Burnishing nut slots. If you hear a little ping when tuning one of your guitar’s wound strings, it could be a sign that it’s getting snagged on a little burr in the nut slot. In some cases, fixing this means taking your axe to a pro with the tools and knowledge to reshape the slots, but often you can solve the problem yourself.
Dan Erlewine—luthier and guitar guru extraordinaire—hipped me to this slot-burnishing technique. For starters, whenever you change strings, don’t immediately throw them away. Instead, clip out a section of each wound string—12" is about right—and save it.
If you play a lot and own several acoustic and electric guitars, it won’t take long to build up a stash of wound string sections you can use as burnishing tools (Photo 6a). Complete the kit with a roll of waxed dental floss. A dial caliper, a relatively inexpensive tool sold in automotive parts stores, is handy for measuring string gauges, but not essential.
The concept is simple: Clean out and burnish the offending slot using a piece of wound string that has a slightly smaller diameter than the one on your guitar that’s pinging. For example, if you’re using a .024 3rd string on your flattop, a .022 works well as a burnishing tool. You can eyeball this pretty easily. If the burnishing string drops down into the slot—don’t force anything—you’re good to go.
But remember: When burnishing the slot, always maintain a downward angle toward the headstock (Photo 6b). The highest point of each nut slot must be the edge that faces the fretboard. Press the burnishing string lightly into the slot and run the string back and forth, using firm, steady strokes. A dozen passes should do the trick.
Though you won’t be able to slip a wound string into a thinner plain string’s nut slot, you can polish it out with waxed dental floss (Photo 6c). The goal is to leave a slippery surface at the bottom of the slot. It doesn’t hurt to “wax out” the wound string slots, too, after you’ve burnished them.
By the way, hang onto all those pieces of string with ball ends. In a moment, we’ll see how to use them in another hack.
Hush pucks. If you practice electric guitar in an apartment, dorm, condo, or even a stand-alone dwelling, you know how low-frequency sounds can travel through the floor and disturb neighbors, roommates, or family members. Even if you’re playing no louder than folks might listen to TV, those low notes can travel far and wide through the building.
Fortunately, there’s a way to keep the peace, and it comes in the form of isolation pads. They’re available in many designs, but the sorbothane pads sold by Isolate It are perfectly sized for guitar combos (Photo 7). Measuring 1/4" thick and just over 2" in diameter, these high-tech, squishy discs will decouple your amp from the floor. Each pad is rated up to 320 pounds, and according to the manufacturer, they absorb almost 95 percent of equipment vibration. Designed to isolate air compressors and other heavy machinery from a factory floor, these are tough little buggers. A set of eight pads runs about $23 on Amazon, so that comes out to less than $12 per amp. (Whew, we didn’t blow our budget.)
Bonus! Have a home studio? You can also tuck these vibration-absorbing pads under your monitors to reduce low-frequency transmission into your studio furniture, and thus get cleaner, more accurate mixes.