5 essential tips to get the best out of your guitar

Our partners Bell Music give us their essential advice on getting the best out of your guitar...


The most important part of any guitar is the neck as this is our user interface so we’re going to focus on this area specifically…


All players need to find a set of strings suited to them.

This can be a daunting to a beginner or anyone who isn’t constantly reading up about guitars mostly due to just how many brands there are to choose from.

The part that’s important for most players is the tension of the strings, how tight or loose they feel under your fingers." 

If you’re a beginner, then light strings will be better for you as they require less force to fret and bend. If you’re a more advanced player you might want to consider, if you’re playing in drop tunings, to up your string tension to retain stability and tuning.

If you’re a hard picker or strummer you may find light strings go out of tune while playing. Fresh strings will be better at staying in tune and will feel nice to play, allowing you to move around much more easily. If you are playing daily, you may find you’ll want to change them every two weeks. This isn’t necessary but is widely accepted by most guitarists as normal practice.


Those little silver bars running across your neck create different notes as you press down. Now on a new guitar they are polished and shaped to be round with a small contact edge to make bending  and tuning easier. Unfortunately, the more we play our beloved instrument, the more they wear down and that shine disappears creating what we know as flat spots.

Have no fear though as this is very easy to put right although this is something to check every year. Your local guitar tech will be able to fix this with what’s known as fret dressing. They will re-shape and re-polish them for you. After many years you may need to have them replaced. But I’ve been playing guitar for 18 years and, out of all my instruments, I've only had to have them fret dressed twice over the years. Again, this will be different for everyone…


For those of you new to guitar, a set-up refers to string height, neck bow, intonation and pick up height. A set-up is designed to make your guitar play the best it can. Believe it or not guitars don’t always leave the factory set up, and not all guitar shops then set them up after unboxing them to display before they sell.

Even if your guitar has been set up before leaving the factory, there’s a good chance after travelling half the globe, sitting in a warehouse or a shop and then finally making its way to your home it’s not going to be set up any more." 

However, this is a very simple task. New guitars will come with instructions so you can do it yourself and for the less experienced of you, your local guitar tech will be able to do with little fuss. Having your guitar set up properly is usually the difference between having an okay guitar to something that is pure joy to pick up every day. 


Some of you may have a routine with your guitar so whenever a string change is due you will clean and check over it.

For those of you who don’t, it's a good habit to get into. There are many products on the market that do different jobs; if you have a dark wood on your fret board you will want to buy a fretboard oil usually known as lemon oil.

This will help condition the wood as well as clean. Apply a small amount to the fretboard and use a cloth to work into the grain. If you have a particularly dirty fretboard you may want to use a soft brush like an old tooth brush or something that won’t damage the wood. But don’t use a lot of force.

If you're nice and light with the direction of the grain, this will remove dirt without damaging it. In the past I’ve used a scalpel blade on its side to scrape away any grime that has built up. If you’re going to use a blade make sure it's sharp and take great care in removing dirt, again working with the direction of the grain and not forcing the blade. If you have a maple, it is most common that it will be covered in the same lacquer as the rest of the guitar and can be cleaned in the same fashion. 

To clean a lacquered guitar use a guitar polish. Only a small amount is needed on a dust cloth to go around the instrument to clean up any particularly dirty spots. Dap a section of the cloth to wipe away dirt making sure it’s not wet. Those of you with a waxed or oil finished guitar, the lemon oil for your dark wood fretboard is still fine but guitar cleaner for the rest of your guitar is a no. This will strip the oil or wax from your instrument. These finishes are usually on high end guitars so the vast majority of us don’t need to worry about it. If you are an owner of an instrument like this, a slightly damp cloth to wipe away dust will do just fine. 

Upgrades and modifications

This doesn’t apply to everyone but is becoming more and more popular. There is a wealth of information on the internet and Facebook groups with people showing off their latest upgrades and plans. To a beginner or someone who isn’t a handy person this can all seem very daunting.

Now it isn’t necessary to upgrade your guitar and if you’re happy with it as the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” For those of you who are thinking about this here are my suggestions.

Before we dive in, make sure it’s for the right reasons. If it’s to fix a problem, make sure you eliminate any other factors that could cause this before going ahead. If your guitar is always going out of tune there are a few things that could cause it. One could be that your machine heads are slipping while you play. Good quality machine heads will fix this problem and will also help with better tone. Strap locks are a must for any performing musician or if you’re playing standing up. These replace the strap buttons on your guitar to ones that latterly lock the strap to the instrument.

There’s nothing worse that the strap coming off while playing and your guitar hitting the deck and getting damaged. I speak from experience and now have strap locks on all my guitars." 

Now if you’re looking to go a bit further, the next stop is usually with electronics. I often liken this to modifying your car engine. I’ve done all sorts to some of my guitars, loved it and others I’ve regretted. I can’t really tell you what you should do other than research then research more. I’m not trying to put you off from it as I’m still fascinated by it myself, I’m just trying to help save you your money and time...

If you’re looking to get you guitar repaired, serviced, or if you have any other queries about your guitar, then give me a call on 020 8896 1200 and ask for me, Alex. I’ll happily help you out here at Bell Music. Equally have a look on our website and enquire here... 

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by Alex Rayner, Bell Music
October 22, 2018
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