Getting a new guitar is pretty exciting, and for a beginner it’s the start of a lifetime relationship with an instrument, and a way to improve their relationship with music.
Not only that, but many studies show that playing guitar is excellent for your mental health, and can vastly improve brain function, and make problem solving more creative.
However, as a new guitarist, you should never try to problem solve your instrument.
Sure, you can change your strings any way you like, but many beginners (especially those who consider themselves “handy”) will try to improve their guitar, and in the process render it unplayable or worse.
Here’s five things you should never mess with on your guitar until you know what you’re doing.
Adjusting The Truss Rod
Running down the neck of your guitar is it’s truss rod, which is literally a steel rod that reinforces the wood neck to give it stability as far as tuning, and ensure a long life for the guitar’s wood.
Many beginners find playing a guitar difficult, especially pressing down the strings, and they read online that adjusting the truss rod can improve the guitar’s action, making the guitar easier to play.
However, adjusting a guitar’s truss rod has so many knock on effects with things like playability, intonation, and other technical stuff that’s frankly way beyond your skill level.
The other issue is that truss rods only need a very small turn to see a lot of change – someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing can easily turn it too many times and break the thing entirely.
For your own sake – hands off!
The nut of a guitar sits right at the end of the fretboard before the strings to out to the tuners. It’s function is to keep the strings at an even spacing from each other along the length of the guitar, and to keep them at an even distance off the fretboard.
As with the truss rod, beginners hear that they can deepen the holes in the nut to make the guitar play easier as the strings are closer to the neck.
However – this is one of those repairs that even experienced guitarists don’t mess with. I know I’ve even taken my guitar to a few luthiers who build guitars all day, but can’t cut a nut to save their lives!
Once again, take this to an experienced tech if you want it adjusted.
Adjusting The Pickups
Many people argue that the only part of a guitar that determines the sound is the pickups, and as such there’s a huge market out there for replacements.
On top of that, many will tell you that you can change the sound of your guitar for free by lowering or raising the height of your pickups.
This is all true – but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can ruin the sound of your guitar. The first time I changed pickups on my guitar, I had my brother do it, who is an electrician. You would think he’d be able for it – but that guitar ended up in the shop.
Pickups are awesome to swap out, but until you know what you’re doing, stay away.
Rewiring The Guitar
Used to be that a guitar just had a volume and a tone knob, a pickup selector, and that was it.
These days there are all kinds of wiring mods you can do, from adding extra capacitors, to putting in push pull knobs, to rewiring your pickup selectors to cut your signal when you want to.
However, as with the other items on this list, this is an area that one wrong move can fry your pickups, or leave you with a guitar that constantly hums.
You can watch a million youtube videos, but you might still mess this up. If you’re not sure, consult a tech before doing anything.
We talked earlier about the guitar’s nut. The other side of the strings to the nut are the bridge saddles, which also do the job of controlling distance between strings and the height off the fretboard.
Saddles are also key in intonation, which is one of the ways that you adjust a guitar to make sure each string is in tune across it’s length.
Beginners sometimes decide they’re going to lower their action at the saddles, and end up messing their guitar up entirely, leaving it a buzzing nightmare as the strings slap off the frets where they don’t want them to.
This can also destroy the intonation, leaving you with a guitar that’s out of tune depending on where you play it on the neck.
Before making any adjustments, consult with a tech – or better yet, have them do it and ask questions!
Guitars are a ton of fun, and over your lifetime as a guitarist, you may find yourself tinkering with them successfully – or breaking them entirely.
As a beginner, try to keep away from these five things, or at least have someone else do it with you watching a few times until you get an idea of what needs to happen.