Modifications to a $35 Guitar
I recently bought a very low quality backpacker guitar. You know, something to take out into the woods on backpacking trips and fiddle around with when I got inspired. I wasn't expecting anything good, but the thing is pretty much unplayable.
It holds a tuning pretty well, (not constantly having to tighten it to keep the pitch steady) but when you press down on a fret the pitch goes up by more than it should. So it may sound perfectly in tune when all of the strings are open, but the chord becomes almost unrecognizable when you mix open strings with ones that are pressed down.
The strings are pretty crappy, so I was wondering if this problem could be fixed or at least improved by putting on a set of steel ones that I use on my real guitar. I am also wondering if the tension of real strings would be too much for the thing. Again, I'm not worried about keeping the thing in pristine condition. I just want the chords to be recognizable. :lol:
Im presuming the guitar you have purchased is a nylon string guitar?
If this is the case, you cannot put steel strings on it... and even if you could, it will more than likely make matters worse.
The intonation being out , like you describe, is more than likely one of 2 things.
1.The saddle or nut is in the wrong place.. or I guess the fretting could be out. These are not things you wuill be able to fix easily..and would cost you more than the guitar is worth to do so.
2. The height of the strings is too high, causing the note to stretch when pressed down.
This could be caused by the nut slots being too high (you can file them down....but go very slowly, its much easier to file some more than it is to have to go buy a new nut because you went tooo far) or it could be that the saddle height is too high, you can file it down... just a bit at a time.
Getting your action to a reasonable height is paramount to good intonation.
But the rule of thumb is, the lower the strings go, the softer you have to play...so dont go too far.
Bring the guitar to a qualified tech as it is clear this guitar needs intonation badly It may also need a bridge and/or nut height adjustment. assuming the frets are good, then this along with a neck check/ truss rod adjustment should be all it needs. If after all this it is buzzing then it needs some fret work. maybe just leveling the frets or redressing them.
Just be sure to bring it to a pro. There are plenty of jokers out there who can do a set up but if a problem goes beyond that they will be clueless how to fix it. Someone who went on tour with a band or a local builder would cost a LITTLE more but the job would be done right the first time. Besides going to a joker who doesn't actually fix the problem only leaves you with a lighter wallet thinking it's the guitars fault that playing it sucks. ask a prospective repairman if they ever rebuilt a pre war martin, or if they studied guitar building in italy, or if they were guitar tech for foo fighters. you get the idea.