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I recently bought a Seagull entourage rustic, after trying it out in a store. It was really easy to play. The one I ordered (2nd hand), however, is really hard to play. I can't play a barre F chord in the 1st fret, and I can't play anything for more than 30-40 minutes before my wrist starts to hurt. I first thought that my fingers had gotten weaker since I didn't play for about a year. But then the situation didn't change for a few months of practice. And it's ridiculously hard to play anything in the 1st fret. Moreover, I do not remember any problem I had while playing the guitar in the shop, and I did play for 40-50 minutes.

I use D'Addario's custom light strings, so they are not too thick. I noticed that the action is a bit too high. However, I did not attempt to adjust the truss rod myself. The neck seems pretty flat. I am not sure whether giving the neck a forward bow to lower the action a bit will help with the 1st fret either. The bridge seems a bit high, although I cannot gauge whether this is normal.

Since I did try another Seagull entourage rustic and did not have any of these problems, I am assuming it should be fixable. I am not sure, however, what needs to be tuned exactly. What could be the problem?

Edit: I'm adding some photos. Sorry for the low quality, my phone is old.

Here is the first fret with my finger pressing on the 3rd fret:

enter image description here

This is how the 1st fret looks like without touching the strings:

enter image description here

This is how the neck looks like (not touching any strings):

enter image description here

here is the view of the bridge:

enter image description here

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This sounds like your nut action is too high, i.e. the nut slots are not deep enough. This makes it hard to play on the first few frets, and it also causes bad intonation on the first few frets. This page has some information on how you can check your nut action. This page is likely to have more information than you want to know. If you haven't done it before I would recommend that you have your nut action fixed by an experienced guitar repairman.

EDIT: Judging from your pictures, your nut is very likely a bit too high. Other factors might also play a role, but I would start with the nut because this will have the biggest effect on playability on the first few frets. Again, when in doubt take it to a professional, your guitar is worth it!

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    Having deeper nut slots isn't the only way to fix the action - when I've lowered actions on instruments before I've done so by removing the nut and filing it down on the bottom. – topo Reinstate Monica Nov 28 '15 at 22:39
  • Ok, it looks like the nut is fine. I'll attach pictures to the original question. – sodiumnitrate Nov 29 '15 at 2:49
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    @sodiumnitrate that nut looks like it could be a bit high to me too. Compare the distance between the string and the first fret when you're not fretting the string to the distance between the string and the second fret when you're fretting at the first fret. How do they compare? – topo Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '15 at 14:51
  • @topomorto I would say pretty much the same. – sodiumnitrate Nov 30 '15 at 1:55
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    @sodiumnitrate Hmmm... I guess that could mean that the bridge is quite high too, or that there's too much relief in the neck (or both). – topo Reinstate Monica Nov 30 '15 at 7:33
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From what you have described and from the pictures you provided, I believe you need to have the guitar properly set up. As part of a complete set up, you can have the actioned lowered as much as possible to make the guitar easier to play.

Lighter gauge strings might help but it appears from the pictures that the action has room to be lowered. Lowering the action can be accomplished in numerous ways. 1) The saddle (in the bridge) can be lowered by removing and carefully and evenly sanding the bottom of the saddle. 2) The nut can be lowered by carefully removing it and sanding the bottom (same as saddle). This is more difficult as the nut is not as easy to remove as the saddle. filing the nut slots deeper can lower the action as well but will diminish the quality of the tone. 3) Adjusting the truss rod to take some relief out of the neck. This is usually done after any needed adjustments are made to the saddle height and the nut height. But you might try adjusting the neck with the truss rod first as this is easily reversible, unlike sanding the nut or saddle which is more difficult to reverse.

I recommend that you engage the services of a luthier or qualified guitar repair technician to do the set up for you. Sanding the nut or saddle too much can make the guitar impossible to play without major fret buzz.

One other thing you might check since you purchased a used guitar, is the fret height. A guitar that is played often by a guitarist with a heavy fretting hand can exhibit excessive fret wear. If the frets are worn to the point where they are closer to the fretboard, the guitar will be more difficult to play. It appears that your first fret is fine but its hard to tell about the other.

It does appear from the picture that lowering the height of the nut might be helpful. But it's possible that lowering the nut height could necessitate raising the height of the saddle. This can be accomplished with a shim or a new saddle.

If you can't take the guitar to a professional for a proper set up at this time, you might consider looking closely at the neck to see if adjusting the truss rod might help. Ideally you want the neck to have just a slight relief in the center to prevent fret buzz. Check the amount of relief by pressing the low E string down so it is touching the first fret and the 14th fret (where the neck joins the body of an acoustic guitar). You have the optimal amount of relief if the string barely clears all the frets in between with the most clearance at around the 7th fret. If several frets are touching the string between the two you are holding it against, there is insufficient relief. If there is much clearance at all at the 7th fret, you may have too much relief.

If you think you have too much relief, try turning the truss rod adjustment screw clockwise (righty tighty) an eighth to a quarter turn at a time and check again. You can continue to make slight adjustments until you start to get some fret buzz and then turn it back in the other direction an eighth of a turn.

Here is an article about how and why to adjust your truss rod. Adjusting your truss rod

Another thing you can do to temporarily make your guitar more playable is to detune the guitar by half a step (half step flat) and put a capo on the first fret and leave it there. This will effectively make your first fret serve as a lowered nut and make the first position F barre chord (and all other barre chords) much easier to play.

  • Thank you very much for the long and detailed answer. I will try to adjust the truss rod, and if it still doesn't work, I'll take it to a guitar center (where I bought the guitar from, so they charge only $15 for the initial setup). The fret heights seem OK. The guitar itself seems a bit unused overall. One thing I did not understand, however, is why lowering the nut may require raising the saddle. – sodiumnitrate Nov 29 '15 at 20:13
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    If the string height at the saddle is already low but the string height at the nut is what is causing the overall action to be too high, lowering the height of the nut might mean that the saddle height will then be too low and cause fret buzz. Sometimes an adjustment in one area will necessitate a corresponding opposite adjustment in another. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 30 '15 at 4:09
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i would try lighter gauge strings. Those look quite heavy

  • it would be nice if the person who down-voted me would comment to say what their justification was ? – bigbadmouse May 23 '17 at 9:06

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