An acoustic guitar is one of the most popular types of guitars chosen by beginners learning to play, as well as more advanced and professional guitarists. Acoustic guitars also often serve as a secondary guitar alongside electric guitars.
Because acoustic guitars are instruments that frequently “travel” with us, played at campfires, in nature, and at various events, they can be more susceptible to damage and changes in temperature, resulting in minor or significant malfunctions. Furthermore, acoustic guitars are fragile instruments and are highly vulnerable to various types of damage.
In this article, we will discuss the most common issues that can arise in acoustic guitars through daily use or are inherent to this type of guitar, along with ways to address them.
Explore a variety of basic guitar chords by following the link to “Basic Guitar Chords.”
Common Acoustic Guitar Issues
First and foremost, when a guitar no longer plays well, with strings buzzing against frets or hitting them, especially in the first and middle positions, or when string action is so high that playing becomes uncomfortable, and the guitar is difficult to tune, it’s worth checking and adjusting the truss rod’s tension. It’s essential to examine this from the very beginning.
Another common issue that can cause problems with tuning or maintaining stable guitar tuning is tuners that aren’t securely attached to the guitar’s headstock. Therefore, it’s important to start by checking if the tuners are properly screwed into place and tightening them if necessary.
Tuning pegs are often attached from the top of the headstock with a circular nut and from below with tiny screws. The tuning pegs should be stable and securely fastened. It’s advisable to check them periodically, for example, when changing strings, and tighten them if needed.
Another common issue with acoustic guitars, especially more affordable ones, is the detachment of the bridge from the soundboard. A guitar with this defect won’t hold tuning well or play correctly. Therefore, it’s essential to periodically check if the bridge is securely attached to the soundboard.
However, if you notice that the bridge is lifting and falling, it’s advisable to completely detach it, clean the area with fine sandpaper, and reattach it, preferably using good wood glue. Some acoustic guitars have a bridge attached to the soundboard with two screws, completely avoiding the issue of bridge detachment. This type of bridge attachment can be used in almost any acoustic guitar. You can do this yourself by drilling two holes and fastening the bridge with two small screws, preferably with nuts, or entrust this work to a professional.
Frequently, especially in cheaper guitars, the soundboard braces may become detached from the top plate, causing unwanted noises and rattling during play. Therefore, it’s essential to check and, if necessary, reglue them.
You can check this by lightly tapping or pulling the strings, for instance, when replacing them. Reach your hand into the soundhole and gently inspect whether the braces are secure and not loose. If needed, you can glue them with carpenter’s glue.
A common issue with acoustic guitars, particularly more affordable ones, is imprecisely cut string slots in the nut. In such cases, it’s important to carefully sand down the slots to ensure the strings lie perfectly across their entire length. They should not be too tight or too loose and the slot should be precisely fitted for each string and cut at a slight angle towards the guitar headstock. Lubricate the slots with graphite, for example, from a pencil, to prevent the strings from sticking and allow them to glide smoothly.
A nut that is too low can cause strings to hit the first and subsequent frets. In this case, the only solution is to replace the nut with one of the appropriate height. Often, only one string may be slightly lower than the others. In this situation, you can attempt to rectify it by carefully applying cyanoacrylate glue (a popular adhesive) mixed with ground graphite or hard plastic, depending on the type of nut in your guitar, to the gap and then sand the slot to the desired depth. This “treatment” should help, but it is advisable to replace the nut with a new one in this case. It’s a minor expense, and the issue is resolved. It’s essential to invest in a quality nut.
Sometimes, the string action may be too low, causing strings to hit the frets, buzz, and produce an unclear sound. If this issue affects frets from 10 to 12, the problem may be that the fingerboard (fretboard) overlay on the bridge is set too low. You can insert something beneath the overlay to slightly raise it or replace it with a new one to adjust its height. If this occurs on the first and middle frets, it’s advisable to first adjust the truss rod since it may be too tight.
Unevenly loaded or protruding frets can lead to string buzzing at certain points on the fingerboard, even with a properly adjusted neck relief. In such cases, you can attempt to file them down.
Sometimes, it might suffice to sand down just one or two frets, but on occasion, it’s necessary to level all the frets perfectly. You can perform this work by yourself or entrust it to a skilled luthier or professional technician.
Binding, Scratches, Paint Defects
Unfortunately, acoustic guitars are prone to minor or major dents, scratches, or paint defects, especially if we frequently move the guitar from one place to another. Naturally, such defects can be effectively corrected and concealed.
Personally, I recommend using a high-quality case for your acoustic guitar to prevent minor damage and scratches. If you own an expensive, branded instrument, it might be worth taking good care of it rather than repairing it.
Among the more serious issues, sometimes, particularly in cheaper guitars, or due to a defect, the neck may detach from the body. Although these cases are rare, they do occur.
The area where neck separation often occurs is the so-called “heel.” Of course, this kind of defect can be repaired, but it requires skill, a professional approach, and appropriate tools. Therefore, if you encounter such a situation, it’s best to seek assistance from a specialist or an experienced individual.
I believe these are all the possible issues with an acoustic guitar that can occasionally arise during its use, and some of them are relatively common, especially in lower-priced guitars.
Most of the above-mentioned problems can be easily resolved, with a significant portion of the work feasible for a DIY enthusiast. However, if you’re new to DIY work, it’s always a good idea to seek help from an experienced luthier or consult a professional technician.