So You Got a Guitar for Christmas, Now What?

January 04, 2019 6 min read

So You Got a Guitar for Christmas, Now What?

All across the country, people young and old got up on Christmas morning to find brand new, shiny guitars, or sought after vintage beauties waiting for them. Hardshell cases, shiny gig bags, and awkwardly wrapped guitar boxes were all hastily thrown open or unwrapped to reveal brand new instruments, most still at or near their factory settings, or vintage instruments with years of neglect, set to someone else's preferences. Somewhat like new car smell, most of these new guitars probably have that unwieldy feeling of newness about them. If you play guitar, you know what that’s like.

Mostly out of tune, some with strings that may have been put on several months ago in a factory thousands of miles away, playing a brand new Christmas guitar for the first time may leave you feeling a bit disappointed. What you thought was going to sound so great, may sound flat or dull. The guitar’s action may be off, meaning that the strings may be set too high making the guitar hard to play, or they may be set too low, giving you places where the strings buzz against the frets. The frets may still have sharp edges on them, making the neck uncomfortable to play, and your tremolo may be set in a position that is frankly ridiculous. How can you drop thoseEddie Van Halen dive bombs, or pull up sharp on harmonics the waySteve Vai does in the Crossroads movie with the whammy bar set like this?

At first, your great new guitar may feel like a great big disappointment. But don’t worry, the guitars that your favorite players use did not come off the factory floor set the way they wanted them. Guitar greats have experience setting up their guitars, and many of them have hired guitar technicians to keep their guitars playing perfectly all of the time.

Of course, if you purchased your guitar in the Adirondack Guitar store, or from, it is already set up and ready to go, but if you didn't buy your guitar from a shop that includes a professional setup with every guitar purchase, then you may need some help getting your guitar ready to play. At Adirondack Guitar, we are proud to offer setup and repair services that can make your new or vintage guitar play and sound exactly the way you want it to.

Hold Up There a Minute...

I know what you’re thinking -- this guitar is brand new, why doesn’t it sound awesome? Is it broken? Is there something wrong? Most likely, there is nothing wrong. In most cases, your guitar was set to factory specs and then shipped to a warehouse or music store where it may have sat for several months before it was purchased. All it probably needs is a little fine-tuning to sound great.

Most guitars are made of wood (though there are carbon fiber and other types of materials used in some guitars) which means that they can be sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. It's completely natural for your guitar’s neck to have a slight curvature and to warp or bow slightly when environmental conditions change. Even a warping or bowing of less than a millimeter can make a surprising difference in your guitar’s tuning, intonation and playability. This is why, in most cases, guitars are equipped with truss rods that are adjustable and can correct any problems that arise from excessive neck curvature.

Truss rod or neck adjustments areroutine seasonal adjustmentsthat can be done at your guitar store, and here at Adirondack Guitar they are a standard part of any guitar setup service. Of course, if you are new to the guitar, you should only trust a professional to make these adjustments for you. Just because you see a video online on how to setup your guitar, it doesn’t make you experienced enough to perform neck adjustments with the precision necessary to make your guitar sound great!

Here’s a list of a few things that you should do to address playability and tuning issues when you first get your new guitar.

Tips for Setting up Your Guitar 

Start With New Strings -  As mentioned earlier, the strings on your guitar may have been put on months ago, either in the factory or when your guitar arrived at the music store. Old strings can sound dull and lifeless, and have a detrimental effect on your guitar’s performance. The remedy is to change your strings. At Adirondack Guitar we carrydozens of brands of strings that are recommended for every type of guitar and every style of music imaginable.

If you are new to the electric guitar, you may want to find strings that more durable than your standard nickel or copper wound strings. New players tend to break a lot of strings when they are first starting out. This is why we often recommend Ernie Ball’s Paradigm Super Slinky strings. Ernie Ball's Paradigm Super Slinky strings are industry leading ultra-high strength steel, with a patented reinforcement at the ball end to provide superior tensile strength. Ernie Ball's Everlast nanotreatment with breakthrough plasma enhanced wrap wire provides added corrosion resistance and reduced accumulation of tone-robbing buildup and debris. New strings will instantly enhance the tone and playability of your instrument and Ernie Ball Paradigm strings will last longer without breaking!

Make Sure Your Guitar is Clean - If you received your guitar as a holiday gift, it may have sat hidden in the closet or under a bed for several months waiting for Christmas morning, and who knows how long it was waiting at the music store or in a warehouse? In that time, there may have been a buildup of dust and grime on your guitar that is now causing all kinds of minor problems that would affect tuning and intonation. For instance, an accumulation of grime on your guitar’s nut may make the strings get caught up, causing tuning problems every time you use the whammy bar. Here at Adirondack Guitar we carry avariety of cleaning products and microfiber cleaning cloths to keep your fretboard, neck, bridge and body clean and polished. It is recommended that you clean your guitar every time you change the strings to keep the buildup of tone-robbing dust and grime at a minimum.

Don't forget a microfiber cloth! Anything else can scratch the finish.

Buy a Guitar Tuner and Get in Tune - If you are playing an acoustic with a pickup, you may have a chromatic tuner built right into your guitar. If you have an electric, you may have a tuner built into your amp. However, if you don’t have either of these then the bottom line is that you need to get a tuner. Even experienced guitar players have trouble tuning their guitars by ear, so it is highly recommended that you keepa chromatic tuner handy to ensure that your guitar is properly tuned. At Adirondack Guitar we carry a variety of chromatic tuners, including clip-on tuners that you simply clip onto the headstock and operate by pressing a single button. Tuners are inexpensive, easy to use and can help you determine if your guitar needs further adjustment.

Check Your Intonation - Intonation is a big word that basically means that your guitar is in-tune to itself. The easiest way to check your intonation is to check the harmonics or chimes at the 12th fret against the fretted note at the same fret. If they are the same, your intonation is good, but if not, it means that you will need a neck adjustment. Don’t trust your ear for this. Instead, use a chromatic tuner to ensure that the fretted note and the harmonic are exactly the same. Check out the video below from Guitar World for more details:

Basic Guitar Tips From Guitar World:

Guitar Setup Services From Adirondack Guitar

When you buy your guitar from us, at the Adirondack Guitar store or online at ADKGuitar.coma professional setup is already included in your purchase, but this isn't true of all guitar stores, websites and mail order services. If your action is too high, you have buzzy strings, your intonation is off or you have uncomfortable unpolished frets, the best thing to do is get a professional guitar setup service. In our Hudson Falls store, we offer professional repair and maintenance services on a wide array of acoustic, electric and bass guitars and can have your guitar sounding and playing better than ever. 

At Adirondack Guitar, we takegreat pride in our ability to setup, service and repair guitars, basses and other fretted instruments. In our store, our skilled technicians assess and perform setup services and repairs based on your needs and requests. We setup and repair both right-handed and left-handed guitars, as well as basses, banjos, mandolins and other gear. 

Setup Services include:

  • Neck Adjustment
  • Action Adjustment at nut and saddle
  • Grind and Polish frets
  • Input Jack Replacement (custom quote required)

* All Guitars with Floyd Rose tremolo systems and 5-6 string basses may incur additional charges

Pricing and turn-around for setup and repair services may vary according to the make and model of your guitar and what you need to have done. The best way to determine what your guitar needs is to call us at (518)746-9500 and describe what’s going on, or drop by our store located at 3 Lafayette St, Hudson Falls, NY Monday-Friday 10am to 5pm and Saturday 10am-3pm (closed Sunday) and let us have a look. You can alsosend us an emailby visiting our contact page here.

After having your guitar professionally setup, you will notice an immediate difference in the tone and performance of your instrument. You can play your guitar with renewed enthusiasm knowing that it is performing and sounding better than ever! 

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