Naturally, the kind of tonewood used is just one of many factors that determines the overall sound of a guitar. Other factors include:
Since the early days of the Denver Folklore Center, we have had a acoustic guitar and stringed instrument repair shop. For the past fifteen years our instrument repairman has been John Rumley. John has worked on thousands of stringed instruments in that time and his knowledge and experience of his craft are vast.
The Set Up
By far, the most common procedure that John does on a daily basis, especially for an acoustic guitar repair, is what we call a “set up”. This includes addressing all the different factors that go into putting an instrument into it’s optimal playing condition. Some of these factors include:
- adjusting the truss rod
- filing high frets
- filing fret ends
- adjusting the height of the nut and/or saddle
- filling or filing the nut slots for optimal width
- adjusting intonation
Along with several other factors that can affect the playability of an instrument.
Another thing that often has to be taken into account is the player’s ability and style: beginner or experienced, flat-picker or finger-picker, heavy or light handed player, etc. A set-up is usually what is needed when a customer says to us, “I don’t know what’s wrong with my guitar, it just doesn’t seem to be playing right.” Sooner or later, any string instrument can use a set up.
Sure Is Dry Around Here
Unfortunately, our dry Colorado climate, is the cause of some of the other more common repair problems that we see. Some of these dryness related issues include:
- cracks (usually in the top or back)
- bridge lifting
- cracks along the bridge pins
- string buzzing due to low action
- painfully sharp fret ends
- cracks in the fret board
All of these problems are fixable and we are always happy to give you a firm estimate before commencing with any repairs.
Humidify That Thing
Many of the problems your instrument may suffer from due to dryness are either partially or completely preventable. The first thing to know are the signs of a dry instrument. The next step is humidifying your instrument if you see any of these signs with your instrument. We go into this subject in more depth in one of our other blogposts, Humidity, Colorado and Your Instrument.
Pick Up Line
Another very common procedure that our repairman, John, does is installation of all types of pick ups. We carry a fairly large selection of pick ups in our store (Fishman, L.R. Baggs, K & K, Barcus Berry) and John can install one of these or one that you have gotten somewhere else.
We Can Fix It (Probably)
Sometimes we will get a broken instrument in the store that looks hopeless, like a guitar headstock completely broken off from the neck. But, given some time and effort, we have been amazed at some of the magic that John has worked on these types of hapless instruments. If you have a problem with your stringed instrument there is never any charge for us to look at it and give you a firm estimate of what it would take to fix it. Then you can make an informed decision as to whether you think it is worth it to you to proceed with the repairs.
Here at the Denver Folklore Center we think that buying an instrument—a acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin or ukulele—should be a fun, relaxing experience. This experience though, can be very different depending on the customer. Let’s face it, not all people shop for something in the same way. We have a small, friendly, well trained staff that has years of experience in helping all kinds of customers find the right instrument for them.
Our Knowledgeable Staff
We have been working with folks for decades so you, the customer, can rest assured that we are not going to push you into some instrument that we don’t think is right for you just so we can make a sale. That has never made sense for a small, local business like ours. It seems to work because, believe it or not, for some families we’re on our 3rd generation of instrument buyer!
Beginners Can Feel Confident
If you’re new to music we would love to help you make an informed decision when it comes time to buy an instrument. Beginners can feel confident when they come in our store that we will show them reasonable options (including renting an instrument for a month or two) and answer any questions they may have in terms that make sense to them. Very often we have answers to questions that they have not even thought of. In more recent years, we have customers who have been doing their research online but need someone like us to help them make sense of some of the conflicting comments they have been reading.
Take It for A Spin
We encourage people to come in and strum a few instruments to start getting an idea of the differences from one to the next; whether it be the feel, the sound, the playability, or the looks. We’re happy to play on them for you if you would rather just concentrate on listening to the different sounds each instrument has to offer.
This Is Fun, Right?
We also try to encourage our customers to keep it fun! We see quite a few people who tend to agonize over their instrument decisions. We try to help these folks keep a good balance between “facts” and listening to your ears, eyes, fingers and heart when you play the various instruments. Remember, you’re not not shopping for a house or insurance, your shopping for a little wooden friend. Keep it fun!
It has often been said, “‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado”. However true this may be, unfortunately, there are some drawbacks for instrument owners. The main problem we deal with in our dry climate is trying to keep our instruments properly humidified.
Wooden instruments, especially all solid wood instruments (i.e. expensive) are susceptible to problems from temperature and humidity changes. Even more stable instruments, like guitars with laminate backs and sides, can show signs of excessive drying in Colorado.
Wooden instruments are meant to “breathe”. There is no finish on the inside of a guitar, mandolin, fiddle, etc. As a result, they will take in and give off moisture from the surrounding environment.
In the dry climate of Colorado this usually means that the wood cells of the instrument are trying to take moisture out of the surrounding air because they are dry. If they can’t get the moisture then the wood cells start to shrink. This can lead to lower action, finish problems, and ultimately, cracking of the wood.
You May Be Dry If…
Your first (and best) line of defense to problems caused by excessive drying are to recognize the various signs of a dry instrument.
One of the first symptoms of a dry instrument that most players notice are buzzy strings. They might start hearing some buzzing on certain frets that was not there a week or two ago. This can be caused by the wood cells in the top of the instrument shrinking. The result is that the top will sink under the pressure of the strings and this lowers the strings enough to allow the strings to vibrate against the upper frets and the fingerboard.
Another symptom that players often notice is sharp fret ends. They will pick up their instrument to play and notice that the fingerboard along the edges feels rough and prickly. This is due to the fact that the wood in the fingerboard is shrinking but, of course, the frets aren’t. The result is that the fret ends will stick out just a little bit but, this is certainly enough to make for some uncomfortable playing.
The Solution is Simple
All these problems are reversible with proper humidification. There is a very good article covering these symptoms on the Taylor Guitar website.
What should you do with a dry guitar, mandolin, ukulele, etc.? HUMIDIFY! You can use a soundhole humidifier, a case humidifier, a room humidifier or a combination of any of these. In an upcoming blog posting we will explore these various solutions in more depth. In the meantime, if you have specific questions about your instrument, feel free to bring it by the store and we will be happy to look at it.