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Archive - Jan 2007 to Dec 2007 Tales from Workshop
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Week ending Christmas December 2007
Week ending Christmas December 2007
The final guitar for this year has been set-up and collected!
Its very Gothic and looks like it should be owned by a biker although the customer assures me he is not. A bit of a Dennis Hopper meets Jimi Hendrix type of guitar, ha ha ! However, it's a very different guitar to the normal Strat - it's fitted with a Kinman's K9 wiring harness/controls and pick-ups. It was a pleasure to work on.
Merry Christmas, everybody!
Pic ref. Christmas December 2007
Week ending 21st December 2007
This week, as well as the usual set-ups including a very nice 'Deering' Banjo which had yet another bent neck that needed remedial work. I finished off with a very straightforward set-up on an unusual Stratocaster - pictures next week.
I have managed to get a bit further along with the Les Paul. I routed out the truss rod channel and fitted the bias strip using a technique of coating the rod in PTFE tape to preserve it from rust/wood glue and allow it to self-lube. I've now glued the fingerboard back on, including the headstock fibreboard with the Gibson decal in it. The headstock has been cut out and shaped and the rear of the neck hand-carved to blend in with the original neck-stock. I got the paint colour match this morning so it looks like I'm finally on the home straight. One thing I do still need to do is sort out the frets. The customer has yearned for his original guitar back, like it was before he was a bad boy and plumb wore it out! Therefore, just before I get started on the finishing work, I need to do a complete refret to give the guitar its new lease of life. With Christmas just round the corner, I hope to finish the fretwork over the weekend and then it'll all be down to cosmetics and the final set-up.
Merry Christmas to all my customers and readers and I do hope you all have a prosperous New Year!
Pic b) ref. above 21st December 2007
Pic a) ref. above 21st December 2007
Week ending 14th December 2007
I have been concentrating on a big job for part of this week. The guitar is a Les Paul Custom and it suffered a typical accident where it was split open from the third fret to the nut. Against my better judgment, way back in 1998, I stuck it back together, repaired the creamy white paintwork and gave it back to the owner.
I have since stopped doing this type of repair because too many people had an 'action replay' of the same accident and, typically, the breaks re-occurred in near enough the same place. To preserve my reputation I now refuse to do the typical glue and clamp repair so, when this Les Paul broke again - this time splitting nearer the headstock straight through the shallow volute area - that is the thickest part - it was time for drastic measures. Just before starting work on this neck, I remove the paintwork to find the true extent of the damage and found that, yes, it had been damaged and repaired after the 1998 repair. The customer agreed to the procedure of removing the headstock and making another, using the typical scarf joint and this will give the guitar a new lease of life, providing it is looked after.
There are many things to work out with this type of repair. The procedure starts with taking the fingerboard off the neck-stock. Next, the truss-rod fillet is removed and then the truss rod. This allows me to cut through the neck at the same angle as the headstock, near to the third fret. The reason for this is that it allows me to use a 4" x 2" piece of mahogany timber, reducing wastage and taking advantage of the pre-planed timber surface. Currently, this block of mahogany timber has been glued/grafted on to the guitar. Next week I will be able to machine the truss rod slot, fit the truss rod and bias fillet and glue the fingerboard back on.
It will initially look odd when glued back together but, until the fingerboard is glued on creating a strong lamination, it remains a very weak assembly.
In between doing this major repair, I have had one banjo that was fitted with heavy strings and a massive forward bow - see last week's blog on this issue. I have also been customising a Fender Custom Shop telecaster and doing the usual set-ups.
Bye for now.
Pic ref. above 14th December 2007
Week ending 7th December 2007
This week I have been plagued with neck problems (guitar necks, that is!) It's almost as if they'd waited round the corner and all come in together. I have had several that had severe forward bow caused by lack of maintenance in setting the correct amount of relief into the neck. I often explain to customers that, if a curve is seen in the neck, it will be a fault. The misconception comes from manufacturers supplying an Allen key and instructions on how to use it. The problem for the manufacturer is that they have to exaggerate the drawing to explain the situation. If they were to draw the true amount of curve on a piece of paper it would look like a straight line! The reason is that the amount of curve needed for neck relief is very small indeed - smaller than the thinnest string.
When the wood acquires a 'bad' memory - as in a massive forward bow - the only way to induce a new memory is to heat it up, put the neck into a splint/forma, and then let it cool down again. If the job is done correctly it will stabilise over the next 24 hours ready to work on. Currently I am working on one neck which decided to go the opposite way and has massive back-bow. The dead give-away was a loose truss rod and NO relief and a customer complaining about buzzing strings. The reason for this is due to the stresses within the wood and it having a natural tendency to curve backwards because of the grain. Another reason can be lamination of the fingerboard when the woods are at different moisture content when glued together, then they act like a bi-metal strip. The same procedure of heating and splinting is used to correct the neck. What we need to have is enough NATURAL relief in the neck so that the truss rod actually works to counteract the string tension.
Life would be much easier to control back-bow with a two-way (or double acting) truss rod which is now being installed into many of the foreign made necks. At Patrick Eggle we soon learnt that using these in the neck could save up to 50% of the necks from becoming scrap. It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that a machined straight neck can move either forwards or backwards - hence the 50 - 50 chance.
And finally, one neck which did pull straight without issue almost had to be scrapped because of difficulty in moving the truss rod adjuster, caused by use of the wrong sized Allen key and excessive tension. Luckily I managed to buy another replacement.
As a final point, sometimes a neck needs the strings to be slackened off and the truss rod tightened with the neck helped/bent slightly backwards, such as on the Rickenbacker - this prevents snapping the truss rod.
My final piece of advice - if in doubt leave it alone or you risk a hefty bill for repairs!
Week ending 30th November 2007
It's been a bit of a mixed bag this week with the finishing of a Patrick Eggle Los Angeles which was bought at the Birmingham Music Show recently. The customer complained that it sounded horribly thin and that the strings buzzed. When I looked over the guitar sure enough, it was buzzing because the action had been set too low on the centre 4 strings and it also had some loose frets. The pickups sounded awful because the neck pickup had the polarity back-to-front and all the PU's were wired up in a very un-user-friendly way. In addition to this, the guitar kept cutting out. Many of my customers will be well aware that I was Quality, Technical and Set-Up Manager at Patrick Eggle Guitars until 1994 so it was disappointing to find these faults. In my opinion, many problems with the new Eggle guitars may be one-offs and should not be taken as slagging off the new Patrick Eggle Company.
The customer provided me with a set of Lindy Frailin pickups which I fitted and rewired to a normal Strat type, user-friendly, 5 way selection. The reason the guitar was cutting out was because it had not been machined deep enough in the control cavity, causing the switch to buckle as it was quashed by the metal scratchplate. The lifting frets in the centre of the fingerboard were glued in and levelled. The tremolo was in the wrong place, so the 6th string saddle had to be milled out to get the string through it. Eventually, after all this work, the customer was pleased with his purchase!
Another twist on electrics came this week when I was asked to fit a humbucker on a Vintage Stratocaster 'Green Day' style guitar. At first I was reluctant because I could not see how the poles of the humbucker, fitted at an angle, would line up. At the insistence of the customer I did the job and was pleasantly surprised to find that the 3 poles of one coil of the PU lined up with the treble, whilst the 3 bass strings lined up with the coil next to it and my fears of sound 'drop out' were allayed. Wiring the PU, I found the Seymour Duncan JB to have incorrect polarity to the two Stratocaster pickups. Normally this means swapping the green & black wires, but when I did this the PU died. Absolutely nothing sound-wise! Further investigation showed that the green and shield wires were connected inside the pickup! This is not normal and I emailed Seymour Duncan but, typical of most USA companies, got no reply. I was reduced to correcting the pickup by taking it apart and flipping the magnet, using the Duncan recommended wiring and not rectifying the original wiring to make it work in this situation. Currently the guitar is now set-up and back with the owner but seems to be an ongoing project!
Pic ref. above Eggle 30th November 2007
Pic ref. above Green Day 30th November 2007
Oli's Vintage Stratocaster 'Green Day' style guitar. I was pleasantly surprised to find no drop out and the poles lined up with the treble & bass strings.
Week ending 23rd November 2007
I had a Squier bass come into the workshop for a set-up and had been asked to use the existing Tape Wound strings. The owner said the string had a muffled thuddy sound which he liked. On closer inspection of the guitar, the silk wrap that had been put around the string in manufacture - about 30mm from the Ball End - was completely over the saddle top on the 3rd & 4th strings! This often occurs when strings have silk wrap fitted to them and players don't pay attention to the problems they cause. It isn't a problem for those bass guitarists who have through-the-body stringing. When it comes to the more economical bridge as seen on this Fender Squier Precision Bass (made in Japan), it's inevitable that if too much silk wrap is fitted to the string it will go over the top of the saddle. Ideally, players will want to hear a clean ringing sound from their string. The tone control can be rolled down to remove some of the treble bite and make the sound more muffled and thuddy. One of the cheapest and easiest modifications to make is the one seen in the picture below, using a nut with 1/8" or 3.5 millimetre hole in it, to allow the string to be threaded through. Of course the thickness of the nut is important because this will pull the silk wrap backwards and stop the wrap from going over the top of the saddle. If there is wrap left to go over the top of the saddle it will also increase the height of the string and therefore affect the intonation. So, it is preferable to have a nice piece of clean and uniform string coming over the saddle as it makes its way towards the nut. I have a PDF that refers to re-stringing of Bass guitars at
How to Re-String a Bass Guitar
I also had a Ukulele from a relative that was unplayable, even at the 1st fret. This was a simple enough problem to correct. The nut had been shaped like the roof apex of a house. The string was ringing off this apex which was at least 2.5 mm away from the edge of the fretboard. This affected the scale length and, even though the saddle was fitted in the correct place, it was 50% in error. This problem in setting the nut slots required the saddle to be moved by the same amount i.e. 2.5mm away from the nut BUT.....wait a minute..... this is treating the symptom and not the illness! It was easy to cut the nut slots so that the string eventually rang off the leading edge, reducing the scale length and the problem was sorted out. This was a budget ukulele that went from useless to playable with a simple remedy.
Pic ref. above 23rd November 2007
A cheap and easy modification is the one seen in the picture - using a nut with 1/8" or 3.5 millimetre hole in it, to allow the string to be threaded through. This will pull the silk wrap backwards and stop it from going over the top of the saddle.
Week ending 16th November 2007
I had an email a couple of weeks ago after someone read through this blog section. The essence of the email was that he had learned stuff that he thought should be condensed into a 'Top 10 Do's & Don'ts' list for guitar owners and beginners. I thought this was a great idea and so this week I sat down and wrote out the lists and have posted them here under the section ' Top Technician's Tips!'.
'Top 10 Do's & Don'ts for Guitarists and Beginners'
So, a big thanks to Nigel B. for pointing out the obvious - which I should have thought of this in the first place! It just shows it's easy to overlook the obvious when you're too close to the subject.
Other things going on at the moment are pretty mundane for you regular readers. I managed to get my vacuum press working and am impressed with the results - no pun intended. I also have my lathe working now and have already knocked out some parts for a new guitar tech tool! I replaced my DA sander with one less thirsty on air and that will put less stress on my hand as, up until now, I have been using one of those 'jitter-bug' sanders as a make-do. This together with machining some USA ash wood for new guitars is exciting for me - but probably not as exciting to other people who prefer playing guitars to making them!
The word back from last weeks re-worked Stratocaster is that the tremolo is working very well - see last weeks details on mods.
Short and sweet this week. Bye for now.
Week ending 9th November 2007
Amongst the repairs this week were a badly bent neck - resolved by heat treating - and a Hank Marvin Stratocaster refret, to be checked and shipped back to its owner. The customer was never very happy with his tremolo and wanted to emulate his hero Hank Marvin. I checked the 'vintage tremolo' and sure enough it was really poor in operation.
As I took the tremolo off, the first screws I undid were the 1 & 6 position. After the 1st turn, I was able to pull them out with my fingertips - without even turning them!! As I undid the others they were also loose but the 2nd and 3rd were the ones keeping it all together. I could see from the wear marks on the 2nd and 3rd positions that they were the main points of pivot with none on the other holes - which means there was no clean contact/pivot point. This was also the reason why the tremolo plate was pulling forwards and fouling the scratchplate.
The first check to make with a tremolo is to remove the springs and strings and check its operation - free hand so to speak. If it doesn't move like a well oiled door hinge, its not going to work loaded with tension! Normally I set the 1st and 6th screws up as the 'governors'. Leo Fender actually over-engineered the tremolo and it really only ever needed two screws. Trevor Wilkinson also realised this and in his design of this tremolo the 4 centre screws were (at one time) actually only supposed to be 'picture book' / 'dummy' screws. On some of Wilkinson's tremolos the centre 4 screws provided are actually thinner so that they don't even touch the tremolo fulcrum plate.
I drilled out the screw holes, glued/fitted dowels in place and re-drilled the holes.
With the pivot screws sorted, I fitted the strings and springs and heard a clunking sound
The springs were far too strong - could have been used on a garden gate!
I prefer it if I:
* have 3 springs on the tremolo - Yes
* still have the springs working (under tension) when pulling backwards on the tremolo. - not in this case
*don't have any kinks in the springs - Yes OK
*don't have any wrap around them, which gets caught up and impedes the action - Yes OK
With the heavy duty springs on there, this clunking effect was when the spring was completely condensed and loose on the claw and tremolo sustain block. The advantage of having the springs still under tension even when pulled all the way back is that the springs help out (kind of servo-assisted). Equally, when the tremolo is pushed forwards (detuning) the springs need to be not so strong that it becomes hard work. Because the tremolo is held in a balancing act (equilibrium) the springs are under tension and should be all the way on a backwards pull. Ideas like extending the route in the cavity just don't add up because the springs have a certain tension.
The way I check out the tremolo springs is by using one of those 40lbs fishing weigh scales and a measuring stick. When the spring pulls a certain distance I check the scales and see what it is. Normally, the measurement/movement is 14lbs to my mark for a normal spring but in this case these were registering 22 lbs! In retrospect, the springs that were fitted probably caused the pivot screws to collapse forwards under the added stress, thus fouling the scratchplate.
Eventually the tremolo worked well but with a creaking noise which I found to be the push sleeve inside the hole for the tremolo arm. A spot of glue in the bottom of the hole sorted this out. Finally, the guitar and tremolo worked like a well oiled sewing machine - as a friend of mine used to say.
Pic ref. above 9th November 2007
Tremolo pulled forwards into the scratchplate by heavy duty springs.
Week ending 2nd November 2007
This week I am finishing off yet another guitar of the fan club followers of 'The Shadows'. The owner brought his Strat to me for a refret and repair work to the back of the neck following a recommendation. I guess many people can live with the worn look but when your frets have had their day and the maple fingerboard needs to be re-lacquered it's well worth the extra effort to repair other areas which have gone down to the wood grain.
I took the frets out and matched new fret-wire. I removed all trace of lacquer and bleached out the black wear spots in the neck. (Ironically, these spots would be charged for as an extra if you wanted them on a 'distressed' Custom Strat!)
As for the back of the neck - it's not easy to spray an isolated area of stain on a neck and get it to match. I can't do large areas without going back to a contour line (edge) so, in this case, I preserved the original headstock colour in order to match the re-stain by masking over it with a clear plastic bag (trade-trick). Masking the edge is done using 2mm wide tape specially made to turn tight corners (another trade-trick). Before I did this, the 'ever-so-thin' finish on the headstock needed sealing with clear lacquer. Some of the edges had 'dings' in them so first, I colour-touched them in with a fine artist's paint brush. Once the correctly tinted lacquer had been applied and re-checked against the original headstock face, I could apply my pull-over coats of clear lacquer. Job done, just short of dressing/de-lacquering the frets and doing the pro set-up.
I get a real kick out of resurrecting a guitar and restoring it to its former glory!
Pic ref. above 2nd November 2007
Marvin Strat in for renovation and re-fret
Week ending 24th October 2007
I get asked to salvage or save many guitars but the question at the back of my mind is, "Is it worth saving?" The next question is, "Will the customer pay for the work", bearing in mind the limited value of the guitar and all the work involved.
On many occasions I have had customers pay me 'up-front' because I need to cover myself from potential default. Past customers have been very pleased with the end results and I have a good idea if something is going to work or not. This week I had two of these guitars and one (Hofner) could have worked but the cost of repair was 5 times the value of the guitar. The other guitar is a Melodia (from Slovakia) which is sitting gathering dust in my workshop while I contemplate whether it is worth salvaging.
With regard to the Hofner, the jury is still out. In the other case, the guitar was so badly made in the first place, it would be cheaper to make a new one from scratch - there is nothing good about the guitar and no amount of sweetening the pill will help tell a customer he bought a complete 'Nail of a Guitar'.
What is difficult for the general public to get their head around is cost and build quality. Back in the bad ol' days (40 years ago) the standard of guitar making was poor and even 'budget' guitars were expensive but poorly made! Since the Japanese car and electronics industries sold the concept of quality and quantity back to the rest of the world, the music industry has also had to raise its game in the light of customer expectations.
In real terms the cost of guitars has come down and the quality has gone through the roof. For instance, manufacturers in China and Korea can create a solid top acoustic for £100 when I can't buy the raw wood for a replacement top for less than £120 and this is without labour costs applied to it! Now you know why British and USA hand built guitars cost so much!
Week ending 17th October 2007
I had a customer bring in his guitar for a health check saying that the instrument had suddenly developed a fault and was buzzing. The first thing I did was tune the instrument and then check the relief in the neck, which is where we fell at the first fence when I asked why it was tuned down one semitone? "Well", came the reply, "I was playing this concert and the songs were in drop tuning - but that shouldn't affect the set-up, should it?" This says it all about how finely balanced the best action is and peoples' perceptions of what they can do with a guitar after a set-up, without affecting it.
To explain: The truss rod is adjusted in counter-tension to the string gauge fitted, so when I set a guitar up, I normally ask two things:
1. What gauge of string do you usually use?
2. Do you play any songs in a drop tuning?
Armed with this information I can set the guitar up with the customer's choice of strings and to his/her LOWEST tuning used and this will be the lowest action. This means that, if the customer then tunes to standard pitch or higher, the action will actually increase a little as will the relief in the neck, but it will still be playable.
What had actually happened in this case was that the guitar had been set-up to concert pitch with the correct relief but the neck had crept backwards a little. Unknown to the customer, the neck now had less relief and he may have gotten away with it (short term) but dropping the tuning actually causes less tension on the neck. This means that the truss rod had far less resistance than from the normal string tension, the action became low and the relief in the neck almost disappeared, thus creating the buzzing.
Finally, I also want to mention the problems caused by changing to a different string gauge after set-up. This can have the same effect on the neck relief and that finely balanced truss-rod (if strings are lighter/less tension). So, when your local music shop tries to fob you off with an alternative when that don't have your correct gauge on the shelf, just be warned of the potential problems it may cause!
Week ending 12th October 2007
This week I came across a fairly common problem that needed solving. When finishing off a Professional Set-up on a G&L by checking out the tremolo socket and arm (whammy bar) fitting I found a very badly scarred arm caused by no Delrin (plastic sleeve) and a grub-screw that had cut deep into the metal arm. Obviously the past owner was trying to create a nice positive/snug fit. The problem with the screw cut into the metal when the arm was pushed away after using it. I wasn't even sure if the arm was genuine as it sat a little too high for my liking. One thing was for sure - as a push-in fit it was very sloppy with out the grub-screw tight! A quick check with the callipers (measuring tool) showed there was almost a 1mm difference in the hole size with the bar fitted. I searched the internet and racked my memory to find a sleeve to fit either in the tremolo arm hole or onto the tremolo arm but spent ages without luck. It's not economic to spend too much time on resolving an issue like this, when buying a correct arm will do the trick. However, you will be surprised to learn how many times the sleeve in the tremolo goes missing. Or maybe retail shops are so careless as to sell the guitar with the wrong tremolo arm! One thing is for certain, this problem keeps coming up. Then I had an inspirational idea, the Polythene/Urethane clear plastic that milk containers are made of (I am sure someone will correct me on the actual material!) is flexible and about 0.5mm thick - ideal. I cut a smooth flat piece off, rolled it into a tube shape, pushed it down the hole in the tremolo, inserted the whammy bar and it worked like magic! The plastic acts like a bearing surface and is tight enough to take the slack up but easily allows the arm to be removed or moved. It could have almost been designed like this. So if you have a component missing just use your imagination and it's surprising how everyday items can be adapted - it's just like Blue Peter here, sometimes!
(P.S. I have now tracked down a local supplier of Delrin (plastic) rod so I can turn my own tremolo sleeves on my metalwork lathe next time, so I don't have to keep pinching milk containers out of the fridge - the wife wasn't happy!).
Week ending 5th October 2007
For those people that were wondering what had happened to the past few weeks' entries on the workshop blog, I can tell you I have been on a trip to America combining business with pleasure. I would like to say thanks to the Boston, Massachusetts Library for their recent help in tracing my ancestry.
It's taken me a while to get through the 3000 e-mails awaiting my return - most of which were spam but nevertheless require the necessary action that my anti-spam program couldn't cope with.
There is very little to talk about in the way of guitar work - other than my custom Vacuum press for wood gluing is nearly finished - but I would like to say congratulations to Su Zheng (who designed my website layout). She recently achieved her PHD Doctorate - no mean achievement in a second language. Seems strange calling her Dr Su. ha-ha! All the best Su, in looking for your full-time job.
The weeks ahead already look hectic and that's only the appointments made before I went away! My apologies if I haven't allocated you an appointment yet as I needed to set aside this week for getting back into the swing of things.
Week ending 14th September 2007
Following on from last week, when I was talking about people selling guitars because of some kind of problem with it, a customer brought in one of those Tanglewood replicas of a Rickenbacker which I am sure had been sold because the pickups squealed like stuffed pigs. This was a sure sign that the wax in the pickups was insufficient or had broken down and needed re-dipping. There were other problems with the guitar which were typical of a budget guitar - especially one which had not been well looked after since it was bought new. The neck was so bent that after straightening it with the truss rod I had to take the first three frets out and lower the fingerboard so that I did not murder these frets in the initial milling/levelling process. Once the frets were levelled and re-profiled, the set-up was fairly simple and the customer was very happy with the result.
It doesn't hurt to re-iterate that the standard of set-up work I do doesn't change according to the name on the headstock. Every guitar gets the full treatment so that it can play at its best - usually better than when it came out of the Factory. It doesn't matter whether it's a $3000 PRS (like I did shortly after the Tanglewood) the end result is exactly the same. The only difference from my point of view is that some of the more expensive guitars can be less hassle but even that's not guaranteed with the higher price tag!
I know some guitar technicians have a certain 'snob value' where cheaper guitars are treated with less respect than higher-priced ones. My philosophy is that, if the customer pays for the work to be done, then they should all be given a full professional job.
Week ending 7th September 2007
It's not often I get frustrated but this week I had a simple request to check a switch on a Brian May guitar which wouldn't work and that did give me a few headaches! The guitar was in for a set-up so it was a simple enough job to check out the wiring while the strings were off. One of the benefits of the Brian May wiring is that the sound gets fatter the more pick-ups you turn on because they are wired in series. However, this does have a drawback when you're looking for a problem because the fault can be anywhere in the chain. Normally, when pick-ups are wired in parallel, the fault is easy to diagnose because you are naturally directed to the pick-up or side of the switch which doesn't work. In series wiring the fault can be anywhere between the beginning and the end of the chain .
When working at Patrick Eggle I met up with a guy who had plans of Brian May's original wiring which has since been replicated on the internet. When I looked at the wires, they had been wired up differently but should still have worked except for one wire which looked very out of place, being soldered to earth. I duly rewired it back into its original position on the switch, and everything stopped working! I rewired the guitar back to how Brian May had his original circuit and it still didn't work because at least one switch in the system was at fault. To cut a long story short, I replaced two switches and four link wires in the system (using the Ohm's Meter) and all the switches worked fine! It was clear that this one wire had been moved off the phase switch to make the system work - in effect completing the circuit to earth. Sometimes, one of the reasons people sell a guitar is because they have a problem which they cannot get solved and so they sell it instead. This looked like a classic case of treating the symptom in order to sell a guitar but not treating the illness. The customer now has a correctly working guitar and the person who sold it will probably never know what the problem was. The lesson I learnt was that it would have been cheaper for me to replace all the switches than try and find two faults in a series circuit - something to remember for next time!
Week ending 31st August 2007
Today was one of those disappointment days for my customer. One of my sayings is: "Just because its guitar shaped, doesn't mean it's a guitar!"
To illustrate this very point, a customer brought me a 'Martin Smith' acoustic guitar for set-up - had I heard of them? Sort of almost sounded familiar but one of the clever tricks foreign manufacturers do with their guitar names is to make you think that its been around a long time (anglicised), so your sub-conscious says "hhmm ..think I know it. Well, I've heard of C F Martin Guitars and I've heard of Paul Reed Smith and I've heard of Gordon Smith this must be ok" But is it?
So I looked at the guitar and found it had a massively high action (9/64 string height). The neck was fairly straight, so the neck must have been glued in at the wrong rake angle. Yep, its confirmed. If I had to sort the string height out, there would be nothing left of the saddle. Then I noticed a further problem - the sound board was flexing inwards! Now, if the tension of the strings is pulling the soundboard out, how come it's going in the opposite direction? My belief is that the wood was probably too wet when it was made and during the 6 to 8 weeks transport time from China to UK it has now dried out too much. Correction, it's dried out to the correct level but the damage was already done.
The top is concaved almost 2mm and I would expect it to be convexed at about 1mm. Now I won't bore you with the details but, by my calculation, this 3mm difference means that the action would be very, very high and certainly far too high for slide!
In the past 10 years, I have not seen a double whammy (no pun intended!) like this. Even though the guitar looked reasonable at first glance, when you look again more closely and work out what's really going on, you wouldn't touch it with a barge pole!
So be warned and remember "Just because its guitar shaped, doesn't mean it's a guitar!"
Week ending 24th August 2007
One of my customers is into some real antique stuff and it's been quite interesting over the past few weeks, setting his guitars up to a standard that they have never seen before in their lives! He doesn't seem to get fed up of emailing praise either, saying how good each guitar is, and it's always nice to hear the appreciation.
The other day he brought in a cheap Chinese Strat clone with a paisley hand-painted graphic on it. I duly took this guitar and was able to make it play like a £1500 guitar - basically because those Chinese had got everything just about right geometry wise. Not long after this I got an email from another customer which started off as an apology by the owner for 'only' having a Squier Hank Marvin Stratocaster. No apology was needed but it would have been interesting to see this customer's face if he had seen what could be done on a very cheap guitar!
As a point of interest, when the Chinese first started to clone the Strat, I was shown one by a large importer and asked to comment on it. The only thing that let the guitar down was the lack of knowledge or attention to detail on the tremolo! It's not what you can see that make them work better. To explain:
The vintage strat tremolo has 6 screw holes and works best with a chamfer on the holes AND the leading edge but this is underneath it. You can't see it, but you can tell if it has a good leading edge by checking the forward movement. If the screws are set flush with the top of the plate when it is at rest, the cheap tremolos can't move forwards because they didn't bevel the leading edge enough to allow it them to tilt forwards. Now - here's the snag: If you grind off the extra metal it goes rusty when it gets wet because the protective plating has been removed. It's a shame, because the Korean and Chinese manufacturers have basically got everything else right so, why don't the wake up and smell the coffee, and do a 'proper job' that would give their public a great, budget, working guitar!
Week ending 17th August 2007
Sometimes isn't not easy to say No.
When I got an Ibanez guitar in for set-up this week I was shown a bulge in the back of the neck near the nut. This was the result of a previous customer trying to 'straighten the neck'. It had been over tightened and had a back bow instead of relief. The truss rod end was trying to push itself out of the back of the neck! Carving the rear of the neck too thin can also exacerbate the problem. I said I was sorry but I couldn't set the guitar up. Correction, I told him I wouldn't take his money off him because it was damaged and unstable. Even after a begging phone call the next day, I wouldn't do it.
Earlier in the week I was asked to glue loose frets on a Parker Fly guitar because nobody seemed able to help. I had done many of the Korean made ones but not the USA type and said yes, what's the problem? The customer then told me something that I didn't know. The Parker Fly USA has a composite carbon fibre neck and they stuck the frets ON the fingerboard not in it! No wonder he was having trouble. It's my belief that they probably found it so difficult to cut carbon fibre and that just sticking them on was cheaper and easier. Well, if it hasn't got the extra grip from a fret slot, it could well be a problem waiting to happen. Sometimes it's better to be safe than brave and I also declined the repair. In future this is one guitar that I won't be doing a re-fret on.
I suppose the theme this week is 'if traditional guitar stuff works fine, then why mess with it?'
Week ending 10th August 2007
It's funny how things keep happening in pairs. Last week we had the poor and the new and this week we have a similar situation. A clone Telecaster was brought to me with its geometry all over the place, the frets very uneven and fret-ends sticking out. The customer had bought some quality bits of hardware and fitted them but that still didn't make it a great guitar. I like challenges, so it was nice to know from experience that taking out some frets at the end of the fingerboard to straighten the neck up would allow me to give the customer a fabulous guitar. (I did put them back in - honest!) I do get a big kick out of watching my customers' faces and reactions. This customer looked over the frets and then began to play. I believe the phrase is 'blown away by it!' You can guess he was very keen to give me another guitar - a Tanglewood LP - to be given the same Peter Allen treatment.
Another new little beauty came onto the bench this week from the USA in the form of an archtop - a lovely guitar made by the luthier
. It was suffering from a couple of high areas of frets, which is no reflection on the luthier but a result of using natural materials such as wood. It may also be a change in climate/humidity which can cause this. I sorted these high spots out along with doing the set up and this customer was equally happy with the result.
I reckon it takes about 12 to 18 months for the wood on a new instrument to settle down and people reading this might think this means it's worth putting off having a set up done in the early stages of a guitar's life but if the neck is bent and the wrong shape, it could well be screwed up completely if left like that for any length of time. A year on, come the set-up, it's going to cost much more to put right - probably much more than having a set-up when the instrument is new. The particular reason for mentioning both these guitars is to show that, irrespective of the quality of the guitar, the craftsmanship applied to setting both of them up is exactly the same. Whatever the instrument and its build quality, there may be extra costs if for extra work is involved but the result will always be Peter Allen striving for perfection.
Week ending 3rd August 2007
From time to time I see unusual things. Some are horror stories and other times I come across interesting guitars that have special attributes. This week I had both.
First, the horror story. I had a Fernandes guitar made in China which the frets were falling out of! I tried using the fret press to push them back in, but to no avail. Clearly one of two things had happened: either the wood had shrunk, making the fret slots become too large, or the fret slotting blade had cut the slots oversized. I had to resort to gluing and re-seating them all before I could get on with dressing the frets and set-up.
Now, the interesting guitar. It is not often that I get a classical guitar with a truss rod but this week I was presented with a fine piece of work from a luthier called Spephen Holst in the USA. He has a
which will show you his unique lattice bracing system. I have to say it was a pleasure to work on his guitar with the only minor hiccup being special access for the truss rod - soon sorted out. He used a similar truss rod nut to those found on the Les Paul but there was no way I could use one of these LP T-rod adjusters into the recess. From time to time Luthiers have to resort to making their own tools and this was one of those times! I found a straight ring spanner and ground it until I could get into the tiny access cavity, then the rest was simple. The week before, I had to make a right-angled screwdriver for a Bigsby Telecaster bridge which had to be only 6mm in length! I don't think you can buy them, anyway - so now I've got one of those too!
Week ending 27th July 2007
The theme for this week is promises! If someone says they will do something then you naturally expect them to do as they say - but experience shows that this often isn't the case and all you get are lame excuses when they probably just forgot you as a customer - and unfortunately the music industry is no exception!
My week began with me keeping my promise to go to Leeds to pick up a piece of equipment costing several hundred pounds 'earmarked and put aside' on Friday for collection after the weekend. I turned up only to find they didn't have it in stock - "must have sold it" was the excuse - I was not pleased - what a first impression!
And then there was the shop which couldn't seem to be bothered to get in a crucial component for their customer's Floyd Rose tremolo and which, after 6 months waiting, told him that it hadn't arrived yet! In this case, I am pleased I could be of assistance to this person in their hour of need.
On the flip side, I had a pleasant surprise when a music retailer promised me delivery of a new Taylor and within 3 days it was ready to collect. The knock on effect is that I could then promise my customer the Pro set-up and fit a B-Band system on the guitar ready for collection 3 days later. It feels good when a plan comes together, doesn't it?
Alongside this, I have done several guitars this week and have given them all a 'promise date' for completion and achieved it. The fact that customers couldn't collect them due to flooding or other problems is not an issue for me as I have kept my word on when they were available to collect. As for the customers that just don't turn up for their initial appointment - well, why am I not surprised?
Week ending 20th July 2007
This week I had in a Bass with Bartolini pick-ups and had trouble in balancing the sound out-put - again! This is not the first time it's happened but after reading how sensitive the PU's are to string height affecting sound /volume on their website, I was forced to adjust the string height to the PU - which left the 1st and last strings very high due to the tight 7.25 radius on the neck. Doing this achieves better evenness in sound but I'm not at all happy with this arrangement as it's the wrong way round. So, I advised the customer to go for the traditional Jazz PU's while keeping the Bartolini pre-amp and this worked well. It's disappointing that the Bart's PUs don't have a curved magnet but this would have alienated the flatter radius. I previously sent an email and fax about this problem to Bartolini but got no reply - so you can't say I didn't try. I sent the Bass back to the customer and got a resounding thank you - his email said
"WOW !!!!!!!! Received bass today, just had a play, it feels great. The sound is Top, these pickups have really sorted the response of the D and G, awesome to say the least, hardly have to pop them, so crystal. The balance is excellent.!!!! Looks like the combination of the Barti pre-amp system and the Kent Armstrongs works perfect for this bass."
Also in this week was a typical Fender Jazz bass which needed lots of love and affection as the neck was badly bent and had a nasty warp in it. I've just re-checked it and it seems fine but with this kind of problem it's always best to keep checking over several days to make sure it doesn't go back to its previous shape. This is due out next week so we will see if it stays put.
Week ending 13th July 2007
The 4 string bass guitar from last week was collected and the customer pleasantly surprised - those Bass Collection basses were good in their day and now this one's got a new lease of life - the result is a very happy customer, especially with the extra work free of charge thrown in.
It's been really hectic recently, with people from both inside and outside the county looking for me to do full restoration and set-up work. So much so that I didn't realise I had not posted this particular blog item. In fact, 'Friday the 13th'' was a funny old day .first, someone brought in one of the worst condition guitars I have been asked to do a restoration job on - so much so I am still trying to work out a cost on it! Then, no sooner had one guitar from the stone-age came in, than another followed it! This would be fine if I had nothing else to do but these 'projects' do take up vast amounts of my time. Finally, a nice complement from another customer - someone I hadn't seen for quite a while - who tracked me down after being told I had 'packed in setting up guitars, but that a certain shop could do as good a job.' He wasn't convinced by this, being of the view that 'good guitar technicians are like the proverbial rocking horse sh** very hard to find', so he was mighty relieved when his persistence in finding me paid off. It's reassuring to hear that he wouldn't go anywhere else - sorry for preaching to the converted, but I think a word of thanks to my customers for their loyalty over the years is in order.
Week ending 6th July 2007
Last week I had a 4 string bass guitar which came to me in very poor condition after having been assigned to the coal shed for safe keeping!
After looking over the guitar (which was minus strings) it soon became apparent that the reason it had been ditched was the fingerboard breaking away from the neck-stock after a fall. To join the fingerboard back to the neck-stock I used an epoxy glue. This is not my usual first choice of adhesive but I chose it for this job because it was a dirty and ragged joint and this glue acts like a gap filler. By leaving the strings off for such a long time, the past owner hadn't helped the shape of the neck - it was a bit bent to say the least! However, when gluing the fingerboard back on I was also able to reshape the neck so that it looks straight again.
I have said before that many guitars on eBay are cast-offs which have then come to me and I have put them back in good order. Here we have a guitar that has been discarded (probably because it was thought the repair was too expensive or unaffordable) but, for a reasonable cost, the guitar has been turned back into a great musical instrument. As the customer said when he brought it in, "he wouldn't be able to buy a decent new bass for what it's costing to have this one set-up and the neck repaired". I was hoping to add the customer's reactions on collecting the instrument but, unfortunately, I have had to wait for some replacement parts to arrive and he hasn't picked the guitar up yet. More to follow.......... And next week its Friday the 13th - wonder what that will bring in?
Week ending 29nd June 2007
Well, I reunited the Flamenco Guitar I was talking about last week with its owner. (This is the one with the Planetary pegs from Brian Burns USA - see 25th May BLOG - which eventually arrived this week.) I was especially pleased that I was able to alter the geometry on this one as these guitars cannot have the necks removed without them being sawn off - and then where would we be? So I was quite proud to get a good action and have clarity of sound from a good saddle height. The added clever stuff was fitting a B-Band to it which was akin to key-hole surgery as the sound-hole was too small for even my wife's small hands! I got an email from the customer a couple of days later that says it all
"Cheers Pete, the guitar sounds better than the £5000 Hermanos Conde guitar I tried at The Classical Guitar Centre in Bearwood a couple of months back. Matt H."
On a different topic, I have just done a comparison between when we started the website last September and this month and see we have a 300% increase in visitors - no mean feat, especially as I declined to pay Google to advertise and have found MSN a better search engine for new stuff which Google often misses. I think that my customer following need a 'big thanks' as their persistence in seeking me out has paid off and been duly rewarded with a first class set-up.
Week ending 22nd June 2007
I received the planetary pegs from the USA this week for the flamenco guitar I am working on, so it's all systems go for repairing and setting it up now.
To recap: the guitar came in with a really high action but many Flamenco players prefer a low action because it adds to the sound and the way they play. With a normal steel string acoustic guitar, if the neck is in at the wrong angle it a major job to steam the neck out and re-fit it. Often when this situation presents itself I will advise the customer to buy another guitar as it's a horrendously expensive operation (around £600).
In any event, necks on Classical & Flamenco guitars cannot be removed as the guitars are built around them as a keystone block. On this flamenco guitar the fingerboard was incredibly thick, so I worked out that I could take the frets out and alter the neck angle from the fingerboard. With most material being removed from the first fret onwards, I could alter the string angle and therefore increase the saddle height from zero (believe it or not) to a comfortable 3/32. This now gives me a low Classical action and much improves the playability of the guitar. The next major task was to fit a transducer - my favourite B-Band system - into the guitar. Normally installation wouldn't be difficult but this guitar has a very small sound-hole which makes it impossible to reach the under bridge or end block. I had to resort to keyhole surgery and ingenuity but it's now fitted and within the next couple of days the guitar will be back with its owner after a major makeover.
Week ending 15th June 2007
Continuing on from last week's entry, I have just set up a guitar put together by someone who believes it's dead simple to assemble a Stratocaster from parts supplied. In theory this ought to be true but the suppliers of the neck and body could be totally different and even if they were the same supplier, they are not necessarily going to put extra work into drilling screw holes which may be in the wrong place for the intended project. So when it comes to setting up a guitar made by these 'so_you_ think_ you're_a guitar_ builder.com' sites, the first thing that has to be done is rectification of the errors. These could be such things as the tremolo in wrong place, scratchplate cut-outs too small, pickups set too high, actions set too low, nut fitted too low and fretboard with very high frets or a 'ski jump' at the end of it. In short, everything wrong and probably the reason it's on eBay to start with! The saving grace in setting up this particular guitar is the knowledge that somebody's eBay cast off is now one of my customer's pride and joy - well worth the cost of a set-up.
A further spin off from this cloned Strat was that I became re-acquainted with the 'Holy Grail' Don Lace Pick-ups and see that they have not just been coasting along but being very innovative. I was drawn to the way the coils have been put in side-ways on this replacement type pick-up. Now that's an idea that's been begging to be tried since they were invented and it's taken until now to be produced?
Week ending 8th June 2007
We're all familiar with the phrase 'all that glitters is not gold' and this can apply to 'Stratocasters' for sale on eBay as these could turn out not to be genuine Fenders. Some weeks ago I did report for a customer who bought a seemingly genuine Fender Strat off eBay and then asked me to set it up. There was a Fender Stratocaster logo on the headstock and it was the correct shape but within seconds of looking properly at the guitar I could see many points about the way it was built that set off alarm bells. I phoned the customer and asked him to confirm that the guitar had been bought as a genuine Fender - which he did. I then had to break the news to him that this was nothing short of a fake! On taking the neck off I could see that someone had clearly put a label like the ones used by Fender in production/quality control for signing off various points on the neck-build but underneath this lay the stamp "LIC by Fender". This denotes that the neck is a copy, built under licence by a different manufacturer. In addition, the body colour was incorrect and a section inside it had been carefully scratched away to remove another stamp and then indelible ink applied over it. The customer sent me some of the photographs that related to the eBay advert and sure enough, there were close-ups of the tremolo and wiring, but the particular one showing the 'licensed by Fender' stamp on the neck was taken at sufficient distance that it could not be seen.
I understand the customer is now taking legal action against the seller for deception in selling a fake guitar. Recently I have seen many of these fake decals (labels) fitted to 'self-assembly copies' of Fender Strats. This may give the person who owns it some kind of feel-good factor but, at the end of the day, it is still a copy and not the genuine article and there are people that can tell the difference. So the question I ask is: Is my customer - who paid good money for a genuine Fender Strat - the victim of someone's ignorance or of a clever con trick by the seller? Hopefully, this is one time that my expert services will save/reclaim my customer's money. I'll let you know the outcome .
Week ending 1st June 2007
This week I had a customer bring me a guitar for a Health Check, which he believed I had set up when he bought it brand-new. When he showed me the paperwork it was clear that it was not actually me that had done the set-up. In addition a number of people have reported to me that other technicians are referring to me as having 'trained' them. This has led me to feel I need to issue this disclaimer clarifying the facts about any training I have given in order that customers are not misled or confused by these claims.
There is an element of truth in the claims and, to some degree, I can see I ought to be flattered that other technicians are using their association with me as a selling point for their own services. However, the implication could deceive people into thinking that they will get a replication of my professional set-up and/or other services at a cheaper cost and this is not the case. The training I gave to employees at the Patrick Eggle Guitars factory was limited and 'job specific' and subject to controlled training and quality checks within the manufacturing environment. In recent years, since leaving the factory, the only training I have given has been of a rudimentary nature covering only the 20 - 30 minute set-up of a brand new retail guitar. Typically, this has involved a minimal tuition period equivalent to a couple of afternoons and included none of the other detailed work involved in the 'fully fret-dressed set-up' of a guitar.
In short, the training I have given has in no way provided anyone with the knowledge or experience to be able to replicate a 'Peter Allen Professional Set-up.
I do hope this clarification is helpful.
Week ending 25th May 2007
Recently, I received what started out as a normal request for better machine heads on a Flamenco guitar. Now here I am thinking that Spanish, Classical and Flamenco are the same instruments, just different in the way they are played but, not so, as I find that the machine heads on my latest Flamenco project are nothing other than violin type pegs! The customer says they are a bitch to accurately tune up with, especially at a live concert, and I 'm not surprised! That's why those violinists go for added fine tuners on the tail-piece. My customer tells me he has heard of some unique, easy to tune 'peg' - that looks almost the same as the ebony. After a great deal of digging around, I have found them - a new awareness for me of a product that's been sold out in the USA since 1999! So for all those Ukulele, Banjo and Flamenco guitar players - in fact anyone who has had to put up with those nasty interference fit 'peg' - look no further than the link from my 'Suppliers of Guitar Parts & Spares' page. You'll find it under the title
Planetary Pegs - Perfection Pegs - Pegheds
Week ending 11th May 2007
I had a guy collect a guitar and thought that his misunderstanding would also benefit others. I received his first guitar for set-up tuned a whole tone lower than the standard 440hz (with 8 to 38 strings, this is really floppy). I thought this was just an oversight until he brought me another at about a semitone flat and then another 25% flat. At this point I asked how he tuned them and he said 'by ear'. The next question was "have you got a tuner? " to which he replied that he didn't need one as he used his ears. Well, in the precision world of Pete, I tune guitars to 440hz pitch at concert standard tuning before I do the Set-up, so the geometry is correct each time it's checked at this setting. My advice to anyone who hasn't got a tuner is to go out and buy one!
Another question I often get asked - and not a million miles from this weeks other misunderstanding - is 'What is the best gauge of string?' Well, here is my answer: This is entirely down to your preference. I know this is not necessarily helpful so here are a few pointers:
It is important to bear in mind that each set gauge of strings has a different tension and so do alternative tunings.
At my set-up - if requested - with alternative tunings e.g. DADGAD , the guitar has to be set to the lowest tension. This takes into account the standard tuning so that when a guitar is returned to this it is still playable - albeit with a slightly higher action.
String gauges should not be changed without resetting the guitar. After my Professional Set-up, any re-sets are free within 12 months, excluding string costs.
Lightest = 10 to 47
Mids = 11 to 52
Standard Gauge = 12 to 53 or 12 to 54, normally fitted as factory standard
13 to 56 = massive tension and classed as 'medium' but I believe they destroy guitars over time unless the instrument is specifically built to take it, unless they are on guitars with a short scale length - but that's another story altogether.
All these are what I call balanced sets, meaning they have roughly the same pull/tension per string within each set.
So it's not just a case of 'I fancy a change of gauge' - there is much more at stake! Watch out for the Music shop that sells you anything just to get rid of excess stock! When heavier strings are fitted the neck is bent more and needs to be adjusted. On acoustics, the top also flexes and the greater the tension the more the 'bellying' and the higher the action. There's lots going on with any change of string tension!
The lessons this week are therefore - use an electronic tuner, stick to the gauge of string fitted at set-up and you won't go far wrong!
Mid meek -- Week ending 11th May 2007
Well last week was bad but thanks to the Netgear engineer who just phoned from the other side of the world, my systems are up and running again. Towards the end of the week I had a USA Vintage Custom-Shop Stratocaster that came in and seemed like a normal set-up. I went to adjust the truss rod and found it jammed solid. Then I got it to undo like I have never seen before! Not only did the key-way (adjuster) come out but also the rod itself! I couldn't get the rod back in and the post-mortem found that Fender's internal white truss rod sheath was what was jammed between the threads! It's a mystery how the sheath got there because the little hole in the neck didn't seem big enough for it to have come through. If anyone from the Fender factory can shed some light on this, I would be fascinated to hear from them. It was the last nail in the coffin of a very bad week!
But now, at the start of this week, I have my internet and email access back and I have been able to machine out the neck fillet & plug of the Strat and refit the truss rod and refinish so .we are now back on track and normal service has been resumed! Thank goodness for that!
Week ending 4th May 2007
Well, I am early with this weeks report and, while I'm not known for ranting on, I'm going to now! Why? Well, it all started last Sunday when I fitted an additional hard drive to one of my computers. This went fine but, coincidently, my network router stopped working at the same time, although the computers weren't then linked. This meant I had no internet access, no email, nothing. YIKES!!
By Tuesday late afternoon (yes - 2 ½ days later!) I had traced the problem to Netgear's flash program or Firmware. After 2 very long support calls and going to factory defaults several times (I lost count) I finally got it working again at 10:30 on Tuesday evening! Why is it relevant? Well, my admin is done on one computer and the web, emails and research on the others, all networked up. One small glitch in the system and my whole business grinds to a halt! Admittedly it didn't help that Wanadoo has a different broadband username, but Netgear's program wouldn't let me change it to the correct one. Every time I re-entered it, it changed back - even after factory re-sets.
Anyone who knows me will realise that I won't let a problem go until I have resolved it - true for computer problems as much as for guitars! So, if you were wondering why all this was relevant to a guitar site...............now you know! Looks like I will be working this weekend to catch up on my back-log of 'real' work.
And yes, I did send a ranting email to Netgear.
Week ending 27th April 2007
Another week late posting work-bench updates (for reasons see next week).
During the week I have had some rather expensive acoustic guitars - Santa Cruz, Taylor, Lowden and Larrivee, to name a few. Each guitar came into the workshop after a recent purchase and one even came straight from the seller! All the instruments desperately needed my professional set-up because they had either been previously badly adjusted or they had never been properly set-up after leaving the manufacturers. Well, after listening to the thanks and praise when they were collected from me, the thought struck me - 'what would the last owners say if they could see their guitar now?' It's my guess that, just because the previous owners either didn't know any better or didn't realise that the guitar could be made to play well, they opted to sell it off instead. Bad move! I am sure that if the previous owners could see their guitars now I have serviced them they wouldn't have sold them in the first place and could have saved themselves the cost of buying a replacement!
Week ending 20th April 2007
The past week got away from me a little bit due to the amount of work I had on. What started as run of the mill repairs just took longer than expected to do. Both the jobs in question were acoustics and both were presented with partially detached bracings. This results in buzzing coming from underneath the sound-board. Even with the use of a miniature camera, the work is difficult and time consuming. Both guitars were 'budget' in their day and although I keep saying it, there is no getting away from the fact that over the years guitar construction has become better crafted and has got incredibly cheap in comparison to yesteryear, especially at the budget end. This means you get a lot more guitar for much less money, in real terms. Whilst its not for me to judge the likely care given to each of the instruments, the fact that both were presented without even a soft case doesn't help their day-to-day protection. This, together with poor original gluing lends itself to more problems of the same kind occurring. Whilst both owners cherished the sound of the guitars they owned, it made me wonder if the guitars are living on borrowed time.
Week ending 13th April 2007
It was pick-ups last week and this week it's pick-ups again as another issue came up with their replacement. I shan't go into too much detail but I realised an important point was left out when I was talking about changing the pickups last week - especially when they are different to the original - and that is to get the phasing correct. People often think it's really simple to change a pickup but it's an easy mistake to wire them up back-to-front when doing it DIY, even when using the makers' diagram. This is because there is no industry standard so the wiring differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. Then there are the rare times when the pickup manufacturer may fit the magnet the wrong way round and that too can cause issues. Have you ever noticed how the pick-up leads are all different colours from different manufacturers? Again - no industry standard!
This week a customer had one PU wired correctly to manufacturer guide but it was out of phase with the original one. Each sounded great by themselves but when selected together they made a thin, horrid sound. Sometimes it's not as simple as changing the "+" for "-" when using complex selector switches - so the polarity has to be worked out and the wiring done accordingly .
Week ending 6th April 2007
Pick-up balancing is the topic this week and, as usual, I had three guitars with similar issues - it's the 'corporation buses' scenario again! Each had a 'full bore - in your face' type of pickup added, that did what they said on the tin BUT - what about the pick-ups they had to match with? No-one had stopped to think and there has to be a balance between pickups when matching with older ones, or even when buying two new ones. Raising the height of the old ones may also cause other problems.
Years ago I fitted a Seymour Duncan Distortion in the bridge position of a Les Paul as requested by a customer, where the neck pickup was a Duncan PAF 59. They could be balanced either on a clean channel or a dirty (distortion) channel but not on both. It turned out that, when listening and choosing from the Seymour Duncan website sound samples, he could distinctly hear the 'in your face' distortion pickup but all the others "seemed like shades of grey" so he chose that particular one not realising that moving from one to the other might become complicated! Who needs complicated when you are in the heat of switching to a solo? In the end he went back to the drawing board and replaced it with a Duncan JB (on my advice!) and that did the trick. So the simple cost of changing one pickup actually ended up costing double because he had to change it twice! One spin off from having 3 pickups in his arsenal was that the JB would have been powerful enough in the neck to allow him to keep the distortion pickup.
Although Seymour Duncan has been used as an example here, the same situation can also arise with other pick-up manufacturers.
And one final point to mention - even if the pickups are changed, the wood the guitar is made from can make the difference between it sounding like a plank or a musical instrument. If this is the problem then changing pick-ups may make little difference.
Week ending 30th March 2007
I got a pleasant surprise this week when I was brought a Babicz acoustic guitar for set-up, as it is a make that I had not seen before. My reaction on opening the case is that either you'll like them or you won't. It seems like someone is trying to re-invent the guitar but reading the information on Jeff Babicz's website shows how much thought and effort has gone into the design. Jeff's website explains how the top is allowed to be flat and vibrate freely without the normal 'bellying' seen on conventional guitars. I got out my straightedge to check and, sure enough, it's flat as a pancake! The other interesting thing is how you can feel the top vibrate as you lightly touch it - it certainly works well. It's one of those things with guitar-making that, if you go away from tradition, would-be purchasers won't necessarily accept it and will pass them by. In this case my customer had the courage to buy one and allow me to set it up. This particular guitar was a Korean version which sells at about 25% of the USA price. The typical baggage that comes with the Indo-Asian build meant that I had a fair amount of work to do to make the guitar great to play but all the Indo-Asian built guitars require additional work, so it's not an exception. My customer knew this and that's why he brought it to me. My thanks to him for giving me the opportunity to set-up something unusual - it makes a nice change to see something different every now and again!
For more information see the Jeff Babicz website
Week ending 23rd March 2007
The past week has been hectic to say the least. With so much work coming in, I have started scheduling for the 2nd week in April! I am definitely not turning work away but I never promise something I can't deliver - I would always rather under-promise and over deliver!
The topic this week is botched jobs from guitar technicians. The particular guitar in question this time was a Gibson acoustic and it told a story all of its own. I could see that the technician had cut the nut slots down and then moved onto the saddle. There are many respected musicians and guitar teachers that believe it's possible to lower the nut slots further than the lowest point I take them to. If it is generally accepted that Gibson and Fender nut slot heights are good, then it's nice to know they agree with me on the right height! Lowering the action at the nut can be a big mistake and this technician had cut the nut down too low, so he took it out and then glued 4 pieces of paper underneath it to pack it out. This is what I found when I took the nut off to replace it. He then went back to the saddle and over cooked this area as well, taking too much off the saddle and leaving its base uneven. This was borne out by what I found underneath, in the saddle slot, which was: 1 piece of uneven plastic strip; 1 piece of wood shim and - the ultimate cock-up - 1 piece of sand paper folded in two (and unevenly at that)! I don't dismiss the use of shims - a correct type and properly fitted under the saddle can have its uses as a temporary measure. I realise I could be accused of slagging people off here, but I feel strongly that it's a disgrace to do a poor job and take money for it. The problem is, the customer believes the technician has done his best - which they may well have done - but this doesn't excuse the fact that, in some cases it isn't good enough. I am a little short on time at present, so a little later I will show the pictures of the nut and saddle/slot as it might be of interest.
The moral of the story is - if you want something done, get it done by a professional!
Week ending 16th March 2007
As a one man operation, resuming work after a holiday is a bit like starting up the old steam locomotive. Slow to start but constant running when up to temperature! As this week has been all about taking in work, the main focus of attention has been on a long-term project: making good an old Hofner cello. The neck had been broken off and refitted poorly and, like so many botched jobs in the neck department, more attention had been paid to 'sticking' than ensuring that the correct geometric angle was maintained. So I took the repair apart and had to replace a section of wood, carve it into shape and seal it prior to painting. Because the owner wanted to keep the guitar (for nostalgia reasons) I opened up the neck and fitted an adjustable truss rod, hiding the adjuster under the 'over-hang section' of the neck. This now gives me full control of the set-up so this guitar will be one of the best (old) Hofner around. Story to be continued..............
Week ending 2nd March 2007
I am sorry I was not around to either reply to phone messages or answer your e-mails as I have been out of the UK since January. In addition to this, one of our close relatives died on Wednesday, which has caused further delays in re-starting business. I will be organising the intake of work from the 5th March onwards so hopefully I will be able to accommodate set-ups and repairs from then onwards.
Week ending 19th January 2007
This week I saw the results of a little bit of naivety when a customer contacted me about his Les Paul pickups. Apparently, thinking that there might be zebra coloured tops to the pickups underneath the metal covers, he had a technician take the covers off only to find that they were both black. (Zebra colours means one coil is cream and the other black.) Disappointed in the results he then decided to put the covers back on but he didn't appreciate that the covers are actually soldered onto the base plate and the pickup pole pieces had been screwed down for an open-pole appearance by the technician. Initially the customer said he only wanted the pickups to be re-balanced (sound wise) because one pickup was quieter than the other but what he did not appreciate was the need for the covers to be potted as well - otherwise extraneous noises can be heard from the void within the pickup case. This is apart from re-soldering and setting the pole screw heights. His question over why the screws were not level with the case basically comes down to the covers being fitted incorrectly. When the guitar was brought to me I had the customer's father witness whether both pickups had a decent reading on the Ohms Meter. My gut feeling was that pickups which have been messed around with can easily be damaged and the resulting reading confirmed that one of the pickups was almost open-circuit. When the guitar was plugged in, it was obvious that there was very low output from one of the pickups, further confirming that the continuity in the windings had been broken. As a result of the exercise in looking for street credibility, the consequences of taking the pickup covers off and putting them back on resulted in a repair bill for having to send the pickup away for rewinding (courtesy of Aaron & Kent Armstrong - see 'Useful Links') and then refitting it back into the guitar.
The moral of the story is that pickups need to be treated with kid gloves as the fragile windings can easily be damaged. I am sure that the customer will not mind me sharing this story as it could save a costly repair bill for other guitarists who wish to experiment. And I haven't forgotten that we were all young and naive once!
Week ending 12th January 2007
Getting rid of my backlog of work last week allowed me to start a new project which was kicked off by a customer recently wanting a baritone guitar. Ordering a ready-made Telecaster baritone neck before Christmas and modifying his guitar to accept the neck allowed me to find out (at the customers' expense!) the pros and cons of this exercise. That sounds rather dramatic but, for the first time I was entering into uncharted waters. I am a great sceptic and very often what it says on the tin, I take with a pinch of salt - no pun intended. So with the neck being sold as a retrofit, the first question I was asking related to scale length and the possible need to re-position the bridge. Once I got the guitar on the bench and measured the geometry for intonation it was obvious that these 'retro fit baritones' are truly taking into account where the original bridge is (at 25.5") and so my fears of having to re-site the bridge were allayed. As the baritone is set 5 semitones lower than a normal guitar, it takes some getting used to the moody lower and middle overtones associated with this instrument. The weight of strings is similar to 12-gauge acoustic, so it plays very well. Now that this project has been completed and the guitar tailor-made and set-up to the customer's requirements, the experience has left me wanting more - in effect to build them as part of my new venture. Incorporating the Peter Allen original headstock designs into a baritone neck won't be affected by the scale length, which can be a similar measurement. Now, that's far removed from the evil rumour circulating that I had given up the business of setting up and making guitars!
Week ending 5th January 2007
This week I was able to get rid of the backlog of guitars from before Christmas.
Again, this week I had two different customers turn up with the same scenario. The first customer had an acoustic which he had fitted with a Midi trigger - the magnetic type. The guitar set up well but when it came to trying out the Synth /Midi, the string balance was at odds with the type of string used. As he played it acoustically he wanted the warm sounding strings. A great many customers overlook the fact that brass or bronze strings only have the magnetism of the core centre, giving poor output for magnets. Sound-hole magnetic pickups are usually biased to compensate for this internally or by pole pieces like the 'Sunrise' pickup. So in the case of the acoustic guitar, the two treble strings were overpowering compared to the quiet low-level output of the bass side and there were no pole pieces to adjust. This was relatively easy to resolve by adjusting the sensitivity of the strings on the Midi unit. The second customer had bought himself a jazz cello guitar which had originally been sold with nickel wound strings - the correct ones for the guitar. Because he wanted a more mellow sound he opted for putting on some Martin 13 to 56 gauge recommended by his local shop. He told me his problem was that the strings were out of balance because the top two treble strings were overpowering even when the pole pieces were adjusted to compensate. Changing the strings to nickel wound solved the problem and had me adjusting the pole pieces all the way back to where they were originally set. After re-setting the neck angle and remaking the bridge, this guitar was set up with a great action. The one thing that was a surprise to the customer was the suggestion/demonstration of using the 'tone controls' to warm the sound up (especially on the bridge pickup). His reply is typical of so many players - "I never thought of that, I have never used the tone controls in the past".
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