In this guest blog, Black Peaks bassist Dave Larkin runs us through everything you need to know about guitar maintenance.
As well as being Signature Brew's resident sound technician for brewery gigs, Dave also runs Domovoi Audio – a guitar repair workshop based in our East London brewery in Blackhorse Road, Walthamstow.
So if you're in need of some guitar maintenance or repair and are local to our Walthamstow brewery, then get in touch with Dave via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guitar sales are at an all time high. With the pandemic providing a lot of people with spare time at home, Fender, Gibson, Martin and Taylor all reported record sales in 2020. In a time when mental health is more of a concern than ever before, ‘Six String Therapy’ has provided many with an opportunity to pick up an old hobby, or enjoy learning something new.
So maybe you’re one of those who picked up a nice shiny new instrument, and you’re diving into learning techniques, scales and chords, but what are the next steps you should take to keep your new axe in great shape ready, and how do you stay inspired to keep playing and progressing?
Having spent years as a touring musician and guitar and backline tech, I’m well aware of the tricks-of-the-trade that can get the best out of your instrument, so here’s a breakdown of my five most important pieces of advice…
1. The Wipe Down
Dust, cigarette ash, fake blood, finger grease, sweat, lipstick, mud, beer, sambuca, and real blood - just some of the substances I’ve cleaned off guitars in my time…
The dirtiest areas on most guitars are fingerboards - the dreaded ‘finger gunk’ builds up overtime, and it’s quite easy to ignore this - after all, what difference does it make? Well it goes without saying that new, clean strings sound great, and have their full harmonic potential, but - if you’re not cleaning your fretboard when you’re changing strings, then that old finger grease can dull your brand new set of strings, shortening their lifespan.
Another main risk to your guitar’s performance is the risk of corrosion. Areas like bridge saddles and pickup pole-pieces can pick up moisture from fingers, which can result in rust and corrosion, which is something we should avoid...
The quick solution to these potential problems? Get into the habit of giving your guitar a wipe down on these key areas (strings / fingerboard, bridge, pickups) before and after use - it won’t do any harm and will keep things looking and sounding sweet! I recommend the MusicNomad range of cleaning products.
2. Choose The Right Strings
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the range of strings available on the market today, but it’s worth exploring some of the options out there to find what is ‘right’ for you. Coated, Nickel, Steel, Half-Rounds, Flat-Rounds - each have their place, and it’s definitely worth experiencing with brands string composition and gauge. I always stock a big range of D’Addario strings in various gauges so I can recommend specifics based on peoples playing style.
Often people ask ‘what gauge should I play for X genre or Y tuning?’, but what players commonly overlook is how strong their picking hand is. People’s picking technique varies a lot - some have a feather-light touch and some are real heavy hitters. Heavier gauges will have more tension and therefore may be more stable if you like to dig in, but may fatigue your fretting hand a lot more, and make bends more difficult. So try some different gauge sets and experiment!
3. Avoiding GAS
GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is an affliction that affects many guitarists. Some of us have lived with it for decades. It’s a financially crippling addiction and that definitely doesn’t affect me... No sir, Not I...
Joking aside, there is a mind-boggling array of pedals, amps, software and accessories out there. The key here is to be aware that it’s very easy to spend more time tweaking your sound and lusting after ‘that fuzz pedal your favourite guitarist plays’ than it is practicing your instrument. It’s no one else’s place to tell you what to (or not to) buy, but remember that the goal here should be inspiration - if you pick up an awesome new reverb pedal that inspires you to play an extra two hours a day and write a new song, great!
4. Don’t Buy the YouTube Snake Oil
YouTube is a great resource for learning guitar or bass, there are some amazing teachers and gear demos out there, but it’s important to maintain some healthy cynicism here! Almost every YouTube guitar video is trying to sell you something - whether that be a guitar, pedal, amp, a lesson plan etc. A number of ‘influencer’ guitarists have started huge guitar companies because they have a captive audience of people who respect their playing or find their videos entertaining. This is not to detract from the skills or ability of these players, but bare in mind that ‘chasing a sound’ you’ve heard online can be an expensive endeavour.
5. Know When to Get Your Guitar Serviced
This might sound like a sales pitch, but guitars do need servicing occasionally. Some things you can learn yourself - restringing, adjusting bridge height etc, but there are some things I’d advise leaving to a seasoned professional if you’re unsure. Often Truss rods, which tension the neck of the guitar, are precise art and over-adjusting them can thread rods and cause big issues with the guitar neck. Crackling volume and tone controls, and input jacks, are all quite common issues and unless you’re handy with a soldering iron, it’s probably worth leaving it in the hands of someone with expertise in the area!
In need of guitar maintenance or repair services in East London? Head over to Domovoi Audio, or get in touch with Dave via his email below, and visit our Walthamstow Brewery to pick up some fresh cans in the process.
Words by Dave Larkin