Problems, Problems, Problems!
HEY! When I’m tuning up, my electric/acoustic makes a loud “ping” noise!
That’s your string getting caught in the nut. It binds up a bit, then releases and makes a sound like Yoko Ono trying to hit a low note. Solution: It’s not enough of a problem to sanction re-cutting the nut slot, so just run a pencil through the slot to get a little graphite in there to lube it up. You may have to do that often. As a general rule, anything that moves on a guitar can do with a little lube. (insert joke here).
HEY! I keep breaking strings!
Where are you breaking strings? Assuming your not leaving the same set on that you put on in honor of The Beatles getting the M.B.E., you’ve probably got a friction point—most likely the bridge. Look at your old broken strings: are they breaking in the same place all they time? Probably. Probably at the bridge. That means you have microscopic burs that are sawing through your string(s) as you bend that note up to match Buddy Guy’s stratospheric atonal bends. Sheesh! Some guys (no pun intended) have no concept of half step/ whole step!
Anyhow, get some #0000 steel wool and buff your bridge pieces like crazy. #0000 is so fine that your can run willy-nilly over the fret board with it and it’ll just polish your frets and remove gunk. Take care not to let the “filings” get too close to the pick-ups. The pick-ups are magnets and will gather the little particles like John the Baptist gathering the faithful at the river. (How’s that for an analogy?). If you’re breaking newish strings somewhere else than the bridge, you’re probably wailing too hard. One exception to that: on our thin “Es” and “B”, if you have a really sloppy wind on the tuning post you’ll eventually crimp them and they’ll break. Exercise symmetry in our winding: nice and even and neat…ok? Acoustic players: if you’re breaking those puppies, you’re trying to get volume that it just can’t give. Plug in.
HEY! My strings keep slipping/ I’m having a hard time staying in tune!
See my post on “stringing your guitar”. The “knot” works. Nowadays, tuning posts last forever but look at them, too. If you’ve strung your guitar correctly and the string goes flat with every tug—the tuner’s bad. Replace it—it’s easy. Even more fun is replacing old tuners with locking ones. They’re great.
HEY! On my Framastat electric, one string is louder than all the rest!
Pick-ups are adjustable. On humbuckers, there’s usually one screw per string. Set them all flat with the pickup face. Using the two screws on the pick-up mounting ring, adjust the WHOLE pickup to about 1/32 from the strings (level, right?) Take the offending string as your loudest one and raise the others to match it. I know, I know—you have to use your ear. Seek balance, grasshopper—if you have to lower the whole pickup one zillionth of an inch more to give you more play—so be it. Got single coils? Ahh—the exquisite mysteries of Fender guitars. Fenders are usually preset height-wise. So, you need to set the treble (lil “E”) end as close to the string as you can. Then, lower the bass end till the string volume sounds balanced as you do that descending run in “good times-bad times” by Zeppelin—or any lick that goes across all six strings. Once again: balance. The pickup stance will look all tilted but so what? Do this procedure for every pick-up on the guitar, then:
HEY! One pick-up is much louder than the other!
The neck pickup is always louder than the bridge. Do what I said, get the bridge as close as you can, then set the neck pickup lower, lower, lower (using the mounting ring screws) until they are more-or-less balanced. CAUTION: usually you have to go WAY down on the neck pickup and you run the risk of the screw coming out. Don’t panic. You’ll feel the “force” and know when to stop. If the screw comes out, loosen strings, undo mounting ring, put screw back in (it’s easy, trust me), and reassemble. Got a MIDDLE pick-up? Do the bridge first, neck second, balance the middle to match the other two last. This will give you Strat players the better #2 and #4 “quack” tone, too. Knofler approved.
HEY! I Don’t believe you! I’ve studied Stevie Ray’s guitar and his pick-ups aren’t all tilted like you say to do!
You’re right. That’s because he was always playing flat-out and his amps (he used 3-4 at-a-time) compressed the louder thick strings until they sounded about the same volume as the “quieter” ones. Sorry, but he didn’t need the nuances. What about “Riviera Paradise”, where he’s playing whisper-quiet? Answer: He was compressed a bit at the “board”. In reality, we’re talking about subtleties, but subtle is sometimes a good thing. Back in the good old days, we never knew you could “tweak” your git-fiddle. Ever wonder why Clapton’s guitar on “Sunshine of Your Love” distorts so much more on the low notes of the riff and clears up and sings on the high notes of the solo? He was “God” at the time—but his pick-ups were not balanced. So there.
HEY! On my Strat, when I play individual notes high on the neck, some of them sound out of tune with themselves! How is that possible?
One or more pick-ups are TOO close to the strings, allowing the magnetic field to drag the string a microscopic bit. Back all the pickups down a hair until this annoying phenomena goes away. Re-check ALL the pick-ups balance. As always, LOUDER is better—but there are limits.
HEY! I’ve got the exact same guitar as (insert name here), the exact same amp, I even went and cut off part of my left pinky like he did, and I still don’t sound like him!
And you never will. Thank God. Why would you want to sound like someone else? I’ll be the first to admit that there are some guys that do a pretty good SRV imitation and if I have enough coffee I can play as shaky as Neil Young, but why do it? Be YOU. Take from the masters, but run with it your own way. That old saying: “it’s in the hands” really is true. All kinds of physical things come into play that makes a Jeff Beck a Jeff Beck—but ultimately it’s your mind that’s musical, not your digit size or a certain-colored strap.
All these adjustments to guitars are designed to let you set up your guitars so you can forget about them and just play.
Hope this helped! Happy strumming!
PS: Remember: the screwdriver is our friend.