An important factor often not realized or thought about by the beginning guitar player is the playability of his or her guitar (The ease at which a guitar plays). A poorly setup guitar can be one of the most frustrating things for a beginning player. What does this mean exactly? When you purchase a guitar either from a store or used you never quite know as a beginner what you are going to get as far as quality. On line reviews can be helpful but a lot of these reviews are written by beginning players whom themselves may not have very good knowledge of what a well setup guitar should play like.

Probably the most obvious reason a guitar does not play easily is string height. This refers to the distance the strings sit from the fingerboard of the guitar. High string height makes the strings harder to press and a beginner players finger tips may get more sore than usual because of it. I always try to point my new students that haven’t purchased a guitar yet towards brands and models of guitars I know are of good quality. Some cheaper brands are not manufactured correctly and no matter how good a guitar repair or setup person you may use is, they will not be able to make the guitar play correctly. This can be the case with a used guitar as well if it has not been properly taken care of.

Every good player has a preference as to how his guitar plays and sounds. Things like string height and tension (referred to as action) , string gauge (thickness of the strings), type of strings (there are different types of alloys used to make strings and each sounds different), the type of frets (height and thickness), the type of nut (bone, graphite, plastic) or bridge preference as well as the type of pickups and the pickup height effect how the guitar plays. Most beginners are not aware or have not yet developed a discerning ear for some of these things.

There are many different designs for electric and acoustic guitars as well and this can greatly effect how a guitar plays. How certain guitars play can largely be a matter of opinion.

Some electric guitars will have what is referred to as a hard tail piece which refers to it having no tremolo unit (often referred to as a whammy bar). A tremolo unit or whammy bar allows the player to push down or sometimes pull up on the bar to create a vibrating sound for effect. It is important that the tremolo unit is properly setup and adjusted to create the ideal playing action for the guitar.

There are many different types of electric guitar pickups as well and each sounds different. Single coil pickups have less low end and may a have a hum to them because of less resistance in the coil or wire wrapped around the magnetic pole pedicels in the center of the pickup. Humbuckers usually have 2 coils which have greater resistance which makes them less likely to hum. You can also have a combination of single coil and double coil pickups in the same electric guitar. 

Different types of woods are used to build guitars which will give the guitar much of it’s tonal character and response. Harder woods generally give a brighter quality to the guitar and softer woods a warmer or mellower character. Sometimes different woods are used for the body, neck and top of the guitar. A harder wood is necessary for the neck as it has to deal with the stress of the strings pulling on it. For acoustic guitars the top more often than not made of either cedar or spruce. Sometimes other woods are used but these two would be the most common. Cedar is a softer wood and gives a warmer tone and is good for finger picking. Spruce is harder and lends itself to being better for strumming. There are many variations in wood combinations and private luthiers (guitar builders) will at times use a wide variety.

So whether you are just beginning as a player and need a professional opinion as to the playability of your guitar or having been playing longer and need your guitar properly setup to your specifications let me know, I have been doing basic setups and minor repairs for years. If there is larger problem and you need a resource on where to take your guitar for repair, I can point you in the right direction.

Thank You,

Alan Darby

Phone: (832) 230-7915
13505 Westheimer Rd #5a, Houston, TX 77077