Remember the sound of your guitar when you first brought it home. Over time, changing geometries on that guitar due to string tension, fluctuating weather conditions, and some bad habits cause that sound to disappear.
Now that it has lost its mojo, you would be forgiven to believe that your guitar is past its prime and it is time to find a replacement.
WAIT! Is there something you can do, or not do, to get your old guitar’s mojo back? There most certainly is!
The following list has been compiled in order of priority.
- Get a good set-up
You need a set-up as soon as you buy a new guitar, and then, at least one every year from then on.
A good set-up sets up the instrument to your playing style. You may be able to play a new guitar to a certain degree of ease, but it would be nothing as compared to one that is set up just for you. Think of the process as how a factory-made shirt is stitched to general specifications and looks okay on you. Then you get one tailor-made to your specifications. How good would that one look in comparison!
After you get an initial set-up, why do you need consequent annual set-ups? If you live in a part of the world which sees all kinds of weather, like we do here in Lucknow and Uttar Pradesh (India), you may actually be served well if you get two set-ups a year!
A clear indication that it is time to get a set-up is if your action rises or falls dramatically in a short period of time. In fact, it is a good idea to have a spare set of a nut and saddle in your guitar case – one which you can swap as and when the weather demands it.
The Lucknow Guitar Garage specialises in set-ups. Come and experience a professional set-up that is suited to YOUR style of playing. Come with a friend or acquaintance who has a different playing style and see how that set-up changes for him/her.
- Get a bone saddle and nut
Almost as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, manufacturers will route for plastic, Tusq, micarta, Nu-bone – all artificial, man-made – material for saddle and nut. Why? It costs less! Exception to the rule may be instruments costing Rs 18-20K ($200 – $220) and above.
When the guitar is new and everything is in shape, its projection even with a plastic saddle and nut may be good. Once things start going out of whack, you need bone elements to breathe fresh life into the instrument. Why bone? Because it is the single natural densest and affordable thing known to man. There are other denser, naturally occurring things (like ivory) which few can afford.
Being dense and durable, bone elements will naturally accentuate whatever properties your guitar possesses. However, there is a slight leaning of the bone towards the bright side. So, if your guitar is normally bright-sounding, it will get brighter, and if your guitar has an excellent bass response, you will discover that it will get pronounced WITH some degree of brightness being lent to the tone.
At the Lucknow Guitar Garage, customers are always encouraged to try out bone elements. Of all the customers who took the advice, never has one returned to say that the change in volume and quality of sound is not appreciable!
- Get yourself new strings
One cannot emphasise enough the power of new strings. Most recording artistes will change their strings just before a recording because nothing beats the bell-like clarity that new strings provide. Yes, new strings need to be ‘stretched out’ for them to stay in tune, but that is easy.
When to change strings? That is a very subjective question and depends upon how long you play each day. The more you play, the earlier you need to change strings – extra long life, treated, with moon dust – whatever they say on the label.
Let me give you a simple thumb rule that I follow: ten hours of practise daily means new strings should be put on in three weeks; eight hours of practise, 1 month; six hours, five weeks; four hours, six weeks; two hours, seven weeks; 30 minutes daily, eight weeks; 15 minutes daily, 10 weeks; off and on, 12 weeks.
- Get cleaning that guitar
One thing that I regularly see (with my customers at least) is that out of, say, 10 customers, only 1.5 take the time and the effort to properly clean the guitar. Yes, you can clean it everyday but that is just the top you’re dusting. Remember a deposit of any kind on your guitar hampers the sound it can create.
The headstock, the fretboard, the area between the soundhole and bridge that falls under the string, the bridge…when and how do you clean those? The ideal time to clean these areas is when you are changing strings. Take off the old strings and first clean with a dry but soft cloth (preferably an old cotton t-shirt or a banyan). If you find a stubborn deposit, you can always wet a portion of the cloth and have a go with the wet cloth. However, do dry off the area that you wet.
You’ll be surprised at what a difference a deep-clean can make.
- Get those strings loose
Decidedly, not all of us play for 10 hours daily. Most of us (including me) skip days in between before we pick up the guitar. Sometimes, it is after a few months that we remember that we had stood up a guitar in some corner, somewhere! This is when the most damage to your guitar takes place.
With almost 80kg of force being exerted by string tension and nothing to counter it, the geometry of your guitar is bound to change. Each episode of the guitar left standing tuned to pitch alters your guitar a little more. When you keep playing the instrument, the movement of the top somehow counters and distributes the force of the strings, which otherwise act only in one direction – trying to fold the guitar in two.
You wish to gift life to your guitar, see that you loosen the strings – not completely but tuned down a step or two – each time you know that you will not be playing the guitar for three weeks or more.
At the Lucknow Guitar Garage I have seen umpteen instruments that were left standing with strings tuned. Most I was able to resurrect but there were some which were beyond salvaging. Of course, the lockdowns during the pandemic played a huge part. But now that we are past that do take care of your guitars.
For all the help that you need, there is Lucknow Guitar Garage!