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The Two Most Common Acoustic Instrument Problems and Solutions

Being in the musical instrument business for nearly 60 years, we at the Denver Folklore Center have encountered quite a few acoustic musical instrument problems. The most common concern we hear from customers is that their instrument doesn't sound or play right. Perhaps there’s string buzz or maybe the action (the space between the strings and the fingerboard) has become less comfortable.

Colorado’s climate, changing from modestly humid in the summer months to extremely dry in the winter, is often the cause of buzzing, high action and other common problems.  The short-term fix is often what we call a setup.  Preventing a lot of these issues relies on humidifying your instrument.

The Setup

Sooner or later most instruments will need a professional setup. Just as a tune-up helps an automobile’s performance, a setup will bring your instrument back to life. Understanding the musician’s playing ability and style is important to achieving the perfect setup. Level of experience, finger versus flat picking, heavy-handed or light touch – all of these affect the playability of an instrument.

During a setup, our luthiers will examine virtually every aspect of the instrument with a special focus on the neck and its associated components. The goal of a setup is to return the instrument to its best possible playing condition, ridding it of the problem that brought you in.

With that in mind, we may:

* adjust the truss rod
* file high frets
* file fret ends
* correct the height of the nut and/or saddle
* fill or file the nut slots for optimal width
* regulate intonation

The end result will be an instrument that plays easily, sounds its best and gives you many more years of pleasure.

Climate Issues/Dryness

Colorado’s desert-like climate is often the cause of some of the other more common repair problems we see. Some of these dryness related issues include:

* cracks (usually in the top or back)
* bridge lifting
* splits along the bridge pins
* string buzzing due to low action
* painfully sharp fret ends
* fractures in the fret board

Many of these problems are either partially or completely preventable. The first thing to know are the signs of a dry instrument.  Run your finger along the edge of the fretboard.  If the fret ends feel very sharp the chances are your instrument is too dry.  This is an early signal that more serious issues like the ones listed above could happen. If you are not currently humidifying please read more about that

Let Us Help You

For more than 20 years, John Rumley has been the lead technician at the repair shop at the Denver Folklore Center and has worked on thousands of stringed instruments, including more than a few unique ones. He is also well known in Denver as a guitar builder and performing musician.

If you have an issue with your stringed instrument, we offer free estimates for repairs. Just contact us at 303.777.4786,, or drop by the store. We are happy to help.