Tech Tips & FAQ's
Here's a bunch of useful and important information about keeping you and your instrument happy. If anybody has any other questions, please email me and I'll add it to the list of questions to hopefully help other people too. Check back often for more useful stuff.
Does humidity "Really" make that much of a difference?
How dry is too dry?
Well the short answer is...YES!! It makes all the difference in the world. The sides of your guitar were bent...with humidity. If you go to the lumber yard, how much wood is perfectly straight? Not much. Wood "wants" to bend and twist. Wood is like a sponge, it soaks up humidity and swells, and shrinks when it dries out.
Here in New Brunswick, we are so far north that it's impossible to keep your guitar happy in the winter without some help. The easiest way to remember is this... If it's cold enough outside that you need to turn on your heaters, the ambient air is physically incapable of holding enough moisture to keep a guitar in playable condition.
During the heating season, your guitar should live in a hardshell case, 24-7, with a humidifier. NOT a gig bag... they don't hold the moisture inside. Just putting it in the case is NOT enough. If you don't use a humidifier the air inside the case is just as dry as the rest of the house.
And finally, ANY damage done to a guitar because of dryness, is NEVER covered under any manufacturers warranty. Yes, it's true that you didn't "Mean" to do it, but it's not a manufacturing defect. These damages are very expensive to repair, and are totally preventable. A little bit of water, can save you a whole lot of money.
And the bizarre thing is that the MORE expensive the guitar....the MORE you need to baby it. Cheap guitars are made of plywood....with so many layers of glue and wood that they are really tough and humidity/dryness barely affects them at all. With an expensive guitar, the things that make the guitar sound so good, are the exact same things that make it fragile. I've seen a brand new $1500 guitar require almost $1000 worth of repairs (Bridge Replacement/9 Splits in the top/3 loose internal bracings/9 loose frets/ and back lifting off) in ONLY 2 1/2 months because of an extremely dry house. And NONE of it was covered under warranty. And a little bit of water could have saved the guitar.
Here is a little write up I got from Taylor Guitars that explains quite well what can happen.
TRACKING THE PROGRESSIVE EFFECTS OF
LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY ON YOUR GUITAR
45% -55% Relative Humidity (RH)
Your guitar is in the same good condition as when it left the manufacturer.
Sharp frets might appear, as the fretboard slightly shrinks from the loss of
Your guitar now has sharp, uncomfortable frets. Some fret filing is necessary.
Your solid acoustic top begins to shrink. No cracking is apparent, but the neck needs some adjustment and the action begins to lower.
You might or might not see the first crack appear on your solid top, depending on a lot of factors. But chances are good that the guitar has lost an ounce of water, and the top has shrunk almost 1/8-inch in width. This is what wood does. Because it is glued to the sides and braces, the tension on the top increases as it loses moisture
and it somehow has to relieve that tension. Some tops might crack, others might not. In any case, guitars that have been exposed long enough will be in embarrassingly bad playing condition. They definitely are not in the condition intended by the manufacturer and should be restored.
By now, the problems with your guitar are getting pretty obvious. For one thing, it might require some kind of fret dressing. You might be spending time on the phone asking the guitar manufacturer or your dealer how to remedy the situation. You might mistakenly believe that the problem is with that one guitar, or even that one
brand of guitar — that, in other words, it is an isolated problem. It is not. If
the “problem” guitar has cracked, your other solid-wood guitars have sunken
tops that are on the verge of cracking. Meanwhile, you probably are upset with the manufacturer and the dealer.
You guitar is cracking, that’s all there is to it. You’re becoming frustrated, and
you wonder why manufacturers can’t “get it together.” You don’t remember this happening in past winters that seemed just as cold. It’s possible that
the humidity during previous winters hovered around 29% — just enough to
get by. If you’re not accurately measuring your humidity with good gauges, you can’t say.
Forget it. There’s no hope of maintaining your guitar in playable condition
unless you use a soundhole humidifier or have a humidified “music room.” If you have such a room, you could maintain a 50 % RH level in the area where your guitar is stored, no matter how dry it is elsewhere in the house or outdoors. And you could get on with the business of playing your guitar instead
of being aggravated by it.
Do I really "Need" to get a set-up if I change my gauge of strings?
Yes. Every gauge of strings have a different tension, which pulls on the neck either more or less. That can cause some major shifts in the way your guitar plays and feels. Here is a small chart that hopefully explains a few things.
EJ15 135.1lbs (Acoustic 10's, Extra Light Gauge)
EJ16 163.2lbs (Acoustic 12's, Light Gauge)
EJ17 188.8lbs (Acoustic 13's, Medium Gauge)
EXL 120 85.2lbs (Electric 9's)
EXL 110 103.6lbs (Electric 10's)
EXL 115 118.6lbs (Electric 11's)
EXL 145 148.5lbs (Electric 12's)
EJ45 83.6lbs (Classical, Normal Tension)
The difference between a Light and Medium acoustic is about 25lbs. If you switch to Mediums from Lights, you will notice that the guitar is quite a bit harder to play.
That's because the strings are now quite a bit higher because the neck has flexed under the added tension and needs to be adjusted to compensate. In addition to any intonation adjustments, or nut adjustments that may need to be done.
Can you adjust the intonation without changing the strings?
Not unless you just changed them and jumped in the car to come see me. Even strings that are a couple of days old will "drift" and not intonate perfectly. If I try to intonate everything with old strings, as soon as you change your strings, everything will be totally off, and you'll have to come see me again. Watch my Youtube video below and see what I mean...and how badly out it can actually be.
What's the tone difference with the types of strings?
There are so many different types of strings that it would be bordering on impossible to describe them all. So I will limit my discussion to the couple of most popular types and sizes.
First off, the size of the string has a direct relationship on the size of the note it produces.
Bigger strings = Bigger/Louder sound. Higher Tension. A little bit harder to play. You can strum harder without much buzzing. You can have lower action with larger strings because the Arc of Travel is smaller due to the increased string tension. More Bass.
Smaller strings = Smaller/Quieter sound. Looser Tension. Easier to play and bend, but you can't strum as hard before it starts to buzz. Action needs to be a bit higher than mediums. Less Bass
Phosphor Bronze – Most popular type. Increased bass response. More mellow highs. Great all around string.
80/20 – Brighter strings. Noticeably less bass than Phosphor Bronze. Great for taming an overly boomy/bassy guitar. Not really recommended for smaller body guitars.
The brand of strings doesn't really matter anywhere near as much as the type of metal used.
WHY WON'T MY GUITAR STAY IN TUNE?
This is one of the most common and complex questions to answer, but I'll do my best. First off, a little physics lesson....don't worry, I'll make it easy.
There are only 3 things that affect the pitch of a string
Diameter of the string
Length of a string
Tension of the string
Let’s take just ONE string – just to make things easier….you can keep going for the rest of the strings on your own
As the string gets larger the pitch gets lower, but for each string, the diameter is not going to magically change and mess up your tuning ….so we can consider that a constant and throw that variable away.
As the string gets longer, the pitch gets lower, when we fret a string…we’re changing the length of a string. ie. Making it shorter…so that raises the pitch. Now when we adjust the “Intonation” we are changing the length of the string, and therefore the relative position of the frets, so that can change the tuning.
There’s only one Variable left over….
Here’s where it get’s tricky… Any and Every place where there is friction….is a place where you might possibly go out of tune. It’s not the friction that causes the out of tuneness….it’s when that friction causes a PART of the string to bind and then “at some later time” RELEASE….causing a DROP or a RISE in pitch.
There are only a finite number of mechanical things on a guitar….(regardless of where it’s made) that might be the culprit….Let's start at one end of the string… and work towards the other…
THE TUNING KEYS
1. Are the strings wrapped around the posts properly?
2. Is there not enough/too much string wrapped around?
3. Is the gear worn inside?
4. Too much “backlash”
5. The tuning key hole too large causing the tuner itself to move
6. The screws on the back not tight.
7. The bolt on the top not tight
1. Is there any burrs or kinks underneath that might catch the string?
2. Is it screwed too far into the headstock causing a too severe angle at the nut?
1. Slots too small/big
2. Slots rough
3. Slots too high (notes at the first few frets will be very sharp)
4. Not lubricated
5. Get an Earvana nut. (really helps the tempering of a guitar)
1. Worn frets.
2. Are they just in the wrong spot..(Yes I’ve seen this happen)
3. Is the player pushing too hard on jumbo frets? (can go 30+ cents sharp)
1. Are they too high and pulling the strings sharp?
1. Too much/too little relief?
2. Screws not holding the neck tight?
3. Incorrect neck angle?
4. Neck shifting in the neck pocket?
1. Saddles too high/low?
2. Incorrect intonation?
3. Burrs on the saddle?
4. Height adjustment screws moving/unscrewing (yes I’ve seen this happen)
5. Bridge not fastened to the body tightly
6. Grommets in the body are compressing the wood (slightly) and changing the tension. (For a string-through-body guitar)
VARIOUS OTHER THINGS
1. Temperature changes?
2. Humidity changes?
3. String Gauge too loose/tight
4. Ball ends of the strings coming loose?
5. Not tuning correctly
6. Not stretching strings
These are just the physical things on the guitar that might be causing issues. But these are not the only things. How you tune is very important.
HOW TO TUNE A GUITAR, THE CORRECT WAY.
1. Never tune DOWN to a note….the tuning keys don’t work very well that way. Only tune UP to a note. If you go too far and go above the note, lower the pitch below the note and try again.
2. After you tune to the correct note…yank on the string….if it goes out of tune AT ALL. Tune it up again and yank on it some more…..keep doing this until you can pull the string about an inch or so away from the fretboard and it will still be in tune…if it moves AT ALL….It WILL move while you’re playing and cause you to be out of tune.
This is called stretching the strings, Yes, it's a pain and YES it will take a while, but it's worth the time to keep your guitar in tune. Trust me. :)
3. When you’re using a tuner….pick the string about once EVERY SECOND. Don't just pick it once and let it ring.
When you pick a string…the pitch RISES just a bit and then falls back down after about 2-3 sec. If you wait until the pitch levels out, every time you pick you will be sharp.
Just think about it….how often do you ever leave a note ring out for 2-3 seconds when you’re playing?..... almost never. You're constantly picking, so you want the notes that you "Pick" to be in tune.
On a properly tuned guitar, the readout on the tuner should go perfectly in tune for the first second and then go (slightly) flat after a few seconds. Then you’re right on for picking. Don't worry if the note doesn't go flat, some tuners are not sensitive enough to notice the small change in pitch.
I hope that this little list (it’s not even complete) helps you on your quest for an in tune guitar.
p.s Good Luck