of the instrument “in reverse”. and essentially tuning with our eyes. including a really good one that cost me around $200. Guitar tuners are very handy. or times per second. that is. you’re all using the same tuner). I’m including this. the reference pitch standard is what is referred to as A440. learn to tune your instrument by ear. some guitars (acoustic/electric steel string models. if not. A lot of tuners will also sound an A440. and if that happens. even though your tuner indicates your guitar is in tune. say to A442.S. If you don’t. A final word about tuners. it’s panic time. the tuner will continue to function. in 1936 and universally adopted in 1939. your teacher or a guitar method book will explain the procedure. that is. rendering the tuner useless. we’re giving the responsibility of hearing to the machine. then tune the rest of the guitar from there.That’s pretty much it. “in tune”. Music is about sound. Learn to tune by ear. If you know how tune your instrument by ear. 38 . no worries. Using a standard pitch for tuning enables all instruments in an ensemble to play harmoniously. but if there’s noise present where you are. or you’ll wear out the battery. and I have about 5 or 6 of them. Just make sure you don’t leave the tuner on while you’re playing. The A440 standard was adopted by the U. vibrating at 440 Hz (hertz). Some tuners allow the reference pitch to be adjusted. when we use an electronic tuner. This is great practice for your ears! Another approach is to tune the 6th string E. it should display “A440” or similar on the display. turn them off when you’re finished. For the most part. you’ll be out of tune with other tuned instruments (unless. the pitch “A”. mostly) even have the tuner built into the guitar itself. Some tuners also turn off automatically if they don’t “hear” after a while. Learn to tune by ear. Only problem is. then use the tuner to check yourself. or. which is played on the 5th fret of the 1st (high E) on the guitar. Another thing to be wary of is changing the reference pitch standard on your tuner inadvertently. because I’ve had a couple of students change the reference. If you’re not careful. you may accidentally change the reference pitch of your tuner. These days. End of sermon. and they’ve experienced all sorts of trouble. I guarantee there will come a day you need to tune (probably in a hurry) and the batteries in your unit have died. be aware.
they’ll just end up in the trash. 39 . You also don’t need a cable much longer than 10 or 12 feet. or “jazz”). too. When you’re done playing. The longer the cable. the more mess it makes. your cable is your lifeline. and store it in your case. Any time you’re unplugging your cable. and someone will get a foot tangled in it. as most of those cables will invariably stop working. unless you have some sort of different setup. which is the standard. My recommendation is that you find a mid-priced cable (no more than $30). and disconnect it from the guitar or amp. Just ask for a “guitar cable”. longer cables create more clutter. enabling it to be heard. you should get a durable cable with a “lifetime guarantee” you’ll hopefully never have to use. If you put your guitar on a stand. and there are cables that claim to be instrument-specific (“bass”. you may prefer a cable with a 90-degree connector on one end. there are lots to pick from. and go with that. coil it up loosely. For certain applications. and that might drive the price up a few bucks. or roll heavy stuff (like drummers’ trap cases) over ‘em. Some manufacturers even market genre-specific cables (“rock”. In that price range. grab the connector itself. pulling it. It’s pretty easy to get “frazzled” when shopping for a guitar cable. Stay away from the bargain stuff. especially if your guitar’s input jack is combined with the strap pin (a common setup on archtops and acoustic/electric guitars). or somewhere safe. don’t pull on the cable. on the job. as it connects your guitar to the amplifier. Try not to let people step on your cable(s). etc. they’ll fix you up. Make sure you get a mono cable with ¼” jacks. Although the quality of guitar cables is quite consistent these days.Cables If you’re playing an electric guitar. and unless you’re handy with a soldering iron. and the more likely it is to snag itself on something in your house or practice room. the 90-degree cables won’t interfere. in price ranges from $5 all the way to more than $200 for the more “boutique” cables. unless you’re planning to the Bo Diddley thing (walk around in the audience while you’re playing). or “guitar”). which is highly unlikely.
you can even use a coin for a pick. the manufacturers began marketing picks in measured thicknesses. the Latin name for the humble guitar pick). colors. ZZ Top. and he changes them when he wants a different quality of sound. etc). and is very popular. usually measured in millimeters (mm). In a pinch. Jazz guitarist Jim Hall keeps picks of different thicknesses in his vest pocket. Billy Gibbons. as people themselves! Size-wise. 40 . If you think the selection of guitars. go on the Internet to one of the online guitar retailers. picks come in a stunning array of vibrant colors and are made from a wide variety of materials. has been known to use a quarter once in a while to get more “bite” in his sound Picks range in price from “free” (some music stores have big jars with picks in them for customers to grab a few). thicknesses. and even materials like stone. and yes. or “moto”. there are all sorts of thicknesses of picks. different formulations of plastic. and cables available these days is varied. If you have some time to while away. Picks come in almost as many sizes. and it’s really satisfying to find a pick whose size/shape/material is right for you. black. This plastic is affectionately referred to as “mother of toilet seat”. medium. thickness. it’s downright mind-boggling. Finding the right pick can be a lot of fun.Picks Next up are picks. You can also find “moto” on pick guards. Color. The material. Since that was easy enough. and heavy. although this work better for playing single notes than for strumming. These days. plectra (plural of plectrum. including. felt. picks range from small (1” x ¾”) teardrop-shaped “jazz” picks. to huge triangle-shaped picks that measure as much as 3” on each side. One of the better-known is a faux tortoise-shell/mother-of-pearl celluloid plastic that comes in different colors (blue. and everything else in between. exotic woods. as the old song goes. making things really confusing. metal. to a 14k gold pick that’ll set you back almost $200 (you don’t want to leave that one behind at your bar gig…). there are all sorts of other materials involved. tuners. the great guitarist for that “little ol’ band from Texas”. picks came in three gauges/thicknesses: thin. Although plastic is the predominant material used for making picks.and material-wise. and to some extent the shape of the pick you use will have a direct effect on the quality of sound you get out of your guitar. to be very highbrow. you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. and as inserts on guitar knobs and some hardware. shapes. silver. When I started playing guitar (shortly after the Iron Age). The pick is one of the most important (and overlooked) parts of guitar playing. red. and have a look at what they offer. or.
The Heavy pick will give you plenty of attack. You’ll get less resistance against the strings. and now I don’t have to go through all that hassle any more. and the like. you’ll be able to strum nicely. and ask them for an assortment of picks in Thin. My friend who owned a now-closed music store used to give me these teeny zipclose plastic bags that were pretty cool. they keep the picks together. Gig bags come in a wide variety of styles. and can get a good driving sound. you’ll want a cool box to store them. The medium-sized teardrop shape is a good one to start with. I use those tins from candies and mints. and fit in cases and gig bags easily. The Medium gauge is a nice compromise. If you’re just starting out. Thin picks are really good for rhythmic strumming. and get a nice sound when playing single notes or melodies. That’s how much I was “attached” to my picks. but they can get pretty expensive. a teacher I was taking some lessons with recommended I try a certain brand/model of pick. and you’re likely to crack one occasionally. The cheaper ones are basically “dust covers”. Once you have a bunch of picks. 41 . and are easier to store on the job. Luckily. Hard cases are also a good idea.Years ago. & buy a few picks to try. Be ready to spend about $5 or even less. since they weigh less than a hard case. Most gig bags also have pockets which are handy for holding music. the hardware on those is often the first thing to detach from the body of the case. go to your music store. Medium. about five years ago. Check to see that the zippers move freely. rendering it useless. my recommendation is to go to your local music store. Some you’ll really dig. Once or twice a year (or more often if it’s convenient). then I’d buy bigger ones made out of the same material/thickness as my originals. but it’s fun. but the manufacturer stopped making them. Finding “your” pick can be a fun and enlightening experience. too. Gig bags If budget allows. and price ranges. picks. and you’ll be surprised at how much difference there is between picks from different manufacturers that are shaped the same. while others just won’t cut it for you. although I thought it was worth it. to store the guitar when it’s not being played. also consider buying a soft nylon case or “gig bag”. and always use a gig bag. but you may not like the way it feels when you’re strumming chords. For a long time. and relatively inexpensive. Try each thickness out. and reshape the bigger ones to the contour of my originals with a file. and notice the difference in each one. but these wear out. while those that start at around $30 have padding that will protect your guitar from minor bangs. and are supposedly of the same gauge. I thought I’d found “my” pick. I kept a few original picks as blanks. so I switched. Stay away from the “chipboard” or cardboard cases. and Heavy gauges. I play quite a bit professionally. and I really liked it.
but it’s probably better to get them at your local music store so the shipping doesn’t kill you. There are lots of varieties of guitar stands. 42 . Pitch pipes The last guitar accessory I want to mention are (is?) the lowly pitch pipes.Stands You may also want to consider buying a stand for your guitar. in order to produce a clear tone you can use to tune. Pitch pipes are relatively cheap. since the shipping is likely to be free. etc) is that they’ll help you train your ear to hear the tones when you tune. without leaning it against furniture. To get a reference pitch. It’s a good idea to put a rag or t-shirt between any rubber parts on the stand that come into contact with your guitar. or put them in your back pocket. if you buy your guitar over the Internet. make sure you opt for a guitar stand that is not only portable or folds up. Better yet. where it’s likely to fall over. don’t let that happen to you. You don’t want to blast air into the thing. This knowledge is hugely powerful. Another thing to keep in mind is that if your stand has rubber parts. The biggest advantage of using pitch pipes (besides the fact they don’t need batteries. and voilá. and the most important factor is stability. If the guitar itself doesn’t get much respect. forget. pitch pipes are the electronic tuner’s ugly step-cousin. and they top out around $20. I’ve had the misfortune of having a $1400 classical guitar tip over and incur serious scratches from using a crummy stand. so you can keep it handy. but valuable. and sit down. I think people will think others will make fun of them if they use the pipes instead of the tuner. If portability is a factor. etc. add the pitch pipes. Pitch pipes are like a 6-note harmonica. trust me. simply blow into the pipe labeled with the string name/note. no switches. investment in your quest for musical knowledge. Pitch pipes are a cheap. just a nice steady puff. these may interact with the material used to finish your guitar in a negative way. you’ll hear that note. too. with each note corresponding to the guitar’s open strings. essentially no moving parts. and hold your guitar securely in place. I’ve seen them on the Internet for as little as 3 bucks. or something. No batteries. You want a stand that will sit squarely on the floor. unless you step on ‘em. but that it holds your guitar securely when it’s set up. and nothing to break.
Don’t get these. make sure you get pitch pipes that are expressly for tuning the guitar. There are pitch pipes for other stringed instruments (violin/viola/cello/ukulele. Guitar pipes will only have 6 reeds to blow into. 43 . which are used by singers and choir directors (chromatic pitch pipes are usually round).Last thing I wanted to mention about pitch pipes. and chromatic pitch pipes. is that you be sure to get ones that are specifically for guitar. and these are usually arrayed 3 to a side. etc).
com.Resources Here are some resources that may come in handy.com/forums/index. 44 . You can email him at gcmqr@earthlink. he has done repairs and custom work for everybody from the likes of Larry Carlton all the way down to yours truly. If you mention my name. CA.music. Web site locations and other specifications are subject to change without notice.juststrings.com www.com www. Online music retailers Musician’s Friend: Zzounds: Sam Ash: Just Strings: Strings and beyond: www.acousticguitarforum. Carruthers’ shop does every kind of guitar work. John has done great work for me as well.com www. John Carruthers is also another well-known luthier and guitar builder.vt.net. They are provided as a courtesy. You can get more information at www. I don’t receive any courtesy or endorsement(s) from them.php Classical guitar page: http://www. Gil is recognized as one of the best in the business.samash.nl/ Luthier/repairs My long-time luthier/tech is Gil Chavez.com www. located in Venice. Gil will take 15% off the price of the job.zzounds.edu/musicdictionary/ Acoustic guitar forum: www.stringsandbeyond.carruthersguitars. I wholeheartedly recommend you contact Gil if you’re anywhere in Southern California and need work on your guitar. In business for more than 40 years.musiciansfriend.com Other good sources of information Interactive music dictionary (great fun): www. and they service amps as well.classicalguitar.
com WD Music: www.com Gigmate: www.com AllParts: www.warmoth.com Guitar Parts USA www. Some of these sites sell instruments.stewmac. as well as instructional videos on such subjects as guitar repair.com Warmoth: www.com 45 .wdmusic.Specialty tools. refinishing. here are a few places on the Internet that specialize in tools and components for acoustic and electric guitars. etc.guitarpartsusa. Stewart MacDonald: www.gigmate.allparts. parts If you really insist on getting into this stuff.
Action - Used to describe the distance between the bottom of a string and the top of its corresponding fret. Ideal action allows playing with minimal fretting pressure and no buzzing. Archtop - An instrument with a curved or carved top. Brace/braces – Pieces of wood glued to the top and back of guitars on the inside to provide support and structural strength. Bridge - Bridges vary in shape and style but their primary purpose is to transfer the strings’ vibration to the top of the instrument. On electric guitars, the bridge and saddles are often incorporated into one component. Bridge Pin(s) – Primarily used on flat top guitars, a tapered and grooved device that presses into the bridge and holds the strings in place. Compensated saddle – Subtle increase or shortening of the string length at the saddle in order to enable a guitar to play more in tune. Cutaway – A piece of the guitar’s body that has been removed to allow easier access to the upper frets. With a Florentine style, the tip of the cutaway comes to a sharp point; with a Venetian style, the tip of the cutaway is rounded. Some electric guitars and even a few archtops have double cutaways, i.e, cutaways on both sides of the body at the neck. Ferrule: Small rounded metal fitting connected to the end of electric guitar strings. It anchors the string against a tailpiece or bridge pins. Fingerboard/(Fretboard) - The side of the neck that contains the frets. Fret(s) - Metal wire(s) inserted at precise intervals along the fingerboard. Each interval provides a different pitch when the player presses down on the string(s). Fretting: The act of pressing a string directly behind a fret in order to produce a desired tone or pitch(es). Kerfing – Grooved wood strip glued around the outer edges inside the instrument between the top and sides, and between the back and sides. Laminate(d) - Several thin pieces of wood glued in layers to form one thicker piece. Often used in building lower-priced instruments. Syn: plywood.
Transfers the strings’ vibration to the bridge. A pick’s thickness and material has a very direct influence on the sound produced by its use. wood. Helps stiffen the neck and prevent bowing caused by string tension. thicknesses. Whammy bar: See “Tremolo bar”. under the fingerboard.Small wheels used to raise or lower the action on some bridges. Peghead . Pickguard . Usually made of some variety of plastic. creating sonic effects.A decorative piece of wood. sizes. sound hole. 47 . and even felt. Picks come in a myriad of materials. Purfling .Where the tuners are mounted.Nut – A grooved part. Tailpiece – A bar (usually metal) behind the bridge that anchors the strings on certain types of guitars. shell.A thin covering glued or mounted to the top of a guitar to protect the top from scratching when playing.A decorative strip or inlay found around a guitar’s sound hole. usually made out of plastic. hand-held device used to pluck or strum a guitar’s strings. shapes. Thumbwheels . Also known as a “whammy bar”. glued to the top behind the sound hole. stone. It suspends the strings above the instrument at the peghead. Truss Rod – An adjustable metal bar that runs through the center of a guitar’s neck. Tuners/tuning machines: Devices that use a worm gear mechanism to vary the tension on strings in order to tighten or loosen them to desired pitch. They can be made of plastic. Possibly a single solid piece or many thin pieces laminated in complex and creative designs. Rosette . Pick: A small. or other material located around the edge of the body. Can be colored or transparent. and even colors. Tremolo bar: A device on some electric guitars that allows the player to increase/decrease tension on the strings by moving a lever.The upward bow or bend found in a guitar’s neck that allows the strings to vibrate freely without touching the frets. Relief . located at the fingerboard’s peghead end. Saddle – Acoustic guitar part. and/or peghead. either with pick or fingers. usually made of wood. metal.
Each interval provides a different pitch when the player presses down on the string(s). Ideal action allows playing with minimal fretting pressure and no buzzing. Bridge . On electric guitars. Compensated saddle – Subtle increase or shortening of the string length at the saddle in order to enable a guitar to play more in tune. Ferrule: Small rounded metal fitting connected to the end of electric guitar strings.Used to describe the distance between the bottom of a string and the top of its corresponding fret. Brace/braces – Pieces of wood glued to the top and back of guitars on the inside to provide support and structural strength. 48 . Laminate(d) . Fretting: The act of pressing a string directly behind a fret in order to produce a desired tone or pitch(es). the bridge and saddles are often incorporated into one component. Fret(s) . Archtop .Glossary Action .An instrument with a curved or carved top.e. and between the back and sides.Metal wire(s) inserted at precise intervals along the fingerboard. With a Florentine style. cutaways on both sides of the body at the neck. the tip of the cutaway comes to a sharp point. Syn: plywood.Bridges vary in shape and style but their primary purpose is to transfer the strings’ vibration to the top of the instrument. with a Venetian style. Cutaway – A piece of the guitar’s body that has been removed to allow easier access to the upper frets. Some electric guitars and even a few archtops have double cutaways. Bridge Pin(s) – Primarily used on flat top guitars.Several thin pieces of wood glued in layers to form one thicker piece. the tip of the cutaway is rounded. Fingerboard/(Fretboard) .The side of the neck that contains the frets. a tapered and grooved device that presses into the bridge and holds the strings in place. i. Kerfing – Grooved wood strip glued around the outer edges inside the instrument between the top and sides. It anchors the string against a tailpiece or bridge pins. Often used in building lower-priced instruments.
Pick: A small.The upward bow or bend found in a guitar’s neck that allows the strings to vibrate freely without touching the frets. and even colors. and even felt. hand-held device used to pluck or strum a guitar’s strings. Also known as a “whammy bar”. under the fingerboard. Possibly a single solid piece or many thin pieces laminated in complex and creative designs. metal. shell. Tremolo bar: A device on some electric guitars that allows the player to increase/decrease tension on the strings by moving a lever. A pick’s thickness and material has a very direct influence on the sound produced by its use. Pickguard . They can be made of plastic. shapes. sizes. Thumbwheels . 49 . glued to the top behind the sound hole.A decorative piece of wood. Peghead . creating sonic effects. Usually made of some variety of plastic. or other material located around the edge of the body. Truss Rod – An adjustable metal bar that runs through the center of a guitar’s neck. Tuners/tuning machines: Devices that use a worm gear mechanism to vary the tension on strings in order to tighten or loosen them to desired pitch.A thin covering glued or mounted to the top of a guitar to protect the top from scratching when playing. Whammy bar: See “Tremolo bar”.A decorative strip or inlay found around a guitar’s sound hole. stone. Rosette . either with pick or fingers. Picks come in a myriad of materials. wood. Tailpiece – A bar (usually metal) behind the bridge that anchors the strings on certain types of guitars. thicknesses. sound hole. Saddle – Acoustic guitar part. Transfers the strings’ vibration to the bridge.Nut – A grooved part.Where the tuners are mounted. It suspends the strings above the instrument at the peghead. located at the fingerboard’s peghead end.Small wheels used to raise or lower the action on some bridges. Can be colored or transparent. and/or peghead. Purfling . usually made out of plastic. Relief . Helps stiffen the neck and prevent bowing caused by string tension. usually made of wood.
About the Author
Inspired by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton, Juan Vega picked up a guitar at age 14, and began teaching himself to play. He received his bachelor’s degree in music from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, and a master of music degree in commercial music performance at Cal State University, Los Angeles, where he is adjunct faculty in the Music Department. Juan is also a guitar instructor for Los Angeles City College Community Services, and runs his teaching studio. As a performer, Juan Vega has worked in many venues large and small, as leader and sideman, in ensembles ranging from big-bands to solo jazz and classical guitar performances. He also translated Joel Peña’s book, Fun With Cuban Tres (Mel Bay) into English from the original Spanish. Juan lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two kids, two rabbits, and three cats, where he maintains a busy schedule as a working musician and educator.
Photo: Cisco Calderon
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