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Two things every guitarist should know about are ACTION and INTONATION.
Action is the heighth of the string from the fingerboard.
If the strings are close, we say the guitar has low action. If the strings are farther away, we call this high action.
Most players agree that lower action is easy to play on. But there are plenty of players that prefer the strings a little higher. (*Heavier string gauges require a higher action to give the bigger strings more room to vibrate).
You can set your preferred action on most any guitar. But first we need to make sure the neck is straight.
All wood necks require periodic straightening due to climactic change. Ever notice how sometimes a wooden door or window frame gets stuck? It’s usually just the wood expanding or contracting. The same climactic changes also affect your neck.
You might notice your action getting slightly higher or lower over time. Strings exert a constant pressure on the neck, and any seasonal change can upset this equilibrium.
Most modern guitar necks contain a device to counteract this change called a truss rod. The truss rod is actually two metal rods connected together on the inside of the neck.
On Fender-style guitars you can usually see the truss rod above the nut:
Or at the body end of the neck:
On Gibson-style guitars (& countless others) the truss rod is concealed behind a piece of plastic called the truss rod cover located on the headstock right above the nut:
When your neck isn’t straight, it affects the guitar’s intonation. Intonation is an instrument’s ability to play in tune with itself. *On a correctly intonated guitar, you should be able to play any open chord-then play the same shape 12 frets higher without sounding out of tune. It should just sound an octave higher.
When our guitar is in TUNE and our neck is straight we should try the chord/octave chord test I just spoke about*. Is it better? Worse? Don’t worry- we still have options…
This where the guitar saddles come into play. Eventually everyone noodling around on a guitar asks “Are these all supposed to be straight?”. The answer is usually NO. You see the individual saddles are used to “intonate” each string. If a guitar’s intonation is set, an open string and it’s 12th fret harmonic should read in tune with each other. When all of the strings (and their octaves) agree, the guitar is tuned and correctly intonated.
“To put on new strings, we first have to remove the old ones. Start by loosening each string gradually until there’s no tension left. Then simply cut the strings.”
“Remove the strings from the neck and body. Now is a good time to clean up your instrument- you can reach all those inaccessible spots the strings were covering.”
If you have a rosewood fingerboard, you can also apply some “guitar-grade” lemon oil. Rosewood is a porous wood and it can start to dull and crack over time if left unchecked. A bit of Lemon oil will rehydrate it and help clean it. Just apply a generous amount on the fingerboard and let it seep in. Wipe off any excess.”
“After you’re through cleaning, we need to put on our new strings. Remember to put the string through their respective holes before you do ANY cutting!!! Make sure the strings are in order before going on.”
“Start with your Low E/6th string. Pull it taut to its tuner. Now measure about 1 1/3 posts up. Make a right angle bend, aiming in towards the key. This helps us measure the correct string length. Feed the string through to your bend and start tightening the string. You can use your fingers to guide the string into a descending coil around the post. Stop when you feel tension. Check to make sure you’re in the nut slot (or under any relevant “string-trees”). Remember, you can always loosen and reposition a string…””If everything looks good, you can go ahead and cut the excess off. Cut close to the post but MAKE SURE YOU DON’T CUT THE STRING ITSELF!!!”
“Let’s try the A string. Pull it taut to its tuner. Now measure about 1 1/3 posts up. Make a right angle bend, aiming in towards the key. Feed the string through to the bend and start tightening. Guide the string into a descending coil around the post.”
“I’ve put on all the strings except the High E. We need to measure this one a little differently because we ran out of posts. Pull the string taut over its post. Now pinch it to mark its distance. Move your pinched “marker” to any other post and measure 1 1/3 posts and make your right angle bend. Now just feed the string through to the bend and start tightening. Guide the string into a descending coil around the post.”
“It takes a little a little time for the strings to lose their elasticity, but we can help them along by stretching them. Simply fret notes from low to high on each string and give a tug every time you change position. If you do this after tuning a few times, it will really help the strings break in faster.”