Making That Ol’ Guitar Scream

Howdy friends, Rosco here. I figured it was time for another update, I haven’t spoken to you lovely people in a little bit. Anyhow, if you’ve been following along I’m sure you’re aware that I’ve been working intently on my brand new home studio. It’s my prided project, and there’s an awful lot involved in it. One thing I’ve immediately taken action on though is the fact that your recordings are only as good as your performance, which means not only knowing how to play like a pro and doing it, but also making sure that your instrument is in tip-top shape and putting out the absolute best sound you can get. With that said, this is a bit of an informative post to all my fellow guitar players about how to keep your guitar humming like a beauty.

First Things First – Fine Tune Your Action

This is probably one of the first things that most “techy” guitar players pick up on. The action of your guitar is defined as the distance between your guitar strings and the fret board in the resting position (i.e. no fretted strings). A high action will make it more difficult for the guitar player to fret the strings when playing notes or forming chords – this can lead to mistakes, unfulfilled notes, and finger fatigue at the very least. On the other hand, when the action is too low the strings won’t be far enough away from the fret board when played, resulting in minor to severe buzzing. What you want to find is a sweet spot where you don’t have any buzzing up and down the neck, yet you can still play notes with relative ease. There are two main ways to adjust your guitar’s action (well, actually there are three – more on that later). This is not for the faint-of-heart, so if you are not technically inclined or have no intent on spending a few hours with your guitar, you might want to move on to the next section.

The first and most common method of adjusting the action on your guitar is to utilize your guitar’s truss rod – if it has one. The truss rod is generally adjusted with an allen wrench, and can usually be accessed through the guitar’s sound hole (again, if it has one), or from an exterior screw somewhere around the guitar’s neck or head area. If you want to know the details I’d suggest googling it, but the basic idea is that tightening the truss rod will raise the action while loosening it will lower the action. Make sure to make very small adjustments – you can damage your guitar if you push too far in either direction.

The second and less commonly recommended way of adjusting your action is to adjust your guitar’s bridge. The reason that this is less recommended is that it can set the harmonics out of whack if not done properly. Basically you must avoid any rotation in the bridge when raising or lowering it.

There is one other major way to reduce your guitar’s action that is easier than these two methods, but there’s more to it than that – so without further adieu…

 

An Easy Win – Pay More Attention to Your Strings

Choosing your guitar strings wisely can not only improve you guitar’s playability, but also have a profound impact on the resulting sound your guitar produces. Aside from the quality of the product you choose, there are two main factors to consider.

The first is the strings gauge. As a general rule of thumb I start off around 12 gauge for acoustic guitar strings and around 9 gauge for electric guitar strings. However, you are going to have to try out a few styles and see what works best for you and your guitar. The pros of lower gauge strings is that they can lower your guitar’s action and they can also be remarkably easier to fret. The con, however, is that with too low of a gauge you’ll start to lose the bottom end richness of your guitar, resulting in a thin and twangy sound. The other main characteristic to pay attention to is texture of the wind.

Most guitar strings are round-wound, meaning that the outer winding is made with normal wire. These tend to have the best and brightest harmonics, which can be desirable or less so depending on your playing style and desired sound. The alternative is flat wound (or ground) strings, which are much smoother on the fingers and can be particularly helpful with bass guitars. They tend to have less harmonic content though, so again they are good for bass or for sounds that are more flat. Give them a try some time and see what you think.

Electronics

The final thing to pay attention to is your guitar’s electronics. The main three components to consider are the pickups, the pots, and the cables and connections.

As for the pickups, many guitars come with high-quality pickups out-of-the-box, so to speak. Be forewarned though that one of the first places that guitar manufacturers will try to cut costs is in the guitars pickups. It is easy to underestimate how much of an impact your guitar’s pickups can have on the quality of your sound – if you’ve never heard the difference, you’d probably chock it up to the quality of the guitar. The fact of the matter is though, even a Fender Squire rigged up with some high-quality pickups can sound like a killer guitar in the right hands. This is definitely something to consider if you want to take your guitar’s sound even further.

Your guitar’s pots are also another commonly overlooked factor. All the sound coming off of your guitar’s pickups are routed through the pots, and the pots are even used to filter frequencies in most wiring configurations. Wouldn’t you want this work to be done by a quality component? I sure do, and that’s why I pay attention to the quality of my pots.

The last part of the signal chain for your guitar is it’s cables and connections. Make sure all of the wiring is well done so that sound is transmitted flawlessly, but don’t stop there. Making sure to buy high quality cables such as Mogami will help ensure that you have the most pristine sound around when it comes to mixdown.

I hope this helps some other guitar players out there. I’ll be back soon with more fun stuff. Stay tuned!