What You Should Fix or Adjust on Your Acoustic Guitar and When to See a Luthier

DIY vs. Professional Repairs: What You Should Fix or Adjust on Your Acoustic Guitar and When to See a Luthier

Owning an acoustic guitar is a rewarding experience, but like any instrument, it requires regular maintenance and occasional repairs to keep it in top playing condition. While some adjustments and fixes can be easily handled at home, others are best left to a professional luthier. This article will help you determine what you can safely do yourself and when you should seek professional help.

DIY Repairs and Adjustments

1. Changing Strings

Changing strings is one of the most basic maintenance tasks that every guitarist should learn. Fresh strings can drastically improve the sound and playability of your guitar.

  • When to DIY: When strings are old, rusty, or broken.
  • How to Do It: Remove the old strings, clean the fretboard, and install new strings, tuning them up gradually to avoid putting too much stress on the neck.

2. Adjusting the Truss Rod

The truss rod helps to control the neck relief, which is crucial for preventing string buzz and ensuring comfortable playability.

  • When to DIY: If you notice slight buzzing or discomfort due to neck bowing (either too much relief or backbow).
  • How to Do It: Use the appropriate wrench to make small adjustments (1/8 turn) to the truss rod, checking the neck relief as you go.

3. Adjusting Action Height

Action height refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard. Proper action height can prevent buzzing and make playing more comfortable.

  • When to DIY: If the action is slightly too high or low and affects playability.
  • How to Do It: Adjust the bridge saddle height by sanding it down or using shims to raise it. This can be done with some patience and careful measurements.

4. Replacing Bridge Pins and Tuners

Bridge pins and tuners can wear out or break over time, affecting tuning stability and string retention.

  • When to DIY: If you have loose or broken bridge pins or tuners.
  • How to Do It: Purchase replacement parts and install them using basic tools. Ensure the new parts fit properly.

5. Cleaning and Polishing

Regular cleaning and polishing help maintain the aesthetic and longevity of your guitar.

  • When to DIY: Anytime your guitar looks dirty or grimy.
  • How to Do It: Use a soft cloth and guitar polish to clean the body, and lemon oil for the fretboard (avoid using lemon oil on maple fretboards).

When to Consult a Professional Luthier

1. Fret Work

Fret work includes leveling, crowning, and replacing frets. Uneven or worn frets can cause buzzing and intonation issues.

  • When to See a Luthier: If you notice significant fret wear, buzzing due to uneven frets, or if frets are lifting from the fretboard.
  • Why: Fret work requires specialized tools and expertise to ensure even and properly crowned frets.

2. Structural Repairs

Structural issues such as cracks in the body, neck joint problems, or loose braces require professional attention.

  • When to See a Luthier: If you notice any cracks, separation of the neck joint, or internal rattling from loose braces.
  • Why: Structural repairs often involve precise gluing, clamping, and potentially refinishing work, which are best handled by an experienced professional.

3. Advanced Setup and Intonation

Intonation ensures that your guitar plays in tune across the entire fretboard, while an advanced setup can optimize your guitar’s playability.

  • When to See a Luthier: If your guitar has persistent tuning issues or if you want a comprehensive setup for optimal playability.
  • Why: A luthier has the skills to precisely adjust the saddle, nut, and frets to ensure perfect intonation and action.

4. Nut Replacement and Adjustment

The nut plays a critical role in string spacing and height, affecting both playability and tuning stability.

  • When to See a Luthier: If the nut is cracked, if slots are too low or high, or if strings are not properly spaced.
  • Why: Cutting and fitting a new nut requires precision to avoid buzzing and ensure proper string alignment.

5. Finishing and Refinishing

The finish of your guitar protects the wood and enhances its appearance. Damage to the finish can affect both the look and sound of the guitar.

  • When to See a Luthier: For significant finish damage such as deep scratches, chips, or when refinishing is required.
  • Why: Proper finishing and refinishing require specific materials and techniques to ensure a smooth, protective coat that does not negatively impact the guitar’s sound.


Knowing what you can fix or adjust on your acoustic guitar and when to seek professional help is key to maintaining its performance and longevity. Basic maintenance tasks like changing strings, adjusting the truss rod, and cleaning can be done at home with a little practice. However, more complex repairs and adjustments, such as fret work, structural repairs, advanced setups, nut replacement, and finishing, should be entrusted to a professional luthier. By understanding your guitar’s needs and limitations, you can keep it in excellent condition and enjoy its beautiful sound for years to come.

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