Stay in tune Vol# 2 4/28/09
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
I’m starting to write this article on Sunday, April 26th. It is a beautiful day and I was just outside playing my guitar for a while.
Spring has sprung! We can all finally remove are musical instruments from their warm dry and
heated shelters, to the beautiful outdoors, where personally, I think that music sounds the best especially around the campfire. I know that I like playing outdoors and do so, every time I get the chance. But of course this also can bring on it’s own potentionaly damaging effects.
Some of the obvious is the sun, rain, campfire, little children that run by your guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, etc… while it is gently leaning up against the picnic table or nearest chair, tree, or whatever, and of course the friend that stumbled by while you just got up to get yourself a beverage, or a hotdog, or another bowl of potato salad or baked beans. “I either love Spring and Summer or I’m hungry while writing this piece.”
Besides the things that can knock your instrument over, there other things that should be thought about. You should try not to play in the direct sunlight for long periods because the tops on acoustic guitars, with there larger mass and 200-250 lbs string pressure, the heat can start to loosen things up. I will admit this usually only happens with extreme heat but it can happen.
It’s possible for one of the internal braces to warm up enough to release itself from the top and then next thing you know you your top is caving in, Or maybe the bridge starts to raise up off of the top and raises the action past the point of good playability. And most importantly, NEVER, NEVER, leave your instrument in the car with the windows rolled up on a hot sunny day. This can and will do some serious damage, even when it’s in the case. I have seen necks come loose, bridges come off, and braces pop off, or come loose, cracks develop, etc…
When I want to remove something to reposition it, like a brace, bridge, or neck, I use heat or steam to do it. You can have your car do it for you but, I’m sure that it won’t return it to its proper location . I’m sure there are times that you might have to leave your instrument in a car or somewhere else .I just suggest that, it isn’t for a long period and that you would try to park in the shade if at all possible. Just remember that it’s made from wood, and wood moves when subjected to temperature and humidity changes. Especially when it is strung up with all of the string tension.
I’m trying to relate the many things that you should be aware of, so that your instrument does not have any major problems. The kind of problems that you may be calling me, or someone else to repair for you. Which, depending on the severity can be a bit costly. “Not that I don’t want you to call me, I do.”
On the other hand, there are many small fixes and general maintenance procedures that can be done by your self for little or no money at all. One good thing to do is, every time that you change strings (which varies widely amongst players) you should give your instrument a thorough cleaning and examination. I start with the head of the guitar or any instrument and work my way down . Check to see if the tuners are tight, check the nut to see that the slots are not worn excessively. Clean the fingerboard of all it’s finger grime, look for any loose frets. Check the saddle as you put your strings on to make sure that it’s seated properly in the bridge (not leaning forward too much). Make sure that the bridge pins are pushed in all the way, and look the instrument over very good to see that no new cracks have possibly started with out your approval! If you were to find one, it is in your best interest to get it repaired ASAP. Cracks of any kind generally do not get smaller.
In the coming issues I will address a lot of tricks I have learned through books, seminars, experience, and other friends and musicians that can keep you “Stay in Tune”. So until then I bid you farewell and enjoy the spring weather.
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings