Simple Guitar-Related Solutions You Could Be Missing Out On

Guitarist Facepalm

A few years ago, I was browsing the Seymour Duncan Forum and came across a member who had encountered a problem which had him near his wit’s end. HIS KNOB WAS STUCK!

Heh.

No, seriously though. He was trying to wire up a new volume pot in his guitar, but he could not get the knob to come off so he could take out the old pot. It would turn, but it wouldn’t pop off no matter how hard he tried to pull; a problem of grip and leverage. Wisely, he resisted every primitive urge to pry the thing off with a screwdriver – almost certainly avoiding gouging the crap out of the top of his guitar and damaging the knob – and instead posed his question to the weirdos, misfits, and all-around great people of the Seymour Duncan user community.

Helpful misfit weirdo that I am, I was inspired by his plight to quickly make the following video:

Remove a Guitar Knob Without Prying

I spent like zero time on that. I did it before I left for work one day. The only reason I posted it as a video was because I felt it was a lot easier to just show him what I meant than to try to type it out. I posted it once in his question thread on the forum and quickly forgot about it…

…Until I received an email recently informing me that my stupid throwaway YouTube video had been viewed almost 20,000 times. That is… a lot of knobs.

What this illustrates to me is that there is something of a market for the simple solution. Some sense is not as common as we think it is. That’s not a dig on anybone – merely the acknowledgement that sometimes the tip, trick, or quick fix that seems intuitive to one individual is actually not that obvious to the community at large.

food

“There goes my gyro – watch him as he goes…”

The Internet and social media give us tremendous, ubiquitous power to share information. Think about what could be accomplished if each person held off posting pictures of their dinner on Instagram just once a week and shared a helpful tip to make someone else’s life a little easier instead. We’d be living in Utopia in, like, six months. Tops.

With that, this being a guitar-related blog and I being a guitar-related person, I will now do my part to move us all a tiny step closer to musical utopia and share a few of the less-obvious, guitar-related tips and tricks I’ve come across over the years.

Stop Ripping Your Guitar Cable Out on Stage

Pete Townsend Being Awesome

Mr. Townsend, making sure you notice his cable-wrap

Ever step on your guitar cable at band practice or on stage (or in your bathroom, or wherever) and yank the jack right out of your guitar? Not me! (Anymore…)

…Because I loop the cable through my strap at the bottom of my guitar before plugging it in. Yeah, this seems pretty simple, but for some people reading this, it will be a revelation. If you’re one of them, don’t feel bad. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure this out. I still have old pictures of myself as a teenager at my first couple of gigs that show my guitar cable exiting my guitar and tracing straight down to the floor. After the second or third time my singer stomped on it and ripped it out of my guitar mid-song, I started thinking “There’s got to be a way around this. Maybe a wireless?”

Eventually I worked up the nerve to mention it to the old guy at the local music store (who was probably a whopping 32 years old, i.e. “old guy” to 16-year-old me) and ask him if they made some kind of strap holder product that would prevent this from happening.

“They do,” he said.

“Do you carry them?” I asked.

“You already have one, kid. It’s called a strap.”

And he showed me. He took a guitar off the wall, threw a strap on it, and looped a cable through the strap before plugging it into the guitar. “This is what people do,” he said. The solution to my problem seemed so mind-numbingly obvious then that I was immediately embarrassed I’d even had to ask. I felt like I’d spent my whole life wishing that somebody made gloves for your feet, only to find out that everyone else in the universe had been walking around in socks all along. Socks! So that’s what those are for!

feet in socks.

My life makes sense again.

You don’t ever have to be the guy whose guitar cuts out in the middle of a solo again – loop that cable through your strap.

Hate Re-Stringing Your Bigsby a Little Bit Less

Ah, the Bigsby Vibrato Tailpiece. Such elegance. Such an intuitive piece of engineering. What luscious shimmer and wiggle it bestows upon chords. The vibrato arm, large and easy to find without looking; the vibrato, so musically even across the strings. The operation of a Bigsby is smooth and gentle, like a lover’s caress…

Gibson SG Classic with Bigsby

“I will never hurt you.”

…That is, until you go to change your strings. During string changes, the Bigsby immediately transforms from gentle partner in pitch modulation into a deranged, satanic hosebeast of torment and frustration.

The problem stems from the lower bar you see in the picture above – the one the strings can be seen wrapping over and around. On the underside of that bar, there are six little pins designed to hold the ball ends of the strings in place when the guitar is tuned up and under normal tension. Unfortunately, before the guitar is tuned up and under normal tension, those little pins do absolutely bugger-all to hold the strings in place. They continually pop off and generally give you Hell, causing a Bigsby re-string to take way longer and be much more of a headache than it should ever need to be.

This is such a common issue with the Bigsby that there are numerous after-market parts, add-ons, and modifications designed to address it specifically. These products range widely in complexity and price, but they all pale when compared to the single cheapest, most-direct, simplest solution there is: the capo.

youth pastor with a capo on an acoustic. like I couldn't find a pic of this

“Make a joyful noise! In F sharp!”

Yeah, the capo. I know. It turns out that these things actually have more uses than just decorating the second fret of a youth pastor’s acoustic.

Just take the capo and clamp it down somewhere in the middle of the neck over the strings. Then you can get the ball ends of your strings over the Bigsby pins, pull the strings tight under the capo, and they’ll stay put so you can thread the tuner posts and wind some tension into them. Do this one string at a time or  all six at once – it works perfectly either way. Once all your strings are strung, remove the capo and tune your guitar normally. Boom. Done.

Learning this tip has helped me immensely and probably saved that awesome Bigsby’d SG Classic up there from being sold numerous times.

Tune Up to Pitch to Stay In Tune (better)

For our final Tip That May Not Be Intuitive To Everyone (or TTMNBITE), we’ll address the simplest, most-direct method of getting every guitar to stay in tune better without any modification of any kind.

STUPID GUITAR - Y U NO STAY IN TUNE???

Rage comic memes are always appropriate. Try one in your next business presentation!

Do you find yourself constantly tuning your guitar? Have you changed your strings, tightened every screw and bolt, examined every part of the bridge, and checked every removable part for shifting or movement to no avail? If so, the answer to your tuning woes may be as simple as altering the way you turn the tuning machines themselves. For you see, there is a secret.

Ready? Here it is: Always tune up to pitch.

That’s it. Achieving correct tuning by slowly tightening the tuner up to pitch results in more stable tuning under all playing conditions.

This means that, if the string is ringing flat, turn the tuning machine slowly to increase the tension up to the desired pitch, and then stop. Don’t fiddle with it after that. Okay, you’re rolling your eyes. I know. Bear with me; this gets relevant in a hurry.

If the string is ringing sharp, do not just de-tune down to  the desired pitch. Instead, de-tune to a pitch slightly below the desired pitch, and then tune back up until the string is ringing in-tune. And stop.

The reason for this method has to do with the way tuning machines are designed.

Photo of a worm gear

It’s not the size of your worm, it’s some other pun…

Tuning machines work via an internal spur gear and crossed helical driver called a worm-and-gear mechanism. Different tuning machine brands and models use different gear ratios (i.e. the number of manual turns of the tuning key required to result in one full turn of the post), but they all tend to be somewhere between 12:1 and 18:1. This ratio range is a compromise chosen by manufacturers to provide a good degree of accuracy without requiring players to turn the tuning key a million times to tune their guitars. The downside to this compromise is that, often, a gear will exhibit a certain amount of “play,” meaning a small amount of “turn” can be applied to the tuning key which results in no change in string pitch whatsoever. Usually, this is no problem.

The play comes into… play… however, if we de-tune to pitch instead of down past the pitch and back up. This is because, after de-tuning to pitch, the string tension may pull the tuner post a little bit more around that tiny amount of play before the gear catches the next tooth of the driver and stops, causing the string to fall flat by a little or a lot (depending on the amount of play in the mechanism and how hard you happening to be hitting the string).

By always tuning up to pitch, we keep the tooth of the helical driver up against the tooth of the spur gear, mitigating play and all other factors in turn (har), and thus stay in tune a lot better. SCIENCE!

Don’t Be Afraid to Share

If you have a tip like this, don’t assume everybody else knows it already, even if it seems mind-numbingly obvious to you. Spread it around! Post it in the comments, post it on the Seymour Duncan Facebook page, tell your friends, shout it from the rooftops, spray paint it on your sister’s car; get it out there. Chances are I either don’t know it already or had to learn it the hard way, so don’t be shy.

Adam Gotch

About Adam Gotch

Adam Gotch is the guitarist for the instrumental nerd-beer-thrash outfit Devils of Belgrade (listn.to/devilsofbelgrade). He possesses many fine talents and is alarmingly handsome. You should follow his advice to the letter in all things.
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  • sangap

    (embarrassingly) educational, as well as entertaining! kudos :)

  • http://twitter.com/bernardobgb Bernardo Branco

    I used to pull the string when tuning down and then tune up again, but this is more efficient!

    Does anyone have a tip on how to balance an Ibanez Iceman easily?

  • http://www.facebook.com/MartinRocha818 Martin Rocha

    What is a picture of Arctic Monkeys doing here? lol This article is awesome for any beginners out there, or anyone that simply didn’t know. The tuning up to pitch tip is one I already knew, it saved a lot of time and frustration.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.spillman.9 Robert Spillman

    Case Shock. Got a Les Paul? Let it sit on a stand for thirty minutes to an hour before you tune it. Mine suffered from this and after bout a half hour out of the case it would be tuned and need no attention but to be played…..

  • ketchfish

    I’ve got one – Don’t change brand or gauge strings unless you have time to set your guitar back up properly before your next gig or rehearsal. It took me a year of playing out before I figured this one out.