A six-month old acoustic instrument is equivalent to a day-old infant in life-span comparisons. If that infant develops a problem, it is very troublesome, and indeed, heart-breaking.
This Yamaha APX600 came to me a while back
with an issue of high action. Learning that it was just six months old (if I remember correctly), and checking the instrument, I was surprised. One doesn’t expect to see this in a 6-month-old instrument.
I have said this before but I will say it again for the sake of those who missed it the last time around. All acoustic instruments, irrespective of type, brand, price range, etc, will experience two things as they age: a) the rise of the belly behind the bridge area due to the string tension, and, b) a perceptible increase in action as string tension plays havoc with the neck angle. When you buy an acoustic instrument, buy it with this knowledge that you’re going to face these issues, though the degree to which each instrument experiences that change may vary. There’s just no getting around the issue.
What can be done to delay the onset of these issues? Since string tension seems to be the culprit in both situations, don’t put on any strings!! Simple!! But then without the strings you won’t get very good sound, right?
Jokes aside, use the string gauge prescribed for that instrument.
Prescribed? If you buy a guitar in that Rs-15,000 range, you will probably get an ‘owner’s manual/a brochure’ which will detail materials used in the instrument, how to maintain it, and the string gauge that the manufacturer prescribes for it. Manufacturers are able to do this because they know the size of bracing, type of bridgeplate used, the type of wood used for the top and the neck…
Keeping all those factors in mind, the manufacturer prescribes a string gauge, and many times, what type of player the instrument is suited for.
If you don’t find a brochure along with your new instrument, chances are that if you look up the company on the internet and search for your instrument, all these details would be provided there.
You like 10s, so you put 10s on your guitar: it doesn’t quite work like that! If your instrument is built to handle 12s, and if you put 10s on it, you won’t get the same response from the instrument as you may have heard another player extract from another instrument of exactly the same model. If 10s are prescribed and you go putting 12s on it, you would be playing havoc with the instrument’s anatomy!
Having said that it is also true that you can go up one gauge and come down one gauge without any problem. So, if 12s are prescribed and you put on 13s or 11s, no problemo!
Back to the job at hand, I checked the guitar and it had 11s on (Yamaha prescribes 12s for APX600). Six months old and with the right string gauge, and an instrument which was played all the while, one has only the construction to frown at. Shame on you, Yamaha!
But still the instrument had to be corrected.
There was no extra relief in the neck but still the action was a lot more than desired
So, all that could be done was shave down the saddle.
But to get the desired action, so much saddle would have to be shaved that very little would be protruding outside its slot in the bridge.
I had initially suggested to the owner that we put in a bone saddle and bone nut. Now, after measuring things, I called him up to see if he still wanted to put in bone elements. He answered in the affirmative and I proceeded with the job.
With that low saddle, there would be no break angle for the strings coming over it. So, I decided to cut string slots in the bridge that would run almost to the saddle.
Since the owner wanted to replace the strings with 11s, I used the old strings to dial things in. Here’s the instrument with the old plastic saddle shaved down and the old strings.
Then, the strings were taken off and the bridgepins were stored in the order they came out of their holes (always a good idea).
With the strings off, the fretboard was cleaned and oiled, as was the bridge, and the fretwires were given a nice rub. The body was buffed out with special attention being paid to the headstock and the hardware on it.
Here’s a look at what the bone nut looked like
When all seemed well, a new bone saddle was shaved to almost a third of its size and installed.
The owner’s choice of strings was this
Here’s what this baby looked like, all set to go home.