5 Tips for Avoiding a Trip to the Guitar Tech

A trip to the guitar E.R. is every player’s worst nightmare. What many of them don’t know, however, is that most of these disasters can be avoided with a little preventive maintenance and some common sense. We recently sat down with Caleb Ramm, the guitar technician at Ernie Williamson Music in Joplin, Missouri. He’s fixed everything from severed headstocks to bad wiring jobs, and he had plenty to say when we asked him how to avoid an emergency trip to the repair shop.

Use a Humidifier

Dry winter air can take a toll on your instrument, and forgetting to properly humidify it can yield disastrous results. In many cases, simply leaving your guitar out in a dry environment can cause cracks and splits, both of which are costly, if not impossible, to repair. Ramm noted that many guitarists forget that wood is very susceptible to changes in moisture. “The wood of the guitar is a living being. It does move and it will always move,” Ramm said.

Room humidifiers provide an easy way to control humidity and most can be purchased for around $100 to $150. These are a great option for studios, or for guitars that aren’t confined to a case. Guitar humidifiers also work well in certain applications, such as for travel or spatial economy. Brands such as the Humitar by Music Nomad fit in the soundhole of your acoustic guitar or in your case and can help keep your instrument from drying out.

Watch the Weather

Extreme weather in general can pose a risk to your instrument; just like low humidity, heat can cause stomach-churning damage. The trunk of your car is one of the worst places to store an instrument on a hot day. According to Ramm, damage caused by extreme heat is frequent.

“I have at least one repair a week where somebody left a guitar in their car throughout the day,” he noted. Extreme heat can cause cracks, warps, and in the worst case, can melt the glue holding your guitar together. “Treat your instrument like you would treat a child,” said Ramm, “If you’re not going to leave your kid in the car, don’t leave your instrument in the car. Plan around your instrument just like you would plan around your kid.”

Use a Stand

Obvious though it may seem, many of us are guilty of violating this basic axiom of guitar ownership. “If you want to avoid abusing your guitar, buy a good stand or put it in the case. If you’re not going to play it, put it somewhere safe,” Ramm said. Setting your instrument against the coffee table can cause scratches and dents, and in the event that your instrument decides to take a dive, severe damage can ensue.

Any stand is better than no stand, but stands that cradle your instrument and offer some sort of neck support work the best. Some guitar stands, such as Hercules Stands, lock your instrument into place providing an even greater level of protection. Also, it's safer in the case.

Clean and Maintain Your Guitar

Cleaning and maintaining your guitar can have many benefits. Aside from making it look nice, cleaning your guitar can extend string life and keep certain components from rusting.

“The screws will rust, the pole pieces on the pickups will rust. Once you get the pole pieces on your pickups rusted, it’s really hard to get off, and it does actually affect the sound of your guitar,” Ramm said. Cleaning your guitar is as simple as wiping it down after you play. This will remove some of the oils that can cause buildup and ultimately lead to rusting.

Part of guitar maintenance is ensuring that your fretboard is well hydrated. Dry fretboards can lead to sharp frets and discomfort while playing, but keeping your fretboard in good shape is easy. Ramm suggests oiling your fretboard on a regular basis, especially if it’s unsealed. “If you’re using an oil-based substance on it, it will last a lot longer. I’ve seen anything from lemon oil to orange mineral oil,” he said.

Buy Straplocks

While Peter Townsend managed to make a smashed guitar one of the most glamorous icons of the rock ‘n’ roll era, most guitarists cringe at the thought of seeing their own instrument in more than one piece. One of the easiest ways to avoid dropping your guitar is to purchase straplocks. Straps are prone to popping off of the buttons, so straplocks can help prevent drop-related damage to your guitar.

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