DIY Maintenance For The Modern Guitarist with Music Nomad

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DIY Maintenance For The Modern Guitarist with Music Nomad

Music Nomad feature
Words By Peter Hodgson

We all know what we guitarists are like: we become emotionally attached to our instruments to the point of obsession.

And if someone else messes with our guitar we get angsty. We’re like a mother bird who won’t take her baby back if a human has touched it, but in this case our baby is, like, a Telecaster or a pointy BC Rich or something. And the thing about that is, occasionally you might need to hand your beloved instrument over to a trusted tech to perform some heavy-duty work. That can be difficult. But there’s a lot of stuff you can do yourself, guitar maintenance habits and techniques that will keep your instrument in top playing shape and even help prevent certain issues from popping up in the future and requiring the hands of a tech to rectify.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

We’re gonna look at Music Nomad’s range of tools to help keep your guitar in your hands and out of a luthier’s. 

The most basic guitar maintenance you can perform yourself is to change the strings. Some guitarists, even experienced ones, prefer to have someone else handle this. Hey, if you can pay professional guitar tech on retainer to do all this stuff for you, why wouldn’t you? Oh yeah, the crippling emotional attachment to our guitars… So, changing strings can be either a simple affair (like, say, a hardtail Stratocaster) or an absolute nightmare from which there is no waking up (ever tried to restring a Bigsby?). There’s more to changing strings than just putting new strings on the guitar and it’s a good idea to use this time to check other things on the guitar that may need attention. 

For example, when I change my strings, I’ll often take all six off at once (unless it’s a guitar with a Floyd Rose), give the guitar a good clean and polish (naturally Music Nomad makes great guitar polishes, and the first thing I noticed when I bought some several years ago was how good they smelled, which is always a plus), I check the condition of the neck. First I’ll get up close with a good light source and check the frets for any dents, scrapes or knocks. If you find any and they’re really bad, I’m afraid that’s a tech issue, my friend. But If you’re comfortable doing your own basic fret work, this is where you might whip out your Nomad Total Care FRINE Fretboard Care Kit, which includes F-ONE oil, a lemon-oil-free, petroleum-and-wax-free oil for protecting the fretboard wood but more importantly for our fretting concerns, FRINE Fret Polish and three GRIP fretboard guards to protect the wood while you use the included microfiber suede cloth to polish the frets up to a shine. I bought some of this stuff over lockdown and went over all my guitars and after getting over the embarrassment of realising how dirty my frets were, I was really pleased with how slick and smooth the playing experience became. You’ll be able to bend notes a lot easier when you’re not pushing the string against a dirty or dinged-up fret. Pop your guitar on a Music Nomad premium workstation neck support and mat to keep your guitar secure as you apply fret polish and use the cloth to shine those things up, but make sure to use consistent movements: don’t focus too hard on any one section of any one fret because you don’t want to polish so much that one section of fret becomes uneven. 

Another important part of a string change – before you even put the strings on – is to check the condition of every surface that the string comes into contact with. This is where you might find issues that bind up the string and cause it to build up and release tension, and when that tension gets released, the string will go out of tune. Music Nomad offers a nut file kit for those who are confident with this incredibly stressful aspect of guitar maintenance. It’s a good thing to learn, but try it on a junked-up guitar if you can. Maybe a hard-rubbish find or something going for twenty bucks at an op-shop. Music Nomad’s nut files are available separately in specific common string gauge sizes, or in kits including the maxed-out Complete Shop Set, an 18-piece kit for the pros or the obsessive. 

At this point you would want to apply TUNE-IT string lubricant to any surface that contacts the string: the nut slots, the string tree, the bridge saddle, even the slots in a Tune-O-Matic bridge. 

Music Nomad Bridge

Once you’ve put your strings on, taking care to hold some tension in the string while you’re turning the tuning pegs in order to keep the wraps of string from bunching up all over each other around the post (the string should look consistent and even, not all layered up over itself), now is the time to check your string height and neck relief. That’s a whole other big job. Grab your Music Nomad Precision Setup Gauge Set. It includes tools for measuring truss rod relief (the amount of forward-bow in the neck: a little is usually good, a lot is bad, a super-flat neck is only really recommended if you’re a fusion player with a super light touch, and a backwards bow will result in notes choking out). Depending on the guitar, the method for adjusting the truss rod is different, but the general idea is: tighten it to get more forward bow, loosen it to get more back bow. 

Now, this bit is important: If you need to adjust the height of your strings (and you can use the String Action Gauge in the same Music Nomad set to check), do it with the bridge saddle adjustment of your particular guitar: never use the truss rod to change string action.

String height is a very personal matter. Some players like their strings super-low, but these will buzz if you play with a heavy touch. Some like them quite high, but this puts more stress on your fingers. Some players seem to see high action as a badge of honour, a tough-man thing tied in with heavy string gauges, but ignore all that posturing and go for a string gauge and action height that doesn’t get in the way of making music. 

Paying a little extra attention to things like neck relief and fret condition now can keep your guitar in better playing condition and better overall physical condition so you can either prevent a trip to a luthier caused by neglect (a poorly treated neck is more likely to develop a twist, which is a serious job to rectify), or just become familiar enough with the minutiae of your beloved instrument’s overall condition that you can easily spot when something doesn’t feel right, and empower you with the ability to rectify the issue yourself or have the confidence to say ‘Oh this is a little beyond my powers’ so you don’t make a ‘Whoops I thought I could do that’ mistake. 

For more products, visit Music Nomad.