Consolidated Music Guide to Guitar Repair and Maintenance
General information to know before heading down to the repair shop or before ditching a hard to play guitar.
Basic Restring- A basic restring is the minimum maintenance a guitar or other stringed instruments needs to remain functional. Oil and dirt from your hands fill the gaps of wound strings and tarnish the metal. Old strings that are worn and dirty cause poor tone, tuning instability,as well as, intonation issues. If you are having problems with your guitar and haven't changed your strings in while, a quick restring may fix many of your play-ability woes.
Deluxe Restring- This is a basic restring plus a more in-depth fret board cleaning and fret polish. A clean fret board is a happy fret board! The dirt on your fret board can actually degrade the integrity of the wood over time causing frets to pop up. Keeping it clean prevents more complex repairs down the road. Polished frets play a little smoother, especially for string bending and they look great too.
Set Up- A set up is the act of making adjustments to an instrument in order to obtain optimal tone and play-ability. This is also the easiest way to customize your guitar as "a set up" is subjective and preferences differ between players. Most factories set up their guitars with a middle of the road feel that is OK for most players. As guitar techs and luthiers we take playing style, tone goals, and string preferences into consideration when setting up an instrument for a customer. On most electric guitars this includes a truss rod adjustment, bridge/action adjustment, nut slot depth and width, electronics adjustments, intonation, fret polish and restring. Guitars with vibrato bars ( i.e whammy bars) require a little more attention as the bridge spring tension must be balanced. Most acoustic guitars require a truss rod adjustment, saddle height modification, nut slot depth and width and a fret polish.
Fret Level and Dress- When fret buzz and dead spots become an issue, it may be beyond the ability of a proper set up to correct. In this case a fret job is in order. A fret level and dressing, or a fret job as its commonly referred to, is when we level the frets with a sanding beam or file so that all the frets are even with one another. The leveling also removes the grooves worn into the fret by the strings. After leveling, the frets are refiled into a radius. The dressing involves reshaping and crowing the now flat frets. This is followed by a polishing to a mirror shine.
Not all fret work necessitates a full on fret leveling and dressing. Sometime a partial leveling and dress is all that is needed.
Partial and Full Re-frets- Sometimes the frets themselves may need replacing. This is most common on professional's guitars as they typically see the most use and abuse, but it is also very common on acoustic guitars between frets 1-5. The grooves caused by the strings are sometimes so deep we would have to level the frets almost level to the fret board resulting in a hard to play instrument. It is best to replace the most heavily worn frets and level them down to the remaining originals. This is the most economical and effective way to keep a guitar playing well into the future.
Sometimes a customer will opt to change the frets on their guitar due to playing preferences. This is not super common but it does happen. For example, someone might re-fret a 70's Les Paul with taller, modern jumbo frets because fret wire the company used at the time was pretty low making bending challenging. Most guitar fret wire is 18% nickel/silver. They come in different widths and heights. Taller frets typically found on modern electrics make it easier to bend because your fingers are off the fret board, thereby reducing finger drag. Lower frets are commonly found a jazz and acoustic guitars. Don't be surprised to see much smaller frets on a 50's reissue than on a 1988 shred machine.
Next time you are in a guitar shop, pay closer attention to what kind of frets are on guitars that you seem to like more than others!!!