A dotted dozen handy practical guitar tech tips to pass onto your students from teacher and musician Bob Houlston. Blue Peter has nothing on this man.
Guitar Teaching Tips 1
When changing guitar strings, replace them one at a time, starting with the thickest.
This maintains the tension on the instrument. You will have less trouble re-tuning because the guitar does not have to stabilise again.
This also reduces the risk of error when selecting string / tuning peg.
Guitar Teaching Tips 2
Make an instant transposer: Create two card discs approx. 9cm and 12cm diameter. Mark face of edges into twelve equal segments and label with consecutive notes from the chromatic scale in a clockwise direction:
C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B.
Locate the small disc to front of larger one and attach with a drawing pin bent over.
Align the current key on the small disc to required new key on the large disc.
All the intervals are now transposed.
Guitar Teaching Tips 3
An elastic band secured over the handles of a pair of pliers creates a mini vice when you need a ‘third hand’ for soldering guitar jack plugs.
Caution: avoid inhaling solder fumes.
Guitar Teaching Tips 4
On a vintage style tremolo arm on a Stratocaster electric guitar the screw threads often become loose.
A few turns of P.T.F.E. tape, as used by plumbers, applied to the threads of the arm, so as to wind on when screwed into the bridge block, provides just enough stiffness for the arm to stay in position when released.
This tape is also useful for any screw threads that are worn or likely to loosen when subjected to vibration e.g. music stands, guitar jack plugs and sockets.
Guitar Teaching Tips 5
Stage lighting can be unpredictable and beyond musicians’ control, so avoid using coloured ink or paper on music, chord charts, song sheets etc. – especially red as it ‘disappears’ under red light. Similarly, plastic page covers often cause reflective dazzle.
Guitar Teaching Tips 6
Beware of unregulated power supply units. Their output can vary considerably and possibly cause damage to effects pedals when used instead of batteries or the manufacturers’ recommended unit.
Make sure you only ever use regulated power supply units for effects pedals.
Guitar Teaching Tips 7
Beware of worn guitar straps! The strap holes that affix to guitar strap button are notorious for failure after long term use. I reinforce mine with button thread.
Guitar Teaching Tips 8
A quartz electronic rotary watch can make a handy metronome – if placed on the pickup of an electric guitar it will generate an accurate 60 (beats per minute) through sensitive amplification.
Guitar Teaching Tips 9
When connecting multiple effects units an earth loop may occur resulting in a low frequency hum.
Instead of breaking the earth loop by disconnecting the mains earth wire of effects unit and thereby compromising electrical safety, simply break the path of the signal earth.
I do this by using a short guitar jack plug extension lead with a signal shielding open circuit at one end.
Guitar Teaching Tips 10
Circuitry of lighting dimmers may induce electrical interference to vintage style Stratocaster single coil pick-ups.
Switching pick-up selector to a combination of two pick-ups will help ‘buck’ the hum.
Guitar Teaching Tips 11
Bass guitar strings usually fracture at point of contact with string saddle on bridge.
As an emergency repair simply remove the hollow metal current bar from a nylon terminal block and secure this to the string with terminal screws.
This alternative string ball end will usually allow the string to reach the tuning peg and for gig to be successfully completed.
Guitar Teaching Tips 12
When wiring a mains plug allow the insulated earth wire to be longer (approximately 1.5cm) than the live and neutral.
That way if the cord grip should fail the safety earth will be the last to disconnect.
Guitar Teaching Tips 13
Replace cartridge fuses in amplifiers, plugs and other equipment subject to sound or transport vibration.
For reliability this should be done every couple of years as fuses also have other ‘wear out’ mechanisms. After all, they are designed to fail, but hopefully not at a gig.
Guitar Teaching Tips 14
Look out for free or cheap equipment updates from manufacturers. For example, for £15 Alesis offer an update chip to turn a Quadraverb into a Quadraverb Plus with several more effects.
Guitar Teaching Tips 15
Never use compressed air cleaners around electronic equipment.
This damages hermetic glass seals as used on valve bases, transistors, diodes, etc. and can generate localised high voltages next to static sensitive components.
That is, ruin them – if not immediately, then a year down the road as contamination seeps in.
Guitar Teaching Tips 16
If on a restricted budget, making your own speaker cabinets is an attractive option.
When designing a compact, closed back, enclosure consider putting an aperture / vent at the front for even frequency response.
In my experience take the diameter of the drive unit, e.g. 12 inches, and use this figure for the area of vent to cut out of baffle board – i.e. vent could typically be 8 inches by 1.5 inches = 12 square inches. This really helps to smooth out annoying resonances.
Guitar Teaching Tips 17
Left handed guitarists often have to resort to converting a right handed guitar.
The nut (headstock string guide) does not have to be reversed if you can tolerate a slightly higher action on bass strings and use silver paper (chocolate wrapping) to pack out grooves, if necessary, for thin strings.
The string saddles / bridge are best reversed if possible for consistent wear of grooves and accurate intonation.
Guitar Teaching Tips 18
If you have snap, crackle and pop from your amplifier or guitar rotary controls, then spray ‘Contact Cleaner’ inside the control and turn a few times.
Most controls have a gap at the rear where the spray, via a narrow long tube, can be directed inside.
I have also used WD40, sparingly, with good effect when ‘Contact Cleaner’ is not available.
Do you have any must-know guitar teaching tips? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Many thanks to Bob for allowing us to re-print tips from his website