If you’re considering buying a used guitar, let’s test your guitar-problem-solving skills, shall we? This is gonna be fun!

See any problems here?

Nothing serious, but those strings should wind from top to bottom. You want as much “pull-down” behind the nut as you can get, so winding strings from the peg string hole downward is the way to go.

Also, not enough windings. These aren’t locking tuner keys. The D tuner has less than one wind! I aim for three winds on each peg, but two is my minimum. If you properly stretch your strings, two or three windings is not going to hurt your tuning stability.

See those 10mm nuts on each tuner key? They’re almost always loose! Snug them up, but don’t overtighten, cause the threaded bushing will break easily.

And you know how people are always talking about using “Nut Grease” to reduce friction in nut slots? These string guides probably have ten times the friction! But don’t waste money on specialized guitar lubes. You probably have some Chapstick laying around somewhere and a little dab will do-ya!

Slot heights from .020" for wound strings to .015 or even .010 for solids is ok
Measuring nut slot height

Fret each string at the highest fret (toward the body) then measure between top of first fret and bottom of each string. Each of these measured from a high of 0.020″ to a low of about 0.015″ – So waddya think? Is the nut ok? Hover over the image for your answer.

Fret wear
Fret wear

By pulling the strings aside, I checked for fret wear. This is usually most common down in the “cowboy frets”, i.e. the first five frets or so. Here, I see some flattened areas and one has started a U-shape groove.

That probably won’t affect playability now, but here’s the deal – On a new fret, normal playing spreads the wear a few thousandths of an inch to either side of the string. But once you get a “U” or “V” groove, the wear all happens in just one spot.

So, instead of wearing three thousandths left and three right, all the wear is happening in one spot, causing wear to happen exponentially faster.

If you can do your own level and crown jobs, this is the time to do it. Otherwise, you may be looking at some fret replacements six months to a year down the road. Obviously, this depends on how many hours per week you spend playing guitar.

There are tons of used guitars out there being sold by people who spend a “whole week” trying to learn to play before giving up. These guitars have no fret wear. So why buy a guitar that’s going to give you problems sooner than later?

Relief should be 0.010"
Checking relief, fret 1st & last then measure at 7th fret

Relief measures at just under 0.030″ – so how ’bout it? Is that OK? Too much? Too little? Hover over the image for your answer.

Neck relief is no big deal, you say? Just a twist or two of the truss rod, right? This is a Fender-style truss rod with access at the headstock. It takes a male allen wrench, but what size? Take a flashlight and peer deep into the cavity..looks like 1/8th inch, right?

Ha ha! That’s what the last person thought too! Nope! It’s a 4mm. And guess what can happen when you try to tighten a metric 4mm truss nut with a SAE 1/8″ allen wrench? Yup! Ya strip the nut and cause all sorts of headaches – usually unsurmountable ones for DIYers.

Whenever the relief is wildly out of whack like this, it’s usually due to one of two reasons – either the owner is totally clueless about neck relief or they tried to adjust it and stripped the truss rod nut and intending to unload this firewood on you!

String height (measured at 17th fret with capo on first fret) measured at 0.085″ – nearly 33% higher than it should be (0.065″). This means tired, sore fingers and a bit of speed stolen from your style. Sorry about not having a photo. I could swear I shot it, but it’s nowhere to be found, so I’ll just swear anyway! 🙂

Set screw missing from G saddle
String height might be difficult to adjust. Can you see why?
Both "legs" of each saddle should be same height
Other than being filthy, what’s wrong here?

This one drives me nuts! Notice how the E saddles (outward ones) have one short leg and one longer leg? Whoever did this think’s they’re making the saddles align with the fretboard radius. And, they are, I guess – but that’s not a good thing!

It’s the string heights that need to align with the radius. All they did here was to cause the strings to rest against the side of the saddle groove, creating unneeded and unwanted extra friction.

And I’ll never understand why people sell guitars without even an attempt to wipe some of the dust and junk off!

Pickup pole height should be 3/32" to 1/8"
Hover over image to see what pickup height should be

Most guitars have too much distance between the string bottom and pole pieces, but this one has the opposite problem. Measuring is done by fretting at the highest fret (nearest the pickup) and measure between string bottom and pole piece tops.

Here, the string is nearly touching the pole. This will cause wierd noises, and probably buzzing as well as having a negative affect on tone. The bridge pickup had a similar problem but was adjusted at a kind of crazy tilt so that the front was lower than the back.

I worry about people buying used guitars, getting one like this (you never find one properly setup – never!) and just thinking it’s a lousy guitar or maybe, due to tired, sore fingers, and lousy feel and sound – maybe they just give up guitar thinking “This ain’t for me!”.

There are enough “guitar flippers” out there who know what they’re doing. Most will not only clean up a guitar, but maybe add new strings and give a quick setup before reselling. You’re much better off buying from one of these people than from an individual. In most cases, it doesn’t cost much more, if anything – and in nearly every case, that little extra will be well worth it!

I go further than most flippers in that I thoroughly go through each guitar end to end, new strings, complete setup, level frets, smooth fret ends, file nut slots, etc., etc. You don’t have to worry about buying a bad guitar from me.

This guitar will soon be playing better than ever – better than when it was brand-new even! If you’d like to come try it out, due to Covid we’re doing demos outside in our screened-in lanai, a fan overhead, mask and keeping social distancing. (Mask is optional for customers).

I’ll bring a good amp out so you can give the guitar a decent tryout. For those super-concerned about Covid, I have an ultra-violet wand to disinfect guitars, hand sanitizer, etc.

Checkout my inventory of guitars that I’ve setup and certified ready to go at – GuitarsDoneRight Used Guitars.

Want a sneek-peak at the guitars waiting to get on the bench? Check out – Guitars Not Ready To Sell and if you see something you like there, let me know and I’ll move it to the front of the line.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, checkout the many others I’ve written over the past couple years at – Hank’s Guitar Blog

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you back next week. Bring your friends!

That’s me, “Hank” with my assistant guitar tech, “Dora”!