Can Guitars Go Bad? Find Out How And Why They Do!Devlon Jarrod Horne
At one point I had a collection of about 9 guitars. Some of them I rarely played and they developed rust and I had to get certain parts replaced. I was wondering how bad a guitar could get if neglected and if it could be ruined to such a degree that it goes bad or “off”.
Guitars are made from organic materials and if neglected they are subject to rust, wood rot, physical damage, and internal damage. All the parts on a guitar are subject to damage and deuteriation to such a degree that they are unplayable and can go bad if neglected.
Even though we know a guitar can be damaged. Let’s look at what parts a guitar is made up of. What parts could and can be damaged or ruined to such a degree that you cannot play it. Then let’s look at if you’re able to play a bad guitar and if it’s worth fixing a bad guitar.
What constitutes a bad, worn-out, or damaged guitar and what are the differences?
Even though slightly similar, these questions have variation in their definition. A bad guitar is different from a worn-out or damaged guitar. Knowing these differences can help you assess if the guitar is worth saving or if it is meant for the trash heap and you cant play it.
A bad guitar
This is a guitar that is just totally ruined. No amount of TLC will bring this once beautiful instrument back to life unless you are going to shell out a load of cash to get parts replaced and repaired.
You will be able to tell a bad guitar from a worn out or damaged one just by looking at it. The wood will likely be dry, cracked, and chipped on the fretboard, neck, and body. The neck will be bowed and cracked. The internal workings such as the soldiering’s and wires will be too old to be repaired and they will have to be replaced.
The metal parts of the guitar will most likely be covered in rust (screws, machine heads, pickups, saddles, frets, the bridge). Even if you put new strings on this guitar its in such bad condition that you can’t tune it or play it properly.
Overall, this guitar is a goner. It’s been neglected and never been maintained properly and over the course of time, the elements and the neglect have ruined it.
An example of a bad guitar is the one your uncle has had hanging on his wall since the release of “Use Your Illusion” by Guns n Roses.
A worn-out guitar
This is a guitar that has been played to such an extent that it needs a little repair and some TLC. So, for example, the frets will be worn all the way down and they will have to be dressed or replaced. However, the wood is still in superb condition and the pickups sound great, or if its an acoustic then the resonating tone is full, deep, and warm.
Old guitars can still be in beautiful condition just worn-out a little. You might need to get the internal workings redone and a little rust removed but otherwise, this guitar is still good to play and will probably sound great because of the age and weathering that has come with it.
An example of a worn-out guitar is a 69 Fender Telecaster
Watch Ben Crow from Crimson Custom Guitars demonstrate how he takes a beautiful PRS and turns it into a worn-out guitar
A damaged guitar
A damaged guitar is one that probably has one or two things that are wrong with it that need to be repaired. For example, for an acoustic guitar, the body may have a hole in it, or for electric, the neck may be bowed or cracked.
A damaged guitar is reparable and will cost some money but it won’t break the bank and it will be cheaper than going out and buying a new one.
An example of a damaged guitar is the gigging guitar that you drop while playing on stage and now there is a massive hole in it.
This video by tallthinkev demonstrated how to fix a hole in an acoustic guitar. This is an example of how a guitar might be damaged.
Let’s look at what the guitar parts are, what they are made of, and what parts can get ruined and go bad on a guitar
What are the guitar parts?
We can dive deep into the guitar and its parts for both acoustic and electric. However, we just want to get a basic understanding of what the parts are and if those parts can be affected and ruined, turning a guitar into a bad guitar that is unplayable.
One last thing to remember is that you get guitars in many different shapes and sizes but these features and parts will always be part of the anatomy of a guitar. I’ve included a few pictures of various guitars you get. The guitar parts that all guitars have are:
The headstock is the top part of the guitar that the neck is attached to (in some cases the head part of the extended neck). The tuning keys and nut are installed on the head.
Tuning Keys (machine heads)
Tuning keys are termed machine heads and comprise of the pegs that you turn to tune the strings and the posts that the strings are fastened to.
The nut is a rectangular piece of plastic or bone that is attached to the head of the guitar. The strings sit in grooves that the nut has etched into them.
The neck of the guitar is a long thin piece of wood that is attached to and lays in between the body and the head of the guitar. The fretboard sits on top of the neck of the guitar.
The fretboard is the piece of wood that sits on top of the neck of the guitar. It is a separate piece of wood to that of the neck of the guitar.
The truss rod is a steel metal rod that is placed between the fretboard and neck of the guitar. The truss rod is tightened or losened and used to bow the neck of the guitar to a certain degree for better playability.
The frets are metal strips that run and lay within the fretboard perpendicular to it. What happens is, you push down on a string behind the fret and thus that changes the length of the string and produces a different sounding pitch.
The body of the guitar is the large “main” area of the guitar and has specific tonal characteristics that play a part in the guitars sound. There are differences between an acoustic and electric guitar.
Soundhole (f Acoustic)
Acoustic guitars are hollow and have sound holes which you can clearly see and define. These holes and the way the body is cut and structured play a part in the resonance of an acoustic guitar.
Pickups (If Electric)
The pickups are technically tiny microphones for each string. A section of an electric guitar body is carved away so pickups can be inserted and installed on it. You can get many styles and variations of pickups including single coil and humbuckers.
The bridge is opposite to the machine heads and is fastened end part of the body of the guitar. It is where the strings are fastened to the guitar. The bridge is very important playing a role in the guitar’s intonation, feel, and tone.
The saddles are fastened to the bridge of an electric guitar. For acoustic guitars, the strings lay on the bridge and it does not have saddles. Saddles are very important on a guitar for the purpose of tone and the action of the strings.
Bridge Pins (If Acoustic)
The bridge pins are what fasten the strings to the bridge of an acoustic guitar. For an electric guitar, the strings are pushed through the back of the guitar and then they sit firmly within the bridge.
- The input jack (If electric or Acoustic-Electric)
An input jack is a hole that you place your lead cable into that links the guitar to your amplifier, pedalboard, or mixing desk. The input jack can be placed on some acoustic guitars if the guitar has been fitted with a pickup.
One thing to note is that there are other parts to guitars as well like pickguards, whammy bars on Floyd rose bridges, etc… However, these are the main basic components that all guitars are made of and that could possibly be ruined or have been damaged. These components are the main ones we will take into consideration in determining whether a guitar has gone bad.
What parts on a guitar can go bad?
Technically because the materials that make up a guitar are organic; they can all perish over time. every single part of a guitar can go bad and deteriorate to such a degree that that part has to be repaired or in the worst cases replaced.
Corrosion and rust can eat and lay waste to the parts of the guitar that are made of metal. The bridge can rust so can the machine heads and even the frets can rust. Not to mention all the screws and internal wiring that holds it together.
For the parts of the body that are made of wood, we have to remember. There is a certain amount of moisture that the wood needs to age properly which is still within the guitar. Yes, even when it is cut down and carved out, to turn it into the guitar you are holding right now. That moisture contributes to the tone of the guitar (how it sounds).
The wood can die a “real death” and that moisture and tone can be sucked right out of it by having a bad finish on it, wood rot, neglect, not paying attention to the elements, and storing the guitar incorrectly.
Can you still play a bad or damaged guitar?
For a damaged guitar, it truly depends on what has been damaged. If you have a chip or hole in the guitar then, of course, it can still be played and will probably sound just fine. If you have cracked the body in half and half the machine heads are missing then the answer is no.
Defining what a bad guitar is we come to terms with a guitar that is past its sell-by date and that someone can not play or even if they do play it, it is difficult to tune, it doesn’t stay in tune, it sounds horrible, and it feels terrible to play. In general, just a guitar that is no life in It. It’s not worth your time and you could probably get a guitar for 50$ at a junk sale that would be in better condition.
Can you get a bad guitar fixed?
Technically if you have a professional luthier, time and money then chances are you could get it fixed. Replace the parts that need replacing, sand down the wood, and varnish it and restore this damaged instrument back to its former glory.
Watch this YouTube video by Restoration And Metal how the take a beat-up, broken down, and totally ruined guitar and fix it. So, if you have the time patience and skill you could definitely fix a bad or ruined guitar
Is it worth getting a bad guitar fixed?
Chances are that it will be very expensive and not worth your time and money to invest in something that I just not worth investing in. You could probably go down to the music store and pick up a guitar that you really like for an amount of money that is less than trying to get the guitar repaired or restored.
However, there are instances where you find gems in pawnshops, garage sales, or yard sales. You never know you may be walking down the road and someone might be selling a vintage Fender or Gibson that is in pretty bad shape but the money and time spent to repair it will be well worth it.
The conclusion we arrive at is that guitars can definitely go bad and get ruined. This can happen to such a degree that the guitar is no longer playable and the sheer cost of getting it restored and repaired would just not be worth it. Unless you are doing it yourself at no expense at all.
Guitars are made of organic material and need to be loved and cared for. Then you will enjoy its company for a lifetime.
The last thing to note is that there are differences between a bad guitar, a worn-out one, and a damaged one. These differences are very specific so before you go tossing your guitar away make sure it falls into the category of a bad guitar. You may just be sitting with a priceless Les Paul you don’t know about that looks tattered and broken.
However, there are instances where you find gems in pawn shops, garage sales, or yard sales. You never know you may be walking down the road and someone might be selling a vintage Fender or Gibson that is in pretty bad shape but the money and time spent to repair it will be well worth it.