How To Care For Your Electric Guitar
A complete guide to care and maintenance, from newbie to pro
Team HC - Courtesy of Epiphone Guitars
If you've just purchased a new electric guitar or bass, you now hold in your hands a superb instrument designed and built to last a lifetime with proper care. This Care and Maintenance Guide is your quick reference resource for all guitar questions, big and small, and will help ensure a long life for your instrument.
The same rules apply to taking care of both new and vintage instruments. We recommend always keeping your instrument in a case when transporting or storing it away until the next gig. This reduces the possibility of damage due to nicks, jams, and sudden changes in climate. Think of your case as your guitar's bodyguard. It's nearly impossible for an instrument to go through life without getting bumped around, but a solid case is the only surefire way to keep your instrument safe when it's not being played.
Perspiration or water can damage your instrument's finish, so always wipe it down with a clean soft cloth after playing or before storing it in a case. Polishing with high gloss guitar polish or a good quality carnauba wax polish will prolong the durability of the finish.
When using a shoulder strap, check that all contact points and strap fasteners are secure. You're never too old or too experienced to 'think' your guitar is fastened correctly only to have it come crashing down when the strap falls off! So always double check that your guitar strap is securely fastened.
Avoid sharp blows to any part of your instrument. Be particularly alert to avoiding blows to the back of the headstock, machine heads (better known as tuners), and the neck heel area. Many headstock breaks are the result of an instrument being knocked over while being temporarily stored on a guitar stand. And do not stand your guitar case on its end. (Yes, we know that might sound obvious, but it had to be said!)
Should minor set up adjustments become necessary, contact your local authorized dealer for service or questions. Unauthorized servicing can often void your warranty.
Restringing Your Instrument
Fresh strings are a vital part of making an instrument sing and sound its best. When strings begin to go dead---lose their resonance or are not as touch sensitive--you won't get a balanced response from your pickups. Further wear and tear could result in a broken string right in the middle of your solo. If that happens, it's time for a new set of strings!
How much you play your instrument and even your body chemistry (how much you perspire) will determine how often to change strings. Listening to your instrument is the only sure way to judge whether or not your strings need to be changed. And if one string needs to be changed, the others can't be far behind; to maintain tonal balance, change the whole set at the same time.
However, note that some players (and some styles of music) prefer the sound of worked-in or "duller"” strings. It all depends on the sound you seek. For instance, bass players who play classic rock and roll love the sound of "worked in" strings. When it comes to guitar, a new set of strings really makes a guitar's tone come alive.
Proper string installation is critical to playability. An incorrectly installed string can slip and cause the instrument to go out of tune. When changing strings, we recommend changing one string at a time in order to maintain tension on the neck and bridge. The pressure of the strings holds the bridge and saddles in place; removing all the strings at once could necessitate a new setup.
1. At the bridge
The bridge end of the instrument is strung as shown in the images above (acoustic guitar left, electric guitar right). Different instruments are strung according to the bridge and string type. The bridge end is always strung before the string posts at the headstock.
2. At the headstock
Bring the string from the bridge to the post on the corresponding tuner located on the headstock. Put string (A) through the hole or slot in the post at (B) to (C); around the upper side of the post (D) and under the string (A) at (B), back again around the string post (D). Now when you wind the string, it will lock itself against the post as shown in the image above, and enhance tuning stability.
Tuning Your Instrument
Many individuals have their own method of tuning their instrument including DADGAD and open G, D, and E. Your new electric guitar is probably tuned to A-440 (standard tuning) using a tuning fork, electronic tuner, or pitch pipe. The chart below shows standard guitar and bass tunings. The first string, for this purpose, is considered to be the one with the smallest diameter. Tune the two outside strings first, then tune toward the center. This equalizes the pressure on the bridge and allows rapid tuning. Be sure to check your intonation, too.
Intonation and Saddle Adjustment for a Tune-o-matic Bridge
If you have a "Tune-o-matic" bridge guitar, it may have come to you pre-adjusted. But several additional adjustment options are available.
1. String Height or Action*
Sset the bridge's height adjustment with the two slot-head screws on either side of the Tune-o-matic Bridge. Turn clockwise to lower and counter-clockwise to raise.
2. Adjusting the Intonation*
An intonation adjustment is usually necessary only when switching to different gauge strings (intonation can also be affected by the angle of a tremolo unit). The saddle positions are adjusted by the individual slot-head screws located on the front of the bridge, which can slide the saddles forward or backward. To check the intonation, use an electronic tuner and tune the guitar to standard pitch. Note: most guitars use A-440 for standard pitch. Play the harmonic at the 12th fret and then compare it to the fretted note on the 12th fret. These notes should read the same on your tuner. Before adjusting the intonation, first determine the direction that the saddle needs to be moved. If the 12th fret harmonic pitch is lower in pitch than the fretted note, slide the saddle back, away from the neck. If the 12th fret harmonic pitch is higher than the fretted note, slide the saddle forward.
* Adjusting intonation and string height will affect how your guitar plays and feels. If you are unsure of any of the above operations, please take instrument to an authorized dealer (if under warranty) or experienced gutiar technician.
Action on an guitar or bass is the distance that a string must travel before it meets the fret. Action measurements specified in 64ths of an inch, and are calculated from the top of the 12th fret to the underside of the string. Epiphone sets the action on all instruments at the factory to the optimum playability setting. On occasion, some players (especially those with a light touch) prefer lower than standard settings. You can adjust the bridge studs to lower the action (see the section on the Tune-o-matic bridge), but lower than standard action can often result in "buzzig" caused by the string vibrating against the fret. Buzz or rattle caused by lower than standard action doesn't mean the instrument is defective; it means the action needs to be higher.
For action at the first fret, all instruments are set at the same height. Treble strings are set to 1/64" and the action progresses up to 2/64" for bass strings. Be sure that the truss rod is properly adjusted before setting your action.
Truss Rod Adjusment
All guitar necks are subject to great stress as a result of string tension, humidity, changes in climate, or all of the above. Occasionally there are times when the neck angle may need adjusting. The truss rod is adjustable at the headstock using an Allen wrench. However, please note that this adjustment should be performed periodically but only by a qualified repair person. Improper adjustment can damage your instrument's neck.
Humbucking and Single-Coil Pickups
Humbucking (Double Coil)
Many electric guitars have double-coil humbucking pickups which were designed to do what the name says: "buck" the hum caused by fluorescent lights, rheostats, and other electric interference. This is accomplished with two coils of wire, wound in opposite directions to cancel interference. Best of all, they provide a powerful sound that is the foundation of rock and roll.
Pickups are made to produce a variety of subtle variations by usingf different magnets, different combinations of winding turns, and including or not including covers.
P-90 (single coil)
Certain electric guitar models are equipped with single coil P-90 pickups. These come with various covers including "dog ear" and "soap bar" types. When the P-90 was introduced in 1946, it was the most powerful pickup of its kind. The Beatles were especially fond of the P-90 pickup, and used Epiphone Casino guitars on every Beatles album from Revolver through Abbey Road.
Although the pickups on most electric guitars are set up to manufacturers standards at the factory, some additional adjustments are possible. The height of the pickup can be adjusted by the two screws found at either end of the pickup mounting ring. Individual string volume can be adjusted by turning the polepiece screws. Bringing the pickup or individual pole screws closer to the strings make the signal stronger or "hotter," but can reduce sustain somewhat.
Control Knobs and Switches
The standard electronic configuration is two pickups, four control knobs, and a pickup selector switch. The four control knobs provide individual tone and volume control for each pickup. Models with only three knobs provide individual volume control and one master tone control. Single pickup models have only two knobs--one volume and one tone control--and no pickup selector.
Your electric guitar can producing a huge variety of tones simply by manipulating these controls.
The Volume Control on all Epiphone models controls the amount of volume each pickup produces. Turning the control clockwise produces more volume. Turning the control counterclockwise produces less volume.
The Tone Control on all models are "Treble Cut" controls, which means that turning the knob counterclockwise reduces that pickup's high frequencies and produces a darker tone. Turning the control fully clockwise produces the brightest sound, and passes the instrument's full frequency range on to your amplifier.
The Selector Switch turns pickups on and off. On most guitars with two pickups, the middle position turns both pickups on. When the switch is "up," only the neck or "Rhythm" pickup is turned on. When the switch is "down," only the bridge or "Treble" pickup will be heard.
Given proper care and maintenance, your electric guitar will provide a lifetime of service and then be passed down to the next generation to enjoy. So plug in, turn on, and make better music!
Harmony Central would like to thank Epiphone for their permission to reprint this article.