Fixing an Acoustic Guitar That Is Hard to Play

A guitar that is difficult to play can be a real pain (literally!). Do you have an acoustic guitar that is hard to play? Does it seem to take an insane amount of pressure pushing down on the strings to get a clean tone? There are a couple of things that you can do to take an acoustic guitar that is hard to play and make it more ‘user friendly’, and these fixes don’t require any special training!

First, you should measure the string height; for this we’ll measure the top and bottom strings. The bottom high-E string (the thinnest) should be roughly 2mm off of the fretboard. The top low-E string (the thickest) should be just under 3mm off the fretboard. Take your time making this measurement, as it can be a little tricky.

Acoustic Guitar That Is Hard to Play

Take your time and measure the string height carefully.

If the strings measure correctly, it’s possible that your guitar’s strings are a medium or heavy gauge. You can try a lighter gauge of strings. “Light” acoustic guitar strings are .012 gauge (this is actually the measurement of the high-E string). Medium measures .013, and heavy .014. Medium and heavy gauge strings can make an acoustic guitar difficult to play, especially for beginners. Try purchasing a set of light gauge strings and changing them – it may turn that acoustic guitar that is hard to play into a much more ‘user friendly’ acoustic.

If the strings measure too high, the chances are that your truss rod has loosened up and you’ll need to do a truss rod adjustment. Don’t panic though, it’s usually pretty easy to do and can totally solve your problem.

Acoustic Guitar That Is Hard to Play

The truss rod on an acoustic is usually located at the front of the sound hole.

Each guitar neck has a metal truss rod inside. The purpose of the truss rod is to adjust the neck to correct ‘action’ problems (which, if the strings measure too high, is exactly your problem). If the truss loosens, the top of the neck (where the pegs are) will lift slightly, causing the strings to rise, and the action to suffer.

Most guitars come with a truss rod adjustment tool, which is usually just an allen wrench (it may be an extended allen wrench). If you don’t have one, just google your guitar model, and chances are you can run to your local music shop (or maybe even hardware store if it’s a standard allen wrench size) and pick one up.

To tighten the truss rod, be sure it’s seated properly and turn it clockwise, about a quarter turn. If it was loose it’s probably pretty easy to turn at this point. That’s it! Leave it overnight, and check the action in the morning by both measuring and playing. Chances are you’ll need to repeat this quarter-turn process several times before the action is better, but it’s definitely best to do it in several stages as you can damage the instrument if you over tighten the truss, so do not force it! Repeat, if the truss rod is tight, do not force it – you can permanently damage your guitar.

So there you have it… some relatively easy fixes that you can to yourself to fix an acoustic guitar that is hard to play.

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