When changing a string, put a slight bend in the new string as close to the ball end as possible. This makes the ball end securely seat itself on the interior bridge plate, which of course is vital if the string is to transmit its vibration to the top of the instrument. Without that bend, it’s possible for the ball to press up on the bridge pin rather sit tight against the bridge plate, which in the most annoying cases can suddenly turn that bridge pin into a projectile as it pops out when you’re tuning up. And believe me, because I’ve been there, finding that escaped bridge pin can be a major challenge in a cluttered space like my studio!
Also on the subject of string changes, do your best to avoid even the slightest bend elsewhere in that new string when you remove it from its package. A bend between the nut and the saddle has a negative impact on the tone of the string because that bend is a slight impendence to the string vibrating evenly. It’s a real bummer when you are expecting to enjoy the crisp, clear sound of a new string only to have it sound not much better than the old one you just removed.
And do change the strings as often as you can afford. It is the most basic and inexpensive way to keep your guitar sounding as good as it possibly can. When you do get around to changing strings, don’t take all the old ones off at once (except for very occasional cleaning and polishing the fretboard). Instead, replace them one at a time. That way pretty consistent and constant pressure is maintained on the guitar. Your guitar is used to that pressure and if you suddenly remove and then reapply about 200 pounds of pressure (the approximate amount generated by steel strings) some nasty things can happen, the worst of which is accelerating the need for a full neck reset, something just about every acoustic guitar will need sooner or later. Be sure to tune each sting up to pitch as you go, too. You will have to do a fair amount of retuning the first few times you play but these days the steel strings that are sold by all manufacturers are very good at settling in and staying in tune quite quickly, thank goodness. Nylon strings however are a tuning nightmare for the first couple of weeks they are on because of the stretchy nature of nylon.
Try to get into a short warm-up routine and stick to it. Some players have a particular song they like to play right off the bat, some do scale work. I find scales pretty boring – although I certainly recognize the legitimacy of practicing them – so if I’m going to use a flat pick I pick out simple melodies such as Ashoken Farewell and The Ashgrove to get the fingers moving. This is as good for my ear as it is for my fingers. Being able to predict what the next note will sound like is an essential skill for any single note passage or in improvising. Playing familiar melodies forces that skill.
Make a point to play in different areas of your home. I have no explanation of why this works, but it does: hearing your guitar in a variety of places makes you play for a longer amount of time, which is always good! My studio is where I do most of my playing, probably 90% of the time, but I’m always amazed how different my guitars sound in rooms of different sizes and with varying amounts of reflective surfaces. There are many stories of famous guitarists playing in their bathrooms, for example. Some have even done some basic recording in those spaces, just because that space sometimes yields tonality that is very desirable. And there’s already a good, armless seat for you to sit on in there when you play!
This next one is a bit more serious but very important. Take a bunch of close-up detailed pictures of your guitar. I hope you’ll never need those pictures for this purpose, but if your guitar is stolen or damaged you will have proof of its existence should you need to file a police report or insurance claim. Be sure to write down the serial number too, which can be found inside your guitar either on a paper label or stamped into the neck block. It’s a good idea to forward the pictures and the serial number to your spouse or a relative, too, in case you are not able to access them for some reason. Plus, doing that will give you a back-up of that information.
A bit less serious but equally important. Think long and hard about what your personal policy is about letting others play your guitar, even going so far as having a little speech memorized if you are nervous about others handling and playing your prized instrument. It is really, really embarrassing to be confronted by someone asking, “hey, can I try your guitar?” if you don’t want anyone else handling it…. but you also don’t want to make things too awkward. I usually try to make a joke about it along the lines of: Sure, if your last name is Clapton! This usually gets the message across. If you’re fine with others playing your guitar, especially good friends or relatives, that’s fine. But I’ve had a couple incidents in days past when someone proceeded to beat on my expensive guitar when I handed it over. Suffice to say, I won’t ever let that happen again!
From time to time, record your playing. Today’s smart phones all have a “voice memos” app that can record at least part of what you’ve been practicing. You’ll often hear things like unwanted rhythmic variations that you’ve overlooked. But don’t be too hard on yourself. The recording quality will be satisfactory, at best, and very few of us really sound the way we think we do while we’re playing or singing. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, just different.
Lastly for this post I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and happy new year. Goodbye, 2020. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?!? This has been the most trying year most of us have ever endured. But I truly, sincerely believe that better days are coming soon. Stay well, stay safe, stay sane.
Peace & good music,