There are a lot of guitarists out there who feel like you really need to work a guitar to get the best sound out of it – but for most of us, we want our guitar to be as little work as possible. That’s why a lot of people spend good money on various stratocaster upgrades and les paul upgrades to make their guitars not only sound amazing, but play as easily as a hot knife through butter.
That said, there are many simple and cost effective upgrades you can do yourself to make your guitar far easier to play – you may even find the playability you were looking for was only a string change away.
Let’s take a look at a handful of ways you can make your guitar easier to play, so you can get on with the real business of pickin and shreddin!
Try A Different Pick
It can’t be that easy, right? Well yes, it can.
I know at least a half a dozen friends of mine who go out and play gigs every week with the free picks you get on the counter at Sam Ash. These generic lumps of plastic can drastically slow down your picking and make you fight the strings way more than is necessary.
The good news is you can get a variety pack of guitar picks for less than $10, and figure out what works for you.
Better yet, if you’re a shredder, look out for picks like Dunlop’s Jazz III, which have a raised pattern for extra grip, but more importantly a very sharp end, meaning you only need to make a very small amount of contact with the string to get a sound. This has been the secret weapon of shredders from Malmsteen to Hammett for years, such a simple thing can lead to immediate gains when you’re not battering your strings with an inch long slab of plastic.
Get The Right Strings For The Job
Many people who are new to playing guitar don’t know when to change strings (for beginners it’s every three months, typically), but they also don’t know that finger oils and general gunk in the air will corrode strings pretty fast, making them uncomfortable to play – and this can be combatted by simply wiping down the strings after every playing session.
That being said – one thing that will make your guitar easier to play, guaranteed, is swapping out the strings for a lower gauge. A lot of people play 10s, 11s and 12s because either that’s what came on the guitar, or because they went to the store and bought whatever the guy at the counter gave them.
This one is a doozy – just pick up a set of 7s or 8s, and see how easy your guitar can be.
Clean Your Fretboard
This is especially a problem if you like to do some mammoth bends in your solos. Just as finger oils and gunk can corrode your strings, they can build up on your fretboard to make it harder to execute full stop bends, or make notes fret out before their time.
Luckily for you, a bottle of fretboard cleaner can be found for $7 or less at most guitar stores, and cleaning your fretboard is a 30 second job to be done alongside a string change.
Protect Ya Neck
Most of the woods used in a guitar are not completely dried out – they have some moisture content, and as such are susceptible to the surroundings in which they are kept. For example, if you live in Florida and you keep your guitar sitting in front of a window, it will dry out, and every time you play it you’ll find it goes out of tune.
One of the ways you’ll notice this is over time maybe the action gets higher (the distance between the strings and the neck), or maybe you start to notice a buzzing sound where there wasn’t one.
What’s happening here is the neck is bending one way or another – but this is a simple fix. Running down the neck of every guitar is a truss rod, and with a simple hex screwdriver you can give the truss rod a tiny turn (we’re talking an eight of a turn), check to see if the issue is improved, and then turn again. Do this until the action is right or the buzzing is gone.
While you do that, you may want to check a few videos on YouTube for adjusting intonation, as your guitar is a system with some amounts of give and take, but for many people, a very slight truss rod adjustment will fix up any neck issues that are effecting playability.
Tighten Your Tuners
One of the things that can make playing an affordable guitar frustrating is it’s inability to stay in tune. That being said, even expensive guitars can have tuning issues without some simple maintenance.
Check your tuners to ensure everything is as tight as it should be – tighten any loose mounting screws, and check that the screws in the pegs are at the correct tension.
This can often very quickly solve simple tuning issues, making one less thing to get in your way.
There’s definitely a time and a place for spending money on guitar upgrades, and there are for sure any number of upgrades that require the knowledge of a good tech or luthier to get just right, but with a handful of cheap tools, you can make all of the above upgrades and see immediate playing gains with just about any guitar.
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