There are a lot of things you can do yourself to maintain your guitar. Not only will it save you money, it will also help you to understand your instrument better. Here are a few things I've learnt to do over the years.
To ensure your guitar plays in tune along each string. You need: screwdriver, accurate guitar tuner (pref. strobe). What you do: compare the fretted note with the open string at the 12th fret on each string. If the fretted note is flat, move the bridge saddle forward, towards the bridge. If it's sharp, move the saddle back.
Buy a new piece of chamois leather (the real thing, sorry vegetarians). Get it from an automotive shop or department store. Cut a small piece, about 6 inches square. Don't get it wet. Wrap round each string, pull along the length of string to remove grime. Helps your strings feel nicer to play, and they'll last much longer. The piece of chamois will last years... Keep one in each guitar case.
Use a little lemon oil (buy from guitar shops) for cleaning rosewood/ebony fingerboards. Get the dirt out from the edges of the frets with a toothbrush (if you don't, over time it'll rot the wood and your frets will fall out!) To remove fingermarks/small amounts of grime from guitar, steam with your breath and polish with a clean cloth.
I make minor adjustments to my truss rods reasonably frequently. It's not nearly such a big deal as people make out. Having said that, make sure you know what youre doing. If in doubt, ask someone who does know!
To get the string height at the bridge to match the radius of the neck, measure the distance between the underneath of each string and the top of the last fret with a steel rule.
Rub a pencil in each nut slot to prevent binding (pinging/squeaking noises). This can also help with tuning stability. In theory, if the slots are cut correctly, this isn't necessary... Press down strings at 3rd fret (use capo?) and tap each string at 1st fret to see if it moves. The nut is too low if it doesn't. (Should be at least some clearance). If it's too low, take it to a luthier you dont want to mess around with getting the slots with the wrong files...
From Scott Henderson: "With the strings off and no springs attached to the bridge, drop the bridge into the guitar, put the two end screws in and tighten them until they barely touch the top of the plate, then back them out a quarter of a turn (so you can just get your fingernail under the head). The other four inside screws are only there for support - the heads don't need to touch the plate, so raise them about 1/16" higher than the end screws. It'll stay in tune better if it's floating. Use three springs in the back - use the two end holes and the middle hole on the block and the inside three hooks on the claw."
You could also check out what Carl Verheyen has to say about Strat tremolos. Having said all this, for major repairs do take your guitar to a reputable luthier. Make sure you get a recommendation first.
About The Author:
Dylan Kay is a professional guitarist and guitar teacher in Auckland, New Zealand. Contact him through his website.