5 Skills Every Frugal Guitarist Must Know

Saturday, May 31, 2008| by Will Chen

In many cases, the difference between an expensive and an affordable guitar is the attention to detail spent setting up the instrument for peak performance. More often than not, budget axes need a little TLC for them to reach their full potential. Also, as guitars age, there is routine maintenance which should be performed. By learning and applying some fairly basic skills, you can save a bunch of money by keeping your axe out of the shop.

    1. Changing Strings and Tuning Up - While this may seem rather amateur, I'm amazed at how often I hear guitarists playing out of tune or see super sloppy restring work. There is no one absolute way to string a guitar. However, being neat and ensuring the windings are tight against the tuning post when restringing will allow your guitar to stay in tune more consistently.

      Time required: 10 - 20 minutes
      Amount you save by doing it yourself: $10 - $15


    1. Basic Setup - A setup typically involves setting the action and intonation of your guitar. Action is the height of your strings from the fretboard and is controlled at the bridge. If your action is too low, you may encounter a lot of string buzz and perhaps even some notes fretting out (especially if you haven't leveled your frets). If too high, the guitar becomes difficult to play. A guitar which is not intonated properly will sound out of tune when playing notes up and down the neck. Nothing screams "amateur" like an out of tune guitar. Intonation is controlled by the distance of the bridge from the nut.

      Time required: 15 - 45 minutes
      Amount you save by doing it yourself: $30 - $70


    1. Fret Dressing - Fret dressing involves leveling, recrowning, and filling off any sharp hang over. You may have to level frets due to a high fret or a fret becoming unseated for some reason. Additionally, as frets wear, they will require a level and recrown to avoid excessive string buzz. While sharp frets are fairly prevalent on budget guitars from the factory due to oversight and/or sloppy workmanship, it can also occur due to weather changes and wood shrinkage. I use the Dan Erlwine "No Fancy Tools" method which uses items available at almost any hardware store.

      Time required: 45 - 90 minutes
      Amount you save by doing it yourself: $70 - $100 (usually includes the price of setup)


    1. Neck relief - While neck relief has an impact on action, it should not be used to set action. The amount of neck relief, controlled by the truss rod, may need to be adjusted due to personal taste, specifically with players who use a heavy picking hand. When adjusting your neck, always remember that less is more and proceed with great caution, as exerting excessive pressure may cause damage to your neck. Always remember the first step in adjusting your relief is to measure your current relief.

      Time required: 5 - 10 minute intervals
      Amount you save by doing it yourself: $5 - $20


  1. Solder - Sooner or later, you either want to upgrade or need to fix and electronic component. Soldering is extremely easy and can save you a bundle in the long run.

    Time required: 30+ minutes
    Amount you save by doing it yourself: $50+
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