How to Determine when Your Guitar Needs Adjustments

Guitar Adjustments: Why they are Sometimes Necessary

How to Determine when Your Guitar Needs Adjustments

No matter what guitar you own or how frequently or infrequently you play it, almost every guitar will, at some point, need adjustments. These may be minor or major, but the need will happen sooner or later. The four main causes for the need of adjustment are: temperature, humidity, string tension and how aggressive your playing may be.

In this article, we will define these factors in greater detail. Once you recognize that adjustments are needed, some of them can be done at home, while some require professional help. Don’t worry, these adjustments are a normal part of guitar playing – so educate yourself and embrace them as part of the experience!

Temperature and Humidity

The vast majority of guitars made and sold throughout the word are made of natural woods. Because it is an organic material, wood is affected by different environments and conditions. Age is also a factor in many guitars, particularly those made from laminate (thin sheets of wood glued together). Over time, wood will expand and contract in different temperature and humidity situations, so adjustments become necessary.

The important thing to remember is to protect your instrument as best as you can from extreme humidity and temperature. Exposure to extremes can cause cracks in the finish of your guitar. It can also cause the neck and/or body to warp, making the guitar hard or impossible to play. These extremes cannot be fixed with simple adjustments. Make sure your guitar is stored in a cool dry place, consider an in-case humidifier, and don’t subject your axe to sudden extreme temperature changes.

String Tension

Your guitar strings are under a lot of tension when they are properly tuned. Under normal circumstances, your guitar will operate just fine in this fashion for years. But if a neck gets bent or warped, it can cause permanent pitch and clarity problems.

Some guitarists deliberately lower or raise the string tension to get a different pitch for artistic reasons. This can be done, but it is not recommended long term. Lowering the string tension should be done professionally. Even so, you may not have the tonal quality you want. Likewise, raising the string tension too high can cause damage to your guitar’s neck. It’s best to stick to the tensions that your guitar was built to withstand.

Aggressive Playing

If you are a heavy strummer rather than a light picker, you will probably lose your tone more quickly and need more frequent adjustments. That doesn’t mean you have to rein it in, however; if you have a decent guitar, it will take the abuse. Still, you will need the occasional adjustment when the sound quality devolves.

Adjusting Your Acoustic or Electric Guitar

Generally, well-made electric guitars are easy to adjust. They not only have an adjustable truss rod, they also have adjustable bridge saddles. Most electric guitars have an adjustable bridge also. Bone or plastic nuts have to be filed to lower the string slots. If the strings need to be raised at the nut, then it may require the nut to be replaced.

Well-made full-size acoustic guitars also have an adjustable truss rod. Nut adjustments are very similar to the electric guitar. Unlike the electric guitar, the bridge saddle is not adjustable.

The saddle on an acoustic guitar is adjusted somewhat like a nut in that it has to be filed and shaped. However, it has no string slots. Bone or plastic saddles can be filed from underneath to lower the strings at the bridge. If the strings need to be raised at the bridge, it can be replaced with a taller saddle shaped to fit.

If all of this sounds a little out of your league, don’t worry. Most adjustments are quick and easy and will not cost you much at your local music store. If you want to learn how to do it yourself, help is never far away. Ask your guitar instructor or a more experienced player to show you the ropes. There are also a myriad of instructional books and videos that you may find both at your local music store and on the web.