Hey guys, Alex here with Iron Age Guitar Accessories. Are you looking forward to that "new guitar day" anytime soon? Here's just a few tips and considerations you might find helpful in order to get the most out of your purchase. To view the shortened list, check out the summary at the bottom of this article.
First thing you want to go over when you've selected a guitar, is to give it a thorough visual inspection. This is regards to all the cosmetics so make sure the finish is consistent, knobs are in good condition, etc. During this check, also make sure all the edges are smooth & the guitar generally feels right in your hands. Finally, check all the joints & crevices to be sure there are no cracks present there because these will just get worse over time. After all, you're looking to purchase a NEW guitar, not a blemished one.
Once you've determined that the guitar's appearance is up to your standards, now you can begin to inspect the fitment & how it plays. To start this off, begin with the frets. Why the frets? because if these aren't properly done, it wont matter how well the rest of the guitar is set up. It simply won't play right in the end.
What you're looking for here is what's called "fret sprout", which happens with changes in humidity as the neck dries. When the neck is subject to a dryer environment, the neck can shrink slightly while the metal frets do not. The result is fret wire that protrudes from the neck which is not only unsightly, but can also be abrasive while playing. Luckily it's easy to spot by simply running your thumb down the side of the neck & making sure it's nice & smooth. If the guitar has neck binding, this sprouting can cause it to crack, so that's another thing to watch out for.
Another common fret problem that's worth looking into, is fret gaps where the fret-wire is not seated properly. This can cause string buzzing & intonation problems if not fixed. Usually you can find these upon visual inspection, & if a fret looks a bit odd, you can simply check it by playing the note above it (If the 7th fret looks odd, play the 6th note). As you do this, be on the lookout for string-buzz or dead spots. Another way to check is to try & insert a credit card or a standard pick in the gap, however the frets should be perfectly flush with the fretboard.
Next, you want to visually inspect the neck & make sure it's straight - Not warped as shown below!
To further inspect this point, we'll also look into the guitar's neck relief. This is a common trick you might of seen where you take the guitar's nut & bridge out of the equation. To do this, simply put your finger on the 1st fret (bypasses the nut) & with the other hand place a finger on the last fret (bypass the bridge) before the fretboard ends. Now while holding this position, use a spare finger to press down a fret somewhere in the middle. I like to use the 12th fret since it's usually the halfway point in many guitars, but what you're looking for is just a bit of relief or gap between the string & the fret. There should be just a light & spongy action when you press lightly. If the string is laying on the fret with no relief, the action could very well be off unless that's your preference.
The important thing however, is to check the same fret on all strings. You would do this to make sure that the neck is again, straight. If your first string is laying on the fret & the last string is flying high up above the fretboard, there's a possibility that the neck could be twisted or warped.
Finally, do a few string bends & make sure the guitar stays in tune. What you're looking out here is to make sure that the strings aren't binding on the nut or causing any clicking as a result. At this point, you should have figured out if the guitar is both cosmetically & mechanically sound. Now you can give it a quick run through across the strings to check for any dead spots.
“Quality is never an accident.
It is always the result of high intention,
sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution.
It represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”
~William A. Foster (MOH Recipient, 1945)