After more than twenty five years of repairing guitars professionally, there is very little I haven’t seen and done, usually many times over. And in those years I have seen the pitfalls that plague many players and their guitars. The following advice is intended to help guitar players avoid some of the more common mistakes and maybe even save a few bucks in the process.
1. Using the tuner knob retaining screw as a “stay in tune better” adjustment.
I often find these screws over tightened presumably to keep the guitar in tune when in reality it just makes the knobs hard to turn and ruins the tuners. The proper tension adjustment flexes the spring washer without smashing it flat. Loose tuner bushings or mounting screws are much more likely sources of tuning problems.
2. Using the truss rod for an action adjustment.
While the truss rod adjustment does affect the action it is not intended to be used that way. Using the truss rod to lower the action can cause unintended consequences such as buzzing frets or a broken truss rod. When a truss rod is properly adjusted the neck will have a slight bow called relief. Once the desired relief is set the truss rod is best left alone and the action adjusted by other means.
3. Taking off the strings before bringing a guitar to the repair shop.
This is a mistake because the relief adjustment (see # 2) and the nut slot heights are best checked with the strings on and tuned to the desired tuning. Having the strings on also gives your tech some clue as to what action setting might suit you. Also the removal of the strings takes so little time that there is no significant savings to be had. If the tech has to restring and tune the guitar just to evaluate the setup, it may actually cost you more.
4. Over-tightening the screws on locking tremolos.
The screws that lock the strings at the nut and saddles should only be tightened enough to prevent the strings from slipping. Further tightening does not help the guitar stay in tune any better and only serves to strip out the screw threads and cause damage. A trick to I use prevent over-tightening the screws is to put the long end of the Allen wrench into the screw and turn using the short end. This will automatically limit the amount of torque that can be applied to the screw.
5. Trying to fix it yourself.
I can’t begin to count how many times customers have brought guitars to me after failing to fix them by themselves. They invariably make the repair more expensive than it needed to be, and more often than not devalue their guitars in the process.