What do I need to know about my guitar? And why?

Hi all,

about 2 weeks ago I went to Thomann (the closest largest music store from where I live :wink:) because I wanted to buy a guitar. Until then, I had no clue at all about guitars (and still don’t have) so I didn’t really know what to look for. I only had decided that I wanted an acoustic/classical guitar. Just felt “natural” to me, don’t really know why.

After the shop assistant had shown me some guitars and had played a bit on the different guitars (because I couldn’t play them myself :wink:), I bought this one – a Córdoba GK Studio:

After I’ve read through some of the discussions here, there are a lot of topics I really don’t know anything about. So there are a lot of questions in my head. What do I need to know about this guitar? And why is it important? So I’ll try to split this up into several sections. And no, I don’t expect anybody to answer all of my questions :wink:

The guitar itself

The guitar is “officially” a Flamenco guitar. The shop assistant said that the sound of Flamenco guitars is a bit different because they are made from different wood. We compared it to a Córdoba Fusion 14 Maple which is a classical guitar from the same brand, but I didn’t really here a big difference.

As a Flamenco guitar it has a tap plate, but I doubt I’ll ever use it :wink: But I don’t mind it either.

It has a built-in Fishman pickup system with piezo + microphone, but I’ve not used it so far. The shop assistant said it is quite good. The built-in tuner comes handy and works very well for me.

I’ve learned already that Flamenco guitars have a rather low action height. Although I have no special tools to accurately measure it, this seems to be the case. But I don’t have an idea what that really means and what difference it makes.

Strings

I bought a spare set of strings. It’s a Savarez 500CJ New Cristal / Corum High Tension set. The shop assistant said it’s the same strings that the guitar came with. And she said that I should only use high tension strings on that guitar. But I don’t have an idea why.

What’s the difference between different tensions? My first intuitive idea was that higher tension would make the tone higher. Isn’t that how tuning a guitar works? So how can strings with different tensions still produce the same tone? But I guess I’m just not that good in physics :joy:

When do you need to change a string in general? Obviously when it snaps :wink: Any other reasons? As changing strings on an acoustic guitar looks a bit technically challenging, I hope I don’t have to do it anytime soon :see_no_evil:

Fret markings

Why do all guitars seem to have markings on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets?

The 12th fret is the octave, that was pretty obvious to me. Then I thought “Maybe it helps with scales!?” But when I think about the usual scales (major scale, for example) then marking the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th fret doesn’t seem to make much sense!?

Picks

The shop assistant said that you don’t play classical guitars with a pick at all. But she gave me some of their “Harley Benton” (Thomann’s own brand) picks because I insisted. They are 0.46 mm, 0.71 mm, and 0.96 mm.

To be honest, I don’t like the sound of playing with a pick at all. The sound of the pick on the strings is so loud that it is almost louder than the sound of the strings itself. This really annoys me. Perhaps it is so loud because those picks have quite a rough surface. I had imagined picks to be rather smooth!?

And what about the thickness? In one of the introductory videos Justin said that he suggests to use the thinnest pick you can get. But a friend of mine said that she likes to play with a thicker pick, as “stiff” as possible.

Cleaning and maintenance

How should I clean the guitar? And how often is it necessary?
What kind of maintenance does it need? I read about lemon oil. What is it good for? And how often is it used?

To be honest, I’ll probably want to do as little as possible in this area. I want to play the guitar. And not think about doing some maintenance to it all the time :man_shrugging:

Anything else?

Any other important topics that come to mind? I am grateful for any tips and guidance!

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The action is, essentially, how close the strings are to the fretboard.

If they are too far away it makes it harder to fret notes and to do barres. If they are too close the vibrating string can snag on the fret wires causing excessive fret buzz.

Different string types will require a different amount of tension (how tight the string is) to get to the same note

This will, largely, impact the feel, especially for things like string bending, where tighter strings will be more difficult to bend, but should also be more resistant to accidentally bending the string out of tune (which can happen with some chords, for instance).

Different tension strings may also sound different. They may sound louder or softer, or have a different “tone”. By “tone” we mean how the note sounds, due to harmonics, sustain etc. So how “bassy” or “bright” they sound.

The string tension also affects the setup of the guitar, as higher tension strings will put more force on the neck than lower tension ones. If you put different strings on which are a different tension, you may need to do an adjustment to the truss rod

Strings will wear out and start to sound dull. With steel-strung guitars the strings can also rust, pick up dirt, oil and sweat from the fingers in the ridges of the wound strings, and so on.

I have no idea about nylon string wear.

There’s videos on how to restring guitars. Justin has done at least 1 or 2, but I am not sure he has done one for nylon string guitars.

Picks usually do have a smooth surface. Sometimes they might have a rough bit to help with grip.

Pick noise can be annoying and, I think, it is unusual to strum classical guitar with a pick because the strings are softer sounding and I suspect the pick-noise is relatively louder.

Also, I wonder if strumming with a pick would make the nylon strings wear out quicker.

Thinner picks are usually easier to strum with, but tend to make a “flappy” noise. They also give you less control for more precise stuff.

Most beginners start with a quite thin pick because it’s easier, and then move to thicker picks as their technique develops. And I would suggest you should probably do the same.

It’s good to have a cloth around you can wipe the strings down with after every use, but by no means essential. This is probably more important for steel-strung guitars for the reasons I mentioned above.

There are guitar cleaning products which can be used, such as polishes and such, but you really just need to give it a wipe when you think it’s dirty. Here’s a video with more information:

Every couple of years it can be good to do a bit of a service: change the strings, give it a clean and a polish, oil the fret board, check the set up.

Lemon oil is to oil the fretboard to keep it In good condition. You only need to do this occasionally (once a year is more than enough). It’s because the wood (often rosewood) used on the fretboard is not varnished and can lose moisture over time. Again, not something you really need to worry about too much. TBH the worst impact tends to be that the fretboard doesn’t look or feel quite as nice.

In extreme cases (certain environments) if you don’t oil it for several years, the wood may shrink leading to cracks or fret wires coming loose. But I have seen guitars over a decade old that have never been oiled, and they are just fine.

You should definitely learn how to change strings, but if you have a nearby guitar store, they can probably do any other maintenance for you. I tend to take mine in for a professional setup (including a clean, oil, etc.) every 2-4 years.

Cheers,

Keith

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Hi Keith,

wow, thanks for the long reply! Really appreciated!

Yeah, I’ve read about Flamenco players even looking for that “buzzy” sound. To be honest, I’ve not heard any “buzzy” sounds from my guitar yet. But perhaps I just don’t notice or recognize it – which is quite possible. To me everything sounds “clean” (as long as my fingers are where they’re supposed to be :see_no_evil:).

I guess the sound doesn’t really matter that much to me. I really like how the guitar sounds (that was one of the few reasons why I decided for this one). But generally it just sounds how it sounds. And that’s okay for me.

I had to look up what a “truss rod” is. First of all, English is not my first language, so I may know some of the technical terms in German, but not in English. And I was really surprised to learn that there is a rod in the guitar’s neck. I thought it’s just made from wood. :see_no_evil:

Hm, with them the whole surface is quite rough. They don’t have two different areas. Perhaps I’ll just try some other picks. The Dunlops that Justin has suggested are not that expensive.

It’s not really an issue yet. I usually pick the strings with the side of the thumb (that’s also where I got my first blister :rofl:). One after another when I practice “clean” chords. And when I practice playing to songs I’m still at the “one strum on beat 1” thing (sometimes more or less decent-ish, sometimes hardly bearable :joy:). And then I do that one strum per beat also with the side of the thumb. Same when doing OMC exercises. I have no idea yet how I would do a “real” strumming pattern. Probably not with the side of the thumb!?

Thanks again!
Oliver

Nice guitar :slight_smile: It reminds me to research this nylon string amplification business…

Anyway, the short answer to your question: you need to know as much about your guitar as you can.

A bit longer answer is that you need to know as much about it as you practically need to. As it has been mentioned, knowing how to do basic maintenance (cleaning, string change, proper storage) goes a long way and can save you some money as well.

Then there are slightly more nuanced bits like adjusting the neck relief with the truss rod, adjusting the string height, filing down/replacing the frets, etc. that need more care and attention, and even specialized tools. The truss rod adjustment is not very complicated, but filing down the frets, the nut, the saddle may be something you usually want to trust to a professional luthier (unless you have some background in woodworking/luthiery, have the proper tools and skills, or just like experimenting).

Personally, I’ve never bought any very expensive instruments and never joined the debate on how various tonewoods affect the sound, whether a mahogany fingerboard is better than one made of rosewood, etc. Most of that debate seems to me part elitist claptrap and part niche interest. Of course, if a legit player with decades of playing in their hands has a preference, that’s fine, but most of that talk doesn’t seem relevant on “our level”.

Also, while I have an electric guitar and know that the pickups and the amp give it its sound, I know hardly any details about how the electrical parts function other than the knobs can be turned up and down and I can select which pickup to use. I guess the same is true for a lot of electric guitarists.

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Also, seeing that you are fairly new to guitars, you may be interested in these articles:

Outline of guitars - Wikipedia - to give you an idea how varied these instruments are
How to set up your new acoustic guitar: from truss rod adjustment to reading the action - a short guide for a nice and easy start

How to install classical guitar strings

Guitar Strings Guide

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Wow, Oliver, your questions are excellent and concise and @Majik has answered so well and in such detail, it almost needs to be a sticky.

Here is another resource for putting strings on a nylon. I found this one very helpful.

I played the same guitar just yesterday at guitar center. I liked it, played quite nicely.

I am pretty new to nylon strings. My research would suggest they last a long time, longer than steel strings. I don’t think it is easy to predict how long, as it really depends on so many variables. I see people throwing numbers for steel like 3-6 months and more like 6-12 for nylon, or more.

What I have noticed it changing strings is a bit more complicated on nylon, but the videos make it very doable. Also, nylon strings stretch, and stretch and stretch. They take days to stabilize. I have changed mine twice now (1st set was too thick and stuck in the nut, even though they were the recommended strings) and for the first day it holds tune for about 3 minutes. The next day is playable and after a few days it is pretty reasonable but you need to tune it frequently. I read to and now tune half to a whole note sharp and leave it over night, the first night.

I am not sure why that guitar needs high tension strings. If you string it with low tension it would likely need a truss rod adjustment, so it is easier to stick with what it came with. My guess is that as a flamenco, they want a brighter sound.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the action, if it is playing well and not buzzing. I am an advocate of measuring and learning about it, because, as beginners we may not know something could be better.

I have not tried using a pick in the nylon, but I have basically abandoned using a pick at all, even on electric and steel string guitars.

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If I recall correctly, @DarrellW, has spoken about using picks made of leather, maybe even felt, with ukeleles and maybe nylon strung guitars … Darrell?

@Jamolay

Yes I’ve used both but prefer the Leather ones, it’s just what the felt ones feel like :face_with_spiral_eyes: don’t like them!
They help to extend the life of the strings compared to using a plastic one. I don’t use nylon strings anymore, I prefer Fluocarbon ones, they don’t go out of tune very much once they’re stretched.

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@Klimperer42
You have a very nice guitar there, one that should last you for a very long time!
Here is a video that demonstrates and tells you more about it.

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Was give a Conde Brothers Guitar,Flamenco, So your questions are some of same i have.

Hi József,

thanks for your answer and the links! I’ll definitely have a look at them.

I guess anything beyond a string change I’ll have a professional shop do. I would be way too afraid of breaking something.

I guess first of all this depends on what you consider “expensive” :wink: … I’m not anywhere near “rich,” but when I buy a musical instrument, it’s important to me to buy something reasonably good. And I can afford to buy a guitar for 650 Euros. So I did it. (At least less than the 1800 Euros for the stage piano 2 1/2 years ago. :wink:) For comparison, the shop assistant also showed me a 200 Euro guitar (incl. pickup). And even I could hear the difference clearly :wink:

I also don’t want to make a science of it. I have to like it, that’s most important to me.

I absolutely agree. And I guess I’ll never reach that level :joy:

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Hi Joshua,

thanks for your answer and for the link!

Thanks. Those were just the questions that came to my mind after the first days of playing the guitar and reading some discussions here in the forum.

Thanks, that sounds like a really good idea.

Yeah, that’s what I understood. It has high tension strings because it’s a Flamenco guitar.

Another question that came to my mind (I’ll also add that in the original post above, just for the sake of completeness):

Why do all guitars seem to have markings on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets?

The 12th fret is the octave, that was pretty obvious to me. Then I thought “Maybe it helps with scales!?” But when I think about the usual scales (major scale, for example) then marking the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th fret doesn’t seem to make much sense!?

@Klimperer42

Oliver, I’m curious, what made you choose a nylon strung guitar?
They have their quirks and peculiarities.
What guitar music / styles are you hoping to learn and play?

Flamenco guitars are very similar to classical guitars, but they’re designed with a slightly different use case in mind. They’re more specialized. Flamenco guitars put a premium on note attack with loud projection. They tend to “cut” well, but often lack the sustain of a classical guitar. You’ll get cutting, projecting notes, but they’ll tend to die off quicker than a classical guitar.

That’s your golpeador. :slight_smile:

Flamenco guitars typically have a low action to help with fast note attack. When your action is low you can run into “fret buzz” with the string vibrating against the top of the fret. To compensate for this, flamenco guitars use high tension strings, which helps mitigate the vibration and accompanying buzz (and contributes to the lessened sustain).

Those are good strings. You should only use high tension strings because your guitar is designed for them. If you put lower tension strings on you’ll experience two things: first, you’ll probably need to adjust your truss rod because the strings will not be pulling on the neck as much, so the neck may go into “backbow.” Even with the truss rod adjusted for a lower tension set, you’ll find that the low action with lower tension strings will cause fret buzz issues. Your best bet is to simply stick with high tension. The Sarvarez set you have is exactly right for your guitar.

They get dirty and they stretch over time. Eventually they sound “dead” and not “lively.”

On a steel string acoustic it’s not bad at all (ball ends and pins, etc.) However, on a classical or flamenco guitar you’ll need to learn a different method. There are no bridge pins. You need to tie the strings at the bridge and at the headstock. There are specific knots you should use. Your best bet, here, is to search youtube for instructions on restringing a classical guitar. (You’ll get more hits looking for classical rather than flamenco, and the method will be the same.)

One reason is to help you navigate the fretboard at a glance. Also, the specific frets that are chosen are “special” in that they represent places where the string is divided into specific ratios that correspond to important intervals in the chromatic scale. The octave (12th fret) divides the string in half, for example.

That’s generally true (and applies to flamenco guitars as well). You’ll find that playing with a pick on a flamenco guitar is going to be especially piercing and “noisy” because the guitar is already designed for strong attack and projection when playing with your fingers/nails. A pick is going to emphasize that even more.

I’m not sure what to tell you, on this. Personally, I’d probably play that guitar with just my fingers and nails. It’s not really a guitar designed for picks and strumming. With that said, there’s nothing to say you can’t – specialized or not, it’s a guitar. Try some different picks and see what sounds best. There are players who use picks with nylon string guitars; it’s not a rule that can’t be broken or anything.

Wipe it down with a soft, clean cloth every time you play, focusing on areas you touch a lot. Strings, too. If you play in shorts, don’t neglect the back, etc. where it touches your legs. Every once in a while you can do a more thorough cleaning, if necessary. There are some guitar polishes you can use on the body. Never put lemon oil on the body, it can damage the finish. Lemon oil is for the fretboard. A little goes a long way. Put some on a cloth and wipe it over the fretboard, then wipe it back off. You don’t need to do this very often. Opinions vary, but I’d say once a quarter is more than enough unless you notice it’s especially dry or something.

I’m not sure what finish comes on your guitar, but it’s probably a poly. Those are a little more durable than a nitro finish. If you do happen to have a nitro finish then you should be especially diligent about wiping the guitar down when you finish playing.

Cordoba is a respectable brand. I have a Cordoba C9 Parlor (classical) that I’m very fond of.

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I think the main reason is “convention”.

Also, the marks are at the points where natural harmonics are part of the major chord. For instance:

On the A string the harmonics on the marked frets are:
3rd fret: E (which is the 5th of the A major chord)
5th fret: A (the tonic)
7th fret: E (the 5th)
9th fret: C# (the major 3rd)
12th fret: A (the tonic)

I have no idea if this was deliberate or not, but that’s how it is.

I can see how they could be helpful for playing natural harmonics as, in that case, most people play these far less than they do fretted notes and, when playing natural harmonics, one tends to jump around the fretboard quite a lot.

I couldn’t see them being useful for scale note markers, frankly.

The best way to look at them as convenient markers to help you work out where things are on the fret board. At the end of the day, the marks have to go somewhere.

Cheers,

Keith

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Forgot to mention a tip for when you’re changing strings. Put some cardboard or something over the body when you’re tuning up. If one of your knots slips the string can act like a whip and possibly damage the finish of the soundboard.

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Hi Richard,

I guess I didn’t really think too much about it. When I think of a guitar, I just first think of a classical/acoustic guitar. Can’t really tell you why. That’s simply my first association.

I guess one of the points is that I can take it anywhere and just play. Without the need to bring an amp, cables or any other “technical” stuff. And without the need for electricity (yes, I know, there are battery-powered amps :wink:).

I guess I also didn’t think too much about different types or styles of guitar music. I just wanted to learn play the guitar (which probably was my first misconception :rofl:). I guess my expectation just was that you could learn and practice anything on any type of guitar. Which in fact might or might not be true!? Of course it was clear to me that different types of guitars sound different, but I didn’t think that it was that important for learning.

Generally, I’ve never been that much into rock music. I like to listen to the big “classic” or earlier rock bands (Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, The Police, Eagles, Queen, Led Zeppelin, …, just to name a few). But I never thought about playing those rock songs myself. First of all, playing lead guitar on your own means that the rest of the song is missing. And again, you need all that equipment … an amp, cables, pedals, … I guess I’m just not up to that.

Hi Jason,

thank you for the long reply! Much appreciated!

I’ve read about “projection” several times already. But I’m not sure what to make of it. What is meant by “projection”? (Sorry, English is not my first language and sometimes I just can’t figure out what a certain word is supposed to mean :wink:).

I’m not sure if I would even hear the difference. I feel that they sound differently all the time, depending on how “clean” I get my fingers on the fretboard :rofl:

Yeah, others already posted some links. And in one of the videos one could see quite clearly how these knots are done. At some time I’ll just have to give it a try. :man_shrugging:

Aren’t rules generally there to be broken?
However, I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised of myself even writing this :rofl:

I guess I never wear shorts that are that short :wink:

The Córdoba website says it’s a “Gloss Polyurethane” finish.
I guess I’ll have to look for a soft cloth then. Not sure if I have anything suitable lying around …

Thanks, that sounds like really good advice. :+1:

You can certainly learn on any variety of guitar. You just happened to pick one of the more specialized types of (acoustic) guitar. It’s not a deal-breaker, it’s just very good at some things and not quite as good at others. The most important thing is that you have a guitar that makes you want to pick it up and play it.

It’s basically how loud the notes ring out. Classical guitars tend to have lighter construction than steel-string acoustics, so their soundboards vibrate more and then tend to “project” very well, even when they have smaller bodies. Flamenco guitars tend to project even better than most classical guitars because flamenco guitar soundboards are even thinner. “Good projection” just means producing a lot of sound that can be clearly heard.

Ah, okay. Cordoba’s poly finishes are pretty good; they’re polys, but they’re usually quite thin (to prevent “deadening” the soundboard). For a cloth, any clean and soft cloth will do, but I bought a whole bunch of microfiber cloths that do the job well.

Hard won through bitter experience. :slight_smile:

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