Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Poor man's guitar setup

So I didn't have much to do tonight, and I decided to take out the strings I bought a few weeks ago, change them out, and (gulp) raise the bridge without professional help.

I changed the strings and took more than hour to shim up my bridge, which it turns out has been too low, causing all kinds of fret buzz and unplayable notes.

The bridge is the piece of the guitar next to the start of the strings, near the bottom. It is a little wall the strings climb over on their trip up the neck. The point of the bridge is to keep the strings from being at the surface of the guitar, where they have no room to vibrate and jangle against the wood surface as they are played.

On the other hand, unless you are doing slide/dobro kinds of things, you don't want the action (the height of the strings above the neck) to be too high. A high action makes it difficult to press down a string on to the neck at a given fret, to produce the note you want, because you have to push harder. It makes it especially difficult to bend strings, which involves pressing down to play a note, then pulling the string sideways to slightly and smoothly increase the pitch. It is fun to do and turns your guitar from a discrete instrument into a continuous instrument, opening up some interesting possibilities.

They, where they equals the leading internet resources on setting up your guitar, want you to put in thin pieces of wood veneers, about 1/32 of an inch each, to adjust the bridge up just right, to get a nice low action without getting all that fret buzz.

I don't have wood veneers, but I was hoping to get some from underneath as I was casting around for an appropriate material, I lit upon the perfect poor man's wood veneer.

I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Are you listening?


I have a bunch of crappy club cards in my wallet, for toy stores and Autozone and a bunch more. By carefully scissoring the long edge of the toy store card, then cutting to fit in the precise length of my bridge (insert an hour of experimenting and annoyance here), I've got it just about perfect.

The only problem was, my worst offending string, the high E, still had an annoying dead region starting about the 11th fret and extending for five steps or so. This is what we in the music business call a major buzzkill. So I turned to the trusty internet again, where I found a suggestion to stick a little material in between the bridge and the offending string, shimming it up still further.

And of course you know what happened next; I just happen
ed to have a debit card from Utah to cut up, and two pieces of it stacked end to end, jammed in between wire and plastic bridge now mar the appearance of my beloved guitar.

But they raised the string up so it plays perfectly (and so it's a little higher than the others, making me feel like I have an intelligent, custom setup), so it's worth looking a little silly.

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