Crank it Down!

By Will Swanson

That doesn’t sound quite right when you’re talking about music but when it comes to guitar maintenance many believe this is the gospel. The electric guitar gets it sound from harmonics and vibrations within the instrument as a whole as well as the materials individually, but a buzzing instrument never sounds good. The gut reaction to this is to crank everything down that can be cranked down but this isn’t the right way to do it and doing it wrong can lead to substantially more problems with the sound and playability of the instrument.

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Things like saddles are obviously not to be tightened down fully either in height of fore and aft as they adjust the playability of the guitar, the screws that adjust the height of the pickups also obvious but what about the others ones.

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There are others that are to be set at a point that isn’t fully flush with the head. On a Stratocaster these would be the screws that hold the claw for the tremolo as well as the screws that hold the bridge plate to the body. If the claw screws are too tight there will be excessive tension on the springs which only serve to shorten the life of the springs with no difference in playability. In the case of the bridge plate screws if too tight they will pull the bridge plate off of the body actually hurting tone, sustain and resonance. On a les paul style guitar the posts that the saddle bar rests on are adjustment screws for the height of the bridge however the screws for the tailpiece can be screwed tightly into the body for better transfer of string vibration.

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After these are ruled out we end up with the screws and such that need to be fully tightened but its not as easy as just cranking everything down, a firm but accurate amount of force is all that’s needed. The screws that hold a pickguard on or a control or bridge plate on a non tremolo guitar should be snuck but be careful not to strip out the wood of the body they are being attached to.

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Another item that is frequently overlooked are the ferrules for the tuners. These tend to come loose with age but they rarely contribute to buzzing as the tuner shafts pull against them with the tension from the strings. The screws that hold the tuners from turning can also be checked but be very careful as the small heads strip easily.

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Even the bigger screws such as those that hold the neck to the body must be treated with care as seen by the example in the attached picture, a beautiful tiger stripe charvel neck that now needs a great deal of work because the screw was given too much force and broke – unfortunately the neck plate and body are now also damaged by an attempted fix of the damage.

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4 thoughts on “Crank it Down!

        1. It was the spinning carousel, sorry about that. Now the images don’t move and there is a much better reading experience.

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