I’ve worked with a lot of guitarists over the years, and in the process, I’ve heard and answered a lot of questions about acoustic guitars. Here are some of the common questions I’ve come across:
How high should the action be on an acoustic guitar?
Action height is most commonly measured at the 12th fret. Most acoustic guitars should be set at 3/32” – 7/64” on the bass E-string, and 2/32” – 5/64” on the treble E-string.
Can you put nylon strings on a regular acoustic guitar?
You can put nylon strings on a regular acoustic guitar, but you shouldn’t. Steel strings have twice the tension of nylon strings when they’re tuned to pitch, so if you use nylon strings there probably won’t be enough tension to produce clear notes (you’ll just get that annoying buzz you hear from cheap $5 kids’ guitars at Walmart). Similarly, you shouldn’t put steel strings on a classical nylon-string guitar, as the increased tension will snap the neck.
How to adjust the truss rod on an acoustic guitar
If the neck of your guitar has too much or too little upbow, or if it has too much back-bow, you may need to adjust the guitar’s truss rod. There are two styles of adjustable truss rods: double-action (two-way) rods, and single-action (one-way) rods. Single-action truss rods shore up the neck against string tension and upbow, while double-action truss rods can straighten the neck against upbow and correct a back-bowed neck.
The adjusting nut should be accessible in the sound hole or at the peg head. To tighten the bow, slip on a wrench and turn the adjusting nut to the right. To loosen the truss rod and correct a hump, turn the wrench counter-clockwise.
How to clean an acoustic guitar
The best way to clean and polish an acoustic guitar is with a polishing cloth. Wipe the guitar in gentle, circular motions. If you come across dirt, smudges, and sticky fingerprints, it’s okay to apply a very small amount of moisture to wipe it off. Never use chemicals or toxic solutions that can damage the wood.
Can you use electric guitar strings on an acoustic guitar?
Electric guitar strings are usually too light for use on an acoustic guitar. You can definitely use electric guitar strings on an acoustic guitar (just like you can put nylon strings on a traditional acoustic guitar), but it’ll probably result in poor sound and buzzing strings.
What size strings should you use?
Country-music and rock guitarists do a lot of string bending and tend to prefer a lighter string, while blues and jazz guitarists usually prefer a much heavier gauge string. Generally speaking, heavier strings are easier to tune, last longer, and have a better tone, but they can be harder to play. In the end, it comes down to your playstyle and personal preference.
How to care for an acoustic guitar
Acoustic guitars are pretty sturdy instruments, but their wood composition and hollow body can leave them susceptible to damage, especially from moisture. Here are a few tips on how to care for your acoustic guitar:
- If you’re a novice or intermediate player, you should have your guitar serviced by a professional guitar technician once a year
- When storing your guitar for long periods, loosen the strings
- To avoid cracked and dried wood, dab some lemon oil on the neck once a year
- Wipe your strings clean after each use to prolong their lifespan
- Never use furniture polish or toxic chemicals to clean your guitar
- Use a polishing cloth to wipe off the guitar after each use
- For periodic deep cleans, use guitar polish
- Use a guitar humidifier to keep the interior wood from cracking
- Avoid leaving the guitar in a hot or cold car for too long
- Use a hard-shell case when you travel
What is a capo?
A capo is a clamp that presses all of the strings in the applied fret and raises the guitar’s pitch. It’s a good tool for playing open chords, and it’s helpful when playing higher-pitch songs. Capos are sometimes called cheater bars, but don’t let that discourage you from using one.
When is it time to change the strings?
When your strings are hard to tune, have a dull color, or sound muted, you should change the strings. If you play your guitar for two hours a day, you’ll probably need to change the strings at least once a month.
What to do when your strings buzz while playing chords
If your strings are buzzing when you play, it could mean a number of different things:
- Your fingers could be touching another string
- You’re not playing with your fingertips
- You might not be pressing your fingers hard enough against the fretboard
- You may need to have your guitar inspected by a professional who can restring the guitar, check the truss rod, and adjust the action height
What tools do you need to restring an acoustic guitar?
If you’re new to the guitar, it’s usually best to have your instrument restrung by a professional. If you’re feeling brave enough to handle the task on your own, you’ll need the following gear:
- A peg winder
- Wire cutters
- A tuning device
- A polishing cloth (for all of the fingerprints you’ll have on the guitar once you’re finished)
What’s the difference between a steel-string guitar and a nylon-string guitar?
Steel-string guitars have a brighter sound and are much more common, especially in folk, country, and popular music. Classical guitars with nylon strings have a warm, soft, and mellow tone that’s usually more common with flamingo and classical guitarists. Generally speaking you use your fingers to strum nylon strings and you use a pick to strum steel strings, but it’s not uncommon to see guitarists play steel strings without a pick.
What notes do you tune an acoustic guitar to?
Most guitarists use standard tuning, which sets the strings to E-A-D-G-B-E. However, there are a number of different alternate tunings that you can use to suit your playstyle. Here are a few of the popular alternatives to standard tuning:
- Drop D: D-A-D-G-B-E
- Open G: D-G-D-G-B-D
- Open D: D-A-D-F#-A-D
- C6: C-A-C-G-C-E
- Dsus4 / Modal D: D-A-D-G-A-D