You’d Better Get That Thing Looked At!
By Marc Johnson for TheToneKing.com
When The Tone King asked me to do a column for TheToneKing.com, I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. As a guitar instructor, I get a plethora of students who come in with a guitar that we in the industry affectionately refer to as a P.O.S. For those of you who aren’t in the know, a P.O.S. is a “Piece Of…” Well, I’ll let you fill in the rest.
Now, if P.O.S. guitars were limited to kids, I wouldn’t be concerned. But unfortunately, I get “seasoned players” with P.O.S. guitars all the time. They push with all of their might in order to fret a barre chord at the seventh fret, and the sound that emanates from the guitar resembles the sounds of somebody in a public washroom after having too many burritos. After I inform them that their guitar needs work, I am met with the same reaction every time. “But, I just bought this thing!” But what they are really trying to say is, “You have no idea what the hell you’re talking about!”
“But Marc, how do I know if my guitar is a P.O.S.?” you may inquire. I’m glad you asked! Well, first off, any guitar can be a P.O.S. if it isn’t cared for properly. You want to first check the action. There are industry standards. Generally these are measured both at the twelfth fret and the first. The twelfth fret measurements are usually 5/64th of an inch at the first string and 1/32nd for the sixth on an acoustic, and 3/64th to 5/64th on an electric. The first fret measurement is usually 1/64th at the first string and 1/32nd at the sixth string for both acoustic and electric.
But, before you get out your ruler, realize that every player is different. Try playing the thing before you go in. Play a barre chord at the first fret. Does your forearm hurt? Try another barre chord at the seventh. How about now? If you notice it is difficult to fret at either of these places, or if the chords are buzzing, then your guitar definitely needs maintenance. Even if it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, you may still need an adjustment. If you tune your guitar up on the open strings, but it’s out of tune on the first, seventh, or twelfth frets, then your intonation is out, and, yep, you guessed it, you need an adjustment.
“But Marc, I can’t tell!” you might say. Well, I can’t tell either from where I’m sitting. I would suggest that you have another player (not your neighbor’s kid who just started playing a week ago but a REAL player) try out your guitar and see what he/she says. For all of us broke musicians, what it really comes down to is if the guitar is playable and sounds in tune. If your action feels all right and the thing plays in tune, then you’re probably fine. If your string action is so high that it resembles a medieval weapon for shooting arrows as opposed to a guitar, then you should probably get your guitar checked out.
The most common maintenance is called a set-up. This is basic ‘oil-change’ type maintenance that you want to get done twice a year with the change in seasons. It involves straightening out your neck (Guitars are made of wood. Those necks move whether you play them or not), a restring, and setting your intonation (making sure the thing plays in tune all over the neck). A good shop will offer a fret-file and leveling as well.
Out by me, we charge about forty bucks for this, but I’ve heard about some people trying charge as much as seventy. In my opinion, if you’re getting charged seventy bucks or more for a basic set-up, then your guitar better play itself!
Twice a year is key! If you get a set-up twice a year, your guitar will last a long time. If you’re not sure if it needs it, have a friend check it out for you. And in the name that all that is holy, if your guitar instructor tells you that your guitar is messed up, just take his word for it and get it fixed. Don’t let your guitar become a P.O.S!
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Filed Under: Guitars
About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.