Making An $85 Guitar Play Like A $1000 Guitar


I wanted do it on Craigslist because you can get guitars for really cheap. And I’ve had a lot of luck with Craigslist, but do you have kind of be careful. You have to ask a lot of questions to find out what you’re getting into. And the number one tip is to take somebody with you.

I’m taking Taylor and Josh, so I think I’ll be pretty safe. Anyway, this is guitar is a Affinity Fender Strat 85 bucks, the right price, the right place, the right guitar and it’s in the town that I live in. So I think this is gonna be a pretty good option for us.

So I worked at one of the largest volume guitar retailers in America for five years, and I sold a crap ton of guitars. And I bought a lot of guitars too off of people that came in, and wanted to trade in or in or something. And I got a lot of sketchy people, man. We never knew where the guitar came from, you had to ask. And there are some things you can ask people when you’re buying guitar that reveal a lot of things to keep you kind of safe, as far as getting a stolen guitar, or just the quality of the guitar. Ask them, “Hey, how long have you had this guitar?

“Where did you get it from? “How much did you pay for it?” If they answer those questions, it’ll reveal some stuff. Dude, we had a lot of sketchy pretty at that shop. (rock music) – [Man] Hello. – Hey, man.

– Nathan. – Nathan, Blake. – Good to meet you, man, so that’s the guitar? Cool.

– This is it. – So the first thing I would look for when I’m looking at a used guitar, a new guitar for that matter, is just check the tuning keys and make sure that there’s no gaps or blips in ’em. If there’s a problem with those, you’re gonna have to replace them, and this can be tough to find one that matches or you’re gonna need to replace the whole set, right?

The next thing is the nut, make sure there’s no cracks in the nut, and make sure that the edges aren’t broken off, that happens on less expensive guitars where the materials are less expensive too. So just check that out and make sure it’s in good working order. The next thing I would check for is just the electronics. Just make sure they all work, go through the pickups, go through the volume control. It’s really out of tune, but that’s all right. Tone control, that one’s good, that one’s good.

This jack is loose, but that’s pretty common on guitars you can fix that as long as there’s not a short end, as long it’s not crackling, right. That’s what you wanna look for. Other than that, just check it over structurally. On some guitars, the headstock, the guitar may have fallen, and the headstock may have a crack in it or something like that. Check the pocket right here for cracks on bolt-on guitars. Just give it a really good once over.

If the neck is bowed a little bit, that’s okay you can fix that but you wanna check a little bit to make sure it’s kind of even on each side, that it’s not twisted. On strats, that’s not really a problem, they’re usually on Gibsons, other set neck guitars that might be an issue. So I think this guitar will do the job, I think we’ll go ahead and grab it.

(percussive rock music) So there’s just a few tools that you’re gonna need to make all the adjustments that we’re gonna do to this guitar. And hopefully, most people will have these just laying around their house. So you don’t have to go out and spend any money. You’re gonna need a polish cloth and some polish, some screwdrivers, a socket, some allen wrenches, some new strings, string winder, and a clipper, fingernail file and some masking tape, and then just a tuner too. All right, the first thing when you get a new used-guitar, even if it’s cheap, take pride in it. It’s your guitar, it’s your baby, clean it up.

To do that, I just have some basic guitar polish, and a polish cloth, that’s where you start. And if you don’t have guitar polish or a polish cloth like this, just use a t-shirt, and just breathe on the guitar, that will get most things off. But this guitar is a little bit dirty, which is fine, there’s dust and stuff under there. And I’ll be giving you some more tips as soon as we get the strings off to clean it, as you go. But this is the first thing, this is step one. Just get all the junk off of it, right.

And you’ll be good to go. Another thing that I have that I’ll show you later, it’s just some steel wool to clean the fret board, and some fret board conditioner too, if you want, but you don’t have to have that. – Number two is to tighten things up. So a lot of times with used guitars, there’s gonna be a few places where things will be a little bit loose. One of those is on the output jack, and this is especially the case for Strats.

Also, your volume and tone knobs here, and then also up here on the tuning pegs. So we’re gonna go ahead and tighten all those up. (mellow rock music) Make sure that you don’t over-tighten these ’cause then they can be really hard to turn.

Number three, adjust your neck. And this guitar when we bought it, it’s a special situation, I say special but it’s a really common situation when you buy a used guitar. Strats come set up with nine gauge strings.

This guitar has 10s on, I can tell because the neck’s bowed a little bit and it’s tough to play. So what we’re gonna do is adjust the neck with 10’s on it, make it play right so you could see how that works, and then when we change the strings in the next little point, we’re gonna put nines on it so goes back to the way it should be originally. Andrew and I check neck relief the same way so I’m gonna let him show you how to do this and just make a small adjustment, don’t be afraid to do it as long as you do little incremental steps when you do it. – That’s right, that’s the important thing. So quickly to check here, we’re just gonna fret on the first fret and the very last fret. And then all we do is we just touch there to see how much distance there is between the end of the eighth fret and the string there.

And we can see that there’s a decent amount of space. Probably more space than we want, we usually want a little bit of movement but this is too much. – I like minimal movement, just where it pings, just barely moves.

– Exactly, and it’s gonna depend on your guitar, how low you can get that. All right. (light rock music) – Okay, so that’s a little bit better, almost to where I would like it if I was playing this guitar with 10’s on it. I’m gonna put the neck back to where it was so we can change strings, put some nines on there.

And that is step number four. Put new strings on your guitar, fresh strings. You don’t know where this guitar has been, you don’t know what it’s been through. You don’t even know what gauge strings are on it. These might be 10’s, it might be something else.

So if you need help changing your strings, we’re gonna put a link in the description below this video, where you can go, and watch a video that’s pretty exhaustive on how to change your strings on you electric guitar or acoustic guitar. – So all you’re gonna need to do this is set of strings, and a set of clippers/string winder. All right, let’s get into it. – Cool.

(upbeat bluesy rock) All right, we’ve got the strings off. And there a couple things you wanna make sure you do while you have the opportunity. The first one is to clean the rest of the guitar that was hidden by the strings, right.

You can do the body of the guitar, you can even use some 0000 grit steel wool to clean the fret board. That works really well and I have some cold-pressed linseed oil that I use to condition my fret board, maybe once a year, just to keep it from drying out. That’s another important thing to do every once in while. – Right.

– Cool. – Another you’re gonna wanna do is, you’re gonna wanna take this opportunity to lube the nut of the guitar here. So there’s a couple ways you can do this. One of the more popular ways is to use something like this, which they call nut sauce, and you can just fire it in there.

What happens is the strings can sometimes bind up in there and obviously that’s gonna cause tuning issues. Another thing that you can do though, if you have it kicking around, is pencil lead. So mechanical pencils work really well, you can get in there and just make sure you get a little bit in each one, kind of clean it off, make sure the leads in there. And you should be good to go. – All right, tip number five to make your cheap guitar play great, I wanted to kind of stick here in the middle, why we’re doing the string change, and that is if you have any frets that are poking out like the cheese grater, that’s really uncomfortable to play.

That is my least favorite thing about cheap guitars or used guitars. – No doubt. – So what you can do, a lot of people don’t know this, is make sure you tape off the fret that’s giving you trouble and then you can just use a regular fingernail file to file that fret off. The reason you use the tape is to make sure you don’t scratch the finish on your guitar. So I’ll show you what that looks like real quick. (light guitar rock) – [Nathan] Cool, that’s fine.

– [Man] I’m surprised how much came off there. – Yeah, what are these little like– – [Nathan] That is epoxy from the factory. – [Andrew] Oh, man.

Whoa. (rustling) – Yeah. That’s why you cover it. Especially cover those two (mumbles).

So this is just cold-pressed linseed oil, and I’ve had this bottle for 10, 12 years. And this’ll last forever and all you’re doing is putting some moisture back into your fret board so it doesn’t crack on you. I have one guitar that has a cracked fret board. – Yeah. – It’s fine now but if I had been more diligent about this it wouldn’t have happened, and again, this in only once, maybe once every year I do this. – It’s gonna depend on where you live, right?

– Exactly, right. – Good clap. (upbeat guitar rock) All right, so now we’re gonna put some nine’s back on this thing because that’s what this guitar was originally set up for. (guitar rock music) Okay, so we got the nine’s on there, but we did notice that the neck is gonna need a little bit of an adjustment. So we’re gonna do that right now.

– And when you adjust, make little adjustments, just go like a quarter of a turn at a time and then check it. If it starts buzzing on the first five frets, anywhere around that area, you’ve probably gone too far and you wanna back it off a little bit until you get rid of that buzzing. But you’re looking to straighten the neck out just a little bit to where it’s just the slightest amount of bow in it this way. And you can look down the neck or you can do the little method where you fret the first fret and maybe where the fret touches the body, and see if there’s any space between the frets and the strings as you do that. – And one thing I’ll mention is this one was pretty loose, which means, most of the time a trust rod should feel tight.

So I know that’s why I’m doing a little bit more. – Yeah, I mean, it felt completely loose. – It did. Okay, so we got it looking pretty good. None of the strings are buzzing at the first fret except for one, so that kind of leads us to our next point.

– Yeah, which is string height on your bridge, is the saddles of your bridge. And for the most part, most necks have a radius to them. It’s like a small curve, some of them are pretty flat, but this one, what is it? Nine an half inches or something like that? – Something like that.

– On the Strat. And the saddles kind of go into that nice soft curve, but if you look at the string that’s buzzing, and this one, the D string, it’s a little bit out of wack. – Yes.

– So you’re gonna wanna just make sure that there’s a nice curve to them if you have a nine and a half inch radius on your fret board. And if they’re not, just make a little adjustment here or if you got your neck pretty flat, but you still want your action a little bit lower you could try and lower these a little bit. But let’s go ahead and just take a look at this adjustment. So this D string settles a little bit lower and you can see it’s kind of angled to one side.

So what I wanna do is bring this side up that’s crooked or lower, up a little bit to where it’s even with the other side. And this should be a little bit higher than the A string. So it’s got that nice curve to it and that should fix the buzzing in the first fret. – All right, so number seven. We’re gonna take a look at the pickup heights.

Now, quite often, you’re gonna see especially with Stratocasters, these pickups angled like this. So a little bit lower on the bass side, a little bit higher on the treble side, and that is perfectly normal. The reason for that is there’s more output coming from these than there is from these, so we do that to compensate. What you’ll wanna do is you’ll wanna kind of experiment with the heights, the higher it is, the more output your gonna have, the lower it is, the less you’re gonna have. Usually, it is gonna just sound different in general.

One other thing is that you’re gonna usually want your bridge pickup to be a little bit higher, the one in the middle to be kind of in the middle, and then the one at the neck here, to be the lowest of all of them. Again, because there’s more vibration, distance on the strings here, so it’s gonna end up being louder. But again, it’s something you just wanna experiment with. And use your ears to kind of decide what’s gonna sound best.

And on this guitar, you can see this one maybe is a little bit low so if you want to adjust it, we’ll just fire a screwdriver in there and depending on the type of pick, you might have to go left or right, but going right here raises it. And I think I’m pretty happy with that, I think that’s fine. – All right, the last little tip to make your cheap or used electric guitar play great is to set your intonation up so your guitar sounds as good as possible. And you may be thinking, that’s complicated, I don’t know how do it. But I have a quick way for you to remember this and it’s a easy way to implement it and it’s this thing right here. Just remember, FFF.

If the fretted note is flat, move the saddle forward. And I’ll show you what that means. Will you turn that tuner on there, Andy? If I have this G string and we checked this earlier so I know it’s in tune, and then just hit it open, see if it’s in tune, get it perfect, and then fret the 12th fret. If it’s flat, if that note on the 12th fret is flat, you need to move the saddle forward that way.

So I’m gonna do that and that’s how you set intonation on a guitar, just little adjustments at a time. Then again. All right, so I just made that little adjustment, get it back and tune it to a G, check the 12th fret, and it’s a G too. So that’s the way you set your intonation so the guitar plays as in tune as possible all the way up the neck. All right, we are ready to compare these two guitars.

I’m just plugged in straight into a Peavey Classic 30, neutral settings, really flat. I’m gonna go neck pickup, I’m gonna play one riff, switch guitars and then play the exact same thing or as close to it as I can get. (mellow guitar music) – [Andrew] Good right there. – So the guitars are feeling pretty similar to me. I mean– – They sound great, both of them.

– I think this is a $1300 guitar. I paid 85 for that one, it feels really good. That one is brighter but you can always adjust your amp or your controls on your guitar to kind of compensate for that, to get a little bit of a mellower of tone, if you want. If you like a spanky tone, that’s great. That’s it for this video, make sure to leave a comment below letting us know what you thought of the sound of each of these two guitars, if you think it’s worth investing the time getting a cheap guitar to play better or if you should just go out and buy a nice standard American Strat off the bat.

– And if you like this video, make sure to like and subscribe. We’ll see you guys later. (mellow guitar music)

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