How To Make Your Guitar Play Better Instantly

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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.

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3 thoughts on “How To Make Your Guitar Play Better Instantly

  1. Alice

    Absolutely love these tips on making my guitar play better, thank you so much for this article.
    I love singing and playing guitar. I use it to praise and worship the Lord during my quiet time. The common problem I have is that my fingers tire easily and sometimes they cramp too. I’ve got short fingers so it’s a bit difficult for me to do barre chords.

    Changing strings and cleaning, that I can do but I may have to ask my husband to do the “shaving” and “adjusting.” By the way, how often should I change strings and what gauge do you suggest? Because personally, I prefer extra light because not only do I find it a lot easier to play but I think it also sounds better.

    Reply
    1. HT Post author

      Thanks for the comment. Let me start by saying tire fingers are common in the beginning especially when you are so passionate to want to play regularly. One way to help is to exercise it more. Just fingering exercise of moving from one fret to another with ‘Pinky’ ‘Index’ ‘Middle’ ‘Last’ finder each covering one fret each is crucial. Do it moving up and down the neck helps a lot. It’s like building finger muscles. There’s a lot of other variations you can do so. It may seem mundane but it won’t be if you couple rhythm exercise with it. Do a Youtube search on “Guitar fingering exercises” and get started.

      Reply
    2. HT Post author

      Opps forgot to finish the answers to other questions. I change strings to the guitars I play regularly once every 2 months. It depends on individual, how often they play it and also if they play in performances in hot areas where players sweat a lot. Sweating cause strings to rust faster. As for gauge its also very personal but knowing you still have weak fingers I suggest lighter strings. So 9 or 10 is good. You find lighter strings sounds better? Well, generally people find the opposite where thicker strings provide a more distinct tone. But this goes to show that its all preference and in the ‘ears’ of the beholder.

      Reply

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