Ok, so you have bought this piece wood equipped with some metal or nylon threads on it that makes nice sounds when you strike at them. And now you have come to this page to learn some songs, and you suddenly realised that there is more to being a guitarist than just playing, so you clicked the link saying "columns" to see if there are some interesting tips on how to take care of your precious little instrument, and you decided my article was interesting. Wow, I'm really flattered. So now I'm gonna cut the BS and go over to the tips, or do you wanna read some jokes instead?
So, it was the Swede, the Dane and the Norwegian who were gonna see who could piss the longest.
I'm only kidding. Here's my tips:
The "Basic Care Of Your Guitar" Part
Your guitar should be treated with respect. I.e never lay it down, unless in the case/bag or on a padded workbench if you want to do some maintenance on it. But never ever lay it down on the ground when you don't play it or do maintenance on it. The best place for your guitar to be is A) In a case B) In a gig bag C) On a wall hanger D) On a floor stand.
Every now and then, pick it up, check for damage and polish it. If you have an electric guitar, try loosening the strings a bit so you can remove the dust that most likely has gathered around the pickups. If you have an acoustic, loosen the strings and remove the dust by the bridge. You don't need to loosen them much, just enough to get a cloth underneath. Also prod the hardware to see if it's loose, and if it is, see if there's a screw you can tighten. If you have a strat-type of guitar, check the nut on the socket. It is probably loose, so tighten it, either just by your fingers (but it's gonna get loose again real soon) or with some pliers (don't tighten to hard, or you are gonna damage the nut).
Now your guitar looks real nice and shiny. So let's move on to part 2.
Changing Strings - Help Me! What Do I Do?
Calm down. Restringing guitars is not as hard as it may seem. It's actually really easy, when you know how. The thing to remember is: One at a time (when replacing all. If just one string has called it a day, then you don't have to replace all. I recommend you do, though, because one string snapping shows that this set of strings is getting tired). Do not take of all strings before you put on new, because the neck needs to have the tension provided by strings put on and in tune (almost in tune, at least). I start with the low E (6th string), mainly because it's at the top, and because, well, just because I like to do it this way. You might find it easier to start with high E (1st string), but I think it's all the same.
What string brand should you go for, and what gauge?
I cannot help you. This is a matter of what you yourself find it comfortable to play with. The best advice I can give is to try and fail. Try different brands and gauges until you find something you like. I myself like D'Addario .009-.042 for my BC Rich. They are really easy to play on, I feel. For my Strat, I go with GHS Boomers, .011-.050. I like the heavier gauge for this because I down-tune it so much (I tune it down to C#) that any lighter gauge will cause a lot of fret buzz. Also, a heavier string gauge will provide a richer sound. Beware that you probably need to change the bridge's height when you change gauges, as .013s are thicker than .008s (of course they are) and .013s can buzz where .008s will not, and .008s will be to high if the previous gauge was .013.
For acoustics, I use GHS EXP strings. I personally think they are the best acoustic strings on the market. They cost more however, but they last longer, and I find the sound far better than on any other acoustic strings I've ever tried. Gauge? .012 or .013 is what I use. I would not recommend going lower than .011, as the strings will probably easy buzz for you unless you fingerpick. My dad's a racer at fingerpicking, he does .008s on his acoustic, but that's mental if you strum, with or without pick.
So, what do you do, when replacing a string?
A real nice thing to possess is a string winder. It makes the process of unwinding a string and winding the new one all that much easier. It's not a required tool however, but most certainly a thing I would recommend that you go out and buy, right now. First, you unwind the string at the machine head. Keep on turning the tuner until the string is so loose you can wind off the string with your hands and removing it from the machine. Then, you go down to the bridge and notice how the string is fastened there.
There are quite a lot of different ways that the guitar manufacturers use at the bridge, so I'm not gonna explain them all, it simply will take to much time. However, on most electrics it's quite simple and you don't need a tool to loosen the strings. Except if you are so lucky that you have a Floyd Rose system on it, then the strings are fastened by tightening the string into a clamp. This you need the specific tool for, but it should have been provided when you bought the guitar.
On acoustics, it's not that different. Only place where acoustics differ from electrics is at the bridge. (where else?) Steel string acoustics, the string is attached to the bridge by putting the ball-end into a hole and putting a peg on top of it. The combination of a peg that just fits and the string's tension will keep it in place. Don't worry about the string suddenly flying out of the bridge and make you blind with the ball-end or something, as long as you push the peg properly into the hole and the peg isn't damaged in some way, you will be fine. Since the peg sits so hard, however, you might experience some trouble getting it out of the hole when replacing your strings. Trying to yank it out with the string will probably not do anything. My string winder has a kind of fork thing at the end that I can use to get the peg out, but if you don't possess this sort of luxury, pliers again will do the trick. Two ways (depending on which type of pliers you have in your hand) to remove the peg with pliers:
Cutting pliers: Put the pliers parallell with the strings, the jaws in underneath the peg's head. It should look something like this, seen from above: \\o// (\\ and // being the jaws of the pliers, o being the peg's head)
Other types of pliers, like the one you might used to tighten the nut at the jacksocket: You simply put the jaws over the head, and yank it out. Be careful, as the peg is plastic and will develop some ugly scars if you press the pliers to hard around the peg head. It should look something like this, seen from the side: //o\\
I recommend the way with the cutting pliers however, as that will not damage the head (unless you clip of the peg head, but you are not supposed to press that hard on the pliers, if you do that you are doing it wrong. Don't worry if you break the peg, however, they are real cheap at the music store, and they are bound to have some)
If you have a nylon stringed guitar, it is yet a new way. Look at the bridge. You will see that the strings seem to be tied around it? That's right. Note the knot used, then simply copy it with the new string (The knot isn't that hard that you need an experienced person to show you) Just make sure the knot will last, and you'll be perfectly fine.
Ok, now you have done one string. Repeat for the 5 next.
You now have new strings on your guitar! Congratulations. Next thing to do is to tune it. Start at the top, tune the low E (6th string) to E. Then proceed with 5th string, 4th string... You see where this is going. When you are done with the 1st string, strum all the strings to see if it's tuned. (I usually strum them like this: all strings open, Em chord, Am chord). Unless you are really really lucky, you will notice that your guitar isn't in tune. This is because the strings need time to settle. So you repeat the tuning process, and now your guitar will probably be more in tune. Strum again. Still out of tune? Tune again. This is the main reason that I replace strings on my own guitars just before I go to bed. I tune them once, strum, tune again, then I go to sleep and let the strings rest until the next day. However, since I work as a music store tech, I many times have to tune guitars up to 3 and 4 times before I am sure they will stay in tune for a while, and even then I reckon that the guitar's owner will have to tune it again when he/she comes home.
So, now you have replaced your strings and tuned the guitar. I will now make a little intermission. Here is the rest of the joke that was in the beginning of the article. First pissed the Swede. He pissed 3 metres, and though he had done real well. Then the Dane pissed. He pissed 5 metres, and so he was in the lead. Finally, the Norwegian pissed. No-one could see where his piss landed, and therefor he lost the competition. The next day, however, they could all read in the newspaper that it had raining yellow in China, and they understood then how far the Norwegian had pissed, and so he was made winner of their competition.
Well, part 3 of the "Take Care Of Your Guitar" article then. I have called it
I Think My Guitar Looks A Bit Standard (Boring). What Can I Do With It?
Well, there are a couple of things you can do. Go to your local guitar store, or look on the internet for spare parts. Replacing scratchplate or volume knobs are things almost everyone could do with their guitar. I have replaced the standard white knobs on my Strat with some chrome ones, similar to those used on bass guitars. It makes just a little nuance, but it makes it seem a "not stock"-guitar. The scratchplate can be a bit more complicated, since there are screws you have to unscrew, and you probably have to take off the pickups as well, but again, if you just simply notice how it is fastened to the scratchplate you will be very fine.
If you are a talented artist (and now I mean "artist" as in painter), you can try to customize your axe by painting it with some paint that will stick on (I'm no painter, I have no clue what paint to use), or you can (as I have done) put on some stickers. Basically, to customize your axe, use your imagination. Almost everyting can be done with it. Do not try to reshape it, neither the body nor the neck nor the headstock, as this can mess up the sound coming from it.
"My acoustic has a nice finish, however no scratchplate, and I play with a pick, what should I do" - Either you should go and learn fingerpicking or clenched fist strumming, or you could go to your local music store and ask for acoustic scratchplates. They most likely have some. I think the nicest scratchplates are the ones that are completely black, but this is a matter of your taste. Acoustic scratchplates have a protective sheet at the back that you remove, and then you put it on the guitar where you want it (align it with the soundhole), adhesive side down (obviously).
"My strap keeps falling off when I play!"
Get straplocks. Simply put. Boston and Jim Dunlop makes some nice ones. All there is to strap locks is: Remove old strap button. Insert new strap button. Put straplock on strap. Put strap on strap button. Strap button does not come off unless a) You remove the strap by triggering the straplock mechanism or b) the strap button comes out of its hole, in which case you pour wood glue down into the hole and put the strap button back on.
Part 4 then.
Protecting Your Instrument For Transport
At one point or another, if you are serious about playing the guitar, you need to go out of your house with your guitar. Just grabbing it by the neck and throw yourselves at the bike could damage your instrument seriously, especially if you like to do a bit BMX or FMX when you go around town, or if you like to drive out in the road in front of large trucks.
So, what should you do then? You probably got a cheap bag with the guitar when you bought it, a bag that in most cases is nothing but a piece of woven nylon made into a guitar shaped bag. If you are lucky, it was a bit padded.
So head down to your local guitar store and check prices for padded gigbags or even better, cases. Guitar cases have a hard shell that protect your instrument from damage, and I think cases are the best way of protecting your instrument. However, as a young 14 year old guitarist who is gonna ride your bike to band practise, a gigbag would be better, as most bags have straps so you can carry it as a backpack. I will recommend you to check out Ritter Bags, 500 series or better, as they are really good. They are well-padded, they are waterproof (or resistent, at least), and they have lots of pockets for you to put all your gadgets in (notes, cables, tuners, fx boards and pedals, extra strings, you-name-it), Also, they are one of few independent bag companies I've seen that make bags for odd-shaped guitars, like BC Rich or Gibson Explorers.
Link to Ritter Bags.
The Ending Of The Article
Now you've read some tipe on how to take care of your instrument. The most important piece of advice, however, is: Treat your guitar with respect. Treat it almost like a baby, but that doesn't mean you can't play searing solos or play your guitar while having it on your neck or whatever. Just be sure it doesn't fall into the floor or is exposed to hazards, like acid or mean stuff like that. And remember; when you are drinking and playing acoustic, the "one for me, one for the guitar *booze poured into soundhole here*" rule does not apply. Do not pour booze or beer into the soundhole of your guitar. Your guitar doesn't drink.