Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
A man walks into a doctor’s office and bends his elbow up above his head in a crazy way. Says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor says, “Well, don’t do that then.”
Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum.
What the hell and I talking about?
Well, I found this online a while ago:
I couldn’t find any attribution for it* but I guarantee whoever made it was a guitar repairer.
Repairers be like 🤣
So what’s the deal?
Well, this is somewhat related to the ‘obsession’ thing I wrote about last week. You remember — when someone can fixate so intently on a weird problem or noise on their guitar that they can no longer NOT hear it.
The weird step-sibling of that phenomenon is when someone really, really tries to make that noise happen again. And sometimes, they don’t stop until they’ve succeeded.
This is completely understandable. Anyone wants to make sure the repair money they’re handing over is justified. A good test run is essential and right.
But, sometimes, in making sure the problem is gone, a player can stress test beyond a ‘realistic’ point.
Let’s take a fret buzz as an example (and it’s the most common example). Nobody likes fret buzz so you bring your guitar to be fixed. When you collect the instrument, you test it to make sure.
Hmmm. No buzz. That’s good. But what if I play like this? What if I play harder? What if I change my pick attack like this? What if… Aha! Buzz!
You see the problem. If you actively try to make that guitar buzz again, at some point, you’ll probably make that guitar buzz again.
And is that realistic?
If it is, then something may need to be done to address the issue. Setup adjustments, action, relief, etc. If that’s how you’ll play, then absolutely get it sorted out.
But, if it isn’t realistic… If you probably won’t play like that in the general course of events… Does something more need to be done?
Let’s say you had a once in a lifetime chance to drive your Toyota Prius around the Nürburgring but found the steering was fine up to 165mph and then it got a little bit light. When you get home is it worth asking your mechanic to fix that?
(That’s 265kph, by the way — it’s a nippy Prius).
The mysteries of the subconscious
This is tricky, though. We all just want a guitar that’s as good as possible and somebody playing a bit ‘unnaturally’ to find a buzz probably isn’t doing so consciously. They’ve just paid good money for a repair or setup and want to be sure it’s right.
So they really play it. They push it and, maybe, sometimes stray into trying to make it buzz.
The bottom line
You absolutely should have a guitar that fits you perfectly and is set up to suit your style of playing. Absolutely. No question.
And you should definitely work with your repair person to get that. No question.
But, when you’re testing a guitar after a repair or setup, you might consider if you’re ‘trying to make it buzz’.
It’ll help if you play some licks and riffs because you’ll feel more natural and at-home with those. Rattle off some runs, riffs, scales, whatever — play your go-to stuff and you’ll be likely to play more naturally. When you start concentrating on individual notes, you’ll be more prone to play outside your regular style.
A good repair person wants you to be happy. A good one will work with you until you are. Work with them to get there.
* I found the image on Instagram via Sycamore Guitar Works but they’ve told me they didn’t make it and don’t know who did.