guitar repair

How Do You Get Into Guitar Repair?

Your guitar is broken. But you don’t know how to fix guitars. Where do you turn?

Well, you have two options: take it to a Guitar Repair Tech (aka a Luthier) or learn to fix it yourself.

Maybe you want to turn this whole guitar repairing thing into a career. Or maybe you just want to know how to fix your own instruments. Either way, this post is a great starting place.

To get you started on the path to being a Guitar Repair Tech, here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. Know how to play the guitar
  2. Read books on guitar repair
  3. Buy guitar repair tools
  4. Practice working on a cheap guitar
  5. Get further education
  6. More tips on getting into guitar repair

First, Know How to Play the Guitar

Have you ever met a Mechanic who doesn’t know how to drive? Or a Barista who doesn’t drink coffee?

My point is, the first step in knowing how to fix guitars is knowing the guitar — intimately. You need to know how to play the guitar before you start repairing them.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say you should be an advanced Guitarist. In order to test the guitar after you’ve fixed it, you really need to be able to play a bunch of different things to make sure it’s back to 100%.

If you don’t know how to play guitar yet, you can easily learn online or get in-person guitar lessons. If you already know how to play but want to get better, you may want to consider taking guitar classes in your area.

Whatever the case, don’t move on in this process until you’ve conquered this first stage.

Read Books on Guitar Repair

The next step in becoming a Guitar Repairer is to get educated on fixing guitars. You’ll need to read some good books on how to do it. Watching a couple of YouTube videos won’t do it.

So here are three of the best guitar repair books.

If you change your own strings, you probably already have a wire cutter and string winder. If you don’t, get them ASAP. A string winder is a tool that can help you turn the tuning heads at a much faster rate than you can by hand. A wire cutter is necessary so you can get rid of the extra string hanging off the end of new strings.

Guitar Player Repair Guide by Dan Erlewine
People call this the bible of the guitar repair world. It’s detailed, knowledgeable, and it’s geared toward the novice.

It’s a step-by-step guide for not only repairing but also maintaining acoustic and electric guitars as well as bass guitars. It also comes with a DVD that shows you the hands-on things you can learn.

Whatever level of guitar repair you’re at, this book will be beneficial to you.

The Complete Guide to Guitar and Amp Maintenance by Ritchie Fliegler
The description calls this book a “survival guide for every guitar player.” It’s full of repair and maintenance tips and troubleshooting help. The step-by-step instructions make it easy to fix your own guitars, which is where you should start if you’re looking to do this professionally. Plus, this book has plenty of photos for those who learn better by seeing.

How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great! by Dan Erlewine
Erlewine seems like the guy to trust when it comes to guitar maintenance and repair. In this book, he speaks to Electric Guitarists about shopping for your first guitar, customizing the action, keeping it clean, and general troubleshooting help. He also covers how to install and replace pickups, switches, and any other part of the electric guitar.

On top of this, you get access to an online video where Erlewine shows you how to set up a bass or electric guitar.

Mel Bay Guitar Setup, Maintenance & Repair by John LeVan
Using pictures, diagrams, and sketches, LeVan shows the reader how to clean, adjust and intonate the action on your acoustic guitar as well as how to generally diagnose problems. You’ll also learn about maintaining and fixing nuts, bridge saddles, wiring, and frets.

To top it all off, the book includes a forward by Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars. So you know you can trust it.

Buy Guitar Repair Tools

Okay, now that you know how to play the guitar and you’ve started reading some books on how to fix guitars, it’s time to get some tools.

We’ll quickly cover the essential guitar repair tools you’ll need.

Measuring Tools
You’ll obviously need tools to measure stuff with, and a good one to start with is a string action gauge, which is helpful for measuring action and diagnosing neck relief.

You may also need a machinist’s metal rule. This is good when you’re adjusting the pickup height or if you need a specific measurement for replacements (like knobs, tuners, etc).

Screwdrivers, Nut Drivers, Hex Keys
According to LeVan, you should have at least six types of screwdrivers: three flathead and three Phillips in large, medium, and small sizes.

“Having several sizes lets you handle most types of screws used on guitars,” he says.

Nut drivers are for tightening output jacks, volume and tone pots, tuning key collars, switches, and sometimes truss rods.

LeVan says you should have seven different nut drivers:

  • 3/16″ for mini switches
  • 11/32″ for mini switches
  • 5/16″ for Gibson truss rods
  • 1/4″ for Taylor, Guild, and other truss rods
  • 1/2″ for potentiometers and jacks
  • 7/16″ for import jacks and potentiometers
  • 10 mm for tuning key collars

As for hex keys, you need these to adjust a guitar both in your shop or home and while out and traveling (like if you’re touring with a band as a Guitar Tech).

LeVan suggests having these 13 sizes of hex keys: .050″, 1/16″, 3/32″, 1/8″, 9/64″, 5/32″, 3/16″, 1.5 mm, 2 mm, 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, and 5 mm.

It’s also a good idea to have both metric and imperial sizes so you have the ability to work with more guitars.

Nut Files
Nut files are specifically for use on round-bottom slots that relate to the different gauges of strings. So if you have a string that’s getting hung up on the nut and causing tuning issues, a nut file can help with that.

Wire Cutter And String Winder
If you change your own strings, you probably already have a wire cutter and string winder. If you don’t, get them ASAP.

A string winder is a tool that can help you turn the tuning heads at a much faster rate than you can by hand. A wire cutter is necessary so you can get rid of the extra string hanging off the end of new strings.
Supplies For Soldering
Another essential tool you’ll need is a soldering kit. This is good for re-attaching a wire to a jack, or anything involving metal or electronics.

It’s a good idea to check out your local thrift stores, pawn shops, and garage sales for cheap guitars you can use for repair practice. And who knows — maybe you’ll be able to fix up a crappy guitar into something actually playable!

Glue
A good-quality glue can really accomplish a lot. If you’re in a pinch and need to do an emergency repair, Super Glue or some sort of wood glue can be a great option. Just use a toothpick to apply it.

Wood Files
Files can help smooth out any sharp parts of your guitar, like on the fret end. You can also use it to carve a wider slot on an acoustic guitar bridge. It’s a good idea to have a round, half-round, square, and flat file in your toolbox.

Practice Working on a Cheap Guitar

Alright, now you’re ready to start working with your hands. But hold on — you don’t want to start by practicing on your nice Martin or Fender.

So it’s a good idea to check out your local thrift stores, pawn shops, and garage sales for cheap guitars you can use for repair practice. And who knows — maybe you’ll be able to fix up a crappy guitar into something actually playable!

Get Further Education

If you’re looking to further your skills and knowledge about repairing guitars, you may want to consider extra education.

John, an Instrument Repair and Restoration Specialist, says it’s a good idea to check out schools that offer hands-on learning experiences.

John explains: “A lot of people say ‘I’d love to do repair.’ I say, ‘Can you change the oil in your car? No? Then maybe it’s not for you.’”

He says if you have a mechanical background, you could probably go into your local music store and ask to do an apprenticeship. Or you can go to a technical school.

“What you’re doing is getting prepared to become an apprentice,” he says of going to school for guitar repair. “I can’t think of any schools where you come out ready to be a full-fledged decent Technician, and on top of that, if you want to do any kind of specialty [you won’t learn that there]. You’ll always be learning on the job and that’s part of the fun.”

More Tips on Getting Into Guitar Repair

Need some more tips on how to become a Guitar Tech? Here are just a few more:

  • Become familiar with the different kinds of wood and wood finishes.
  • Be comfortable with and good at math.
  • Learn as much as you can (books, videos, articles like this one) before you even put a guitar repair tool on a guitar.
  • You’ll make mistakes (sometimes very costly mistakes), so it’s important to work very slowly and carefully so as to minimize the errors.
  • Don’t do this for the money — it’s all about the love of guitars and working with your hands.

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