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Archive - Jan 2008 to Dec 2008 Tales from Workshop
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Christmas Day - 25th December 2008
Christmas Day - 25th December 2008
And finally, it's another year over - and very successful one thanks to the patronage of my customers. Many guitar techs only see their customers once in a lifetime, yet many of my customers seem like old friends because they keep coming back for health checks and other new work and set-ups. So it's a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all - including the fanbase of readers of this blog, many of whom I have never met (yet!).
Further to last week's blog, my customer was finally able to collect his Strat with the 45 mm wide nut and string spacing at 7.75mm, similar to his Taylor acoustic. He had the last laugh when he phoned me up and said "Peter, what have you done to this guitar?" Well, that threw me on the defensive - "Why? What's wrong?" I asked - to which he replied "Nothing, only that it sounds fantastic and I can't put it down!"
So here is the guitar - seen below - and one very pleased customer to end 2008.
Pic ref. above 25th December 2008
Week ending 17th December 2008
What happened to last weeks blog ? Well ..last week I was in New York, I have to say that I picked up a nasty cold on the plane back and, coupled with jet lag, I seem to be a little slower off the starting blocks than usual. As for Christmas - I have found that it's been difficult to plan work load as it's sat right in the middle of the week!
One experience I want to forget was the night I arrived in New York and sub-contractors started digging the road up outside the hotel at 8pm. This literally went on for hours until they hit a massive power cable at 2am and it exploded several times sending bits into the air like a firework display - maybe an arc furnace would have been nearer the truth. Then the Fire Department arrived with several trucks and this power cable and ground was literally glowing bright red. I finally dozed off at 4am - Welcome to New York!
On the plus side - I took time out to see the infamous 'Mannies' Guitar Shop, which is a legend I was a little disappointed after all I had heard - its now called Sam Ask Music Store but they still keep the 'Mannies' Sign. Directly opposite was a shop run by Rudy Pensa which didn't mean much until the penny dropped and I realised that it was the origin of Mark Knofler's 'Pensa-Suhr' guitar. It was built in Rudy Pensa's Music Shop and was one of the first guitars built by John Suhr, who apparently then went to work with Fender. I have to say the guys there were very friendly and you could tell it was a quality guitar shop.
Just before I left the UK I put a final coat of lacquer on a 'custom made neck' for a Fender USA Strat. My customer asked me to build him one with the same dimensions around the nut area as his acoustic Taylor. He couldn't get on with the narrow Fender string spacing because he had larger fingers. So the first job when I got back was to take the lacquer off the frets and dress them and build it up into a guitar ready for his Christmas present to himself! The rotary tone control threw me a curve as it didn't function properly and had an inoperative tone control - the customer had followed the directions relating to a Standard Strat. His was a Fat Strat and the extra leaf on the 5-Way Switch had him guessing where to fit the wires. It's like the reverse of that bomb disposal thing you watch on TV with choosing 2 wires to cut. Then on to remedy the tone control - after a quick call to Award Session I decided to experiment with several capacitors and the job was complete.
Week ending 5th December 2008
I had a beautiful 12 string Guild that came in this week for a transducer to be fitted. I opened up the case only to find that the bridge-plate was literally hanging half-off. I was able to slide a piece of paper more than 50% of the way under the back of the bridge plate!
Just standing there in close proximity made me nervous of likelihood it might part company at any minute. There is an extra amount of tension on 12 strings guitars and I once remember one coming apart in my music class a school - it was more of an explosion! - and it left behind a nasty irreparable mess.
When I got this bridge-plate off it revealed that the glue had stuck to the wood but the surface layers of the spruce had parted company. See pics below. With all that tension on the adhesive, it is still possible for delamination to occur and this is why many manufactures use the 'belt and braces' approach to fitting the bridge-plate. This is usually done by using wood adhesive with the addition of either 2 or 3 bolts that have washers and nuts on the inside. To disguise the bolts, a mother of pearl inlay is added to make it look nice. This job went reasonably well except that - as careful as I am - the fine spatula knife I use for this operation separated just a bit too quickly and I gashed my thumb! It's always the way when you use a bit of heat to soften the glue - the knife is being eased along and all of a sudden it releases!
Putting things back together was more difficult because the length of time it had been left in a poor state of repair had caused the bridge-plate to warp out of shape. Getting both surfaces to mate is more difficult on older guitars because there is always more bellying of the soundboard to take into account. In the end I was pleased with my results with just one niggle - the treble side bolt had to be placed about a 1mm over to avoid the brace inside. Other than that slight symmetry issue the guitar was back to good-as-new.
The saddle slot was too thin for the B-Band transducer so this has to be machined wider to accommodate it but, actually, I believe it sounded better and I don't think this was just psychological. The customer was also pleased with the sound from the B-Band I fitted and he now wants his Martin fitted with the same.
Pic ref. above 5th December 2008
Week ending 28th November 2008
I often get people seeking the 'holy grail' of a low action but find they have different ideas of what is actually meant by a low action.
Recently I had someone else's customer relating how low he wanted the string to be on the last fret of his bass fretboard. Looking a little deeper, this could mean that, with massive relief in the neck, his frets in the middle of the fretboard would be further away than the distance at the last fret! This is not a low action or the way to set the action height. The same customer said that he was looking for a parallel action - i.e. the same string height all the way along the fretboard. There has to be relief in the neck - dead straight necks don't play well because they don't accommodate the vibrating string.
I know that the customer's pre-conceived idea of how the string should be, meant his expectation of great playability could not be met within these criteria, so I declined to take on the work. There is no point trying to do the impossible.
The height of the string is often measured at the 12th fret and it's the height from the TOP of the fret to the UNDERNEATH of the string. Misconception and optical illusion sometimes causes people to think that the action is from the wood to the string but this is incorrect.
Therefore, you could have one guitar with a low action from the top of the fret to the string which (because of the tall fretwire) is actually further away from the wood than a guitar with low/worn frets and a higher action. You might say this guitar set-up had a high action! This takes some understanding and may cause you to read this section twice. I have included pictures to show what I mean. See pics below to explain.
Sometimes I get guitars that have been set with the action too low and I'm asked to rectify the problems this causes. A common example is when the customer has had work done in the following fashion:
The guitar is strung up and relief adjusted, the strings lowered until they buzz and then lifted up again until they just stop buzzing! This way of setting a low action is doomed from the start because the height is related to the condition of the frets in that area and is set at an almost unplayable position - to the edge of its limit. The first time the weather (humidity & temperature) changes they are likely to find the guitar buzzes and is unplayable. Secondly the strings are likely to be at differing heights - again the wrong procedure
Can you play a guitar with a low action?
Well, this depends on your style and if you play hard a low action will not work for you as the amplitude of the string will undoubtedly cause it to buzz and rattle about. If you play lightly and use the volume of the amp you can get away with fast and light techniques and a low action.
What to do to achieve a low action?
This is the secret of my success and, given that the customer plays with a light touch, there is a limit I go to in reducing the action height. All this is done AFTER dressing the frets. Once the frets are even and level the setting up work is straight forward. This is one of the reasons that guitars I have worked on are easier to re-set afterwards - even by someone else - so it does sometimes happen that others may get the benefit/take the credit for my investment and past craftsmanship. (The listing of low action heights are listed on my products page ) So, I had a 5 string bass player whose guitar was set far too low - lower than I would set a Vintage Stratocaster with the exception of the 5th string (which was almost 50% higher than the others) and he had problems with it buzzing and volume output per string. Could I help? Well yes, but only if I do things my way. If I am asked for something I cannot deliver I will not do the job. Bass strings, particularly, need room to breathe and setting them lower than the normal Strat & Les Paul makes me wonder what planet some people are on, it's only going to end in tears in the long run!
The amount of work I have had in recently means I cannot take on any more work until about the 18th December. If you contact me for set-up work, I will have to put you on my waiting list.
Pic ref. above 28th November 2008
Week ending 21st November 2008
There is always something to write about and this week I was all set to explain what a low action is and then I hit a problem. They say a problem shared is a problem halved - and in this case it could be, for you, a problem solved as well!
First off, I had a very noisy 1983 vintage Strat come in - loads of mains hum and crackle. First I shielded the electrics to reduce the noise and then, taking a quick look at the electrics, I noticed that there was no earth loop running from pot to pot. What I mean by an earth loop is a piece of soldered wire that runs from component to component body and all the way on to the jack socket. Fender had played the economy game and bolted everything to an aluminium plate. This practice is not uncommon and is still used on the jazz bass & telecaster - although they have chrome face plates. I soldered an earth loop and the noise in 1983 Strat guitar was drastically reduced.
Some feedback from the week before was a customer that had brought in a Flying V which cut in and out intermittently. I thought I had resolved the fault with the electrics, everything indicating it was a combination of a dirty switch and a worn jack socket. I cleaned the switch and replaced the jack socket and it was working fine both when the work was done and when the customer collected it. However, I got a call during the week saying that the 'V' was being played at a gig and had died after the 3rd number. The sound went down to 10% power and came back when he pressed the scratchplate! One clever wag, overhearing my phone conversation with the customer, offered the advice to replace everything! Well, that's ok if it's a component fault but would not have worked on a straight swap in this case.
I went through the rest of the week wondering what the fault could be and then, when I got it back, found that the sparse wiring and lack of earth loop I had found on the Strat just happened to be the same problem with the Flying V! When the customer came in, sure enough, the sound cut out and crackled when the scratchplate was pushed. On taking the scratchplate/controls out, I could not see a short or a wire out of place and the soldered joints were good. There was an earth wire to the jack socket body BUT nowhere else! It was clear that Gibson believed that the aluminium foil on the back of the scratchplate was sufficient to make a good contact. The problem with this thinking is that the contact is a DRY one and, as metals oxidise (powder), they produce resistance. The shake proof washers on the volume controls & tone had cut through the aluminium foil and into the plastic so no wonder there was a problem! I soldered an earth loop to all the components and the job was sorted out. If you have this intermittent problem it might be you, too, are the victim of the manufacturer's cost-cutting. Typically the Fender Jazz Bass will cut in and out if the jack socket is loose, because it's a dry joint. A wet or soldered joint is always preferable. I won't forget this in a hurry.
The explanation about low actions will have to wait until next week!
Week ending 14th November 2008
Finally, the feedback comments from the 'The Glued-in Neck Guitar' ref. 31st October 2008.
"Wow!! Received and unpacked the guitar. Looks and feels superb - thank you!!
Had the chance over the weekend to play the guitar properly (actually I had difficulty putting it down!) The neck is wonderful to play, and has made the guitar a really excellent instrument. The pick-up configuration is really quite simple, but extremely effective - high gain to Strat-like sounds in one range. Thank you - you have done an amazing job!"
"For your testimonial page, I would be pleased to contribute with the following comments, "An amazing job - above and beyond what I expected! Has turned a good looking guitar, into a wonderfully playable instrument to savour and enjoy! Thank you!!" ........Stephen S.
In the past week I had several customers coming back with their guitars for re-set. They felt the guitar 'didn't feel right' and it was not how it was originally set. In a couple of instances, the cause was a spur of the moment decision to change their gauge of string. I don't mind reiterating this, but my set-ups are done so that the truss rod is in perfect balance for the gauge and type of string asked for and I don't charge for re-setting within a 12 month period of the set-up (excluding strings and admin & transit costs for mail order).
To take one example of what happened recently:
I set up the customer's Strat with 11 to 48 gauge strings but he found it too difficult to bend the strings and didnt really get the extra tone he was told about on various 'forums' so changed down to 10 to 46. At first he didn't notice much difference except the trem didn't work properly - clue number 1. Some weeks later, he joined a band where the singer needed everyone to play at Eb (a semitone lower than standard pitch). He now found that the guitar was unplayable, with buzzing on all strings, and he couldn't use the tremolo, except to low pitch - final clue!
He phoned me and I explained to him that the truss rod probably needed to be adjusted. He adjusted it himself to 'tide him over' and, when he eventually brought it in, it had a very high action and the neck bowed forwards with buzzing when played in the centre of the fretboard - clearly the truss rod was over adjusted because, if you can see a curve in the neck, it's too much.
So - what is going on and how does it all work?
The formula is simple and needs to be thought of a 'balancing act' - see picture below.
The main reason that many people do get away with changing gauge of string is that their guitar probably has a higher action to start with so they don't notice the difference so much.
Another of my customers also wanted to play in Eb (less tension on the truss rod). After asking my advice, he shifted the gauge in the opposite direction - i.e. 9 to 46 to 10 to 52 (more tension on the truss rod) and it seemed to work as a temporary measure. When he came in to see me there was still a slight change in the neck curve to the original set-up but not as bad as it would have been without the compensated higher string tension.
This rough estimate can work for some but not others and there is also another overriding factor - the composition of the string! To elaborate:
A bass player came to me and wanted to change from Nickel wound to Flat Wound strings of the same gauge. Seems OK on the face of it but it highlighted to me the tremendous difference in tension! He did the right thing and asked me to fit and adjust for them - to my surprise, the Flat Wound strings at the SAME GAUGE pulled the neck forwards! The answer is obvious when you think about it - Flat Wound are also referred to as 'Ribbon Wound' and, as there is less air and more metal mass within the string because the ribbon is tightly wound, it is therefore a denser mass than a Round Wound.
The only unknown quantity is the natural tension in the neck-stock wood. Unfortunately, some necks are naturally very floppy and others very stiff. Sometimes this is due to how the timber is cut - whether the neck is slab sawn or quarter sawn. The whys and wherefores can be debated at length but I think I have put forward enough food for thought about what effect a change of string gauge can have without due understanding of the situation
In summary: the truss rod balance is about
a) an effective truss rod
b) string gauge - weight/mass
c) natural wood - neck-stock tension
Pic ref. above 14th November 2008
Week ending 7th November 2008
This week I had a customer phone me to apologise because he had used another shop & technician to fit his own Bare Knuckle Pickups into a cheap Vintage LP and he now wanted me to sort it out because the pickups had fallen into the guitar!
He told me he had also asked for the guitar to be wired/work like Peter Green's guitar - i.e. 'out of phase'. What I found was that the tech (for reasons only known to him) hadn't used the screws supplied but had drilled the ears out of the pickup! He had then fitted two nuts onto his own screws and 'hot melt' glued them in place! Actually, if he had put the nuts on the other side of the PU ears they wouldn't have fallen into the guitar ..but still - an incorrect repair and a recipe for disaster.
When I looked inside the control cavity of the guitar I found a low powered soldering iron had been used, which had failed to solder properly and caused dry joints everywhere. The 'wired like Peter Green's guitar ' was a non starter as there was only one conductor per pickup so it couldn't be done, although the customer was led to believe that it had.
To sort it out I repaired the damaged ears by soldering on brass plates, then drilling and tapping for new screws of the correct size. I then sent one of the pickups to Aaron Armstrong for him to slit the can and re-wire it with four conductor wires, allowing all options upon fitting. When it was back I sorted the phase out and re-wired it with a push/pull switch for the customer to change from normal Les Paul to the 'Peter Green out of phase' sound. I was just pleased I could help out the customer.
The subject of fitting pickups has raised its head several times over the past few weeks. One customer had no sound on the top two treble strings because the neck of his guitar had been knocked out of alignment with the body. Another customer had fitted Strat PU's to a Baldwin Burns and had a similar problem except that the string spacing was totally incorrect (see pics) and the 3rd was 10 dB louder than the rest of the strings due to the staggered pole pieces. For this one I recommended a bladed type from Seymour Duncan (Single coil sized - stacked Humbucker). Another customer had a Strat with a Dimarzio 49mm Pole piece spacing in the bridge and that too had poor sound from the strings not running over the pole pieces - even with 52mm PU spacing it was tight. Then there was that glued in neck guitar I finished last week, that had the correct PU's put in but in the wrong positions and therefore string to magnetic poles didn't match. Phew! And only a couple of days ago a customer emailed me to ask if he could move the neck PU to the bridge because it sounded better than the bridge PU: I replied :
Basically, it's not the bridge pickup's fault but 'where it is'. Years ago, there was a guitar on the market that has two rails and only one PU and you could move the pickup from the neck or any point along it ...all the way to the bridge to alter the sound!. Now, if in theory, we could do this with your neck PU, it would not sound the same in the bridge as it does in the neck. WHY? Well, it's because of the string vibration changes, depending on where you are along its length. There is more skipping rope /amplitude effect at the neck area so that the sound is bigger & more rounded and mellow. BUT in the bridge area the string has only a small distance of travel/vibration and so it sounds thinner and it's weaker! The whole reason they wrap more turns on the Bridge PU to make it more powerful. To get a bigger sound in the Strat /Tele Bridge position means fitting a mini humbucker like the Hot Rails which produces a fatter/thicker sound.
So, in conclusion make sure the strings run over the pole pieces and don't think all techs produce the same quality of work.
Pic ref. above 7th November 2008
Continued ............ 7th November 2008
Week ending 31st October 2008
And finally.......I got to find out what the 'glued in neck guitar' really sounds like!
To summarise, I have been working on this guitar over the past few months although initially I refused to do the job and wanted to send it back. However, the customer so wanted this guitar to work that I took it on and here is the finished product - see below.
Problems that I encountered along the way were:
- The truss rod wouldn't straighten the neck because it was incorrectly installed.
- There was an upturn at the end of the fretboard, partly caused by massive leverage on the neck.
- There wasn't enough string down pressure at the headstock to keep the strings in the nut slots due to the shallow headstock rake angle design!
- Two of the tuners were wrong handed (back-to-front).
- The neck to body rake angle was incorrect, giving a high action even with the tremolo sat flat on the body.
- The Wilkinson trem failed to work except for downshift - because it was sat on the deck.
- The radius of the fretboard was less than 7" making it impossible to get a low action contrary to my customer's objectives.
- Finally, the pickups had been fitted the wrong way round (neck in bridge and vice-versa) - the strings didn't run over the pole pieces and were wired incorrectly for the type pickups and switch.
After sorting everything out, I cut and polished the guitar and rebuilt it with some of the original parts. Because I sensed the customer wanted 'options' in pickup selection, with a little thought and using both sides of the 5-way switch wafer, I got the layout as pictured below - so simple yet so effective. The end result is that, by flipping the switch from one end to the other, you go from a FULL Bridge humbucker to a Tapped Bridge Single coil. One of the 'in-between' positions now gives a typical 'Strat sound' and its position is mirrored on the opposite side of the switch to a 'Les Paul sound' with BOTH humbuckers on.
It seems so logical as a layout that I cant understand why I haven't seen it before. I now have both single coil from each humbucker giving that 'Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing sound' often referred to as the out of phase sound (it's not really out of phase) OR the Les Paul with BOTH humbuckers on. I think I will use this on one of my own guitars.
I need to see how this guitar settles in the next week before shipping it back - maybe an excuse for me to play it a bit before I let it go!
Pic ref. above 31st October 2008 part 1
Continued........ 31st October 2008 part 2
Week ending 24th October 2008
A colleague in Florida once told me 'if you're good at what you do you are always busy.' I guess the proof of that is my steady flow of customers - the downside being that that you may not always be able to get work done exactly as soon as you want it. I do have people saying they will wait until I'm not busy before bringing their guitar in - the problem being I can't say when that will be. However, whenever I take work in I always give a promise of when it will be ready to collect and I make sure that I stick to that date - even if it means burning the midnight oil if a job turns out not to be as straightforward as I thought!
This planned system of working - giving customers 'promise dates' and sticking to them - has worked very well for a very long time but things got thrown a bit into disarray this week because several customers were asking how things were going the day after they'd dropped the job off and asking could they have them back sooner than the agreed 'promised delivery date'. To try and accommodate them, I had to move out jobs for more easy going customers who weren't going to collect early and then work until midnight to extend the working day.
I had 3 guitars for one customer this week and they all looked as if they needed a bit extra work. I was wrong - they needed a lot of extra work! Loose frets, 2 necks in at wrong angles - I needed my tenacity to get me through the work load this week!
As I have said, I always try to accommodate customers' needs whenever possible but, under the circumstances, it was a very difficult week.
My normal working week is:
Saturday - working day. Popular for collections & deliveries, especially with people travelling to me from some distance away and those who work away during the week. This means I don't usually get much 'bench work' done on Saturdays.
Sunday & Monday - days off (my 'weekend')
Tuesday - Friday 'normal' working days.
So you can see that guitars dropped off on a Saturday won't get touched until Tuesday or Wednesday. The reason for explaining all this is that you can now see that phoning up on Tuesday or Wednesday to see if a guitar dropped off on Saturday is ready is the same as phoning up on Wednesday about one dropped off on Tuesday - i.e. it's the equivalent to phoning up the next day!
Anyway, the week's work got sorted out in the end and the one big job - 'the glued in neck' - got its final stages of lacquer work done. Lacquering's a slow process because the lacquer has to harden off between coats. If you try and rush it, it becomes a mess - but this is looking good so far. The one thing that is not understood is that doing a neck joint is relatively easy if there is no damage to paint/stain. If there is, the over-shading to blend in has to be taken onto the body. This causes over-spray and 'contour' or 'witness lines' - where the old lacquer meets the new, so the only way to get round this is to put a 'pull-over' coat on the body at the same time. Then there will be no 'join' lines between old and new. As you can see here - below , I am near finished and hope to build it up by next weekend - looking forward to it!
Pic ref. above 24th October 2008
Week ending 17th October 2008
The faulty CF Martin came back to me after having a neck re-set at their UK repair shop. I must say that they did a very good job at taking the neck off - virtually no signs of where they had been. The customer asked me 'Was it ok?' - I said it was in the 'ball park' and I could now make it work. Whilst the neck was set correctly in relation to the bridge plate, there was still an upturn at the end of the fingerboard. As a result I took 0.2mm off those frets from 18th to 20th and the guitar is now ready for the customer to collect.
I guess that word has got out about me being back down to a 5 day turnaround because it only lasted 2 days! The work came flooding in to such an extent I am now looking to the end of the month before I take on any new customers. What I didn't expect was that customers would bring in 2 and 3 guitars at once. I 'm not knocking it - I just didn't expect it, what with the credit crunch and all the doom and gloom recently.
The 'glued in neck' is still in the process of matching colours and so there is nothing to show this week except that the chipped lacquer has been repaired.
Pic ref. above 17th October 2008
Week ending 10th October 2008
It's rare that I get a guitar come back to me the day after it's gone out but this is what happened at the weekend. I got a call from a guy who had had a Pro Set-up and a paint job on the neck, combined with replacing both pickups. His problem was static noise from the new PU's which he supplied from Gibson for his Les Paul. The physical/cosmetic difference between the old and new pickups was that the new ones didn't metal covers - 'cans' are reputed to reduce the clarity and treble.
I also thought it was a good move as the 80's PU's seem dull and lifeless (email me if you know why). I did the replacement by the book and they worked fine. What I hadn't banked on was the 80's Gibson trick of not putting on a string earth, but shielding the controls with a metal can instead. If the replacement PU's had been covered, the customer wouldn't have noticed a difference from his old ones. I was really annoyed with myself for not remembering this issue - it was some years ago I resolved a similar issue because the metal cover inside the cavity had long been discarded and the problems of noise increased. At least when he told me about the problem I immediately knew both the cause and the solution!
The solution to the Les Paul problem is simple, yet needs a little bit of care.
The post to the stop-tail piece needs to be removed so a wire can be inserted. This can be simple or a swine to remove! As this guitar goes back to the 1980's the wood is nice and dry and had partnered the inserted ferrule, so it needed a bit of persuasion to come out. It needs a big soldering iron, an old post, a phone directory and a claw hammer!
I stripped the hardware to expose the ferrule and the first thing that needed to be done was to clean any paint covering the top of the ferrule. By lightly scoring around the hole I know it won't lift the paint off the guitar when extracted. Next I used a 100 watt soldering iron to heat up the circumference of the ferrule - to sweat it away from the wood. When it's nice and hot I put in the old post and lightly hammer sideways at all points of the compass to make a bit of room to pull it out. Once this has been done I then enlist the help of the claw hammer and one of those old phone directories - to protect the top- to pull the ferrule out. This guitar was a real pig and I had to have two goes before it came clear. It's always a good idea to tap it slightly further in to start with - just to break the seal of corrosion around the ferrule.
With the ferrule out of the way I could now drill a small hole from inside post hole thought to the cavity and the job was almost done. It's a matter of stripping the wire back and wedging it in place as the original post is refitted. On the other side - inside the cavity - it's just a case of soldering a wire into the earth loop /pot case and the job is done ........ short of fitting the metal cover most techs seem to throw away!
I guess next time I'll remember this experience and not let an uncovered PU from an 80's les Paul go out without a string earth fitted. Self criticism is always an asset.
As a P.S. - I often get people say that there is a problem with the electrics because the hum dies away when they touch the strings. It's because of the string earth that this happens. It seems like I am being sarcastic when I say it's fine because you can't play the guitar without touching the strings - but it's true and the reason that the string-earth is there!
The 'glued in neck' has finally been glued / re-united with the body. Pics below.
The new fret ends were cut off and chamfered, the headstock shaped, and the rough carving has been sanded and prepared ready for lacquering and staining. No, I didn't get that the wrong way round! A clear lacquer base-coat has been applied for staining/shading/bursting because IF it's done the wrong way round the stain will bleed into the wood and it cannot be sanded off easily like it can when sprayed onto a sealer base-coat. The other problem is the original coloured body already had chips around the neck joint before it came to me - a problem with the original finishing. Now I have to repair the original colour and match the same colour on the neck-stock. Once this is done, I will be able to darken the shading around the joint and hopefully it will blend/disappear! This is a slow process of layers but I am hoping it should be finished next week.
Pic ref. above 10th October 2008 part1
Continued........ 10th October 2008 part2
Week ending 3rd October 2008
Good news for the customer whose guitar got rejected last week, the retailer agreed with my report and sent the guitar back to CF Martin!
On a different guitar, I diagnosed a faulty (open circuit) PU at the weekend, sent it off for rewinding and got it sent back to me in double quick time ready for collection tomorrow. What service! Good service also, last week from the people at Tanglewood Guitars UK, who were very good in providing cover for a faulty transducer above and beyond the call of duty. The customer was also happy with the outcome.
It's a misconception that a wound Pickup that has a broken winding will not sound. On the contrary, the wire that has broken is often trapped in other layers of wire and the ends cannot separate, so there is just enough of a dry joint across the wires to allow a signal to come through the amp. The sound is typically thin and low in volume. I once remember a customer bringing an old Hofner with humbuckers and asking my opinion on the pickups. He complained that even though his 150 watt valve amp was FULL on, he could only just hear the guitar and was it supposed to be like that? I put the ohms meter on it and the only reading was from the pots - Both pickups were dead and he returned it to his eBay seller. Had they worked properly he would have deafened himself!
One job that should have been straightforward fell at the last hurdle this week! I did a Pro set-up on a Brian May guitar and when it was almost finished I pushed the tremolo arm in, tried to use it and found it fitted as well as a toilet brush! Grrrrrrr! The culprit was the nasty piece of plastic tube which wasn't a good fit to start with. Then the Allen key adjuster had been tightened and had punched a hole in the side of it, cutting into the trem arm. (See Pic below.) I had to take the tremolo apart, turn a new sleeve from Delrin and fit it, then reassemble the tremolo and set the guitar up all over again. This will be another problem to look out for next time I have one in.
The rebuild of the 'glued in neck' has moved a few paces forwards and this week I managed to carve the back of the neck and straighten up the sides. (Pictures below)
I took the frets out and then checked out what sort of state the neck was really in. First impressions were that it was pretty poor with undulation in it - I suppose only to be expected, given that I have heated it, steamed it, levelled the base and glued it! Furthermore, the radius was at 7" which is absolutely wrong for what the customer wants from it. That has to change. Initially, the customer had an Ibanez professionally set up and he wanted the same action on this guitar. The 7" radius chokes off on bends when set with a very low action. I believe it's one of the reasons Fender changed from 7.25" to 9.5". With the frets removed I was able to create a compound radius that starts at a 7.25" @ fret 1 and ends up between 10" to 12" @ fret 24. At the same time, I levelled out all those high and low spots and then it was ready to refret. I measured the fretwire to mimic the original and cleaned out the slots and refretted it, gluing the frets in for the best transmission of sound. Now I have to wait for the glue to dry before the next phase. More next week.
Pic ref. above 3rd October 2008
Week ending 26th September 2008
Wow! What a blinding week! I had that many people coming to me this week that I over- booked myself with work. Luckily, there are a few set-ups that require PU changes and mods that will take me into next week, so I won't be working the nightshift! Sometimes, I have to play receptionist, which I did all day Friday - one of those days where I thought of replacing the Fire Door with a revolving one! Basically, I didn't do a stroke of work on the bench but I did get to meet lots of customers.
Points to comment on this week were:
I got an emergency call on Sunday to look at a Lowden that 2 other guitar techs before me had tried to sort out but uneven frets and a loose truss rod did it no justice. Maybe the other techs couldn't find the truss rod, which is tucked up inside like the Larrivee. At least they supply a bent Allen key to get to it without taking the strings off. Anyway, it eventually turned out to be a great guitar
Then I had an Explorer with the action set so low that it buzzed. The nut had been cut too deep and it was fitted with 11 to 54 strings. The slots should have been cut wider rather than deeper and, consequently, I had to replace the nut.
Then I got one of those nasty jobs I hate doing! It was a brand new CF Martin Acoustic which the customer had taken back to the shop several times to ask for the action to be lowered but had been told it was alright! I checked the guitar out and it was clear that the neck had been put in at the wrong angle in manufacture and would take great skill and expense to rectify, so no wonder the shop was reluctant to do anything about it. In this case I am also reluctant to go to the trouble and expense of doing a repair as it is a manufacturing fault, the guitar is virtually brand new and the onus in this case is on the supplier. I have written a report for the customer and we will wait to see what happens on this. The moral here is that a top quality name doesn't guarantee a perfect guitar every time.
I did manage to move along with the rebuild of the 'glued in neck job'. After last weeks' machining it to fit the body, I steamed the fingerboard straight and left it for a few days to dry out. The interesting thing here was thinking my way through this problem. I cut and shaped the headstock, drilled out the machine head holes and fitted one machine head for the 1st string. I then loose-fitted a make-shift nut and checked the intonation relative to string height. It seemed very odd tapping the fretboard along the neck to get the correct intonation! Once I found the right place I marked it and was then able to peg it and prep for gluing. With knowing the final place of the fretboard, I could jig up the neck stock and route a slot in it to take a two way truss rod. Now, here is one of my trade tricks; as you will see in the picture the truss rod is fitted in place. The previous tech's idea was to protect/wrap the truss rod in masking tape but this didn't stop it rusting! The issue is ensuring protection while not impeding its use - glue can go everywhere. Here you will see that I use PTFE tape (used by plumbers). The tape is one of the slipperiest substances known to man, and it's very thin. By wrapping the truss rod in this tape it ensures that it's protected from glue and will still maintain is function without getting stuck. Once fitted, the Vacuum press comes into operation and boy! - does it do a nice job! I must add that I had pencilled in Friday to do the neck carving but you know what happened to my Friday!
More next week.
Pic ref. above 26th September 2008
Week ending 12th September 2008
Just before my holiday I had a problem taking a neck out of a solid body guitar. I ended up having to cut it out because the maker had used waterproof glue, which is impossible to break apart. I then had to find some birds-eye maple wood to make a new neck and fit it to the body. Usually, you can machine wood to be almost exact and then hand finish for total accuracy but when you're trying to make a new neck fit an old body both have to be machined without error. First, I machined the neck socket out of the guitar body. To do this I made neck and body joint templates which fitted perfectly and, by using a laser line. I set the neck and body in relation to the tremolo, which was already fitted. If I build a new guitar, the tremolo is fitted afterwards, in line with the neck, so doing things the other way round is a whole heap more difficult so I always use the rule 'measure twice and cut once' or is that 'measure six times!'.......
Anyway, I machined the body out and then I tested the neck blank (taking nothing for granted) to a depth of 1mm and woah!!!! ..It's out by 0.5mm - which may not seem a lot but is a serious problem. Clearly, I found the problem to be the router table and pin in relation to the cutter.
The brief back-story to this is that I bought the Router from my friend Patrick James Eggle before he moved to the USA (He's back now and makes astounding guitars in Shrewsbury - his details on my Guitar Maker page) but transporting the router meant taking the table off and there lay the problem. It hasn't mattered so much before, as hand finishing has eradicated any error, but now utmost accuracy is required I've had to fix the problem.
Over the weekend I was down at the Cheltenham Acoustic Show helping out a friend on the Sheehan's stand and while I was there I bumped into Mark Bailey who I have not seen since shortly after leaving The Eggle Factory in Coventry in 1994
click here for Mark Bailey Guitars
. Mark now runs courses in guitar building and I was a little surprised and very pleased to find how well he had done for himself. Well done Mark! One of the reasons for mentioning him was something Mark said whilst demonstrating acoustic wood bending. He explained how guitar makers have to adapt tools and techniques, which led me to this weeks blog about how I resolved the router table issue.
I had to make a jig for setting it up by getting some ½" steel bar and fitting a dial gauge onto it. Using an old angle-pose lamp base (I never throw any thing away!) I managed to drill out the post hole to the same ½" and use a piece of angle to harness the Dial Gauge. Tapping in a 3mm cap head, ensured the dial gauge stayed put.
You can see the picture below of it in situ and, by rotating it to all 4 compass points, I was soon able to get within 0.002" in line. That is accurate enough and, although I would have preferred exact, I am a realist! One of the issues to make the pin not central is the pin locking method which pushes from one side, so it's never going to be perfect - only very close to it.
Pictures below it show the new neck in place - I still have a way to go on this project.
Pic ref. above 19th September 2008
Week ending 12th September 2008
One of the first guitars I had to deal with was a Walden Acoustic. The action was high on both the treble and bass sides but I could see that there was an issue with how the neck had been put in, coupled with some heavy bellying on the sound board.
I calculated that I could only set the guitar up if I lowered the bridge-plate on the treble side because it was too tall for the current set-up. What I mean by this is that if I reduced it to the correct height the saddle would not be poking out of the saddle slot! (See picture 4.)
I also found that the much favoured Fishman transducer (coaxial type) was so thick that there was not enough depth to the saddle slot anyway - see pic 1.
Way back on 23rd May 2008 I adjusted the saddle depth on a guitar fitted with one of theses, to allow more of the saddle to fit into the slot (see May 2008 pics for more detail on this procedure) and I had to do the same procedure on this guitar.
You will see from the pictures below that once I had dressed the frets and sorted the neck relief out, I could then take stock of the exact place the strings need to sit. By placing the saddle at the correct height I now can calculate how much wood is to be removed from the bridge-plate. I start by filing a slot that tells me when I have got to the desired level - see pic 4. Once this has been sorted out, I can reshape the plate so it looks original and finish off by re-countersinking the string peg holes - pic 5. It's important to make sure that there is enough depth to the slot to allow for the transducer and about 50% to 60% of the saddle- something that many far eastern manufacturers fail to do.
The final leg of the set-up was to slot the bridge- plate and, because this operation is done in situ, the slot is more parallel to the soundboard. In this case a new saddle was needed because the original was too low on the treble side. Finally, the guitar now has a new lease of life - pic 6. One benefit to the customer was that I had quoted for a new nut because the slots were cut too low. After the set-up the strings cleared the 1st fret so I didn't need to fit a replacement.
Pic ref. above 12th September 2008
Week ending 5th September 2008
Well, I have just come back from a couple of weeks in Canada and find that I have had loads of phone calls and emails while I've been away. Despite having a waiting list before I went, it's not put people off joining the queue - so thank you all very much for your faith in me and your continued business!
I also had one person ask about helping me with my work but the crux of the matter is that, if you take someone on, you first need to spend a lot of time teaching them and you then have to spend time checking their work and correcting it if necessary, which can sometimes take longer than the job itself. All this is necessary to maintain the quality and reputation my business has been built on and I don't have that much time to spare so, for the foreseeable future, I don't intend to expand. I prefer to remain a custom shop specialist service with a reputation for doing things right first time. From the length of my waiting list - and people's acceptance of it - it is clear that, for my past customers, the choice of waiting and going elsewhere is a no brainer and I am thankful to them for their loyalty. I should also say that I am thrilled that the delay/waiting list has not put people off.
So, as a priority, I have set about answering my emails and phone messages. One of the assets I have is a phone log that lists all my incoming calls, so going through the list tells me how many times each person phoned and shows the numbers even if they left no message - I know some people just don't like answer phones! I am then able to ring all the callers back to see how I can help them. I don't work on guitars while I am still getting over jetlag - I wouldn't work on my own guitars in that state so I am surely not going to work on anyone else's! The recuperation time is spent in wearing the receptionist's hat by phoning and emailing customers and arranging appointments and also the purchasing department's hat, ordering in any parts and stock I need. It's not that glamorous but they are still both functions of the guitar repair and building business and, as I prefer to stay a one man band, it means I get to wear all the hats!
Week ending 15th August 2008
One tough week just completed with some difficult jobs. The 60's Telecaster from New York came in and went back out again a different guitar. The problems were poor Bigsby set-up and badly fretted neck - the 12th fret that was buried! I don't know if the person who refretted it had just had a bad phone call but they sure took it out on that particular fret. The frets should have been thin vintage frets but they had been replaced with fat 3mm wide and 1.4mm high beasts. That, together with the fret job made it a pig of a job for me. Normally the frets start out new at 1mm and at 0.5mm your start to think of a refret. The 1.4mm height is often used with lacquered necks so that the height of 1+mm is achieved once the lacquer is built up. I took these frets down to 0.9mm to 1mm to make it feel more comfortable and still give plenfty of life in the guitar. Taking 0.5mm of the height is quite a bit of work, especially when they need reshaping, otherwise you have flat tops to the frets. Lucky that fret reduction is what was asked for and now the 12th fret issue is resolved.
I fitted a B-Band to a Takamine that needed reconstruction surgery before I could do the implant. I can't believe that Takamine used a transducer getting on for the size of a Telecaster neck pickup - fitted from underneath (I exaggerate not). This required an wood insert from underneath - with the aid of a mini camera - then on to a machining job like I did with the left handed acoustic converted to right handed - see 11th July 2008. Eventually, the guitar was up and running and personally, I thought it sounded more natural. Maybe I 'm being bitchy but with all that hardware for a PU it's no wonder it could be improved on.
Then, I had a T5 Taylor that only came in for a 6-month re-check but I found that the amount of leverage on the neck was causing it to creep forwards and the amount of relief I had put into the neck was correct at the time but the neck was now a different shape. There is no other way to deal with this but to do the work again. It's what is called a learning curve and the factor that caused this is the thin Taylor heel section. I came across the effect of the shortened heel in production of the New York model at Patrick Eggle. As a rule, the guitar stays correct when you allow for this leverage - experience over the years tells you what is needed to achieve an effect on each model. Even the type of fingerboard wood affects the flex in the neck. Next time I get a T5 Taylor in, I will make sure that a little extra magic is put in to allow for leverage of the neck. Incidentally, there was no cost to the customer for this. As with all my set-up work, if the neck /geometry changes and an adjustment won't do the trick it means that I start over again. Over the thousands of guitars I have done I now have 3 guitars that have needed a complete rework. Not a bad average bearing in mind it's due to wood movement and not 'pilot error'. Ha-ha
The hand built PRS has taken a turn for the worst. I took out the fillet and truss rod which was caked in masking tape - probably to stop the glue water rusting it - I use PTFE tape which lubricates and protects. The amount of deflection in the truss rod measured less than 1/16th of an inch which was taken up by the double wrap of making tape. No wonder it never worked. I moved on to the body to steam the apart and after several hours the wood saturated but the glue would not come apart. This is a reminder that if you glue things together it may need to come apart and using waterproof PVA glues might be good on the external window frame but for guitar making it sucks, big time. In the end, I decided that there was so much wrong with the neck it had to be destroyed. Now I have to make a new neck - the correct way. It will take a few weeks to normalise the wood after injecting steam into it, so it gives me time to get a nice piece of birds-eye for the neck remake.
Week ending 8th August 2008
I seem to have cleared out an awful lot of guitars this week, which is just as well because I need to focus all my attention on rectifying the badly built guitar I mentioned a couple of weeks ago (the one like a PRS in shape). Having said that, I got a phone call from New York which phased me a bit - it was a tour manager who I did a lot of business with when I first started Guitar Technical Services in 1994, after leaving Patrick Eggle (and no - I'm not going to start name dropping ...). Anyway, just after I had finished helping out a desperate customer on my Sunday off, I found myself agreeing to sort out the tour band's guitar, which will arrive any day now. It wants a little bit of Telecaster customising & a Pro Set-up. Speaking of which, the G W Fest was a little hampered by the damp grass but other than that the weather held out and the event was a success and well supported. I understand that they sold loads of raffle tickets for the customised Telecaster I put up as 1st prize. See picture below of the hand-over. Matt Hernandez - the event's main organiser - told me that the lucky winner was a young lad who first saw the guitar when it was showcased in Bandwagon's shop window and went in to buy it! He was so disappointed when he was told he couldn't buy it, but he could enter the raffle for a mere £1 and then he might win it. And that's just what he did - well done, that young man! One of the helper-organisers said he couldn't help having a play on it before the raffle and told me it was an excellent piece of kit.
I was also prompted into doing something about the frequently requested 'Gift Voucher' for Pro Set-ups, which I have kept putting off. Like a lot of jobs, once I got started it didn't take me long to sort out and here is the link to give a view of it.
, The very next day I found I had sold the first one - that was quick!
I may skip a week or two here or there on the blog over the next month or so. As I mentioned before, I won't be taking on much work now, until mid September - regular 'Petes Customers' being the exception.
Pic ref. above 8th August 2008
Week ending 1st August 2008
Another hectic week has gone by with completion of a 5 string Bass that, for one reason and another, has been with me since February! The customer sourced the parts himself and he had a great deal of trouble getting them from the suppliers. Finally, I got all the parts and was able to complete the job and this week it was ready for shipping back to him. I changed the bridge, the pickups, re-wired it with a new on-board pre-amp and a cosmetic upgrade of wooden knobs. The bridge pickup also needed re-routing from single coil to humbucker shape.
I had my first of the recently revamped, top of the range Fender Stratocasters in this week, too. Just when I thought Fender didn't care about their tremolos, they have sorted it out - thank goodness for that! The problem I have always had with the old block saddle type is that they grip the string and work like a ratchet, so the strings tend to go high when used. I could get round this but if you went for a big bend the thing went badly out of tune. The old vintage 'classic bent steel' saddle has been brought back (hurrah!) and the two pin, knife-edge pivot retained. This brings out the best of both worlds and is a major step forward. I once remember having a conversation with the top technician at Fenders' UK Importers about the 'block saddle' tremolo and eventually he agreed that, if I sent him the problem guitar I had, he would not be able to do any better. I commented to my customer that you would never see Hank Marvin using one, to which he said he did actually see him play one but he spent most of the night's concert preoccupied with what the tremolo was doing to his tuning. That must have been one of the shortest endorsements ever! You only have to look at what Jimi Hendrix did with the vintage tremolo 'classic bent steel' saddles to see how Leo Fender got it right first time. I can truly say I am envious of the owner of this new Stratocaster.
From next week, I will be concentrating on my own guitar builds and also resurrecting a guitar that came to me with its neck glued in at the wrong angle and the truss rod not working.
Pic ref. above 1st August 2008
Week ending 25th July 2008
I often have discussions with customers about tuning and whether a guitar is correctly set-up. In fact, I must say that I would be rich if I had a dollar, euro or pound for every time I had calls or e-mails about tuning difficulties, so I have decided it's worth repeating previous comments on the subject.
This week I had a Gretsch Jet with a Bigsby tremolo. These are interesting and quirky guitars, which means they can throw customers and guitar techs a big curve if they're not familiar with them. This one came in with the bridge stuck down and the customer revealed that the tech wanted to drill holes and screw it down but was persuaded not to - which was lucky as the intonation was out by 15% anyway.
The reason for mentioning this guitar is that there are two parts to the equation in sorting out the intonation:
One small factor that can get overlooked here is the fret height. New Gibson and Fender guitars have a much higher fret, which causes them to get sent out of tune very easily by finger pressure alone. Some players have the bad habit of pressing the strings down too hard - usually the results of original learning technique and something often missed by guitar tutors. The string only needs to be pressed down sufficiently to voice the note. If the string is pressing down until it touches the wood (fingerboard) then the note will increase in pitch and the guitar will wear out quicker. If you try this with the bass E string on the first fret, you will find that the string can be about 4% sharp when lightly fretted but if you press down to the wood, you will see the tuner raising pitch up to 50% or more. This is the key to why new Fender and Gibson guitars with tall fretwire can have the intonation correctly set but be badly out of tune when played between the 1st & 5th frets.
The other big factor is the elasticity within the string, which needs to be removed to make the string stable. I cannot emphasise enough that a string can be ruined by pulling at it - especially wound strings - and I have therefore developed a method of pre-tensioning strings, which is consistent and doesn't damage the string. See
Restring a guitar
When I checked the Gretsch I found that, when the strings were bent, it detuned by 20%. When I pre-tensioned the strings, this cured that part of the problem. I then went on to the next part of the solution:
The Bigsby and Jaguar Tremolos need to find an equilibrium, so when they are set in the correct vertical position for intonation they can be used without the guitar going out of tune. You do this as follows:
After tuning the guitar up to pitch and pre-tensioning the strings (see above)
a) Make sure that the bridge is vertical and not leaning forwards/backwards - especially the pivot bridge types - as this will affect intonation.
b) Pull the tremolo arm up, but not too much (otherwise the strings will be damaged), then depress it as far as it will go and then pull the tremolo arm upwards again. Do this several times and check the condition / stability of the strings on a tuner.
The object of the exercise is to balance the bridge evenly between the back pull and the forward push - the bridge needs to rock to an equilibrium point and then settle. This is why it's important to start with the bridge vertical as in point a) - replacing the strings may pull it forwards!
The tremolo is not designed to have excessive movement and stay in tune. Some tremolos have been up-graded to give smoother, more precise action than the original design. The bridge is a weak link in the system but allowing it to move WITH the strings forwards and backwards allows the guitar to stay in tune. This Gretsch has a roller saddle to reduced drag and friction.
In summary, any tuning problems are likely to be caused by:
a) excessive use of the tremolo arm
b) not pre-tensioning the strings
c) not equalising the bridge vertical position between back pull and forward push and
d) forcing the bridge to become too rigid - e.g. taping it down.
On the Gretsch I removed the tape, mated the surfaces and set the intonation. To help the customer reset the bridge, I made him a quick fix positioning spacer that fits between the Pick-up and Bridge. This means that, should the bridge ever come off he can always refit it in the correct place. See pic below.
On a completely different subject, this week I became aware that my I had inadvertently upset someone in my area by using the word 'local' when referring to shops and technicians. To clarify, when I use the term I am often referring to shops/technicians local to the owner of the instrument rather than local to me. As my customers come from all over the UK and even overseas, I mostly have no idea who has worked on an instrument before me and, even if I did, I would not be so unprofessional as to 'name names'. I am also mindful of protecting my customers' privacy.
Since I started this Blog, it's become even more evident that people may need - and are prepared - to travel to get good service. Just because there may be 'local' services (within, say, 20miles of where you live) it doesn't mean you have to keep going back there for inadequate or poor service. To give a recent example - I had a customer from Liverpool who had already tried shops & technicians locally (i.e. local to him!) without being really satisfied, looked on the internet and liked what he saw of my services, made an appointment and came to see me. This is a regular occurrence which, to me, demonstrates the bigger world out there facilitated by the internet age we live in.
I hope this explains my use of the word 'local' and makes it clear that, contrary to some opinions, it's not there to 'slag people off'. Which brings me back to why I started the Blog in the first place - I just try to show some of the things that I receive in, why they are wrong and what I do to put them right.
As for grammar and terminology, I can only say that I do the best I can. I don't have a degree in English (I think that's obvious) and we are all on a learning curve, so I will do my utmost to not use the term 'local' unless I can't find a better word. For now, and for the sake of keeping the peace, I have been through the Blog & Archives and removed any references to 'local' shops or technicians. I was tempted to go a stage further and change 'technician' to 'someone' but a 'someone' may not know what he or she is doing yet a technician should! - so I will leave it as it is.
For the next month, I am limiting the amount of work I take in, as I need to work on my house and reorganise my workshop. I will take in Health Checks and emergency jobs for regular customers, and carry out assessments, but bigger and/or non-urgent jobs may get deferred until September.
Pic ref. above 25th July 2008
Week ending 18th July 2008
The week started off with a disappointed customer who had taken his Cort G290 into his technician because of a problem with the active Jack Socket. Weeks later, after retrieving the guitar, he found that it was worse than when he had taken it in. With his confidence in that technician lost, he brought it to me and, after looking at the problem, it was clear that the technician had no idea how to wire up the active Jack Socket!
Here is a quick and clear description of how it's done if you don't have an ohms meter:
After the wires have been unsoldered and the new Jack Socket fitted:
1) Hook a guitar lead up to the amplifier with the other end in the empty jack socket. Lick your finger and then touch one of the jack socket contacts. The live contact will make a loud noise/ buzz from the amplifier. This is the where the live wire is soldered.
2) the next wire to attach is the earth lead and this should be very obvious as the contact comes away from the outside body of the Jack Socket - see picture below - and often it is longer and has a earth clamp/crimp.
3) This only leaves a one wire left to solder, which comes from the battery negative and is fitted to the only contact left that has not been soldered - so no clues as to where this goes!
In short, when a customer touches the strings the hum should die away. When it's wired up back to front like this was, a loud hum is produced just like the hum from touching the centre of a live guitar lead.
However, even when I had rewired the guitar and tested it, it was clear that the original problem was still present so I replaced the Jack Socket and now the customer has the guitar back working properly with the crackles from the Jack Socket eliminated. Not all guitar Tech's are technically minded or know what they're doing with wiring!
Apart from the above incident, I found myself having to tell a customer that his prized possession, a custom, hand-made UK PRS clone guitar had been incorrectly put together. In short, the neck was badly bent because the truss rod didn't work properly - i.e. didn't control it - and the neck to body joint was at the wrong angle. Hopefully, in the weeks to come I may show some of the work-in-progress with this guitar to show where some of the fundamental errors in building it have been made.. The first task is to take the fingerboard off the neck so we will see what this guitar maker actually did with the truss rod. Don't get me wrong - I don't have an issue with other Guitar Techs earning a living, and there are some good ones out there, but I do have an issue when someone doesn't do a good job because they risk damaging the reputation of all of us.
Pic ref. above 18th July 2008
Week ending 11th July 2008
After all my years in this business and the thousands of guitars I have seen, I reckon there's nothing much I haven't come across but this week I saw something I've never seen before - and probably won't again! It happened when Bandwagon, my local music store, asked me to do a custom job on one of their guitars.
The customer wanted to take a left-handed Instrument and make it right handed so that he could play it in a left-handed fashion, but upside down. (Yes, you did read that right!)
Basically, this left-handed customer had learned to play right-handed guitars but he fretted them with his right hand and used his left hand for picking. Because left-handed guitars weren't really around when he wanted one in his youth, he accepted a right handed guitar but played it left-handed. His request presented me with the following problems:
Firstly, a new nut obviously had to be made, with the nut slots reversed to accept the correct widths of string.
Then there was the problem of the intonation related to the mass of the strings. It's at this point that most people would make the error of just changing the strings from left to right, or vice-versa, without adjustment. The way in which the saddle position is measured is to take measurements from the nut to the 12th fret and use that figure from the 12th fret to the bridge plate - equal distance. Marking this point shows where the TREBLE side of the saddle should be fitted. The bass side is roughly worked out by adding another 3mm further on so that the saddle has that typical slanted look about it. 'Why are Spanish guitars different?' I hear you ask, and the reason is that all the classical strings have the same amount of mass and therefore do not require the saddle to be set at an angle.
So, for the order of things, see the picture reference below:
A) After taking off the strings, transducer and saddle, I had to machine out the slot in its entire width. I then found a piece of Rosewood to match and glued this in place. Then I took the top down to the same height as the bridge plate, ready for marking out the new saddle angle.
B) One small trick I have used before is to use fret wire without the tangs, which I fit to the top of the bridge plate and move around until I get the intonation correct. Then I pencil mark its position, remove the strings and route out the new saddle slot.
C) As you can see from the pictures, on altering the bridge plate, it revealed the original transducer hole so the centre of the saddle was in exactly the same place!
D) Finally, the customer came to collect the guitar and said that, "for the first time in his life he had a guitar that had been tailored to his requirements". Given the handicap that he had 'accepted' ( that of playing a right handed guitar, left-handed) he sat down to knock out some tunes, showing some really neat finger work with both hands that made my work feel all the more worthwhile. Needless to say, the customer was very pleased.
Now have I seen everything?
PS: Almost forgot to mention that we are behind on updating the testimonials page due to pressure of work! That sounds good but I had a very nice letter this week from a customer that brought me two terrible guitars which tested my expertise to the limit. Why? Well the Fylde with no truss rod had to be almost reverse engineered to get the correct relief when it wasn't adjustable. Why do some guitar builders think they know better than everyone else? See the customers letter here below.
Pic ref. above 11th July 2008
Week ending 4th July 2008
This week's guitars should have been called 'The Good the Bad and the Ugly!' Well, maybe not Ugly but 'Very Bad' and that wouldn't sound right! The culprits were:
1. A Fylde acoustic with no truss rod that had been sent back to the factory for their tender loving care and still came back with a high action - so I got it.
2. A Martin 12-string, which also had a high action, so much so that you could fit a thin phone book between strings and fretboard.
3. A Sheraton, bought 3 years ago from Slippery Sam's music shop which, at first glance, I thought it was a lapsteel due to its badly bent neck and high action.
4. A Rickenbacker that had so much lacquer over the upper frets that I think the sprayer had nodded off during the lacquering process.
The rest of this week's guitars weren't a problem but one other issue deserves an mention. Someone brought me a Deluxe Fender Strat, which he had bought a couple of years ago from some 'Tricky Dickey' who had also done a set-up on it. I found the set-up now to be very poor and watched the surprise on my customer's face as I reduced the height of the pickups to show how they affect the intonation, which went from 4% flat to 6% sharp without me even touching the saddle! Anyway, the thing I wanted to mention is that, while I was doing the set-up, I stumbled across what appears to be a problem with the design of the sophisticated locking tremolo, illustrated in the pictures below:
There are two screws - a retaining screw which holds the saddle down (I thought it clamped it in place) and an intonation adjustment screw for moving the saddle backwards. From the 1st to 5th strings, both screws interacted fine, but the 6th string needed to go a long way back and the intonation adjustment screw fell out! It actually rode over the retaining screw!
I could see that the screw was too short and found some threaded rod to make one long enough to do the job. However, when I tried it, it still rode over the retaining screw. The issue here was that I had tightened the retaining screw as much as I dared but it slipped forwards when the string was under tension - possibly due to being clamped to the shiny chrome plating. You can see from the design that the intonation adjustment screw is also there to help prevent the saddle sliding forwards by catching 'on' the retaining screw - but it's too short! A second modification did the trick - I got an additional washer and fitted it, raising the height of the retaining screw and that solved the problem. Phew! Well done Fender - not!
And finally, the 'Good'. Well, after a week of bad stuff, I was presented with an Epiphone Custom for set-up and for fitting two Seymour Duncans (JB & 59) from one of my veteran customers, of 14 years standing. I did the set-up, sorted out some uneven frets and upgraded the PU's, and was totally knocked out by the guitar's sound. Evidently, so was the customer as this is what he wrote not long after collecting it from me:
I've just been playing the Epiphone on my studio setup for about an hour.
In fact I had trouble putting it down until She Who Must Be Obeyed reminded me that we have to go out this afternoon!
Of all my electric guitars this one has just unbelievable tone. I played along to some Gary Moore and Peter Green backing tracks and it's just awesome.
The left hand feel is already like a well played in neck so goodness knows what it'll be like when it is played in!!
Thanks so much for helping to bring out the absolute best from me and the guitar.
All the very best - P.S: I'm naming it the "Epic"
Pic ref. above 4th July 2008
Week ending 27th June 2008
What do people do with guitars that they have tried to set up and can't? Well, sometimes they sell them on eBay!
It's rare for a customer to openly admit he has messed with a guitar and made it worse than when he started but that did happen a few weeks ago with the Patrick James Eggle and it all worked out fine in the end.
This time I had a Mexican Stratocaster that sported the most common mistake I see, which is the nut slots being cut too low. As a result, the person then put too much relief in the neck to get over the buzzing on the 1st fret and then, to get round that problem, he adjusted the truss-rod to increase the action. To try and get out of the hole he had now dug himself he then tried to lower the saddle heights, so anything played in the middle of the fretboard now buzzed like mad on the last frets. Game over! It gets sold on to a second-hand shop that resells it to my customer, who brings it to me to sort out.
I can see the problem straight away and, with a new bone nut installed and a pro set-up, the guitar plays great - my guess is, better than it played when new. The advice to original owners is 'don't mess with it if you don't know what you're doing!'
The next day I received an Ernie Ball 4 string Bass where the same thing had happened to the 1st slot but, luckily, not too much damage done. Again, the action was high with a bent neck and low set saddles. The novice had then got fed up and sold it to my customer who is now delighted by my Pro Set-up and amazed to find that I have raised the saddles and reduced the action height to improve the sound.
Things are hotting up again in the workshop and it's not the weather! I have taken in a lot of work recently - bordering on too much, really - and am now getting down to dealing with it. How do I do that? Well, looking at it and crying or having a nervous breakdown won't sort it out! My method is to estimate the amount of time each job will take, add 1 hour to each one - just in case - and then schedule the work in accordance with the dates I have given customers for completion. For me, the important thing is to make sure that, if I give a 'promise date', it is achievable and then I go for it. Once I have calculated the hours of work I then know how much I am committed to for the week and, when I have a busy one like this one, any customers wanting something done immediately are likely to be in for a disappointment. The drawbridge is up, the head is down and I just get on with it! I have a sign in my workshop, which I bought in the USA, which says "lack of planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on mine". In short, I won't let down anyone I have already given a promise to by taking on someone else's big rush job and I am also not looking to take any one else to deal with extra work as I couldn't control the quality if I let someone else do it. Having said that, if a small, urgent job or a Health Check comes up, I will always try my best to squeeze in a bit of time for it, especially if it's for one of my regular customers! (This, along with any unforeseen problems with a job, is what the extra hour is added onto each one for!)
Week ending 20th June 2008
This has been a disappointing week for a few disenchanted guitarists who bought guitars complete with a set-up from music shops.
First, someone brought a Taylor to me that had too much relief in the neck and the action height set low at 3.5/64th Treble and 6+/64ths Bass. However, if I had adjusted the relief to the correct position, the strings would then have been too low and it was already buzzing! The customer's comments were "I can't afford a proper set-up" and he promptly took the guitar back to the shop and got a refund! This was a real shame, because there was nothing wrong with the guitar, only with Technician's/Shop owner's work and the customer didn't ask for it to be corrected!
Next came a Jackson fitted with Floyd Rose bought by mail-order. This customer said, "It's supposed to have been properly set-up for £25". (To which my thought was "What do you get for £25? Not much!") I found the action was very high at 5.5+/64ths Treble and Bass, and it had virtually no relief in the neck. The correct relief would have increased the action height even further. The Customer commented, "I need it setting up but can't afford it just yet!" He explained that "the locknuts were loose on arrival and it was all out of tune". My observations - his only consolation was that the intonation was almost correct!
Wearing my 'business' hat, I look at my competitors' prices from time to time and, on the anniversary of my annual price increase, I find that I am still good value for money! It is important to see/know what competitors are doing but not to be intimidated by them, especially when I know I don't work to the tight budget or time constraints that some others have to, especially within retail shop units. With me, each guitar 'takes what it takes', meaning the set-up is completed when I am satisfied and not before, whatever the time taken.
About 3 years ago, I had to rework a 'famous' guitar technician's set-up work at my (then) normal cost £75 where the 'famous' tech had charged £120+ for it. Now, bang up to date I found a competitor quoting:
"Acoustic & Electric set-up plus strings at £40 .." followed by the statement: "additional work such as Stoning & Re-profiling frets from £60 and Fine tune Tremolo surcharges at £20 extra". By my arithmetic that adds up to £100 for an Acoustic & Electric set-up plus strings against my new price of £82 inclusive of strings!
In the case of the Floyd Rose set-ups, his price was £120 for a Floyd Rose + strings, which is slightly more expensive than me but my work is superior and guaranteed for 12 months.
The whole point of mentioning prices is to show that I don't do the cheap, 'quick fix' set-up that 'Bodgit' down the road often does! It has to be the full, all-inclusive service that includes levelling & reprofiling the frets, then the set-up and new strings in the one price! It's as simple as that.
A point to note, I don't refer to 'stoning the frets' because the 'chippie sharpening stones' some technicians use is never flat or level. What I do know is that the 'Tech' whose prices I am quoting above, for comparison, uses a piece of wood with sandpaper stuck to it and I bet that's not flat either! OK, trade secret revealed, I use a precision ground steel block
that is loaded with abrasive for one guitar only and then re-loaded for the next. See Pics below
Repeatedly, I have to re-do "inclusive set-ups" from shops, whether it's free or not.
In both the outlined customer cases above, they couldn't/wouldn't afford to have my set-up, so it wasn't done. I set an industry standard years ago by being independent and setting up retail sold guitars. It mattered to me if a guitar was rubbish, so I would not do the work on it or allow the customer to have it. This provided a quality of service and product to the customers. Now, picture the guy who opens a shop and needs to make money - selling guitars whatever. He is going to make damned sure he gives it all the sales hype, including "The Set-up" just so he can sell a guitar. That brings us full circle back to the disappointed customer who thought he was getting the best deal in town.
PS: The Taylor taken back for a refund was a lovely guitar and it's the first time I have witnessed a customer metaphorically 'cut off his nose to spite his face'. The Jackson guy says he will be back - soon!
Pic ref. above 20th June 2008
Interim On Friday the 13th June !
The week finally came to an end with a little pain and some gain. An old car accident injury niggled away at my neck and I decided that the London Guitar Show was the place to relax a bit. There, I met up with old acquaintances Rob Williams and Patrick (James) Eggle who were both exhibiting their latest guitars. I took some shots of their stands and you can see some of Rob's guitars here
London Guitar Show
. I couldn't get to photograph the one Les Paul type guitar as a customer just wouldn't let it go! If you're looking for a Gibson guitar you should consider Rob's variation - personally I prefer it.
NB. Also in the same section
London Guitar Show
are some photos of Patrick's latest acoustic guitars - Wow!
Week ending 13th June 2008
I have had a very mixed week - maybe because we had 'Friday the 13th'!. It started with a Martin OM28M Laurence Juber model that was brought to me for set-up. The interesting thing about this customer's guitar was the way he came to buy it. This customer has a track-record of buying nice looking guitars, which are expensive, yet not outstanding in sound. It's not in my nature to tell a customer he/she has a rubbish-sounding guitar because the purchase is always his/her choice. Not that this customer's guitars were bad - I'd say above average but not exceptional. So, I have beaten the drum before about choosing an instrument with your ears and not your wallet, and when this customer sent me an email telling me about a guitar for sale on the Dutch Border - you guessed it - I said you need hear it first before you buy it.
To my amazement, he made a round 24-hour trip, listened to it, bought it and brought it to me for a set-up. What dedication! I can honestly say that this is the first Martin I have heard in about 10 years that sounds phenomenal. The clarity and vibrancy from treble to bass needs to be heard to be appreciated. This doesn't mean everyone should now go and buy a Martin because this one is brilliant - sound is a lottery and each is different. Looking at the set up showed no relief in the neck, action ok on the treble side and high on bass strings. The problem is that adjusting for the correct amount of relief also increases the action height. When I looked at the frets it became clear that the frets had been flattened/levelled around the 12th fret area where previous Luthiers had tried to level the very slight hump where the neck joins the body. This can cause problems because it is nice to have a small amount of fall-away in the tongue section (over the body area) to compensate for future movement caused by leverage on the neck. By the time I had rectified the frets in this area and put the correct amount of relief in the neck the guitar was back to how Martin had made it. I then reduced the saddle height by 4/64ths to give a nice low action. The picture below shows the base of the saddle, which almost seemed to have two flats to its base - I guess it was caused by not sanding it flat along its entire length. Anyway, when I told the customer of my findings, he said 'well even with an uneven saddle base it still sounded great' - and I had to agree.
Starting next week, I am now offering Standard Premier Guitar Set-ups on new guitars for Bandwagon Music Store in Leamington Spa. Past customers of mine will be familiar with my 'Retail Set-up' and this will be exclusive to Bandwagon customers. Should you buy a guitar from them, ask about the Standard Premier Guitar Set-up Scheme that also entitles customers to a discounted Professional Set-up 18 months after purchase and entry into the Christmas Draw for a One Year supply of guitar strings to be given away. It can't be bad!
Pic ref. above 13th June 2008
Week ending 6th June 2008
This week, I had a phone call from a customer saying that his electric guitar, which I had set-up the day before, was very buzzy and didn't sustain. His description of how he had just put the baby to bed and this gave him his only good chance to try it out, led me to inquire more. It turned out that he was not playing the guitar amplified but trying to listen to what he was playing acoustically so as to try not to wake the baby!
It has to be said, if you find yourself in a similar predicament, it would be best to buy an acoustic guitar. Having the electric guitar un-plugged means having to play it harder so you can actually hear it and having a low action compounds the problem, making any buzzes and rattles worse - Pointing out that they cannot be heard when normally amplified.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way of putting this: If you have an electric guitar set up with a low action, it needs to be played through an amplifier. All electric guitars will sound buzzy and lacking in sustain if they are played acoustically - i.e. not plugged in. (I am excluding electric guitars with high actions from this statement.) It is for this very reason that acoustic guitar set-ups have a higher action than electric ones. Of course, there is no point in setting up an electric guitar with a high action just so that it can be played unplugged!
This leads me on to another area where buzzes and rattles can be heard.
Some customers spend time at their computer recording electric guitars and listening in real time with their headphones on. Years ago, during Christmas periods, I used to do Standard Premier set-ups on brand new retail guitars (set-ups with no fret dressing, as distinct from my Professional Set-up) Because of the volumes involved I used to work late into the night and, so as not to disturb anyone, I would use headphones to check the guitars. I know from this that using headphones makes for an 'up close and personal' sound to the point that you can hear the slightest buzzes and rattles. When re-checking through an amp the next day, I was amazed to find that none of the buzzes could be heard even when only 6 feet/2 metres from the speakers.
In short, the best thing to do is play lightly on the electric guitar and use the controls on the amp to create the volume - this is how they are designed to work and how you will get the best sound & results!
Finally, although the customer was surprised that he couldn't find any buzzes and rattles when he plugged his guitar into my amp, I wasn't! I then put him out of his misery and explained why.
Week ending 30th May 2008
To my surprise when I came to do my next blog, I found that I had not up-loaded this one to the server! Some of you may have thought I was on holiday but no - just a moment of absent-mindedness, I think! Anyway, here it is, better late than never!
I had a brand-new Jaguar guitar brought to me, made by Fender in the USA. The shop that sold it had done a set-up on it but the customer was complaining about buzzing strings and vibrations from somewhere. The customer also said 'the top two strings were very buzzy'. Looking at the set-up, there was too much curve in the neck, which doesn't help, and the retailer/technician had lowered the 5th & 6th strings to make it look good - apparently his idea of a low action!
One of the problems I get from guitarists is when they describe a problem with 'the top two strings'. To me, the 'top two strings' would normally relate to the top in pitch - i.e. the treble strings but often the customer means the top strings physically rather than musically and then the 'top two' strings are the ones closest to his eyes/line of sight - i.e. the bass strings! That is why I always needs clarification of exactly what is meant when using this description.
I did a professional set-up, which took care of the buzzy frets and found the rattles were coming from one of the metal plates which had not been screwed down properly - naughty - and the main cause was from the curved damper plate holes being too small, making it buzz on the bridge posts. I reset the damper plate and opened up some clearance on the bridge post holes and that did the trick. From the picture below you can see that the saddles have been raised so that the string is no longer sitting on the back of the bridge. This can create another issue, depending on how much neck rake angle there is. Raising the saddle causes the intonations screw to move upwards toward the string. This needs to be kept an eye on and, in rare cases, I have shortened the bass screws to stop them touching the string in front of the saddle.
Pic ref. above 30th May 2008
Week ending 23rd May 2008
I saw the return of a customer from 'up north', who I remembered for wearing out the frets on a Les Paul Signature inside 8 months! This guitar had Japanese soft frets and they were almost cut in two with his heavy playing style. It's the first time I have had to re-fret a brand new guitar!
This time he brought me a Pacifica - again with massive amounts of wear - but this time it was all over the neck and not in just one area. The Yamaha frets were much higher than normal and now I have dressed out the wear it's been given a new lease of life, just like in the slide show - half-way down the page -
see here: Pro Set-up Slide Show
. Here is a tip to save fret wear on you guitar: You only need to press the string down to sound the note - there is no need press so hard as to touch the fingerboard with the string! This not only wears the fret but cuts into the fingerboard wood.
In passing, this week I set-up a custom shop Telecaster Relic that had a brilliant neck on it - I have probably seen about 5 necks like this in the past 10 years and that covers thousands of guitars. This was one guitar I was sorry to have to hand back!
I also set up a T5 Taylor with slightly lower than my normal low action, which does go against the grain a bit. I know people with acoustics like low actions but there are limits and I do feel that once you get into the realm of trying for a Vintage Stratocaster action on an acoustic you might as well get an electric guitar instead. As this one was for a Jazz player the chances are he will be OK but for the normal player it would be back the next day as 'too low'. Following on from this guitar, I then had another jazz player with an acoustic from my former colleague Patrick (James) Eggle, which had a high action on the treble side. This Saluda was a lovely guitar but it required more work than normal because the customer had made a typical mistake which I have seen countless times before - namely that the belief is that to get a low action the nut slots need to be reduced. Mistake! Most reasonable quality guitars have the nut slots cut correctly, so lowering them only leads to it buzzing on the 1st fret if and when the action IS eventually lowered. This customer then started digging a hole for himself by filing the first two frets down to stop it buzzing! In short - my 'fretmap' on the worksheet showed that this area was low and he also incurred an extra cost for me to fit a new nut. He said he preferred a bone nut, which is just as well, as it needed replacing anyway! He, too was pleased that the guitar ended up set-up to his expectation, saying that it sounded and played better than some £5,000 guitars. Well, in honesty, most of the work was Patrick's in making a good guitar - my work just added the icing on the cake. This reminds me of the 'good ole days' back at the factory, when Patrick made 'em and I set 'em up!
Finally, the pictures below show a common production mistake which was rectified. This situation was outlined in my 22nd February 2008 blog . The braided type transducer fitted to a Martin Acoustic is too thick for the routed slot, causing the saddle to tilt forwards. Increasing the slot depth by machining, corrects the mistake.
Pic ref. above 23rd May 2008
Week ending 16th May 2007
There is so much going on other moment, with launching the four other web sites I have had for sometime. Two of the domain names relate to my own new guitars and have been held back waiting for completion of the patenting process. I have just had letters from the Patents Office saying that things are progressing well, so it shouldn't be long before I am able to show the new guitars off.
This website is working well and the amount of enquiries leading to work means that it's been difficult to even write the 'weekly blog'. Still, as my fellow luthier in Florida says 'if you're not busy you can't be any good' - so that's reassuring! Despite the amount of work I have on, there is only one thing to do to remain successful and that is to 'roll the sleeves up and get on with it' - just looking at it won't achieve anything. Crowing about it and doing all the computer work in the world is all very well to a point but customers seek me out for my skill and attention to detail and this is also what brings them back time and time again. I had one customer say that the appreciation of a job well done is, long afterwards, still appreciating the work but forgetting what it cost.
One of my satisfactions is seeing jobs completed - see pic below.
Pic ref. above 16th May 2008
Week ending 9th May 2008
Eventually, I managed to get into Bandwagon music shop this week to deliver my guitar I am donating to GW Fest. The plan is that people should soon be able to buy raffle tickets direct from the shop and I will take the guitar back for a minor tweak a few days before the GW fest.
A surprise this week was how quickly the replacement tremolo arrived for the Epiphone Flying V - you may remember that this guitar's tremolo broke apart in the final stages of setting up much to the consternation of both the customer and myself! To get the tremolo to work, there was some 'gardening work' required. The tremolo slot had to be moved forward by 3 mm - wood chopped out! The two posts were wider apart, so the old holes had to be filled and re-drilled. Then I found that the tremolo was slightly taller so it would not reduce for a good action height. This required machining about a 5 mm recess for the trem to work properly. Once I had done all this the guitar set up really well. I am not in the habit of doing work for nothing but, in this case, I thought the guy needed a break (apart from the old trem that is) so the only additional charge was for the tremolo assembly.
Finally, Mick Smitham of 'The Fortunes' band collected his guitar this week, which has been in for a bit of a revamp. He is a bit of a Fender Strat enthusiast and likes the Stratocaster neck but, when he bought a Variax with its three-a-side headstock and rosewood fingerboard, it didn't quite feel right. I offered to put a customised Stratocaster neck on the Variax to make him feel more at home. Along with this new look, the tremolo arm seemed to be very sloppy and so I made a new bush from some Delrin rod I bought for a previous job. With a nice, snug fitting tremolo arm the guitar feels a little closer to what he has been used to do with his regular Stratocasters. The scale length is very similar, although there was a little problem changing the neck. The neck socket was very slightly larger and to overcome this I use some very thin strips of self-adhesive, clear acoustic scratchplate material. I fitted these to either side of the neck socket, which prevents the neck slopping around from side to side.
One of my bad habits is forgetting to take photos of my completed custom jobs so, if you want to see this finished article here's a picture of Mick posing with it!
Pic ref. above 9th May 2008
Week ending 2nd May 2008
This past week has witnessed music retail shops closing down, one-step short of bankruptcy, which goes to show how much people are tightening their belts and being selective about non-essential purchases. This maybe one of the reasons I have become very busy of late. It is interesting how many old guitars are being brought to me for my opinion as to whether to invest in a professional set-up/maker-over or to ditch it on eBay and buy a new one.
I don't have a hidden agenda, as I am not selling brand new guitars for replacement. If a guitar is not worth doing a set-up etc, on, I will tell the customer the hard truth. However, to take the example of the SG 2000 Yamaha that was collected last week, it came in as an absolute dog - or, as a friend of mine used to say ' a complete nail' - and the guitar was transformed to the point where it played better than it when it was brand new. I keep saying it, but I do get a kick out of watching the customer's expression where they seem to have witnessed a miracle - one customer commented that it was the best money he had ever spent on a set up.
On the other hand, if the guitar is quite appalling, I do try to reason with the customer that he would be better off taking the money he could spend with me and putting it into a new guitar.
One final note on bankrupt music shops - it's all very well to think of the shops' customers trying to get their money back but very little consideration is given to the Musical Instrument Wholesaler, who, because of the retailer's insolvency, are also owed larger sums of money. Behind every wholesaler there are actual human beings like ourselves trying to run a profitable business and they can ill afford to soak up the losses of somebody else's business. So, as I see many comments on the Web about 'sorry to see my local music shop has ceased trading', just give a thought to those people who wholesaled instruments to shops for resale in 'good faith' hoping they would be paid on time. I guess the sad truth is that nobody is a winner.
On a brighter note, the up and coming music shop 'Bandwagon' (Leamington Spa) is taking my customised guitar for display for the oncoming GW Fest (2nd August 2008) which is in aid of the Air Ambulance.
The details can be seen here
G W Fest 2008
and by clicking on the GT Services banner it reveals the guitar!
Pic ref. above 2nd May 2008
Week ending 25th April 2008
Sometimes it seems that no matter how many times I explain the relationship between the truss rod being set to the gauge of string, I find that the problem re-occurs because customers don't think it matters.
They decide to change gauge and then they have problems. I saw this again recently when an acoustic I received had a big curve in the neck because heavier gauge strings had been put on. Eventually the guy got fed up with the high action - a direct cause of the heavier strings and lack of attention to truss rod adjustment - so he asked for the guitar to be set-up again. The problem had occurred 2 years earlier and then it stood in the corner of his room with the bend in the neck getting worse and instead of a quick truss rod adjustment it now needed the neck to be heated and reset to remove the excessive curve. Alternatively, he could have reverted to his original gauge strings fitted at set-up and all would have been fine again but he had left it for too long a period.
I don't mind how many times I say it, but if you change to a different gauge then the truss rod has to be adjusted too and if it's an electric it will have to have a tweak to the intonation settings too. The main reason I offer the 12 months guarantee with the Pro Set-up is that it only takes a few minutes to alter the set-up to a different gauge of string by re-setting the truss rod and intonation - and maybe the springs if a tremolo is fitted. The height of the strings will stay the same if this is done but, if a different gauge is put on and the problem is left, it can ruin the neck on a guitar.
After extra work and complete set-up, the acoustic was a dream to play but it would not have needed the extra work if it had been re-set at the original time the heavier gauge strings were put on.
This week I also got a call from a bass player that said his bass had become buzzy after a recent set-up 2 weeks before. When it came in, I didn't need to hear the buzz because of the way I set the guitars up. A quick check with the feeler gauges and straight edge showed that this neck was straightening out!
Even though the truss rod is put into the neck to help straighten it, the neck-stock wood can have stresses within it that causes the neck to back-bow - which is what had happened in this case. In the worst-case situation, it is possible to have a neck where the truss rod is loose and the tension in the neck-stock wood is greater than the string tension. This causes the strings to deck-out on the frets - another case for the neck to be re-set by heating it and re-shaping.
Currently, I like to reset and check these rare problem necks each week just to make sure they are stable. When I looked at my notes on the bass at the time of the initial set-up, I could see that the neck came in with no relief - the whole reason for the set-up. This shows a trend and for this very reason, a careful eye needs to be kept on its progress. If this means checking/resetting it each week for a month then that is what it will take to ensure long-term customer satisfaction.
Week ending 18th April 2008
I was asked to set up an Epiphone Flying 'V' with a tremolo that was bought off EBay. This illustration shows you I too can be caught out. I had nearly finished the set on this guitar and all was going well. In the process of loading tremolo having fitted the string, suddenly, there was a loud bang and the strings went slack.
You can see in the pictures below what had happened. The block is made of a nondescript alloy - often known by engineers as 'monkey metal'. The design would be ok in steel but the stresses on a second rate alloy are just too much over several years. The additional problem was that the 3 screws holding the fulcrum plate to the sustain block were only 3mm long! Now the problem is whether to replace the tremolo with a same type or upgrade for very little difference in cost to a double locking type. I will update soon........
Picture left The Sustain Block
Picture centre: The underside of the Fulcrum Plate
Pictures right: The cracked tremolo arm housing.
Pic ref. above 18th April 2008
Week ending 11th April 2008
Occasionally, I have a very difficult job come into the workshop. Unlike other people that put difficult jobs to the back of the queue, I prefer to deal with them head-on.
The guitar in question was a CF Martin D28, which had an incredibly high action. There may seem nothing unusual in this but, unfortunately, the guitar was an old design and did not have an adjustable truss rod. Martin did fit a reinforced rod within the guitar neck, which does give rigidity but, over time, the neck had curved forwards, raising the action. It is possible to heat-straighten a neck but it will always eventually return to the original position because there is no adjustable counter tension via a threaded truss rod. The other problem that had occurred was an increase in the bellying of the sound-board, which also raises the action height. The customer had severely worn down the frets to the point that it needed a refret and this gave me the opportunity to straighten out the neck by levelling the fingerboard, thus altering the rake angle very slightly so that the action was almost halved. To achieve the correct amount of neck relief when it isn't adjustable is very complicated because the measurements have to be taken whilst emulating the customer's normal string tension of 12 to 54 gauge. Needless to say, strings are trashed in the process of working this out. The customer seemed pleased with the outcome and the fact that he can now venture up to the 'dusty end' of the fretboard!
My other challenge this week was that what I had thought was a normal, 'run of the mill' set-up job turned out to be far worse than the Martin guitar! This guitar was a Gibson 335 that had apparently sat underneath a bed for years gathering dust and oxidization. When I checked the guitar out, I couldn't see the amount of wear that was in the frets due to the amount of corrosion masking it. Once I started work, not only did I find severe fret wear but also the truss rod had seized, due to rust. I eventually managed to undo the truss rod nut using a soldering iron and a very small amount of WD 40.
There was satisfaction in achieving good results on these two guitars but I paid the physical price, finding that blood was starting to appear where the skin had been worn away from my fingertips. All's well that ends well - guitar wise that is - it may take a little longer for my fingers to return to normal!
Pic ref. above 11th April 2008
Week ending 4th April 2008 pt1
Here below is the letter of the week............after I refretted a Les Paul Custom. The funny thing was that I had another customer looking for 2 refrets but that never materialised - he may even read about what he missed out on. Often, I can avoid the costly refret but this LP guitar virtually had tin foil for frets, so it was inevitable. Most important of all was that the customer was happy.
Letter of the week 4th April 2008
Week ending 4th April 2008 pt2
Very occasionally, I come across a customer who has strung his guitar up incorrectly. "Is it a wind-up?" I ask when the string is ascending the string post. I have tried to outline ways of re-stringing here.
.This week I had a guitar brought in with the previous owners re-string technique, but what drew my attention to this was a design fault with the guitar itself. The guitar is a very famous design - Brian May's Red Special - this one by Guild 1993. No fault can be laid at Guild's door as they were carrying out replication. If this is exactly the same as Brian May's guitar, then the limited 4 degree headstock angle gives virtually no string down-pressure on the Nut/Zero Fret.
As can be seen in the pictures below, the original stringing method shows the string almost as a straight line as it passes over the nut. This allows the energy within the string to 'escape' and continue on over the Nut/Zero Fret which causes loss of sound from the open sustained string. A simple experiment can be done to verify whether the full tones stops at the nut and are pushed into the guitar OR whether it continues on past the nut - as in Example A.
If the string is plucked in the open position, and a finger is placed lightly on the string behind the nut, no vibration from the string should be felt. In example A, there was quite a lot of vibration, showing that there was a loss of sound quality to the open-string note!
Short of redesigning the headstock, there are two ways to resolve the problem:
The first would be to put a 'string retaining bar' behind the nut, often seen behind the locking nut of a Floyd Rose trem guitar, which would be sacrilege and unacceptable on the 'Red Special'.
The second method would be to use my String Lock Method BUT instead of limiting it to one turn on the machine-head capstan, additional string is allowed to wind down the post close to the very bottom as can be seen in Example B. These extra turns increase the angle from the nut, thus increasing the strings 'down-pressure', which in turn will increase the sound quality of the open-string. Unfortunately, whilst making it better, it is still not enough to satisfy me.
What has surprised me over the years, is why Fender have not put a second string tree on a Telecaster to deal with 'string down-pressure' on strings 3 and 4 like they do on the Stratocaster. There are some Stratocasters that also don't have a second string tree.
(Note: I am well aware that the new system of varying height Machine-heads can do away with a string trees altogether.)
Finally, I come across players that not only wind too much string on but actually go UP the machine-head capstan which reduces the 'string down-pressure at every turn - this I put down to lack of understanding - hopefully someone might point them in the right direction.
String down-pressure 4th April 2008
Interim blog 28th March 2008
Just for anyone out there who thought I might be exaggerating about how busy I've been recently - I've just had this email from someone I did a quick Health Check for in the last couple of weeks
Hope you are in fine form, the last time I saw you had 30 guitars in and so busy - your own fault for being so good at your job..... Ha ha. Well I think I have a little job for you ..Anyway, I would like you to fit a B-Band pick up to my 000-28ec Martin, I know you are very busy so let me know when it would be convenient. "
Week ending 28th March 2008
If I thought last week was busy, well this week it went completely ballistic! It didn't help when I had 3 Larrivee acoustics - all from different customers and all with loose frets. Then I had a recently done refret by someone north of the County, which came in for a Pro Set-up, and that had loose frets as well!
I hear you thinking 'how do I tell if a guitar has loose frets?' Well, it's not as clear cut as just seeing that the fret ends are lifting, which was self-evident on two of the Larrivees. The real tell-tale sign comes when I start to level high frets. The noise caused by levelling on loose frets is like a squealing pig and is caused by the fret rattling in its slot. The effect of having loose frets in a guitar is that it causes the notes to be dead or lacking in sustain. The cure is to glue all the frets in place, making them nice, solid points of sustain. It has the added effect of making sure the fret stays still when been levelled - which can't be a bad thing. You can imagine that there isn't much point in trying to do a fret-dress and profile when frets are loose because they are like moving targets! This also poses an interesting argument against those technicians who offer to do a set-up without levelling the frets. You can conclude how pointless it is to try and set up a guitar with the frets moving about, compromising the set-up.
The problem with my work-load has not been due to customers wanting set-ups but the extra work involved in gluing in loose frets, which can take up to an extra 1.5 hours per guitar, including cleaning up.
Because of this extra work my turnaround time for regular set-up work has currently (temporarily) gone up from 3 - 5 days to 7 - 10 days. What normally happens is that some guitars will set up without any trouble at all and allow me to finish them early - a case of 'swings and roundabouts' - but when I have a lot all at once that need extra work I don't get that balancing out effect. I did hear of one guitar technician who was quoting 3 - 6 weeks waiting time for set-ups. Personally, I don't think keeping a guitar for this length of time is acceptable nor should it be necessary. On set-up jobs, I never keep customers waiting for more than two weeks unless extended timing is at their particular request. If I have a holiday or other commitment, customers are put on a waiting list and I contact them at the earliest possible moment when I start work again.
I've been so busy this week that I almost didn't find the time to write this blog - it shows that things sometimes are not very straight forward and time pressures just mean that you have to work twice as long to achieve a good result.
Week ending 21st March 2008
I have to apologise for this blog being late - this is due to the number of customers that have come at me all at once. Its funny how just making a couple of small changes to my website can make such a big difference to the volume of enquiries.
Customers with budget guitars often raise the question of whether the cost of having them set up is worth it in relation to the purchase price of the guitar. This leads me to highlight an example of a past customer's faith after hearing word-of-mouth reports of my services. The customer came to me with Squier Affinity Stratocaster (one of the budget types) for which he had paid £118. I did the Pro Set-up and it went very well. His comments on collection were that it was a completely different guitar and that he hadn't been playing very long. What I didn't know was that the next day he would go off to a 'Shadows Club' event in Coventry and, as happens at these events, other people played his guitar. As a consequence, over the next few days I had a queue of 7 customers all lined up asking me to do the same on their guitars, many of which were more expensive and better built.
As I recently said to one of my customers, I remember my own first guitar and how much effort and care went into buying it so, when someone spends almost the half the purchase cost again on a set up, I feel it requires me to make every effort to give them the best results possible. It also goes to show that I am certainly no snob when it comes to guitar makes, brands and prices! I ask only one thing, which is, "Is it geometrically correct and is the fretboard reasonably straight?" I might add that some of the more expensive 'quality' guitars have been rejected on this basis because I wouldn't be able to achieve the results that I wanted. Unfortunately, when this happens, it means the customer either going back to the retailer who sold the guitar or the owner selling it on.
One of my long-standing customers ('Mr. Levin Acoustic' - you know who you are!) contacted me saying that he wanted me to set up an acoustic guitar that he was thinking of making and was confused about how the truss rod should work. See below a cross section of an old Patrick Eggle guitar neck, showing how the truss rod is fitted and pushes when tightened/straightened. As the strings pull the neck forwards the truss rod affects/pushes the centre of the neck pulling the headstock backwards. The one area the truss rod doesn't have much effect on is the point where the neck leaves the body. This section is particularly affected by leverage and various guitar makers such as Taylor and Warwick Bass have strengthened the area between the 12th fret and over the body with steel inserts either side of the truss rod (see previously posted pictures of the Warwick bass repair). The reason for this is to prevent upturn, which eventually occurs by creep - the effect of constant tension/leverage over time.
Pic ref. above 21st March 2008
Week ending 14th March 2008
Things were very hectic this week - the price you pay for taking a holiday!
I had a really difficult set-up that initially looked ok but, when I started work on it, I found that a previous refret (by someone in Stourbridge) had left the frets very uneven, partly because they were not seated properly. Then, when I had hammered them in, I found that they were loose in the slots. This makes a straightforward fret-dress and set-up difficult because the frets have to be glued in and cleaned up, which takes time. There were so many high and low frets that it was difficult to list them all - something that I do on all my fret dress and set-up job invoice/reports. Eventually I presented the customer with a good low action set-up.
A Casino Epiphone that had been set-up and had the neck P90 too close to the strings - and then I found the bridge had been put on back-to- front! One tell-tale sign of this was that the slots were the wrong size for the strings (bass strings in treble slots & vice-versa). This is something that I find on many generically Gibson-style guitars. I even had a guitar teacher that insisted that I had put a Les Paul bridge on back-to-front and undid my work to prove a point! What many people overlook is that generic Gibson-type bridges are NOT all the same. The latest Tunamatic bridges (i.e. the German Schallers made for Gibson types) have the small/flat screw heads towards the stop-tail piece while the old vintage types have the large screw heads towards the pickups. The reason for this is that the former have smaller/flatter heads, which don't impede the string as it goes into the stop bar but the latter, large screw-heads (vintage type) are put on the pickup side so they won't foul the strings. If they are swapped around the strings can rest on the large heads - something that this guitar tutor failed to observe.
The Warwick Bass repair that I did some major work on (see previous blogs) went back to its owner, who looked absolutely mystified as to how I got such a good glue joint on the fingerboard. Quote: "I'm still staggered at the quality of the work you've done, if I'd not seen the problem and the photos during the work, I'd swear it'd left the factory like that" - Thanks Paul S. - Well, this is partly due to the vacuum press that I built late last year. I love this great piece of kit that allows me to get up to 25" mercury worth of pressure!
I also had a 'boomerang' guitar this week - i.e. one coming back that I hadn't expected to see again so soon. This was a Noiseless - Eric Clapton that initially looked as if it had a dry solder joint on the neck PU to switch. After resoldering, it was fine but then the problem re-occurred so I decided that the switch was the most probable cause and fitted a new one. 3 weeks later the customer phoned and said it had gone again! Now this switch didn't have the tone controls off it so I wired up the other side in duplicate fashion - what you might call a belt and braces approach! So, it couldn't be the switch. Now I think I have eventually found the problem - I took the PU out, wired it up to an Ohms meter and checked it every now and again. Then, as luck would have it with this intermittent fault, it went open circuit. Great! Without moving the PU I re-soldered the leads/winding wires and got a reading! So it was a dry joint after all but on the pickup itself. (I had thought it was the windings but when they go they don't come back to life.) Obviously I haven't charged for the additional work required to solve the original problem which I thought I had solved the first time around!
Week ending 7th March 2008
I have been away on holiday so not much has been done over the past 2 weeks. I got back to a shed-load of work and it's nice to see that I've been missed!
This week I was contacted by a guitar retailer with a different approach to the usual 'box shifters'. He explained that he was sick of the rubbish that some manufacturers distribute and he feels that only in the guitar industry do you find people that don't appreciate quality instruments which come at a cost. Most music retailers feel they need to sell at the lowest price to capture a sale, partly driven by internet shopping & Ebay and partly because of today's low-cost expectation due to countries like Korea and China, which can produce goods very cheaply because they pay very little in wages. It's true that there are lots of retailer gimmicks like low finance, reward schemes and free set-ups, but they all cost the customer somehow - as they say, 'there is nothing for nothing'. Even a simple thing like a guitar stand can have a 600% mark-up, which pays towards the knockdown internet price of the instrument - retailers will get their money off you somehow!
Rob Williams, another guitar-maker and a friend of mine, tells me he doesn't make anything for less than £2200 these days, and will never sell his own guitars direct for less than a retail outlet charges for them. I am also only too willing to help out a retailer that says he is not going to sell low-end gear and is actively seeking what he knows are great products as he believes his customers will appreciate the quality and value of a more expensive guitar or amp. This is because well-built guitars often have fewer problems because the initial concept was to produce a good sound with quality build rather than producing at the lowest possible cost.
Some retailer may say they have an acoustic guitar that's half the price of a Taylor, for instance, and is much better - but you can be certain that the retailer is really saying 'buy my chosen guitar because it has a big mark-up and I need the money'. If he actually said that, you wouldn't buy it because it's just another cheap guitar! Don't get me wrong, not all Taylors are great sounding but they are very well built and it helps to know that in years to come, if you need a neck re-set on a Taylor, it won't cost much because of its quality build and clever design. However, in the future, if you have that initially cheaper instrument, it may cost you the purchase cost over again in repairs! That's when you'll know you were ripped off. I often tell people to go buy another guitar when the repair estimate is 4 times the cost of a new guitar. (I'm not on commission from Taylor, by the way, and there are other very good brands - I'm just using them as an example here!)
Week ending 22nd February 2008
Is it worth getting a set-up done at your local store?
Well, maybe but then again, based on a guitar I got this week, outside the area, maybe not! It all depends on the skill of the technician doing the work. You have to decide whether sales hype of "our tech has xyz years of experience" actually translates as "1 days' worth of experience spread over xyz years"! In the case of this guitar, which had been done by a music shop technician, I think it may have been the latter!
The guitar in question was a CF Martin. It should have been rejected and retuned to the manufacturer and not sold to a customer in the first place, so a shop-owned technician was already compromised.
The 'added value' set-up, said to be 'worth nearly £60' was just a waste of money, really. I would go as far as to say that the guitar was probably more playable before the technician saw it! It doesn't take reverse engineering to see what he probably saw when opening the box. If the action I found was only 1/64th (at the 12th fret) this means that the saddle was actually 3/64ths below the CF Martin guide so the saddle was reduced by 3/32nd! Guitar geometry doesn't lie, so when I got this guitar with the customer saying it buzzed like crazy and he just couldn't play it, I took notes of the action. I measured this at:
1/64th on the treble side and 2+/64ths on the bass side.
Now, sometime ago I was given the spec straight from CF Martin as 4/64th treble and 6/64ths bass.
(If you're metric minded: The Guitar was received at 0.4mm on the treble side and 0.8mm on the bass side, while CF Martin settings would be 1.6mm treble and 2.4mm bass.)
My observations were that the saddle looked ok in situ but to increase the treble action by 3/64ths or 1.2mm, would mean raising the saddle by double these measurements to get somewhere near the factory setting! This then makes the saddle very top-heavy and personally I wouldn't have worked on a brand new guitar received in this condition - I would have rejected it - but because this didn't happen in the shop concerned, now the customer is stuck with it.
The deeper I dug, the worse the problems got! When the saddle came out and I inspected it, the base of the saddle was flat but not square to its upright position. This means there is less down-pressure because it is only coming off the front edge and because there is less surface contact, this gives a thinner sound.
When I looked at the transducer - one of those Fishman braided wire-looking jobs - it was almost at the top of the bridge-plate slot, so there was no depth for it to fit into. Truth be told there was about 1mm! My first thoughts were that someone forgot to route for the transducer but fitted it anyway! It needed to be a hell of a lot deeper. (apologies to our USA buddies). The principles are quite simple - the saddle needs to press down on the transducer but at the same time, the strings actually pull/lever the saddle forwards towards the headstock. How much they pull depends on how much of the saddle is outside the slot.
See the pictures below as an extract of the Stewart MacDonald's Dec 2006 email.
I once read a Seymour Duncan article on fitting a transducer and they looked for 50% of the saddle to be inside the bridge plate slot - and more if possible. That way, there is less chance of the saddle being levered forwards off the transducer. The disadvantage of a very high saddle is an increase in the string angle to the bridge pin and increased pressure to the point that it is likely to cause more string breakage.
I am not sure if it is a design feature but the bridge-plate is about half the thickness of other Martins I have seen. Whilst I have temporarily set the guitar up using a shim, I have booked the guitar in at a less busy time when I will take out the Fishman transducer and re-machine the slot deeper. Then I will fit a new saddle and re-set-up the guitar. This guitar has a good tone so a way round the problem of the high saddle would be to de-fret and re-fret with a modification to the fingerboard. This is a way around re-setting the neck, but there are limits to what can be done.
Oh, and by the way - to add insult to injury - the frets hadn't even been dressed and profiled for this 'value' set-up either! The moral of the story is to check on the skill and experience of the technician and what you are going to get for your money before committing your instrument to any work. In my own case, I do have vast experience and knowledge, having worked on 1000's of guitars over the past 21 years I have been in this business. Does this also mean that, because I was 14 when I started messing with my first home-made guitar, I can claim to have 40 years experience ? I think not!!
Pic ref. above 22nd February 2008
Week ending 15th February 2008
And there is light at the end of the tunnel! ( ..and hopefully not an oncoming train ) as I have finished off a number of long or complicated jobs this week.
I fitted the Ashworth transducer to the Mandola and that has gone back to its owner. There was one final glitch caused by a previous repairer who had drilled two holes underneath the saddle for the Artec transducer wires. This caused loss of sound on the top and bottom two strings which I resolved by machining out the centre of the saddle, fitting a solid rosewood centre and re-machining the slot, giving it a flat, solid base - and, hey presto, I got the full sound from the instrument. The diagram below gives an indication of the internal work and new layout.
I have glued a fillet of maple wood into the old Warwick Bass truss rod cavity and re-routed for the new 2-way truss rod which came in a couple of days ago. Heating up the fingerboard to take it off causes it to warp, so I steamed it straight again and now it's held in clamps, ready to fit sometime this week.
It's unbelievable the amount of work that has come in a over the past two weeks, to the point that anyone wanting work done quickly is just going to have to wait - I only have one pair pf hands and will not compromise on quality. Therefore, if you are met with a 'sorry, I can't do that for about two weeks' please be patient. In the past when I have had very busy patches, people who have opted for a quicker job elsewhere have often had to bring it back to me for rectification afterwards, so have ended up paying twice and getting it done no faster anyway!
A guitar technician recently told his enquiring customer that he was unable to do a set-up for about five weeks and so the customer came to me. Whilst I could not do the work straight away, I did look over the guitar FOC to put the customer out of his misery. I found the truss rod over-adjusted - too tight - and still with a massive curve in a neck! As the guitar was a Hondo copy of a 335, I said the neck could not be adjusted without major work and that the instrument would still not be worth much afterwards. In this instance it is better for the customer to put what he could have paid out in repairs towards a new guitar, especially as today's budget guitars are better built than those of yesteryear.
Pic ref. above 15th February 2008
Week ending 8th February 2008
Very occasionally, I get a week where everything becomes messy - by which I mean not straightforward.
A Gibson SG bass, which had a problem with low volume on the E string that I couldn't fix, came back from the Gibson importer with the problem having been 'rectified' by changing the strings! Unsurprisingly, the customer was still not happy with the guitar and when I checked the instrument, the importer had put lighter gauge strings on, the intonation was sharp by over 10% on the bottom two strings, there was too much relief in the neck, and the treble action was set too low causing the strings to buzz. In addition, there was still 9db variation in sound output - and that's a lot! I had expected the guitar to come back without any problems but the only consoling factor was that neither the Gibson repair shop or my set-up and mods could resolve the problem. I feel annoyed I didn't find the underlying cause of this - but then again neither did Gibson. Fortunately, the customer was dealing with a reputable retailer who exchanged the guitar for a Fender Jazz bass.
I currently have a number of instruments waiting for bits, such as a Strat wanting new pickups and another Warwick bass with a broken truss rod and those parts are also on order! Also a 60's Guitarist - who's still rock-and-rolling - is waiting for replacement guitar neck and, lastly, a mandola waiting for a transducer. The mandola has a sound problem and was brought to me with quite a nasty thin sound from its cheap Artec transducers. The first part of the equation was to explain to the customer some of the problems that occur when trying to electrify/ amplifier acoustics. I have now created a PDF for those people interested in my views on this subject.
Good Sound from an Amplified Acoustic_PDF
Occasionally I will do experiments on the basis that if they don't work we will try something else. This takes customer patience but I don't charge for the R & D work, only the end result. I have been meaning to use the B-Band AST unit that sticks underneath the soundboard. It was incredibly difficult to fit the unit because the Mandolin sound-hole was so small, but I managed it only to find that when amplified it was subject to massive feedback. The sound was excellent but I couldn't tame the instrument even with the use of the Fishman 'notch filter' and 'phase switch'. As this didn't work, my last resort is to use an Ashworth transducer made in the UK and used by people such as Mark Knofler and Van Morrison. B-Band is still my favourite for sound reproduction but I know this other alternative will work as it is less sensitive and doesn't require an on-board pre-amp.
At the same time as trying to resolve these above problems, I have been working on getting decals for my new guitars. Because I had so many problems in trying to find a supplier for these it's nice that I eventually found someone who is equally dedicated in their own work. So far, I have been very pleased with my new supplier and have included him on my supplier page should anyone require Custom Decals.
Week ending 1st February 2008
Its official - Warwick basses are off my Christmas card list at the moment! Or maybe I should just be pleased that they are (indirectly) giving me so much repair work! It can get a bit monotonous repeatedly finding the same problem. I guess there are many people out there that love them - and that's fine if you have one in working order - but when an owner breaks the truss rod it is a whole load of work to rectify it. It only goes to show that the combination of a set of truss rod instructions and lack of skill/experience can have devastating results. Yep, you've guessed it - I have had in yet another broken Warwick Bass with very unusual issues.
At one time Warwick bass had a truss rod assembly that slid into the guitar and had a left hand thread. I got one about 10 years ago that a customer tightened (well, actually he undid it) and then lost the rod right inside! I got it out enough to slip the adjuster back on and set it up. My recent customer heard that you could do this, bought a broken one and tried to get the rod out and failed. I too tried and failed and so I took off the first 150mm of finger board to find out what was wrong. It transpires that Warwick had tightly fitted the truss rod assembly using a maple fillet sandwiched on top - there was no way in this world this thing was going to come out. I even got mole-grips on it and hit the grips with a hammer but absolutely nothing budged.
Now the £13 replacement rod and the £15 to £ 25 I was going to charge for a relatively straightforward job has turned ugly with a potentially ugly repair bill to reflect the work involved. All that I can really do is rebuild the neck so that it is better than it was made originally. I haven't got the rod out yet but it looks to me like solid aluminium, so no wonder the threads just ripped off - or should I say polished off!
Both the Les Paul neck rebuild (repatriated) and the last Warwick Bass repair job have now been finished, the instruments put back together and they are both working again! Personally, on the Warwick bass, I would not use a rod with such a thin measurement as this - 3.5mm diameter. I could not re-use the adjuster, because if I had drilled it out and tapped it at 5mm there would have been very little material on the thinnest part of the wall. (See my calculations below.) I had to make up a rod using a 5mm rod and an adjuster that was already tapped out to 5mm. I fitted the original anchor after modifying it and also had to pack out the base up off its location to get enough deflection in the rod - which was only about 2mm. Yes, a thinner rod would give more but we know what happened to the last one! I personally would like to see more deflection for absolute peace of mind, however, the neck is behaving very well after its ordeal.
SEE January 18th Blog & Pics for hook up to the other Warwick Bass part.
I apologise for any lack of clarity in the illustration below due to the space limitations - just trying to show too much detail!
Pic ref. above 1st February 2008
Week ending 25th January 2008
Several of the guitars recently have been Gibson Les Paul's and a few C F Martin's. Buying a guitar from a reputable manufacturer guarantees certain things, such as good materials and quality of build, but it doesn't guarantee 100 per cent accuracy with the geometry. Sometimes, although the geometry is correct in the factory, things can change months or even years later. The main factor to take into account when checking the geometry is that the majority of guitars are made of wood and natural material moves when subjected to varying degrees of humidity, or the lack of it, further complicated by adding hot and cold environments into the mix! Therefore, when I find that an expensive acoustic has a very high action, it is usually either because the neck has moved and/or the sound-board has bellied a tad too much.
Amazingly, I had 2 Bellezza Nera Martin's in last week and only a limited number were made, The low numbered one was almost perfect but the other, more recent one was some 200th further on in production and had a combination of both sound-board and neck problems which left me mulling over the best way to approach it. Guitars are like people - there are no two the same! Eventually I decided to take the frets down to eradicate the upturn at the end of the fingerboard and reduce the bridge plate by 2mm. I had to work around the ornate inlays, including the 'Eric Clapton' in the end of the fingerboard. As I just didn't know how deep they were, I couldn't run the risk of what I normally would do - taking the frets out and sanding the ebony down - for fear of loosening the inlays. In my opinion, this was one guitar that got away from 'quality control' in manufacturing.
Once the saddle was out of the bridge-plate, I found that the previous installer of the Fishman transducer had taken a short cut. The slot depth was too shallow and the saddle had been cut down too short, plus it was bulked out with a shim! It's important to have a reasonable amount of saddle inside the slot otherwise it pulls over to one side and drop-out occurs. Now, if I cut the saddle down further, it's only 3mm high and too small! Time to start again and do the job properly, so I took the electrics out of the guitar and machined the slot deeper by 4mm, lowering the bridge-plate, re-working the bridge pinholes, refitting the transducer and making a new saddle from Tusq. I hate bone for transmitting sound onto a transducer because it's uneven - using a consistent material gives a consistent sound. Don't get me wrong - I will use bone saddles but I prefer Tusq when they're sitting on a transducer.
Eventually I was able to produce the same specification low action as I had done on the customer's previous guitars. I have his comments to hand 'Just thought I'd drop you a line to say I am thrilled with the two Martins - very pleased indeed with your work.'.....Neil S.
Week ending 18th January 2008
One reason for this late blog posting is the amount of work that came in last week. Every now and again, I get a hiatus of work - It's as if everybody has collectively waited before ringing me up at the same time and asking me to do set-ups and other jobs! Last week, Monday was normal and then Tuesday was totally manic! Fortunately, people were happy to give me a little time to re-arrange my schedule, especially as some had their own holiday plans. What I hadn't banked on, though, was losing most of Tuesday on the phone and then having to work well into the evening to try to catch up.
Continuing the theme from other weeks, I am still being haunted by truss rod issues. I had a Rickenbacker that has dual truss rods, which can be problematic because the adjusters can dip down as the rods are under excessive stress. What was unusual with this guitar was that the neck had sufficient residual strength to cause the treble adjuster/rod to be almost loose whilst under string tension! I still like to just pinch the nut because a loose one can cause a weird rattle inside the neck. The other rod was doing all the work - what little effort was required - in maintaining the relief.
Then I moved on to a 5 String Corvette Warwick bass. The first thing I noticed was how low the action was - i.e. the strings were too close to the fretboard. The strings were very light gauge - 35 to 120. My guess was that the previous customer had found that normal gauge string tensions gave a very high action, or it may be he just preferred light gauge strings. The curious thing was that the amount of relief in the neck was correct! It's rare for a guitar to come in with the correct relief. So I now have one Corvette Warwick bass sat on my other bench with a broken truss rod, I start to get paranoid when I tension up this make. I devised a plan of setting the guitar with the same gauge strings to check on the flexibility and operation of the truss rod. From here, I could tell whether we could put normal gauge 45 to 130 weight strings on. After the set-up, the truss-rod was not smooth in operation. I even tried the tiniest amount of oil run along the truss rod adjuster to free it up but this didn't help either. It was clear that the truss rod adjuster was binding and without free movement it is impossible to tell how much tension is on the rod. As I turned the rod to get the correct amount of relief with light gauge strings I personally felt that there was a strong chance of snapping the rod or that the rod would not hold the massive amount of tension required for normal weight strings. I believe the term often used is to "quit while you're ahead". From the picture below, you will be able to see a broken truss rod from a Corvette Bass and how thin it is in relation to a Gibson Les Paul truss-rod. One thing I find fascinating is the large truss-rod adjuster key, which gives the impression that the rod is substantial - not as I find, slightly thicker than coat-hanger wire. If only people knew how thin the rod was and the strong possibility of snapping it if too much tension is applied!
As I previously quoted "Its rare for a guitar to come in with the correct relief." - I then had a customer bring me his 2 expensive CF Martins that both have the correct relief. What is going on - 3 good ones in one week? However, the actions are high and the frets are uneven so there was work still to do on them.
Pic ref. above 18th January 2008
Week ending 11th January 2008
This week has seen a mixed bag of problems, one of which was truly baffling. Unlike some people out there who will B.S. their way through a problem when they do not know the answer, I am the first to say if I don't know. I had a call this week from a customer whose SG Bass I set-up two months ago. For some reason, since then, it had lost 80 per cent of the sound from the 4th string! I could see from the position of the pickups that I had already addressed an imbalance because the bridge pickup was tilted away from the treble strings and at the neck pickup the 4th pole piece was raised out of the pickup cover. The string balance on the neck pickup was the main offender. In short, I turned the pickup around 180 degrees, changed the 4th string, re-soldered all the electrics, and even altered the angle at which the neck pickup sat within its casing, but still I could only achieve 80 per cent volume out of the 4th string area! I conferred with a friend of mine who has as much, if not more experience, Charlie Hall (electronics guru) and Aaron Armstrong of Armstrong Pickups. The result from this combined 'brains trust' was only a guess that somehow the two magnets had become very weak, particularly in the neck position, coupled with poor resonance within the guitar itself. In a way, it's disappointing to be defeated by a problem but thankfully, because this guitar was brand new, the customer is now sending it back to Gibson for them to rectify the situation. I did e-mail Gibson and their reply was just what I would have said, "they couldn't comment until they had the guitar back and investigated themselves". So now my customer and I will have to wait to see if they can rectify the problem. Had the guitar been older than 12 months, I would have taken up Aaron's offer to fit the pickup with new magnets and see if that did the trick, this being the only other potential solution we could come up with between us! We shall have to wait and see what happens now.
The Gibson Les Paul with the broken headstock I have been working on has now had its final coat of cream colour. The process of finishing can be quite slow because working with cellulose requires that one section is totally dry before you work on another. The work can be broken down into two areas - the binding and the neck-stock colour. After cleaning up the binding, it has to be lacquer tinted to give an aged look. Then the binding has to be masked off, and a primer coat applied to the back of the neck, flatted off and base coated white. Then the neck is masked, the paint blended to the binding and re-masked for application of the final topcoat. This week I hope to de-nib the whole neck down and apply a final clear lacquer and then the paint job is finished. Then a waiting time of one week is necessary before finally cleaning it and setting it up. Pheww what a long job.
Pic ref. above 11th January 2008
Week ending 4th January 2008
One thing that came up this week, which occurs from time to time, is the customer inquiry for a short notice set-up! The enquirer typically asks if I can do a set-up and then wants to know how fast I could do it, followed by ."but I need it for tomorrow" or "the next day". I am a firm believer in organising my business well, so it's very difficult to try to appear courteous in reply. Therefore, my usual reply is "Sorry, I can't do a set-up at such short notice". I try to explain that in order to do his 'short notice set up' I would have to phone up each one of my customers and tell them that I cannot do their instruments as planned because of the demand of another customer. Valuing all my customers - as I do - I think this is unfair. I therefore refused to do the 'short-notice' job this week. I did explain that on average, the turn-around time is only 3 days but clearly, that was far too long a wait! I know some people are impatient or that they may have tried to set up their guitar and got into a real mess and need it fixing ASAP because they have a gig to do but, again, it's not my fault they are in that situation. Years ago, a colleague in the same industry in Florida USA said, "If you're good you have loads a work you have to be organised and plan things. If you can do things straight away" he continued, "it shows you don't have any customers, therefore can't be any good".
The short notice thing reminds me of a notice I once saw which said, "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on mine", or something to that effect. This isn't to say I won't make time for my customers or be flexible for them, in fact it's quite the reverse. For real emergencies I will drop everything and help, usually working extra hours necessary to fit everything in and not let anyone down. This week, when two situations occurred, I responded to customer problems and they were in the workshop the next day. I worked on the guitars and fixed them while the customers waited. Hopefully, the problems they had are now resolved. My Professional Set-up is a lengthy process to do from start to finish and, on occasion, I don't know what I am letting myself in for when I start! However, I cannot emphasise enough that, once I have done a Set-up, it is guaranteed for 12 months and takes very little time/tweaking to bring the guitar back to its optimum setting.
Happy New Year to all.
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