Repairing The Riff: Guitar Repair, Self-Repair, and Soul

Embarrassing, but true: I owned my Baby Taylor for three years before I learned how to change its strings. I had friends change the strings for me, I didn’t pay attention, and suddenly I’m that girl who’s mooching off my friends. And I’m getting the side-eye from guitarists who know what they’re doing.

Guitar string self-repairAll real guitarists know how to change guitar strings, I thought. It’s like, the first thing you learn at Guitar School. Followed by the various iterations of the Power Stance. When I finally learned how to re-string my Taylor (many thanks to my ever-patient uncle), I felt like I had finally passed Guitar School 101…even though my power stance was still severely lacking.

And, as cheesy as it sounds, I felt connected to my instrument in a way that I hadn’t before. Learning how to fix something simple—a broken string—on an instrument that I use and love felt good, like it was really mine. As it turns out, other musicians feel the same way.

The Youtube Experience

A musician for over 45 years, Whalen Thompson is pretty familiar with guitar repair. He has his own record label and a fully equipped studio in his California home. Through his job in the milling department at Ernie Ball and Music Man, Whalen has discovered the benefits of self-repair firsthand. “When I first started playing music I was like, ‘truss rod? What’s a truss rod?’” he recalls. “You’d have to take it to a repair shop. Fixing your own gear takes all the mystery out of it.”

Unfortunately, the greater the mystery, the more difficult the self-repair experience. Says Whalen, “When you bring it into a guitar repair store, they’re probably not going to tell you the secret [to fixing it].” And the next time your string breaks, it’s another thirty bucks to repair.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to repair a guitar—or any instrument, really. As a musician who’s seen his share of banged-up guitars, Whalen agrees that YouTube has taken center stage in solving the mystery of how to fix a problem. “Given the YouTube experience, where you can quickly pull stuff up, it’s much easier now [to fix your own gear],” he says.

Yes, amongst cats playing piano and epic fail compilations, musicians can find plenty of help from their peers. Type “guitar repair” into Youtube and you’ll get over 20,000 videos instructing you on everything from delicate neck repair to basic re-stringing—a veritable smorgasbord of help, ready at the click of a mouse.

Of course, not everything on the internet is true. So, take care which instructions you follow. Watch out for suggestions that might not work for your instrument, or solutions that are more harmful than helpful.

  • Look for experience: many Youtubers have uploaded multiple videos of themselves attacking a host of problems on electric and acoustic guitars.
  • Look for reviews: often good indications of whether the advice given was useful or not.
  • Look for multiple opinions: are they lining up with one another on how to fix your instrument’s problem? Sounds promising to me.

And while the more complicated fixes on guitars—like neck issues—might require an expert eye, odds are the problem can be fixed with a few tools and basic research. “These are often very simple fixes,” says Whalen. “All you need is a screwdriver or a wrench—whatever it takes to get these things done.”

Amen to that.

Repair & Soul

Repair injects soul into whatever it is you’re fixing—and musicians know a little something about the importance of soul. Without soul you don’t have “Black Dog,” you don’t have “Try a Little Tenderness,” and you definitely don’t have Rick Astley.

If I can figure out how to re-string my guitar, you can too. So, before you call the repair shop when your guitar string starts buzzing, do some Googling and see if the answer is out there. Check out iFixit. We’ve got teardowns  and solutions to common guitar questions, like how to adjust the action of your guitar. If you’re already a Guitar (Repair) Hero, pass on your knowledge by contributing a guide or answering a question on iFixit.

With the aid of communities like Youtube and iFixit, a few tools, and some careful searching, we can find ways to get the soul back into our instruments and feel empowered at the same time—especially if you have your power stance down.