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How To Make Your Guitar Play Better Instantly

I have a dream.

My dream is to make your guitar play better without spending big dollars.

Why? Because I have experienced what so many new beginners experienced. To have with me a guitar that is hard to play. Fingering chord becomes painful, barre chords traumatic to say the least. You want to be a guitar god but you just can’t get yourself to finger another chord. What should you do?

The trouble is real and it affects too many players. Recently I have 3 people came to me in the last 2 weeks to ask for help to setup their guitar to be more playable. And I have done it for them. And they are happy and gave me a raving review for what I have done. One of them even told me this the guitar I setup for him helped him secure a recording deal when he used the newly setup guitar to play an inspired tune to his client on the same deal he collected it from me.

That’s why my dream is not a daydream, it’s rooted in reality. A guitar can play better without spending a lot of money. You just need to know what to do and then learn to do it or get someone who can do it for you.

Here are 3 ways you can make your guitar play better.

Shave some height off your guitar saddle

The number 1 issue guitars that are brought to me is – The action is too high. By high action, I mean the distance between the string to the fretboard when not fretting is too high that holding the string down becomes unpleasantly hard. The culprit is always that the saddle and the nut first.  The saddle is rightly made to be high. It’s normal to have them this way from the factory because being tall it can be shaved to be made lower. However, the other way, to have a low saddle made high again is impossible without adding additional things to it.

With a high saddle almost expected from the factory, it is essential for guitars to be setup at the shop before bringing it home. Sadly not all stores do that for their customers.

That’s why its important to know, the very first thing I do is to shave some height off the saddle. The work is not complicated but its not easy because it requires you to remove the strings or loosening it enough to be able to take the saddle out of the slot at the bridge. I shave it with sand paper and get it to the right height to make the action lower. This work itself solve at least 70% of the action problem.

Shave your guitar nut too

While lowering the saddle height solves the general issue of high action, lowering the guitar nut solves the specific issue of high action at the lowest end of the fretboard (the part closest to the guitar neck). Like how you have shaved the height of the saddle, shave the nut as well. But be careful, there’s usually lesser to shave on the nut compared to the saddle. Keep shaving and putting it back so that you don’t over-shave that may create buzzing on the first fret.

With both your saddle and nut adjusted to the right height, you will find your guitar instantly more playable. If you have over-shaved and experience buzzing, a shim can be used to heighten it again by placing it under the saddle/nut. You can buy a “shim” which is just a piece of small plastic or wood from your local guitar stores.

Adjust your truss rod

You can find tune the playability of your guitar after adjusting the height of both your nut and saddle by adjusting the truss rod.

The truss rod is the metal part of the guitar that runs through the neck of well built guitar. Its function is to make the neck straight through adjustment made using a L shaped Allen wrench key.  To adjust the concave or convex nature of the neck we can adjust the rod to either straighten it or bow it back.

Change your strings wisely

Someone brought a guitar to me recently complaining that “twanginess” of his guitar. My first suspect was the nature of the guitar was built bright. So the twang comes from how the guitar was built. But I was wrong. After setting up the guitar and playing it for a few days, I suspected that the string choice presently installed in the guitar is of the bright kind.  So knowing my guitar string brightness chart, I went out and bought a mellower string. I tried the GHS silk and steel set (Affiliate Link) and immediately the twang was gone and it played like how the owner wanted it to. You should see the gladness in his face when he came to collect his guitar. So next time you want to rule off your guitar sound, put another set of carefully chosen strings.

Being a jazz player, below is the chart I used. Google “[Brand] guitar string chart” will return the chart for strings of other brands.

Clean your guitar, especially the fretboard

You will play better when you have a clean guitar, especially in the fretboard. A clean fretboard helps you slide through easily without the stickiness of one full of dirt. Besides psychological effect of a clean guitar has proven to be real. Why not serve your mind by playing better with more clarity. I used the Gibson Gear Stringed Instrument Care (Affiliate Link).

So what are you waiting for? Either do some DIY or send it to some good people to do them for you. You can end up with a guitar that easily plays 2 or 3 times better than before.

If you like this and would like me to write on “How to make your guitar sound better instantly”, drop me a comment.

Am I Too Old To Learn How To Play The Guitar?

You are here because you ask the question

“Am I Too Old To Learn How To Play The Guitar?”.

Well, the answer depends on why you want to play.

If you have rock star ambition or want to be a professional, then maybe it may be too late. But if all you want to do is to play for enjoyment and leisure, then there should be no age too old to start. Even better if you just want to develop the musical part of you in a socio-spiritual way, then you are more than ready to start the journey.

Having said that please note that Eric Clapton, the idol of many players started early but gave up only to start again at a later age.

Frank Zappa, the alternative rock legend started when he was 18.

Wes Montgomery, the legendary jazz guitarist started when he was 20.

So even if you want to try to make it big, it may not be too late to begin.

I’ve seen many old players in the local and overseas scene too. Age is never the issue when it comes to playing music. Just like swimming, cycling or learning to a new sport, it’s not the age more than your interest and how much you stick to it in practice. The important thing is the heart attitude of wanting to learn, correct guidance and the right way to practice.

My personal journey started 30 years ago when I was a teenager.

I’m now 44 but really it was only the last 5 years that I made real progress. The first 25 years or so, I feel that I’ve wasted time getting entangled with snippets of information and with a lack of strategy to learn. I’ve done so much here and there but never consolidated all I know into a framework.  So I do not think that the years’ matter if you have access to the right information and the right guidance, as long as you are still able to hold a guitar and you are able to move your fingers (and perhaps not deaf), it’s a good time to start.

So am I too old to learn how to play the guitar? I don’t think so.

Watch this.

Tell yourself it’s okay to start now regardless of what age you are and “I am never too old to learn to play the guitar”.

If there’s anyone who started playing late and now consider yourself having successfully learned to play, I like to hear from you by commenting below.

Setting The Right Goals And Improve Your Guitar Playing

Playing the guitar is itself a great goal. Not many people consider it in a practical world where survival seems to be the primary concern. But just wanting to play well is only the first step, it is important to be clear about what you are trying to achieve specifically. How to improve your guitar playing is as good as the goals you set for yourself.

Here are 6 ways you can improve by setting the right goals.

Set Your Goal Based On Enjoyment Not Ego

Having a goal to play to impress someone or to feel good easily fizzes out.

I remember the group of friends I have when I was younger. Half of them plays because it is a cool thing to do. Besides the guitar, they go for the look, the other half truly love music and play for enjoyment. The latter group is still playing today.

Beyond your ‘rock star’ intention, enjoy it.

Set a goal based on enjoyment. Get into the type of music you want to play. Listen to the music, buy the music, attend the concert and invest in it. A great tip is this phrase that I sue “Get into the rhythm and beat of what you want to play”.  In that phrase is the key to enjoyment because every piece of music has life and it is my humble opinion in the inner rhythm of the music.

Not Just What You Play But How Often You Do It

Your goal is not what you want to play but how often you do it. This comes with if you have a conducive place to play. Setting up your own practice space is the #1 reason I play often.

After finding a good space to play, then commit to a routine that helps you play often. It is better to play regularly for shorter time than irregularly for longer time.  

A good routine is as such “Every morning for 10 minutes”, “Every alternate day for 20 minutes”, Have a weekly schedule of when you’ll play and really get down to it. Having that settled, then look into what you play and have a note-book to journal and record what you play during the sessions you are playing.

Break Your Big Goals To Smaller Ones

This is one of the worst practising habit I developed when I was younger. I would come into practice with a great song I want to play. Then during the practice, I will get discouraged because I couldn’t play it in that one practice session and the next time I play, I come with a different song.

The remedy to this is to break that one big goal of playing that song to smaller ones. One way to work on songs is to listen to the song first and get into the rhythm of it. Then get the chord sequence right. Only after that should you sing or learn the melody (if you are playing fingerstyle). After that, there’ll be difficult parts you should handle at a latter time.

All the above happens in many sessions, not one. I don’t know why I have bought into the idea that you can master a song in one sitting and that has hurt me and I’m glad to share with you the mistake of not breaking my big goals into smaller ones.

Practice Technique But Also Practice Songs

Don’t we all fall into loving techniques and riff. Isn’t it more appealing to tap, pull off, bend and do all those sweeping and shredding. Yes, it maybe more fun to do so but I suggest getting into songs. Set the right goal of playing songs where these techniques and riffs are incorporated into the song than the techniques itself without the context of a song.

When you set the right goal of songs, you invest in your music. Nobody is going to be listening to you play your riffs just by itself. Everybody wants to hear how you play a particular song. So get clear to invest in songs.

To Be As Good As Your Hero (But Not Exactly Like Them)

Your goal isn’t to be an imitation but to be yourself. There is room to imitate but at the end of the day, you should develop your style and be yourself. So don’t be frustrated if you can’t sound exactly like your heroes. They are there to inspire you to be yourself. It is infact, the very reason why you like your hero. They are themselves and not a clone of someone else.

So develop a liking for yourself and who you are musically and what you can offer to the world. Set the right goal of being yourself and not a second-rate of someone else.

Incorporate Learning To Improvise As Part of Your Goal

As you learn songs of other people, you will figure out melody, harmony, chord sequences and song structures. That is important to eventually do play your own music ie. write your own songs. But before that can happen, you should invest in improvisation. By that I mean having the ability to come out with tunes without thinking. Improvisation depends on your hearing and your feel to get the music you have inside of you out.

Set a goal to improvise either through using a backing track or a looper. It will help you develop your musicality and that is a key component to your goal as a great guitar player.

Guitar Pedals To Loop Like B.B King

Enjoy. Do let me know how do you improve your guitar playing? What type of goals do you set for yourself?

The Foundation of A Good Connection When Playing The Guitar

Ever feel like something is missing in how you play? You play and practice, sometimes for hours but you cannot get it why you feel like it doesn’t sound or feel right.

Here I want to help you understand the foundation of a good connection. When you have good connection with your guitar and later your music, you have half the battle won. Without it, you will always feel something is not right.

In playing Good Guitar, the feel or the vibe is an essential component.

First of all the guitar has to feel right and a part of you. The guitar and yourself vibrates as one. That’s key component to a GOOD Connection.

The feel also comes from your inner timing! So the foundation of GOOD CONNECTION is …

“rhythm, rhythm, rhythm”

Some call it groove. So I’ll confirm it again in another way.

“groove, groove, groove”

Get everything vibrating together as one and you have GOOD CONNECTION.

Check out our other posts
Tips To Connect With Your Guitar”
Playing Good Rhythm Guitar

In summary, the good connection checklist

Check out the other 2 Foundations:
Good Guitar &  Good Music

You Don’t Have To Play Like Prince, You Can Play Like Yourself

I was watching this amazing Youtube Video of Prince. In the past, I used to be amazed and then feel unworthy that I cannot play like Prince. That’s bad for playing the guitar.

Today, I would watch videos like this, be amazed and inspired. And then I will feel that its possible (just like it is for Prince) to play uniquely just like myself. By building the foundation of Good Guitar, Good Connection and Good Music, I don’t have to compare but I can play like myself.

Click above to enjoy this free download

Just a reminder every time you see your hero play, don’t compare but conclude that you too can do the same. Play like yourself.

Having said that, I want to state what Prince ever said about learning the guitar during a rare interview with Guitar Player magazine in the July, 2004 issue.

Prince laid his feelings about the state-of-the-guitar on the line, and his point still resonates today: “Kids don’t learn to play the right way anymore. When the Jackson 5 came up, they had to go through Smokey Robinson and the Funk Brothers, and that’s how they got it down. I want to be able to teach that stuff, because kids need to learn these things, and nobody is teaching them the basics. See, a lot of cats don’t work on their rhythm enough, and if you don’t have rhythm, you might as well take up needlepoint or something. I can’t stress it enough. The next thing is pitch. That’s universal. You’re either in tune or you ain’t. When you get these things down, then you can learn how to solo.” U heard the man. So let’s get to it.

Enjoy the weekend!

The Hamer XT Guitar That Surprised Me

This one just came in. It’s an Indonesian made Hamer XT Series double cut guitar in gorgeous Sunburst. I traded my vintage Greco Fat Telecaster for it. It’s one with the Greco-Guitar Device on the headstock and I frankly wasn’t really that sober when I agreed on that deal. It sounds like a crazy thing to do on my part. One is a made in an Asian mass produced Hamer guitar. The other is a rare vintage Greco telecaster.

For a telecaster lover that I am, I will admit, I had regrets agreeing on the deal in that day before the actual meet up to trade. Until the deal is done and I brought it home to plugged it into my amp, was I shocked (and tremendously relieved) how awesome the guitar it.  is for what I’ve traded it for.

The sounds is great, the finish immaculate and it’s a lot of guitar for what I’ve traded it for.

I was actually very happy with the deal. It feels good. The action was a bit high but its nothing some adjustment to the TOM bridge cannot rectify. But the sound is deliciously good. I’m totally floored as I usually would think there I would ned to swap out the pickups for some PAFs. (I have a few Gibson 480s and 490s lying around so it was no big deal)

But this time, for this one, the ‘hummies’ are not going any where soon.

Warm on the dirty side but clarity on the clean end, it has the 3D kind of dynamics that is so lacking in other guitars of the price range. In fact it beats the so called Super-Dry pickups on my traded Greco. There is a Carlos Santana vibe to this sound and I won’t be drooling over any PRS with this one anytime soon. So it’s a great money saver guitar.

I’m not really a rocker but that night I rocked the night away. It sweet sustains the whole night and my Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive has never seen so much action since knocking my Rat out of my pedalboard last year. So this is one gear that could bring out different kind of music in me. 

I must say for those considering buying this, don’t hesitate to try one out. I’m not sure how much it costs new, (I can’t seem to find one on Amazon or Guitar Centre) but it should be less than $3-400. But even if it’s under $1K, I would still think its a good buy. This goes to show that ….

Great Guitars Do Not Need To Be Expensive Guitars

Thanks for reading and I wish other owners will comment on this guitar and share your love (or hate! if that’s really what you think).