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FAQ Main Menu > Fretted Instrument Care and Maintenance












Fretted Instrument Care and Maintenance



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Fretted Instruments

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Tips on Basic Setup



Tuning Up



Take care when first tuning any stringed instrument to turn it away from you. The most likely time for the strings to snap unexpectedly is on their first tuning, and it is important to keep your eyes out of the way. Tune up slowly, and make sure you have a pitch pipe or tuning meter handy, and that you know the correct tuning so you don't over tighten the strings.

Buzzes



On cheaper mandolins, banjos etc. you may find there is a metallic rattle on the odd string when you first tune them up.

First: check that the cover on the tailpiece is not touching the strings, if it is, bend it up. On better quality instruments where there is a separate cover plate a piece of felt stuck to the underside will cure it.

Second: It is common where there is a zero fret (i.e: the strings pass through the nut slots straight on to a fret) for the the slot behind the fret not to be cut deep enough for the string to touch the zero fret. The slot can be deepened with a penknife or a needle file.

Third: The adjustable bridge may be too low. First check that it is in the right position (see intonation), then slacken the strings, turn the adjusting screws to raise the height a little, tune up and re check.

Intonation



Mandolin and Banjo bridges move! They should be placed so that the note fretted at the 12th is in tune with the harmonic at the 12th fret, usually at a slight angle with the treble end closer to the nut and the bass end closer to the bottom. Check all 4 strings to get the best compromise of bridge position, perfection is not physically possible.

Climate Problems



Cold



The only really dangerous element of cold for stringed instruments is sudden temperature change. When going from warm to cold or cold to warm, your instrument needs to be insulated. If you have a padded case, use it. If not, wrap the instrument in blankets or towels. Once you arrive at your destination, keep the instrument cased or wrapped until the outside of the case has been at room temperature for several hours. If your instrument is still icy when you open the case, zip it back up and wait a while longer. If you take your wrapped instrument from your warm house, to the inside of your warm car, to the warm inside of a building, do not worry at all. It is only when the instrument is left in the cold for a long period that you need to go through a warm-up procedure.

Heat



Heat joins sudden change as the other serious menace to instruments. Luthiers purposefully use wood glues which soften when heated (to 145F) so that an instrument can be disassembled for service when necessary. Direct sunlight is hot enough to soften the glues in your instrument and weaken or destroy the joints in the piece. Do not display any instrument anywhere that will be exposed to sun as the light moves across your room during the day. Never leave any of your instruments in the car on a hot day. If it is too hot for you to sit in the car, with all the windows closed, in the direct sun, without sweating - it is too hot for your instrument. When you turn off the air-conditioning and leave the car, take the instrument with you if you cannot park in the shade.

Damp & High Humidity



Never store your instrument in a damp place, eventually the neck or other parts will warp as they soften up. In extreme cases the glue may be affected too. If you live in a very humid climate, silica gel in the case can help to absorb some of the moisture.

Dry Conditions



This is the main enemy of most stringed instruments. Wood will shrink in very dry conditions, and cracks may appear in your instrument. Particularly in softwood parts such as the top. In very dry weather always keep your instrument in its case, and in extreme conditions you can keep the case in a cupboard, and a bowl of water next to it to keep up the humidity.

Cleaning and Polishing



The strings will last at least twice as long if you wipe them each time after playing. This will also reduce the amount of residue that builds up on the fingerboard.
The neck & fingerboard can be wiped with linseed or almond oil to prevent drying and cracking in the wood.
Commercial polishes are generally OK, but make sure they are appropriate for your instrument finish. Handmade instruments often have a natural finish which needs special care.

Everyday Care



Don't Drop it!

Keep the strings up to tension all the time, unless you are leaving it for several months.
Keep it in a case or padded bag if at all possible to avoid minor knocks
Never check it in as luggage on an airline flight. Always carry it with you wherever possible.