Knowledge hub

We're passionate about sharing knowledge and increasing appreciation of all beautifully made instruments.

Looking after your guitar
Humidity and temperature are probably the most important factors when caring for your handcrafted instrument. You need to keep the environment as stable as possible with any significant fluctuations happening as gradually as possible. We keep our workshop environment between 45% and 55% relative humidity and the temperature around 20 degrees Celsius and you should aim to keep your guitar environment as close to this as possible. Approximate safe levels are between 45% and about 65%. Once the guitar goes over these limits movement can start to occur, but can usually be reversed by returning it to the recommended conditions.
 
With a reasonably good digital hygrometer for around £15 you can measure the humidity of the room you keep your guitars in. If you find the humidity to be outside of these tolerances try using a humidifier/dehumidifier in the room you keep your guitars. This is especially important if your house is particularly damp, dry or subject to widely changing humidity. Bear in mind humidity changes over the seasons, winter can be very dry due to central heating and summer can get very humid.
 
Keeping your guitars in their cases is an extra safe measure when you know the humidity levels aren’t ideal. It also stops dust collecting on the instrument and avoids unexpected knocks. However, when humidity levels are suitable, bring it out to air.

It's best to keep your guitars as far from underfloor heating and radiators as possible. These are the enemy of guitars and will do no end of damage.
 
To clean the guitar wipe the body down every so often with a clean damp (not wet) cloth and then a go over with another clean dry cloth.

Keep the fretboard oiled with Lemon oil. It will feel nicer to play and keeps the wood of the fretboard nourished and looking great. It’s also a great way to ensure it stays clean. A lot of dirt and oils are transferred from your fingers onto the fretboard when you play. We use Lemon Oil which can be bought at most musical instrument suppliers.
 
It's good to change the strings regularly, not just when they snap. It’s remarkable how much a guitars tone can change when new strings are used. There are no hard and fast rules on this but, if you play regularly this can be as often as every two weeks. You can also keep an eye out for when some of the strings start to fray a bit, look rusty or generally start to acquire a bit of a dull tone. You may also start to experience tuning issues so if this happens the first thing to test is new strings.  
 
Be careful using a stand with foam on the supporting bars. This can react with some finishes. It’s best to check the advice on the stand or with the stand supplier to see if there are any known issues with the foam, or avoid to be on the safe side.
 
Note: Please remember this advice could vary depending on your exact guitar and circumstances so please check with your guitar maker, supplier or luthier for specific guidance.
The effects of humidity
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Understanding humidity is probably the most important factor when it comes to looking after wooden instruments.
 
Turnstone guitars are all made from solid timber with very low tolerances to achieve the best possible acoustic responses from the wood and with that comes the extra care that needs to be taken.

A fairly common misconception is that a high-end custom made guitar should withstand any environment or situation. In fact it's quite the opposite, much like a fine wine or cigar, more care is required.
 
The root of most problems in acoustic guitars are caused by humidity issues. A sudden change in the action, exposed fret ends, popped bracing, sudden lacquer checking, bridge raising, dulling response all point to humidity and moisture problems.
 
If you experience problems with a high-end guitar, but not with a factory built guitar you have next to it, it's likely that the factory guitar has been built with bigger tolerances, using thicker woods and struts/supports to handle moisture changes. The downside of this is that it’s highly likely to compromise tone and playability.

The reason wood is affected so much by moisture is that it is ‘hygroscopic’. This means it gains and loses moisture to balance with the environment that surrounds it. It absorbs moisture when the air surrounding it is damper and releases it when the air is drier than its current moisture level. When wood loses moisture (dry environment) it shrinks in size, when wood takes on moisture (damp environment) it expands.

When working with wood at the tighter tolerances we expect of handmade guitars means luthiers need to be aware of the moisture content of the wood and the relative humidity in the atmosphere of where it is stored. Relative humidity is the amount of water the atmosphere can hold at any given time. It is relative to temperature because when it’s hot the atmosphere can hold more water than when it’s cold. So 50% humidity in 5 degrees Celsius is not the same moisture level as 50% in 25 degrees Celsius.
  
In the Turnstone workshop, as in a lot of guitar making workshops, we maintain a relative humidity between 45% - 55% at a temperature around 20 degrees Celsius.
Guitar setup
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Whenever you buy a new guitar, it’s generally a good idea for you to take it to a repair centre or a luthier to get it ‘setup’. This will ensure it plays at its very best. Over the life of your guitar you may need to get a setup done more than once due to general wear and tear over time.
 
The setup should take your playing style into account such as the type of music you play, be it perhaps finger style or heavy folky strumming (or both!) and how you prefer to play i.e. do you like to work for your notes or just press lightly.
 
This is also a great opportunity to ask the repairer or luthier to sort out issues like fret buzzing which can be caused by a rogue high fret or two, or a neck that’s not straight.  They should also check that the neck has the correct ‘relief’ in it, which is a slight concave, that provides for optimum playing.
Tonewood and timber scarcity
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Both acoustic and electric guitars are made out of a wonderful array of different timber species, chosen for their tonal and aesthetic properties – but how do luthiers know which ones to choose?

Many of the pre-war guitars were made out of a timber called Brazilian Rosewood and it is still a very sought after guitar wood in new and vintage guitars. To many builders it has a lot of the timber characteristics that we desire and when struck projects a clear bell-like tap tone. But as time has progressed, the mid-twentieth century makers and woodworkers got a bit over-zealous with their acquisition of the wood and sadly it’s now on the CITIES Appendix 1 list. This means that without paperwork to prove that it was cut down before the CITIES classification happened, you aren’t able to take it or send it across any borders.

Some makers still have stock levels of the older recorded timber, but as we’re of the next generation of makers we don’t, and we’re not really looking to acquire any as we, like many others, set our sights to other tonewoods that are more readily available, not endangered and preferably, from sustainable sources.

Getting great tone wood is of course important, but we believe it’s more about understanding how to put it all together to deliver full tone. If the wood provides certain characteristics from the outset then we believe that when combining it with our knowledge of bracing and construction, you can find a tone that is lively, full and unique.

Many makers are starting to use timber species that might be seen by conservatives as slightly unusual choices of tonewoods. It’s an exciting time in the world of luthiery as we start to see the wonderful results that can be obtained by these different timbers. It’s also helping to broaden peoples tastes which puts less pressure on the logging of certain timber species – and that’s a very good thing!

For the list of protected timber that you should try to avoid go to the Leonardo Guitar Research Project where you will also find a wealth of information on guitars made from sustainable woods and the results of their blind tests.
Choosing strings to match your style
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There are two main things to consider when thinking about strings – what they’re made of and the gauge you prefer to play.
 
The gauge refers to the thickness of the strings. The thickness of the thinnest string is used to express the gauge. The gauge can be referred to either by a specific number or as light, custom light, medium or heavy – the heavier you go, the thicker all the strings become.

The size of the guitar, playing style and desired tone will all influence the gauge you choose. As a general rule, the smaller the guitar the lighter the strings. Bigger guitars usually sounds better with slightly heavier gauge strings.
 
Fingerstyle players generally go with a lighter gauge and heavy strummers heavier. Lighter gauge strings are generally easier to play but can break more easily. Heavier strings are harder to play and produce more volume but put more tension on the guitar. Heavier gauge will bring out more in the bass register and lighter will sit more on the treble side and more pronounce subtle changes.
 
Finally, you need to decide on a material. There are many different materials but some of the more popular materials are are bronze, brass and phosphor bronze and steel on the trebles.
 
Bronze strings are usually clear and bright in tone but need to be replaced more often. Phosphor Bronze are a good alternative as their sound is still quite crisp and the phosphor in the alloy extends their life. Brass strings give you a brighter metallic character. Polymer-coated strings give less sustain and brightness than equivalent uncoated strings but are more resistant to corrosion.
Choosing the right case
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Choosing the right case is an important decision when it comes to housing your precious instrument.

We include a Hiscox Pro II hard shell case with all of our guitars. We would always recommend a hard shell case over a soft shell case because although the soft cases are convenient, light and can be slung easily over your back, the guitar will be very susceptible to damage if the case is banged and offer little protection against drastic humidity and temperature changes.

If you are buying a really special guitar you may want to consider a truly custom fit case from the luxury end of the market. A top choice in glass fibre cases are Calton Cases, based in Texas USA. These are extremely durable cases and offer a lovely snug fit for your guitar.

If you are looking to extensively travel or gig with your guitar, you may want to consider a carbon fibre case which gives the guitar even greater protection, but also a lighter weight than the glass fibre, which could be appreciated if you’re constantly moving your guitar around the place. Hoffee Cases, also based in the USA, come highly recommended.

Another carbon fibre case that really is at the top end of the market are the Accord Cases which are made in Croatia and offer a fantastically secure case with some pretty nice colour choices too.
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