Here is an article I've been meaning to write for some time. Many beginner players and even some people that have been playing for years get confused as to what a truss rod actually does. Many people think that the purpose is to adjust the action (string height). This is really not accurate. It does EFFECT the action but it is NOT there to adjust the action. Which are two very different things.
Let me tell you a story. We had a customer a while back that bought a guitar from some where other than NWG. He wanted to adjust the action him self since most big box houses and mail order place don't have the ability or inclination to set the guitar up to play correctly. We, on the other hand, give a free setup with all purchases of guitars for a reason. There is a correct way and an incorrect way to set a guitar up to play it's best. This person kept coming back and complaining about buzzing and when he turned the rod the wrong way it would mess with the action. He said the guitar was defective. (Spoiler Alert: It was not.) Eventually he decided to let us do it for him and walked away happy. So what was going on?
A truss rod effects the curvature of the neck. It is there to correct a back bow or a forward bow to create a buzz free playable experience. In this picture you can see a an extreme example of a back bow. Notice what it does to the strings.
A back bow will make the action feel shallow but that's because its changing the curve of the neck.
Now here is a forward bow example. Again take a look at how it effects the strings. Take note to what it does to the tension of the strings.
Now here, is a corrected truss rod with high action caused by a tall nut and bridge.
This is a nice straight playable neck but with the action being high as a result of the nut and bridge being incorrectly cut.
Lastly here is a corrected guitar set with a lower action but making sure the trust rod is straight with lowered strings. There is a science to this. There is actually suppose to be a slight curve to the neck. How much? I have no idea. That's something we have our tech Shawn take care of.
One thing you can't see from pictures is the intonation which ensures that as you play up the neck, the guitar doesn't go out of tune. All of these adjustment effect each other. Mess with one thing and it throws off another. In addition there is the nut and saddle height and nut slot size that needs to be based on the string gauge you are using.
All examples are very extreme examples. On a real guitar, these adjustments are minuscule and are mostly felt. They require special tools to do the job correctly. It is difficult for the untrained eye to see whether or not you need a setup. This is probably why so many people have misconceptions. So should you do this yourself?
You can, but probably shouldn't. Yes, you could learn if you took the time. It takes training and a lot of experience to be able to make the proper adjustments. Just like learning any new hobbie or skill it takes dedication and experience. What's more, an inspection by Shawn is FREE. If it doesn't need the work he won't charge you.
This is the reason I go to a pro like Shawn DeMots at Six Strings Service inside Northwest Guitars. Even being the manager I still have him do all my guitar work. He's gone through extensive training and has years of experience to back it up. Once in a while I'll turn a knob or crank a screw but anything beyond that, I just give it to Shawn because every time I get my guitar back it is clean, it has fresh strings, the action feels perfect and it even sounds better from the pickup adjustments he does. I can definitely afford to spend $70 once or twice a year to make sure my $500+ instrument is playing and sounding great. Otherwise what is the point of spending hundreds of dollars to get a nice guitar if it plays poorly due to neglect.
Here is a great video I found on Youtube that gives you a visual of the truss rod.
Choosing the Right Acoustic Guitar
Nylon or Steel?
Nylon or Steel Strings?
The type of music you want to learn and play makes a difference. Guitars designed for nylon strings are usually used to play classical, flamenco and some types of folk music. These instruments are commonly referred to as “classical” or “nylon string” guitars. Nylon string instruments are not as loud as steel string acoustics and they are almost exclusively played with the fingers of the right hand (for right handed players) rather than with a pick. They produce a wonderful warm and intimate sound. In recent years the sound qualities of the classical guitar have been finding their way into pop and jazz. This has given rise to a newer kind of classical guitar called a “hybrid” or “crossover” guitar. This instrument features electronics, nylon strings and a neck and fingerboard that more closely resembles that of a steel string guitar like a narrower nut width and sometimes a slightly curved fingerboard.
Different acoustic guitar body styles and shapes produce different kinds of sounds. One of the most popular steel string guitar styles is the large dreadnought size. It produces a rich, loud, full-bodied voice that favors the lower end (bass) frequencies. Another popular size is the OM. OM stands for “orchestra model.” This style features a smaller body which can be more comfortable to hold than larger sizes and produces a more refined, balanced and a bit quieter sound. There are many other sizes including the popular auditorium size, which yields a sound that’s between the dreadnought and OM tones, and the smaller parlor guitar named so because it was originally designed to be played in the front parlor.
Some beginners are attracted to nylon string guitars because the strings are softer than metal and they’re concerned about sore fingertips. This shouldn’t be a consideration as a properly set up (adjusted) steel string guitar with the right gauge strings can be just about as easy to play. In addition, nylon string guitars usually have a wider fingerboard which may be challenging for some players.
Talk to the experts at Northwest Guitars. They can answer all your questions and help you select the instrument that’s perfect for you.
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Caring for your new instrument
Just like changing the oil in your car or the filter in your furnace, your guitar or bass requires a certain amount of maintenance. Why? Just like with your cars oil or furnace filter, without the proper maintenance it gets dirty, runs poorly and eventually clogs. The dirt and oils from your hands gets between the wraps of your strings, eventually rusting the strings, dulling the tone and weighting down the strings so it’s harder to keep in tune.
You can prolong the life of your strings by simply washing your hands before you play and then wiping down the strings after you play. There are also products such as string cleaners that are designed to prolong the life of your strings. Coated strings will last much longer than ordinary strings but do cost more. If you don’t like to change strings, they may be a good choice. But keeping fresh strings on your instrument ensures a bright, clear tone and comfortable feel.
Keeping the back of the neck clean is also important. You want your hand to glide easily up and down the neck and not get hung up on a bunch of gunk and sticky sweat.
Instruments are usually made of wood and wood is susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity. Leaving your instrument in the trunk of your car and exposing it to extreme temperature changes can cause the neck of your instrument to bow or back-bow making it harder to play or causing it to “fret out” or buzz. Worse yet, prolonged exposure to the outdoors can eventually ruin your guitar.
If you find that your instrument becomes harder to play with higher action (the height of the strings from the fingerboard is commonly referred to as the action) our qualified guitar technician can check your instrument and make the necessary adjustments. Your instrument should be checked at least once a year.
There is nothing wrong with leaving your instrument out on a stand or hanger when at home but to prolong the life of the instrument and keep it looking and feeling new, always carry it in a hard case or well padded gig bag when transporting it.
As a full service guitar store we offer classes in re-stringing and caring for your instrument and our excellent guitar techs can re-string your guitar and make all the necessary adjustments for you. Stop by the store and pick up your FREE copy of our “Caring for your new instrument” flyer which contains much of the above information.
8 ways to sound better right now – for free! by Shawn Demots
Though there is a lot of great gear on the market, you don’t always need to spend serious bucks on the latest boutique gear to improve your tone. Here are eight easy ways to sound better instantly without emptying your wallet.
2. Hit the strings harder.
A lot of musicians play quite a bit softer than they really need to. Obviously you don’t need to whack the bejeezus out of the thing but a little force is good, especially if you’re playing energetic music. If you notice a lot of string rattle and hum, you might need stiffer strings and higher action.
3. Check your right hand technique.
It’s natural to focus on your left hand since it’s doing the more complicated stuff. Nevertheless, your right hand is where your tone comes from. Try picking at different spots closer and further away from the bridge. Try every pick you have, playing the same riff each time. Hit the strings with the pick as near to parallel to the strings as possible for a fat tone, angle the pick for a thinner tone. Finally, try creating pinch harmonics by holding the pick so it’s just barely sticking out from your fingers. The idea is for the string to hit the flesh of your thumb right after striking the pick.
5. Enjoy the silence.
Try to eliminate every bit of background noise possible. Turn off your computer, TV, stereo, washer, dryer, fish tank, etc. Muzzle your spouses, roommates, children, and pets. Make a sacred space for you and your guitar to become one.
6. Move your amp or guitar.
Try moving your amp into a corner, setting it on a chair, tilting it back, or pushing it up against the wall. Does your speaker cab rest on casters? Take ‘em off and annoy your neighbors with the massive low-end thump! Acoustic players, try changing the place where you play. You might find that your bathroom has an awesome slapback echo.
7. Use a delay pedal to work on your timing.
I find practicing with a metronome to be torturously dull, so I like to use a delay pedal instead. Set it up for a single repeat and turn it up loud. Trying playing something that is straight eighth notes like the Cars or the Ramones. Bass players can pick just about any AC/DC song ever created. You’ll find you naturally lock in with the delay you’ve set. Notice that if you speed up or slow down even slightly, every note sounds messy. Relax and concentrate on the feeling you get when you’re in sync with the delayed notes.
8. Plug and unplug all of your cables a few times.
Musical instrument signals are fragile things. We’re talking about millivolts here; they make a hearing aid battery look like a hydroelectric dam. Once a month or so plug and unplug all of your cables a few times to clean the crud off of the contacts. You can use electrical contact cleaner if you have some, but simply plugging and unplugging could be the key to a brighter and clearer sound.
Top 6 reasons to get new strings:
6. They have become rusty and lose elasticity. They end up feeling less smooth.
5. Kinks or flat spots in strings can also cause the string to play differently, they may even start to buzz.
4. They become weighted down with sludge over time making them sound out of tune.
3. You get the whole guitar inspected and cleaned while the strings are getting changed. (Only at NWG)
2. Your guitar’s tone slowly becomes dull. Starts to sound muddy, even more prevalent with distortion.
1. Your guitar strings are discolored and are gross to touch. Plain strings should be silver are now black from dirt, grease and rust. It's gross!
Is okay to keep the guitar in a slightly damp atmosphere?
If the guitar is kept out of it's case in a damp room the strings will soon get spots of rust, they are likely to need to be changed sooner rather than later. Buy a dehumidifier if necessary.
How do I know I know they are dirty?
If they feel rough when you run your finger up the length of the string then they could be on their way out.
What is the cost of strings and labor?
Strings are normally between $6-$15 depending on quality and features. Our labor is between $20-$30 depending on if you are a student of NWG and the type of guitar being restrung (students get discounts on everything).
Can I do it myself?
Yes! However it is not as easy as it looks. If done incorrectly the strings will slip out of tune or take a long time to settle into position. Depending on our techs schedule, most of the time you buy a re-string he will show you how to do it as long as you ask.
Author Sean Fallon
Manager, digital media, social media, photographer, webdesign, videographer, video editor, sales, uke teacher.
We have recently added more videos to our site:
-Wall Walla Guitars
Added Menu links for Bass, Amps > Bass Amps and Amps > Guitar Amps
Added Menu link for Used Basses
Added Menu for used guitar and bass amps
We will continue to build out our site so keep tuned!
Many of you have already noticed the website has been down. We are lucky that our store and our customers are like a family and many of you have given us advice and offered to help. We thank you! As a result of all the help we have found a great place to build a new website.
Our e-mail addresses have changed as well. Our quick fix is to skip the forwarding @NorthwestGuitars.com and just give you the direction @Gmail.com e-mail address.
Thank you again for all your support. We have worked hard to stand out from the big box store and be something special. A community of guitar players, music lovers and a home to all those who love the arts. And as we support you, the community is always there to help us! Thank you for that!
Nylon of Steel
8 Ways to Sound Better
6 Reasons New Strings
Truss Rod Actually Does
Guitar Care Is Like
Why Vox AC30
Stepping Outside the Box
Don't Go Cheap
Guitar Effects Chain
Guitar Effects Chain 2
Sweet Riffs Hot Licks
At Northwest Guitars we are deeply embedded in our community. From donations to local schools to promoting local musicians we work hard to make Bellevue and the surrounding areas a better place to live, work and play.