In that regard, I highly recommend the Stewart McDonald web site (www.stewmac.com). You’ll find an absolute wealth of information there including some great videos by master luthier Dan Erlewine and his book “Guitar Player Repair Guide” is the best general overview of guitar repair I’ve seen. They also offer just about any tool or part you could possibly need.
All guitarists are very particular about the “action” (distance between the strings and fretboard) on their guitars. Some like myself like the action as low as it can be without producing string buzzes, but I am primarily a finger-style player these days and if I were strumming forcefully the action would need to be higher. There are also humidity (or lack of) issues that affect action so it’s not uncommon for a guitar that played perfectly for a while to develop buzzes or go in the opposite direction – high action – as the seasons change. Different string gauges affect action too. So what can we do to ensure perfect action?
Many players will keep an assortment of saddles that they change out on a seasonal basis as needed. Changing a saddle is easy – just remove the strings and pull the saddle up and out. It makes sense to keep an assortment of saddle shims too (available from Stew Mac and also from master luthier Bob Colosi at www.guitarsaddles.com ). These thin strips are placed beneath the saddle to raise it up slightly if needed. Some guitarists feel that shims negatively affect the sound of the guitar and I generally agree with this but if you have sanded down the saddle too much and need to raise it up – and don’t have a new saddle to use – it is a stop-gap (no pun intended!) solution.
Regarding sanding or filing saddles: be very, very careful if you decide to do this. Make a sanding block with a short piece of 2x4 wood and glue or staple a piece of medium or lighter grit sandpaper to it, then move the BOTTOM of the saddle back and forth on it, being absolutely sure you keep the saddle bottom flat and level. It even the slightest curve is the result of your sanding the saddle will not make firm contact with the slot in which its placed and you will kill the tone of your guitar. This is why having a few saddles with different depths makes sense. Avoid sanding if possible, and never, ever sand the top of the saddle where the strings cross. One more thing – never glue a saddle into the slot. There is no need for this and when the day comes that the saddle needs to be replaced you will surely need to go to your guitar tech for an expensive fix.
One other issue that can be annoying or downright painful is sharp fret edges. Most high quality guitars don’t suffer from this but even the best ones can develop sharp edges as the neck dries out. First try humidifying the guitar, that will often solve the problem, but if not you can do a bit of filing. Sounds scary, right? It kind of is, but with careful prep and the right file it can be done quite easily. First, buy a small fret file from a supplier like Stew Mac or even through the Martin web site. Next, remove the strings and carefully place strips of masking tape on each side of each fret you will be filing. I use painter’s tape, which adheres well to the fingerboard but is easy to remove later and does not leave residue. Be sure to wrap the tape slightly down and a bit around the neck. Next, gently run the file downward at about a 45-degree angle on each corner of the fret. Apply very little force and usually just a couple draws of the file will be enough to smooth the edges. One or two gentle strokes in the center area on the end of the fret may be needed too – again on a 45-degree angle – but use great care to avoid gouging the wood of the fretboard or the neck. I can’t stress enough how important it is to use the right file, carefully prep the neck, and proceed gently and carefully. You will find a great video on the Stew Mac site showing the procedure.
There are a few other tweaks that guitarists sometimes attempt like reglueing a lifting bridge (this involves special clamps, careful prep and the right glue) and filing string slots in the nut but I recommend leaving those things to a qualified tech. Replacing tuning machines can be very easy or a bit challenging, especially if you have to rout out the holes to accommodate the new machines. I’ve replaced many tuning machines and it usually goes just fine but don’t be disappointed if your new machines aren’t a good fit. Just put the old ones back on and take the guitar to your repair person to install the new ones.
Removing and replacing a pick guard is supposed to be easy (involves the use of a heat source like a hair dryer) but I’ve been too chicken to try that one – yet! In any case, do your homework before attempting any repairs or adjustments. There is a wealth of great information on line. Just go slow, be patient and know the limits of your ability – and courage!
Peace & good music,