Guitar repair – Shims vis-a-vis action & sound!

Recently, I got to work on a GCE guitar. Now, the brand was new to me and so I studied it. It seemed another one of those inexpensive China-made guitars in the price range of Rs 8 – 10K but its construction was not too bad – except for the bridgeplate. More on that later.

Whatever else, it wasn’t the cleanest guitar ever!

and the way strings had been wound around the tuning post, I doubt if it played very correctly.


NOTE: Ladies, gentlemen, we need just 2.5 to 3 turns on the wound strings and 5 to 6 turns on the unwound ones. Yes, the string maker has been most gracious in supplying extra long strings, but you don’t have to repay his largess by winding the entire length on to the tuning post, or, forming modern art with the strings on the headstock! Keep the winds clean and one underneath the other, and that is all there is to it.


Besides, I noticed these

A beautiful (read different) rosette and letters that looked like Mandarin to me. Nothing wrong with making a thing your own!

The complaint of the owner was its high action and because the plastic saddle was getting chewed up under string tension (particularly ‘e’ and ‘G’ strings),

he wished to have it replaced with bone.

I looked to see if the bridge was lifting but it was not. There was a belly though, which told me that the bridgeplate wasn’t the right type or the right size, and because of that bellying the action had risen uncomfortably.

My question to him was: ‘Why go for half the pleasure when you can have it all?’

Answering his puzzled look I explained that having just the saddle replaced is just half the fun. The complete effect will be apparent when both the nut and the saddle are replaced, for those are the only two points that the strings touch on the guitar, forming the effective playing length.

He got the logic but only after he had talked to the friend who referred him to me! I did convey to him a fact that in all my years of working, I have never had a patron who was not impressed with the sound of a bone saddle and nut.

And after this, you know the drill: unstring,  pull saddle out…wait…! What is that?

A shim!


ANOTHER NOTE: Shims are a good way of raising the height of a saddle, should you require to do so. However, they do take away from the purity of sound – unless, if it’s a bone saddle, you shim it up with bone, a plastic saddle with plastic, and so on and so forth.


Ah, well! The routine continued: measurements (minus the shim), grinding, sanding, filing till everything was as was supposed to be.

Before I threw on the strings, I did clean up the fretboard properly, burnished the fretwires, and the flaky white deposits disappeared. Here is the before and after

And to leave you with the last photographs

When the owner came to pick up the guitar, he was impressed by the sound of it.

I did ask him if he was studying Mandarin, and he told me that it was, in fact, Korean – all the big words – music, love, freedom, happiness, fame, hope…and I think he rattled off a few more.


Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me:

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