Drum heads can be punctured. Pianos keys can crack. But it’s the guitarist whose instrument is always a heartbeat away from total destruction. You can replace a key on a piano or a head on a drum without too much trouble. But the neck on an electric guitar is like the blade on a sword. Once it’s broken, it may never be the same. Here, we’ll tell you how to prevent tragedy, so listen up – before your oafish bass player drops your Les Paul Custom on the concrete basement floor.
1. Leave your case unzipped
You think your best axe is safe in that gig bag or buckled up inside a hard case. Then someone picks it up by the handle. Surprise! The case wasn’t latched or zipped and the guitar spills out. As I write this, my foot is resting on a coffee table with a guitar-shaped gouge in the wood because somebody dropped a six-string on it. And you should see the guitar!
2. Allow people to trip on cables
Get in the habit of unplugging and rolling up those guitar cords when you’re done playing. Your instrument may be sitting snug on a nice guitar stand, but all it takes is one stray foot to trip on a cable. Then you may be facing an unhappy triad of consequences: your guitar got whipped across the studio, the jack the cord was plugged into probably needs to be replaced, and your lead singer has a broken nose – all because of your trippy, loose cable. Leaving cables plugged in is also draining the batteries in your row of stompboxes. Plus, we already told you to put your guitar in the case.
3. Let beginners borrow your instrument
It’s wonderful that your 12-year-old cousin Brad wants to learn guitar. You should encourage him to get his own. Or, if anything, let him borrow the beat-up older one that you forgot to put on Craigslist. People tend to be careless with stuff they didn’t pay for. Rookies are also known to never hand a guitar back in tune, and there will often be a snapped string or two since they twisted the tuning pegs too far in the wrong direction.
4. Leave your instrument in humid conditions
The best way to destroy a guitar without violence is by exposing it to extreme changes in humidity. So many people play in basements and let their guitars stay there. The problem is, basements get very wet in warm weather. As the outdoor temperature increases, the indoor humidity goes up… a lot. When it rises above 70 percent, your instruments are in jeopardy. This is because woods expand and contract with humidity changes, and different woods do this at different rates. Your guitar is almost certainly made of more than one species of tree. With extreme humidity and differing expansion rates, necks bend and glued pieces begin to separate. If you heat your home using hot water pipes, watch out in the summer when those pipes start to sweat. If there’s a row of water droplets hanging from those copper pipes, get your guitars out of there! A little digital hygrometer is cheap to buy, highly accurate, and will tell you temperature and humidity. And of course, if you can, store your instruments upstairs.
5. Make sure everyone in town knows where you keep your guitar
It’s their friends, or the friends of their friends. I’m talking about theft. Guitar-napping. Losing a guitar to theft is worse than having a car stolen. The guitar has more sentimental value, and the car will probably be found by the police (without the radio or rims, but still). The guitar is probably gone for good.
The greatest hazard to your instruments in terms of felonious action is letting your practice space become a party space. Let a lot of strange people into your rehearsals to hang out, and one of them might turn up shady. The lone bright side? You can be compensated by your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance. Insurance companies still operate largely on the honor system for small claims, but it doesn’t hurt to have a bill of sale, or at least photographs of your instruments on file, so you can prove you had them. However, your 1970 Martin Dreadnought should never be left any place from which it can be easily heisted. Keep in mind that a well-maintained guitar can last virtually forever. So be careful with those instruments if you want your great-grandchildren to strum a few chords.
Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.