1. Crank down/tighten the tension rod in the neck to lower the action. Just the other day someone dropped off a guitar for a basic set-up. The poor thing was unplayable because the tension rod (which adjusts the relief, or curvature of the neck) had been tightened to the point that the strings where almost resting upon the neck. That, combined with a lack of humidity had made the guitar just about useless. Sure, we all want low action but guitar necks MUST have some “relief” – on inexpensive guitars this can be a bigger problem because the overall angle of the neck, nut grooves and height of the saddle may be wrong. The reality may be that you may have to put up with higher action than you’d like to avoid buzzes. Or just buy a better guitar!
2. Take all the strings off when changing. This is related to the first thing I mentioned. When you remove all the tension from the neck, then replace it with about 175 pounds of pressure that is generated by light gauge strings up top pitch, then repeat this process a few times you’re asking for trouble. The best analogy I can offer is – what happens when you bend a stick again and again? Change your strings one at a time, keep tension on the neck. The wood will accept and adjust to this. It won’t to repeated application and release of huge amounts of pressure.
3. Resting your forearm on your thigh when you play while sitting down. This is just bad technique, plain and simple. When a player does this he is trying to support the weight of the neck with his leg. The problem is that there is no way to properly drop the wrist, which is essential for arching the fingers and using fingertips. It also makes barre chords very difficult to play cleanly. Keep your legs together with your arm outside your leg and hold the neck up so your wrist and forearm can move freely.
4. Keep your fingernails short on the hand that plays notes and chords on the neck. I often see students who are reluctant to cut their nails very short, especially women (sorry!). If you try to press straight down on a string with your finger tip and the end of the nail makes contact with the fingerboard, that nail is too long. It’s difficult enough to press down hard enough to generate clear tone. Why make it even harder? Sorry, but you see very few “hand models” who play the guitar! Short nails are essential.
5. This one is for real rookies, people who are perhaps changing their guitar strings for the first time. Be sure to wind the string so it takes a path INSIDE the string posts. Otherwise, the string will be on “backwards.” Winding so the path of the string is on the outside of the post makes tuning very annoying – turning the tuning knob will be in the opposite direction compared to the way it should be to raise or lower the pitch when tuning. This most likely is not harmful to the guitar, just very annoying. Plus it looks sloppy.
6. Be nice to your guitar when you’re NOT playing it! Sadly, over the years I’ve seen a few guitars with necks broken off because their owners leaned their guitars against a wall when they were done playing and for one reason or another (an over enthusiastic pet, a rambunctious youngster running past it, a slammed door nearby) the guitar fell over. Then the 175 to 200 pounds of pressure from the strings did its work. I feel it’s a good thing to keep a guitar readily available to play when inspiration hits but if you’re going to leave it out of its case, buy a good quality guitar stand like the ones from Hercules and place the guitar (out of the line of traffic!) in it when not in use. Or put it back in its case. But don’t stand the case up against the wall either because even in a hardshell case guitars can break if the case falls over.
7. Take a minute to wash your hands before you play. Clean hands and fingers will make guitar strings last much, much longer before they go dead. And get in the habit of wiping off the neck and the body when you’re done playing, especially the part of the lower bout where your armpit rests. Not making assumptions here about your personal hygiene but lemme tell ya, guitar finishes DO pick up odors!
Peace & good music,