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News Info & Prods    Archive - Jan 2012 to Dec 2012 Tales from Workshop

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December 2012 - Jaguar on the Edge

A customer treated himself to a Johnny Marr Fender Jaguar - approx £1500 - but wasn't happy with the fact that the strings on the upper section of frets were off the fretboard! He asked was this was an oversight as others seemed to be the same? Well, it looked to be either that the saddle spacing was too wide or the neck was too narrow or had been rounded over too much at the fret ends. The strings don't quite run over the bridge pick-up poles either.

Ruling out a new neck I turned my attention to the string spacing. The threaded-rod type Jazzmaster/Jaguar (normal) saddles allow a choice of spacing but not here. The threaded-rod type has to be notch deeper to stop the strings jumping out of position. Well, if a special guitar is created the least you would expect is a 'special edition' saddle. Maybe Johnny Marr doesn't play above the 5th fret?

I really wasn't thinking smart here as I decided to make new saddles with the exception of the middle string groove. When I had done that I used the Gibson method of notching the saddles as part of the set-up. This took a long time and what I should have done was buy the Graphtec Tele saddles which have the same measurements and just part-drill out for the intonation springs. Either way, the end result was a Jaguar that could be played 'up the dusty end' as Big Jim Sullivan once said to me.

December 2012  -  (pic) Jaguar on Edge

December 2012 Barracuda Needs Stringing up!

Ian McCutcheon has been avidly producing Shadows Music CD's and other material as examples and Backing Tracks for many years, so it came as no surprise that his Christmas present from his wife was a Burns Barracuda Baritone - Jet Harris style. I doubt that Ian owns a guitar that I haven't done a set-up on but this guitar caused me to do a rethink and double take after Ian told me it needs to be tuned E to E. Wow - a whole octave below standard guitar! Unfortunately, this guitar, for some reason, had been called a 'baritone' but it's real register was actually more akin to the Bass VI with tremolo - as in 4 Bass plus 2 top strings. Ian made the simple mistake of buying a 'Baritone' string set which were too light and wouldn't stay in tune when fingered - not enough tension. The 30" scale length gave the game away as it falls more into the category of a short scale bass. I gave Ian my baritone 28" scale length to try - which he liked. All that was needed was to emulate this 'feel/tension' on his 'Barracuda Baritone'.
This blog entry becomes a lesson in tension for the tuning, gauge of string and scale length, all of which has to be calculated.
Using the tension of my own 28" Baritone at approx 9kg, I began working out what individual gauge of strings should be fitted, looking to find a set 'off the shelf'.
I did look at the Jag Bass VI but found they were still too light for the Barracuda. I then asked what the Burns Company designed for it and the answer back was 'interesting' - lets leave it at that!
I found that the GHS Boomers do a light bass set and by adding 2 standard type to the upper 2, I had a 'balanced set'. Fitting them became an issue as the 'reso tube' holes were too small for the string wrap/twist at the end to go through them. These were drilled out including the fulcrum plate and eventually I was able to set-up the guitar. I did try 2 plain strings on the top but they buzzed and didn't sound right so opted for wound to match the tension.
I find it amazing that people buying this guitar don't have a guide or designed set of strings for it on the market. This is one guitar that seems to have made it into the music store without much thought and information for string gauge sets. Below are the tensions and scale lengths listed.

December 2012  -  (pic)  Barracuda Burns Baritone 1

December 2012  -  (pic)  Barracuda Burns Baritone 2

December 2012 - Bitter and Twisted Ricky

I had a call from a customer who explained that he had bought the a DVD of Byrds band member Roger McGuinn and apparently he tightened up the truss rod every time he came to play it! Whether this is true or not it remains a stupid thing to do! The customer said that he tried it himself and one day the truss rod broke! Well am I not surprised!
I said that I had not replaced a truss rod on the newer type Rickenbacker and so I would have to see how difficult it was. As it turned out, I found it reasonably easy to extract but the replacement truss rod cost was horrific for what they are.
The problem with being given a guitar in bits is trying to work out why it went wrong and what it was like before, CSI style - like some kind of post-mortem. It doesn't help that customers often don't tell all the facts. Note, I didn't say they lie - they just omit the facts because they don't seem important.
I probed deeper and asked him how he tightened the rods - usually a simple matter of getting a box spanner and tightening. However, this is no good on a Rickenbacker, foreign Warwick Bass or guitars where the rods are notoriously thin and weak so this is probably one of the reasons it broke.
I fitted the new rod and tightened it up fully before fitting the strings - even this operation is done a special way. After fitting the strings I found that the neck was changing shape before my eyes! I put the guitar to one side for a day and rechecked it. Sure enough the neck had a massive forward bow. I slackened the strings and re-adjusted the neck to a backbow and somehow I was able to tighten up the nuts again. Strange. You can see in the picture how too much of the thread is pulling through the nut. Something was giving way. I retuned it and the same thing happened again - massive forward bow with string losing tune - flattened off.
Because this newer truss rod system has a different design, I found that the 2 locknuts at the one end (anchor end) were pulling through the end-grain with little resistance! I think in this particular case that the wood was a little on the soft side and would not hold the anchor end. Maybe this is why Mr McGuinn keeps tightening the rods. If so, it is treating the symptoms not the illness. I have set-up 12 strings with the newer truss rods and they have stayed put.
I have to say that the rectification would have been simply to bury a rectangular plate at the pick-up end to stop both rods pulling through. I have illustrated the design which requires chopping out a rectangular cavity to embed the plate so it will be partially hidden. A thin cover would have made the mod invisible.
The reason I didn't continue with the modification was because the neck had been badly bent out of shape for such a long time, it had become kinked and it would need refretting involving removing frets, heat straightening, levelling the fingerboard. The customer wasn't prepared to pay for this as well as the repair for the broken rod and said that if he got it back like it was before the rod broke he would be happy. I could have made it a good guitar but had to accept the customer's wishes. Just goes to show that all guitars are different and sometimes you can't win them all and there is a time to give up - although people who know me know this goes against the grain.

December 2012  -  (pic)  Bitter and Twisted 1

December 2012  -  (pic)  Bitter and Twisted 2

Peter Allen Custom Shop1119

November 2012 - Nut Job

One customer brought me a Sheraton by Epiphone wanting the action lowering and I proceeded to cost out the work. In this instance, it needed a new nut because the slots had been cut down too low and yet I spied something underneath the nut already. When I came to work on the guitar you can imagine my surprise when you see from the picture below where someone had used a thick piece of cardboard. This would deaden the sound even if the slots had been correct, so I continued and fitted a new nut. I started work on the frets and found them loose in their slots. The other picture shows glue being applied to the loose frets which requires additional cleanup work. The result of these two additional costs meant that the guitar sounded good and played well. The customer was pleased with the job and I moved on to my next customer.

It is surprising how different customers can be. I got a phone call and explained the service I provided, directed him to my website and he e-mailed me asking how much would it cost to set-up 2 cheap guitars. As usual, I explained I could never give an exact cost until I have seen the guitars. His father dropped off the two guitars and I then found it wasn't a simple job of set-up work but new nuts were required, a missing saddle and loose frets on both guitars amounting to double the estimated cost, duly emailed as an estimate.
I then received a tirade of what I can only put down as abusive e-mails. To précis these,: the customer couldn't afford a professional setup on both guitars let alone additional costs and therefore he felt that I should only do a standard set up. He said I knew they were cheap so somehow I ought to have known the likely cost without seeing them. I explained that I hadn't done a standard setup for 15 years and I wasn't going to do one now. Furthermore, the nut slot being cut down too low meant that no guitar tech could do even a standard set-up without replacing the nuts. He clearly didn't want to hear this and more e-mail hostility ensued telling me if he worked on a project and it cost more than he thought, he would reduce the price. - there is a big difference here as I hadn't started work and had waived the £15 per guitar minimum charge yet still got an earful!

I only outline this situation to show that being a guitar tech is not all sweetness and light and some people get really upset when they don't get their own way. The end result was that I asked him to take the guitars away. It is disappointing that I cannot please all the customers all the time and he now becomes statistic number six against thousands of satisfied customers, which is obviously less than 0.1% dissatisfaction rate - one day I will work it out …….no I cant be bothered.

November 2012  -  (pic)  - Nut Job

November 2012 - Fender: A case to answer for?

As much as I love the Fender guitars, one of the things I do dislike about Fender is their guitar case. Recently it appears that they have changed the design to a more rectangular case. When I saw this I was thrilled because the old case with the slanted base would always slide to the floor when put against a wall.
- which is very annoying. No sooner had I started to see these cases come into the workshop, I saw the first casualty as seen below - brand new and sent by Courier and it needs a repair! It's all very well designing a guitar case, but the fundamentals are pretty simple to understand - it's there to protect the guitar in transit and if it looks cool then that's a plus. Inside the new case, the guitar is too close to the edge and the flimsy padding does nothing to protect the guitar inside from damage caused by the case itself. A good impact on the outside is transmitted straight to the guitar causing the damage seen below. The irony is, I have seen this before when a shop asked me to repair a blue Joe Satriani Ibanez that had been damaged in the same way. I guess some things will never change within the industry and that's a shame.

November 2012  -  (pic)   Fender - A case to answer for?

November 2012 - Three Hands to Play an Acoustic ?

A customer called me to ask if I could do anything about a humming noise coming from his acoustic when he was playing into his computer. He told me that his spectrum analyser told him that it was around 50 Hz which in the UK is the hum that comes from the mains power supply. I told him about a trick I had used some 20 years ago when fitting a transducer made by Ashworth Electronics UK. Sadly, Alan Ashworth-Jones is no longer with us but his transducers were really good without the need for a preamp unit. Unfortunately, there was a slight hum that would reduce dramatically when the jack socket was held.
These were the symptoms that my latest caller explained he had found. Without being sarcastic or facetious I said to him "what you are telling me is it would be ok if you had three hands?" - to which he replied 'yes'. I explained that I could not get rid of the hum but I could reduce it when he was playing the guitar. It's obvious to anyone, you cannot play the guitar without touching the strings and by running a wire from the strings to the jack sockets you are effectively touching the jack socket without the need for a third hand. After taking the jack socket off the guitar it was clear that the CF Martin had not fitted the shield on the inner socket to reduce spurious emissions. As I didn't have a spare, I first soldered an earth wire to the jack socket, then insulated it with plastic tape and applied aluminium foil over the top. You can see from the picture below that I soldered the other end of the earth wire to copper foil (inside/underneath the bridge), which touches the ball end of the string. It was interesting to note that, when I was at the Taylor factory, one of their cutaway guitars had this method - albeit a more solid metal plate compared to the copper tape I used here - but my method still works.
The customer was very happy and e-mailed me saying :
Hi Peter,
I wanted to thank you for solving my Martin guitar hum problem. Even without touching the strings the hum has been reduced a lot, so apparently the aluminium shield is working very well. Regards Piotr B. - Coventry.

November 2012  -  (pic)  Three Hands to Play an Acoustic ?

Peter Allen Custom Shop1117

October 2012 - Wet Joints for a Bass Guitar

One of the things I tend to do on some bass guitars as part of the service during a set up is to add a soldered earth just to make sure there are no problems for the customer down the line. It seems to be a production shortcut to not solder to the earth tag on the jack socket. When I mentioned this to customers they are absolutely baffled - even if they understand what I am talking about. This also happens on the Telecaster because it is believed that sufficient contact is made when bolting electric components to a solid metal plate. There is a problem referred to as 'dry joints' from soldering so I don't see any difference between this type of bolted together 'dry joint'. One of the SOS calls I get from bass players is their sound cutting out and they believe it to be something to do with their guitar lead. What actually happens is the jack socket becomes loose and therefore the circuit breaks down, cutting in and out. Yes, I could just bolt it all back together but a little bit of solder and wire as well goes a long way and hopefully he/she will still be playing their bass even if they get another loose jack socket.

October 2012  -  (pic)  Wet Joints for a bass guitar

October 2012 - Battery Stuck in a Taylor Acoustic

Ok, well here is a situation I stand more chance of getting two guitars with the same problem in one after another than I do of winning the lottery. Anyone who has sent themselves to sleep reading my blog will be familiar with my phrase - just like two corporation buses coming along together -- I had another guitar in with the same problem. And so here is a tale of two Taylors.
The customer initially brought me a Taylor guitar that she wanted to use for recording. There was no sound coming from it when it was plugged in. The first thing I looked at was the battery compartment to find out if a change of battery would make any difference. Shock and horror - I found the batteries were severely corroded. People do not realise that when batteries corrode they actually expand - I assume from the electrolytic chemical reaction inside. The first battery would not come out even with pliers. I drilled a hole in the top of the battery and screwed in a small screw and pulled it out. There was no way I could reach the second battery and so I decided to take the housing off the guitar a) because of safety for the instrument and b) because, if I couldn't fix it, the customer was going to need a replacement unit. At this point I still didn't know whether the guitar would fire up and work. With the guitar safely tucked away in its case I could go about getting the second battery out. There was no hole on the other side of the housing to push the battery through and furthermore, if I had drilled a hole, I would have damaged the contacts inside. I decided to go back to the original, successful method of removing the battery and bought a long series thin drill. With a hole in the top of the battery I was now able to screw in a 6 inch screw and pull the second battery out. Once it was cleaned up I was able to check from the contacts on the outside of the housing, that the batteries in series worked. The bad news for the customer was that the batteries were now working but the preamp was duff. I said that she would be better off going to a Taylor repairer for the part as this would be more difficult for me to source and supply. I must have impressed her because she brought back the Taylor for a set up after the preamp had been replaced. Then she brought me yet another guitar for a complete service.

Two weeks later, a customer brought me his Taylor for setting up. He said he didn't use the batteries. I plugged it in and sure enough, it didn't work. I had to use the same trick to get those batteries out but he was lucky I caught the problem in time. Two new batteries were fitted with express orders to remove them if he was not going to play it through an amplifier. I remember one of the Taylor representatives telling me that masking tape or card could be rolled around the outside of the battery to stop them buzzing/rattling when the guitar was played - ironically, one problem-solving device actually caused more of an issue in trying to remove the corroded batteries!

October 2012  -  (pic)  Battery Stuck in a Taylor Acoustic

October 2012 Hate - Appropriately Named: Hate

A customer had been searched for this BC Rich guitar for many years. It played appallingly - a very high action with the bridge screwed right down - and he told me that he knew I could fix it! Well I suppose because he had been to me before I decided not to reject it out of hand and to see if there was something I could do to rectify the situation.
To say that I have never liked BC Rich guitars would be an understatement. This is because of finding no end of problems on brand new guitars when working sub-contract for a shop. Of course the reaction from BC Rich UK was they were wonderful. However, I thought not.
In this case, it was clear that, although BC Rich had gone to the trouble of having a bridge made for the guitar, it was poorly manufactured and poorly designed. In the first instance, it sloppily fitted the bridge posts, causing the rear to tilt upwards/forwards severely. This in turn increased the action height but also caused the strings to ring off the back of the saddle, making them buzzy and dull in sound.
Secondly, there was insufficient distance between the back of the saddle and the anchor point causing the string wrap to sit on the top of the saddle. Moving the saddles forwards only forced the whole bridge to be adjusted backwards to compensate, causing it to tilt more on the bridge posts.
As a compromise, the bass side was moved backwards. To resolve the sloppy fitting, shims where glued to the base of the bridge to stop it tilting forwards. Together with a used ball ends, threaded over as a spacers to move the string wrap away from the saddles, I had a guitar to set-up . Wait! - it's not finished yet. I had to take 3 mm of the neck socket to get the correct neck rake angle. No wonder the customer didn't even stand a chance at a DIY job! Phew, the (string) lengths I go to - no pun intended.

October 2012  -  (pic)  Hate

Peter Allen Custom Shop1118

September 2012 - JP Musicman Dilemma

A customer brought me a JP Musicman 6-string guitar for a setup. I am not sure what it is about these guitars, but I often find that the nut slots are cut too low - especially bass guitars. This was the case with this guitar but, instead of the JP having a normal nut, it had a compensated type. I contacted the UK importers and asked for a replacement and, as I expected, I got no reply and no nut. So I had to go to plan B. I managed to remove the nut (no easy feat) and I then took a piece of graphite nut and created a little jig to cut out the front section, thus creating an 'L' section, and glued the original intonated nut into this. By doing this I preserved the intonation and was able to raise the height as well. The end result is shown in the pictures below. Part of the reason for doing this was seeing the disappointment of the customer when I told him I would have to remove the nut and replace it with a normal one. The end result was a happy customer and I am pleased to report that the smile on his face said it all but no thanks to the UK dealer which you would think would have spares on the shelf.

Septemper  2012  -  (pic)  JP Musicman Dilemma

September 2012 - A 'simple' request

As is often the case, I find I do restoration/setup work on one customer's guitar and then get another customer wanting exactly the same thing. A recent example of this was a customer who went out and bought the same guitar as his friend and then asked me to do the same work. This wouldn't have been so much of a problem but he asked for me to change the colour of the guitar from white to green! Not a small job! You may have read in earlier blogs I was having trouble with the lacquer on a guitar - and this was the very guitar causing me those issues. The customer was very patient and I am pleased to say that he was reunited with his guitar this month. The one interesting thing that came out of it, apart from having to learn new spraying techniques, was finding out that the wood was actually Obeche - the wood of an African obeche tree. In the past, I have made bodies from this wood, and it is very easy to work, but I was surprised how soft the wood was when I came to strip off the old lacquer. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the lacquer I put on the body was actually harder than the wood!
Below, you can see the finished job but what you don't see is that I actually did this no less than three times before I was happy with it. The customer reported back that he was also pleased.

What often gets customers bewildered/confused is the amount of work that goes into refinishing a guitar body. There are articles out there explaining how this can be done 'DIY fashion' but often the wrong products are used and sometimes the customer finishes up with a sticky, soft lacquer that never seems to go off. I have also seen cheap jobs where there is that much paint put in that it starts to lift. When I explain how expensive it is to do this type of work, I am often met with consternation and a confused look as to why it has such a high cost, followed by the 'Great Northern War Cry' - "How much!!??!! The problem arises because people make a correlation between buying a complete new guitar with a great finish -- usually made in China or Korea -- at a cost of £200 to £300. I then have to explain that, if they had a gash in their car wing and took it for repair, the material costs would be between £50 and £100 and the labour costs could be £200 to £500, depending on the area. My wife recently had the back wing of her car repaired and, although there were some plastic parts replaced which I guess would have been no more than £500, the total bill was £1600. Unfortunately, the reason why refinishing is expensive is down to applying a UK labour rate. The irony of the situation is that the same work could probably be done for £50 but you would have to buy an airline ticket to somewhere like China to get the work done for that. Need I say more?

Septemper  2012  -  (pic)  A 'simple' request 1

Septemper  2012  -  (pic)  A 'simple' request 2

September 2012 - Lopsided Telly

One of the things I get complaints about is how the strings often run off the side of the fretboard. Usually, the customer doesn't realise this until he starts to access the dusty end of the fretboard and, by then, he has often had the guitar several months or years and so it becomes a real annoyance. Sometimes the neck has been put into the neck socket incorrectly and, other times, it can be something as simple as the situation pictured below. It is quite clear that the neck socket was masked up while being sprayed and the masking tape was set way back, allowing an excessive build-up of paint to push the neck over. Rectification was simply a matter of sanding the paint back almost flush with the wood and refitting the neck. Even this can be dangerous territory, though, because when the paint is levelled back there is every chance of delamination at the edge. Notice the obligatory (black) felt tip pen - every guitar technician's secret weapon - to colour in the edge!

Septemper  2012  -  (pic)  Lopsided Telly

Peter Allen Custom Shop1114

August 2012 - Taylor Shim Problem

One of the problems with many acoustic guitars is a change in the shape of the soundboard, which has an effect on the action height. Humidity can also have an effect on this but on old guitars, as the soundboard bellies, the action will rise. The only remedy in this case is to reset the neck but many acoustics are built in such a way that neck resets are difficult or impossible. One reason I like Taylor guitars is that resetting the neck is relatively simple. Recently, I have come across 2 Taylor guitars where the shim appears to have been broken - although in fact there was part of the shim missing. I would guess that Bob Taylor would be quite upset if he found that one of his operatives had fitted a broken shim. The problem was easily resolved but without it there was obviously a reduction in the sound transmission - I would guess of about 15%. I wouldn't want people to get the wrong idea about Taylor guitars just because one individual had an off day on the production line because this situation goes for every guitar manufacturer. It reminds me of being put in my place by an RAC breakdown guy when I commented that Fords seem to have a lot of breakdowns. He replied that actually they don't - it just seems like it because there are lots more of them on the road to start with because they make more! So basically, I have worked on a lot of Taylor guitars over the years and it is coincidental that I have recently found two broken shims in guitars made seven years apart - which doesn't mean them having broken shims is a common problem - it isn't.

August  2012  -  (pic)  Taylor Shim Problem

August 2012 - Saving the Edge of the Sound Hole

No - this is not about U2! One problem that crops up with acoustic players that play a lot and are, perhaps, more heavy-handed in their playing style, is wearing away of wood around the sound hole. When there is a mother-of-pearl inlay, it helps protect the area to some degree but the wood at the edge can quickly get worn away. One customer asked me what I could do to protect the edge and could I repair it? I suggested a resin coating and, from the pictures, you will see a before and afterwards situation. One of my customers recently commented that this type of repair had saved his guitar over the past seven years! Looking at his other guitar this was very true.

August  2012  -  (pic)  Saving the Edge of the Sound Hole

August 2012 - Short Bass Strings at the Tele Nut

One of the problems that crops up with bass guitar strings is the presumption that, if the customer knows the given scale length, the bass will be happily fitted with the same type of string - i.e. long scale - for the same measurement. One thing they overlook is that guitars that have through-body stringing actually need a longer string. Most guitar bodies are about 2" (50 mm) thick and when you add this to the string length, the string can often be too short. I have had customers telling me that they have got away with it - which is quite possible because, in certain circumstances, a ¼" inch or 5 mm can be the make or break as to whether it works.
A classic situation is shown in the pictures below, where the customer provided me with a gauge of string that he had used before. I fitted the string and you can see that the string is too short. His reply was 'it's the same gauge I always fit!' but this time he was unlucky and I needed to buy a set of extra long for the string to sit properly in the nut slot. Unfortunately, this did mean it cost him double for the strings this time but luckily he can use the shorter set on one of his other guitars.

August  2012  -  (pic)  Short Bass Strings at the Tele Nut

Peter Allen Custom Shop1113

July 2012 - Short on String, Long on Wrap - T Bass Gibson

As in the previous article, string length on bass guitars is something of a problem and past blogs have covered my usual rants on the length of wrap at the ball end. It's funny how, within the space of a couple of months, I had a customer come to me with the same problem. The previous month my customer realised the problem with the wrap, so he (ex-Toolmaker) made his own extension to fit onto the back of his Thunderbird Bass - although the intonation was so far out that I had to add extra extensions to his handiwork. A few weeks later a similar bass came in and, from the pictures, you can see I had to devise some method of extending the string so that the wrap did not come over the saddle. What I can't understand is why Gibson doesn't just fit the bridge in a different place - there is plenty of room. I was so pleased to resolve the problem I forgot to take the final photographs and consequently asked the customer to send me some - thank you customer.

July  2012 -  (pic) Short on String, Long on Wrap - T Bass Gibson

July 2012 - T not for Tilted Pickup - Gibson

The same Thunderbird Bass with the wrap-over saddle problem also has also had a very tilted front pickup. I tried to adjust the angle of it while the customer was there but there clearly was no adjustment due to the way it had been routed. A small modification allowed the pickup to be levelled and balanced with the bridge pickup. A small adjustment and a big difference!

July  2012  -  (pic)  T not for Tilted Pickup - Gibson

July 2012 - Failed Faraday Cage

A customer brought me an expensive, UK-handmade bass guitar, which he felt did not play at all well. There were some issues with the electrics - loose controls - which I resolved but the astonishing thing that made an impression was the fact that the luthier had gone to a lot of trouble to line the cavity with shielding but had not bothered with the scratch plate. The whole idea of shielding the electrics is based on a complete encasement of ALL the electrics and is referred to as the Faraday Cage effect. It was simple enough to complete the task but, when talking to the customer, he explained that he had waited two years and felt that the guitar had been thrown together using other model components and he was close to losing his patience. Eventually I was able to set up his instrument and sort out the electrics.

July  2012  -  (pic)  Failed Faraday Cage

Peter Allen Custom Shop1115

July 2012 - Interim News 1

This month proved to be a real disaster of a month and hence the June Blog was late. I don't do Twitter or Facebook and rarely get real personal on issues - after all this blog is about 'work and effects on the workshop'. July started with a backlog of work running with a 2 to 3 week 'waiting list'. I had 3 guitars at the finishers that had been there since May so, when another customer wanted his guitar made over in a different colour I decided that I would do this myself, seeing as things were taking so long with the sub-contract finishing. Firstly, I needed to get some more lacquer. This should be easy but they keep changing specifications to improve the products, in line with legislation/environmental requirements. Eventually, I got the lacquer and found the spray gun I have used over the years is not up to the job - so I look around to buy a new one. This also turned out not to be a simple procedure as the spray gun industry is also improving and there are different types for different things. I ordered one and found it leaked air and eventually had to go back and hey- they find there is a part missing! I eventually get it back at the beginning of August.
In amongst all this I am still doing guitars and business is thriving but I am then hit with serious pains in my leg when sitting down! It turns out, after an MRI scan, that I have a ruptured disc in my back and it also turns out that my spine never grew properly when I was a kid - Great! So, went into hospital and had a procedure done on it which I hope will sort it out. To make things even worse, my 19 year old sidekick cat became ill and died so I've not had a very good time recently! Hope to get the next blog out real soon but it may have to wait a little bit while I catch up on the 3 to 4 weeks I am behind on where I want to be. Sorry folks.

Peter Allen Custom Shop1112

June 2012 - The Blocked tremolo

This seems to be a term meaning all things to all people - I have seen everything from bits of plastic to 9 volt batteries used to 'block a tremolo. I recently had a guitar which had been set-up and blocked by a music shop and they had started with 1 piece of wood and glued 2 further pieces to the original first one fitted. I do not know what they looked like when it was done but I opened/removed the back plate to have 3 pieces of wood in a 'v' shape fall to the floor! It looked like a 4 year old had made it in craft class - it was of no use whatsoever and the fact that the customer had come to me complaining that the guitar never stayed in tune was explanation enough as to this bit of wood's effect.
Often when I set guitars up for retail, the Fender Eric Clapton Signature would have a piece of wood added to it but that, too, often fell out - most likely due to shrinkage as, from what I can remember, it was a soft wood.
The whole intention of properly blocking the tremolo is to ensure that the most transmission of sound is through the 'sides' of the sustain block by putting wood either side of it. When done correctly, the tightening of the springs to maximum should not have any effect on the tremolo - meaning they should not force it into the top/lacquer finish. The picture seen here shows the way I do the job - the wood is an 'interference fit' so I drill a hole to fit a 'vine eye' so it can be extracted with a metal rod. The other 2 springs have been left out so that the detail can be seen.

June  2012  -  (pic) The Blocked tremolo

June 2012 - 'String Elasticity Gauge'

I started with the title 'What is a guitar tuner for?' but thought that might be boring enough for people not to bother reading on. Well, I ask the simplest question and we would all agree that it is to tune up to the correct note.
I was asked to make this a blog by someone who had been playing for 30 years and wanted me to share this information. The vast majority of people do not know that the humble guitar tuner is also a 'String Elasticity Gauge'!! OK, I will explain - often I will get a customer that comes to me with 'tuning and stability problems. First, I look to see how they fitted the strings at the machine head. Secondly, I look at the colour of the strings. If they are grey or black - especially the plain strings - they will most likely be going 'flat' in pitch (intonation). Cheapskates will fiddle with the intonation but the best solution is new strings and all returns to normal. Did I say normal? Ironically this can be the start of problems too.

Let me take a 'typical' case in point:
Customer sends email about 'tuning and stability issues' even blaming the tuners/machine heads. I send an email back, directing him to my re-string guide.
Customer then says "Its still no good" and brings in the guitar.
What I find is: the strings look new, but they are fitted to the machine heads looking like a drunken sailor's neck-tie. (Apologies to all sailors). I say, I have never seen strings fitted like that - to which he replies "it's the same as the Peter Allen instructions and diagrams". But no - its nothing like!
Now the crucial bit - I ask if the elasticity has been taken out of the strings because I do explain this. "Yes" is the reply. So I now check this out and firstly I have tuned all the strings to pitch and now I bend the 1st string at the 12th fret and push it into the 3rd string (where it normally lines up) and let go. Looking at the needle on the meter it dropped by 1 semitone !! I tune up to pitch and I do it again on the SAME string and it drops another semitone. After doing this about 5 times the note eventually becomes stable and is 5% short of the note. A final bend and retune and the string doesn't budge when bent.
Here is the rub - you expect that if you bent a string in a solo you would still be in tune wouldn't you? The important thing here is that the only way you can tell what is going on with the stability of the string is by using the guitar tuner. So this controlled bending of a string allows you to know if you have achieved a stable, tuned guitar.
So this is the process
a) how ever many bends on the 1st string it took
b) done at the 12 fret
c) bending distance of 2 string positions
d) Until the SAME reading is obtained before and after bending.
The only thing that will impact and cause a problem with this method is if the string snags on the nut slot or bridge saddle.

The customer said that he had done all the above and had no snagging problems but even with his poorly fitted strings I was able to get better stability than he had. The problem is that strings are delicate things and they do not need stretching the guts out of them to make them stable - they only need what you would give it 'under normal playing conditions. My preference is for D'Addario strings, as I believe they are the best in the world, but even these strings will not last long if abused.
Finally, the customer's guitar was set-up and the saddles re-positioned but the intonation and settings were nothing like where it started and yet the intonation seemed initially good.
Based on this evidence I concluded that the string had somehow been ruined before I saw the guitar. My policy of using new strings and treating them with respect showed that everything was put down to the tuning and stability problems caused by 'user error' .

June  2012  -  (pic) 'Poorly fitted String'

June  2012  -  (pic) 'String Elasticity Gauge'

June 2012 - Ibanez reborn - not without problems

One of my regular customers - was going to say old customers but I mean to say he has been coming to me for at least a decade - brought me an Ibanez with a new Floyd Rose fitted. Yes, it was a top notch Gotoh version but this is where things go bad. I keep saying that there is no guitar "industry standard" other than what Fender and Gibson and other big manufacturers create. Even within the manufacturers, there are differences - e.g. the Strat Trem on a Japanese model is narrower than a USA version - look at Graphtec Saddles Info to see the variations. So the customer has fitted it and decided that he also wants the new posts that came with the trem fitted. This I duly did and offered up the tremolo to see how it would sit when loaded with strings. Looked ok except the 'Pro set-up' had not been done and 'the jury was out' still.
I did the Set-up and then started on the intonation with the action set low. Problems started to unfold as I moved the saddles backwards and found the adjusted screws were too long! They would be fouling the back of the routing/cavity edge and I decided that the easiest option would be to modify the Cap-head Bolts by shortening them. Option 2 was to rout out the back of the tremolo cavity to make it bigger but this increases the risk of chipping and delaminating of paint so the better option was to go with option 1. Some might say it affects the look of the Cap-head Bolts but this was done for practical mechanical reasons not aesthetics.
Customer sent an email which I think it says it all.
Hi Peter,

You're just showing off now..

This setup is particularly excellent, particularly with "Juice" (Steve Vai piece), which is challenging to say the least on both player and instrument. Having the trem stay perfectly in tune after half a dozen run through's of this piece is amazing. The trem tension is perfect with the ability to warble across the note centres easily and drop very quickly returning to pitch accurately. Also the accuracy of the intonation with 2nd fret harmonics jumping out of the guitar is brilliant.

I just can't put it down, well done, you are a true artist.

W. Mason

June  2012  -  (pic) Ibanez reborn - not without problems

Peter Allen Custom Shop1111

May 2012 - Dodgy PRS ? 1

One of my past customers told me how his wife had bought him his dream guitar - which happens to be a PRS Custom 22. Apparently it had been 'Old Stock' and they got it for a good price. When I received it and checked the geometry, it was clear that the neck had been set incorrectly - this was more like 'borderline stock'! The action was high, there was a 'back-bow' in the neck and very little adjustment to be made from the bridge post. It is times like this that I really feel for my customers' predicament, especially when I think a guitar should never have left the factory, let alone be sold by a retailer. But there again, maybe it is normal for the action to be 4/64 on the treble side - except that with the correct neck relief the action was much higher! It took considerable cunning on my part to be able to reduce the action to 2/64ths. By adjusting the shape of the neck via fret level I managed to reduce the height by over 1/64th and I then took another look at the bridge posts. I could see that the bridge post ferrule was recessed below the lacquer and I estimated that the flange on the bridge post could be made smaller by modifying it so that it would sit tightly against the insert in the wood (bridge post ferrule) without damaging the lacquer. From the pictures below you can see how I achieved this. When I came to do the final set up I was pleased to find that the bridge post was not biting into the lacquer and I even had a little room to spare! I am not sure the customer realised how lucky he had been with the modification made to the post in order to give him his dream guitar. Furthermore, I didn't charge for that little bit of ingenuity!

May 2012 -  (pic) Dodgy PRS ?

May 2012 - Mr unFortunate

One of my regular customers - 'Mick' from The Fortunes - rang me to say that he had bought a rare 'bolt-on neck' Gibson Les Paul (apparently only 1000 were made). I tried to hide my shock on seeing the state that the guitar was in. Some guitars get treated poorly and some get abused. This particular guitar was definitely in the 'abused' category and in a sorry state. Regrettably I don't have a picture to show the original 'before' state, so you'll have to take my word for how bad it was. It was clear that the guitar had been 'modified/customised' without taste, but basically it sounded great! My remit was to tidy the guitar up and make it look like the Gibson that it should be so I went about replacing the electrics and some other hardware, bridge etc. I found an original schematic showing that it had once had a rotary coil tap -- very advanced for its time! To replicate this I used a stacked 500K pot which was very difficult to find. The interesting thing is that I recently set up Mick's Corona Fretking, which also had a rotary coil tap as standard. Eventually the guitar was wired with 2 volume controls, master coil tap knob and master tone control. The previous owner didn't understand the reason for there being two leads coming out of the neck pickup and chose to use the coil tap wire so therefore the guitar only ever worked off one of the two pickup coils (half-power)! The bridge pickup had been replaced with a Custom Seymour Duncan but this had been wired out of phase with the neck pickup - because he wired it according to the instructions, which is not always the correct way when mixing different manufacturers. I did think it would be interesting if the customising owner could hear what a difference my rectifications have made and realise the mistakes they made in their quest to improve the instrument - maybe they'll read it here!
A repair job had been made on the neck and a very thin coat of lacquer had been applied - it's a wonder they could spare the paint! Some of the lacquer had started to wear away and a section of it further down the neck had been worn off completely due to a chemical reaction from using a petrochemical glue inside the guitar case! In short, I repaired the case with matching blue felt and then built-up the missing lacquer on the neck, before spraying a pullover coat over all of it. The body looked as if it had been used as for target practice and shot at with a BB gun as there were numerous dings in the lacquer. I sat and filled many of them before sealing the body with a coat of clear lacquer. Poor Mr Fortune had to wait a fair time before he got the guitar back but I am sure the end result was worth waiting for as I got this email from him:

"Hi Pete
Just a quickie to say thanks for the sterling work you did on the old Gibson. It's a totally different instrument to the one I brought in and I'm really looking forward to using it on the four upcoming shows this weekend. One of these days I'll bring you something you can't fix! - Best, Mick The Fort!" PS I wrote about you on my Blog http://www.michaelsmitham.com/blog.htm

…………and another one from one of his friend's (also a customer of mine)

"Hi Peter,
I have received an e-mail from "Mr.Fortunes" Mick Smitham applauding you on the quality of perfecting the old Gibson he collected from you recently. - Terry Q."

May 2012 -  (pic) Mr unFortunate

May 2012 - Not fretted but fret not

When I get enquiries about what I do, I explain that I deal with all fretted instruments - I cannot count the times I have turned away customers that want me to work on violins, cellos and double basses. So one day, a customer arrives with two guitars - me thinks - and apologising for the fact that he had moved 50 miles away! The first guitar was a normal telecaster but the second instrument was not a guitar at all but a lap-steel! Interestingly, it has fret markers but not a fret in sight. The customer then produced a Hipshot device for quickly changing to various tunings and said 'can you fit this?' The problem was that he assumed this would fit onto the back of the existing bridge system but the type of bridge was a wrap over commonly seen on Les Paul/SG instruments and the customer didn't realise that the Hipshot unit may not work on a Les Paul type bridge. My concern was that the bridge top was curved and the method of keeping it on the guitar is one of pulling it onto the bridge posts. Using the Hipshot would mean it could move off the posts - slip backwards - and if the strings were at a shallow angle they could slip down the10 inch bridge radius unless I notched it. Anyway, a flat bridge top is preferred for slide.
After some hunting around on the internet I found nothing and thought 'Oh well - I can make one'. What you see in the picture is one I made using 2 solid aluminium blanks with a 'U' sections cut into it and coupled with a steel bar. This is fitted to the posts which are then screwed in, in parallel - it then cannot move forward or backward. Before assembly, I made brass roller saddles to thread onto the steel bar, using aluminium spacers to keep the saddles in place. A healthy daub of grease on assembly and the unit worked like magic. I am aware that there might be a bit of sag over time but currently it seems to work well. This was a close one almost proving Mick from the Fortunes right when he said "One of these days I (or someone) will bring you something you can't fix! "

May 2012 -  (pic) Not fretted but fret not

Peter Allen Custom Shop1110

April 2012 - Shergold Masquerader

Another one of the big jobs I had was a customer who had a Shergold Masquerader sitting in his wardrobe for the best part of 20 years. His friend persuaded him to have the guitar made playable and he brought it along to me to see what could be done. The truss rod hadn't been touched since it was made and I did wonder at one point whether it would actually turn. As one of the early models, the quality of build was reasonable for its day but compared to today's quality of workmanship from Korea and China the guitar left a lot to be desired, especially in the area of the frets. The frets were badly worn and there was an area of lacquer that had been worn away. I took pictures of this to create a 'before and after' story but found that I was a victim technology when the SD card in my camera failed and I lost the photographs.
Whilst this was very annoying - this customer's friend only went out and bought another Shergold Masquerader. The interesting thing is that it is a newer model and the quality of workmanship is much better. Both guitar necks happened to be the wrong shape i.e. bent, and the only alternative was to refret it and start by sanding it flat. One piece of amazing luck was the 1970's switch assembly being sold on eBay so I bought one purely so that we could replace the missing switch knob. The guitar had suffered a broken control plate and I made a new one. When I came to put the electrics back together it was clear that the shake-proof washer had cut into the plastic. To rectify this I went back to the Stone Age and created two leather washers that prevent the pot from turning but also cushion the pressure from tightening the nut.

April  2012 -  (pic)  Shergold Masquerader

April 2012 - Parker Nitefly

I was reluctant to work on the Parker Nitefly when a customer as me to set it up but he convinced me that it had a conventional truss rod, although the frets were glued on the fingerboard. If customers ask me about stainless steel fret wire they will be told that I actually hate it not only from a tone point of view but also working with it as a material. While the customer was present I attempted to adjust the truss rod but I had great difficulty as it was almost like it was seized. Suddenly, it freed up enough for me to move it and I then agreed to set up the guitar. I applied a small amount of oil to the loosened truss rod adjuster and then adjusted the neck. After a few minutes I tried to re-adjust it and found that it was so seized that the adjuster bar had actually bent! My initial thoughts were that this is ridiculous! There is no way fine adjustment could be made. A closer look at the adjuster revealed that it was sitting against the wood and a slight lubrication of oil only made it bite/stick more. I decided to make a Delrin washer about 1 mm thick and fitted this to the truss rod so that the adjuster would move smoothly. It worked and I am perplexed as to why the manufacturers couldn't have put a simple washer on when it was being made. The guitar is very expensive and you would have expected something so simple to be part of its construction. The Parker guitars were supposed to be a revolutionary in design but I can't help think they missed a trick here. From the picture below you can see just how simple this little mod is.

April  2012 -  (pic)   Parker Nitefly

April 2012 - Dimarzio Makeover

I got an e-mail from a customer who had done his research on what type of sound that he wanted from a Stratocaster and explained to me that he wanted the Bill Corgan pick-ups by Dimarzio because of a review in one of the guitar magazines stating that it was one of the best sounds the reviewer had heard for ages.. In addition he wanted a setup and believed that this would turn his old guitar into a 'dream guitar'. Initially I looked at the Bill Corgan schematic from Fender, which looked to be quite complicated. I sent the technician at Dimarzio a question about the switching and he quickly sent me their Dimarzio diagram using a standard five way switch. Well done Dimarzio! The switching was simple and recently I actually used the same wiring when I fitted new pickups into an Ibanez, which also has coil tap in positions 2 and 4. Just to make sure this guitar was the dream guitar the customer envisaged, I screened inside the pickup and control cavity. The pictures below show the electrics makeover.
The customer wrote back saying he was extremely pleased and I have to say that I was a little disappointed that I only had the guitar on a 7 day turnaround as I would have liked to have played it over a few days to appreciate the sound!

He wrote:
I just wanted to let you know that I've had chance to play my guitar more now over the holiday and I think that It's fantastic. The playability is hard to believe, the unplugged sound transformed and the plugged in tones with each pick up setting are very pleasing. I could not have imagined such a transformation. It keeps throwing up different types of interesting tones and is a joy to play. It has power approaching a Les Paul without the uncomfortable neck (for me) and is much lighter in weight. All in all a massive and worthwhile achievement. Thank you very much indeed. I will be in touch in about six months time to have it checked and possibly to ask to set up a Les Paul for me.

Mark H.

April  2012 -  (pic)   Dimarzio Makeover

Peter Allen Custom Shop119

March 2012 - Taylor Neck Reset

If people ask me about good acoustics I will generally direct them towards either Patrick James Eggle, Collings or Taylor guitars. One of the things that I have noticed over the past few years is the need to reset the necks on Taylors due to the leverage on the neck - not sure why this is. This isn't a problem and shouldn't be seen as a negative issue as they can be rectified without major work. It is also interesting to see how many manufactured acoustics are built incorrectly and go unnoticed until they are subjected to a professional setup. Many acoustics suffer from incorrect neck angle - which cannot be changed because the manufacturers either use the wrong type of glue or assembly technique that prevents neck detachments. Either way, when one of these guitars appears on my bench, I can only say to the customer I won't do the work or send it back for a replacement if it is brand-new. There have been times when I have managed to change the neck angle without taking the neck off but this requires refretting and changing the shape of the fretboard. Recently, one of my oldest patrons ask if he could come back for a 'Health Check' on his Washburn 12 string. This I gladly did and remembered the grief I went through to make it playable guitar. Here you can see a Taylor neck being adjusted. Having mentioned the errors that occur in manufacturing with neck rake angle, it is interesting to know that 0.2 mm can make the difference between a good and bad rake angle. Last year, I was asked by a well-known acoustic manufacturer to do an assessment on 3 guitars across their range. My conclusion was they all had neck rake angle faults. This manufacturer stripped the guitars and destroyed them, all credit to them!
I have explained in one of my PDF's a simple way of checking the neck rake angle.
http://guitartechnicalservices.co.uk/acatalog/Buyers_Advice_for_Acoustic_Guitars.pdf
This must be done with a straight neck.

March  2012 -  (pic)   Taylor Neck Reset

March 2012 - Ovation Problems

I hadn't seen an Ovation guitar for about a year and then I had about 6 over a period of about three weeks. The ovation usually has shims underneath the saddle which many DIY people take out in order to reduce the action height. If they are still left with a high action, the only way to resolve it is to remove it from the top of the saddle and re-shape it assuming the neck rake angle is correct.
One chap brought me his guitar saying that the action was still very high and he had changed the saddle but it was not sounding quite right. After he had gone I took the bridge saddle out of the bridge plate and everything became clear. It is my guess that he reduced the base of the saddle to get the correct height and then found it did not touch the transducer - no sound! His plan B was to get another saddle but then he found they are specially made and come as a complete unit of saddle and transducer. At that point he tried to make one but gave in and came to me.
From the pictures below you will see the Ovation saddle assembly. These saddles are not easy to make and require some precision machining of plastic as they are injection molded. Getting the base of the saddle to fit into a metal U-shaped channel is complicated. I realised that the customer had been there before me and his idea was to file away at one side of the U-shaped section. Eventually I managed to recreate the saddle part of the assembly and creating the correct radius and intonation was the simple part of the exercise.
If you went looking for information on the ovation saddle and find this story you will soon realise that the saddle is not supposed to be taken apart or out of the U-shaped channel. Doing so can damage the transducer and buying a new one is the best part of £30 or more. Reducing the action height can only be done from the top of the saddle and while it is together with the transducer. Had the customer come to me first of all for a set-up, I would
have included reducing the saddle height as part of the cost. Doing the repair work was in addition to the setup but he did get a very playable guitar both unplugged and plugged in.

March  2012 -  (pic)  Ovation Problems

March 2012 - Nightmare on Ricky Street

I guess it came as no surprise when I got a call from a customer who owned a 4001 Ricky bass. He explained that he had seen 'the blog' about a previous Ricky and wondered if I could similarly rectify his bass. It turned out to be much worse than the other ones - not only did it have a split between the fingerboard and neck but had what could only be described as 'mining activity' inside the truss rod cavity at the headstock. As past readers of the blog will remember, the poor design of these rods causes the adjusters to tilt backwards and rest on the wood. The customer took it to a Luthier some years ago who got out his gouges and carved underneath the adjusters nuts, almost to the other side of the headstock - a case of treating the symptom not the cause. Unfortunately he could not tighten or undo them - something I finally managed to undo the nuts, which I believe had been rounded over in order to try and fit a wrench. When the truss rods were taken out I was faced with yet another horror - the truss rods had been shortened already!
I moved on to plan B and found that a new pair of T-rods could be obtained from the USA. The only problem with this is that I would have to pay VAT plus Customs and Excise in addition to expensive carriage costs. So, having looked at the construction of these truss rods, I decided to make them. With hindsight this was a big mistake and I should have bought the ones from the USA because I didn't realise how much time would be taken in their construction! Finding the bar material was simple enough, threading the bar was ok, even welding the 2 rods together at one end was easy, (I have qualifications in welding) but actually finishing/thicknessing the bar so that it was equally flat on both sides, to the same specification, was a nightmare. I managed to complete the exercise, inserted the rods and attempted to set up the guitar. I had already glued the fingerboard back to the neck stock wood. Once the guitar was under tension and fitted with light gauge strings, I found that the guitar's past 19 years bent out of shape had caused a kink in the neck. After several attempts at heat straightening it, I was resigned to taking all the frets out, levelling the fingerboard and then refretting the instrument. I can truly say that this guitar was probably the worst guitar I have seen in a long time.
The pictures below actually show the process of making the truss rods as I believe my readers couldn't take another Ricky truss rod repair.
In addition to the major repairs, the scratch place was badly broken from over-tightened screws. I made a new scratch plate and while I was at it I made an infill for the bridge pickup. The end result was a really nice guitar - it was just a shame there was so much work involved in correcting it. So you can see how this job helped to create my current May 2012 backlog. My policy is to only take on one big job at a time but I finished up with 5 of them - not Rickys thank goodness!


March  2012 -  (pic)   Nightmare on Ricky Street 1

March  2012 -  (pic)   Nightmare on Ricky Street 2

March  2012 -  (pic)   Nightmare on Ricky Street 3

Peter Allen Custom Shop118

March & April 2012 Blogs missing

Again I have had customers asking me what happened to the latest blog. The fact of the matter is that I am a victim of my own success in that I have been inundated with work to the point that the blog has had to take a temporary back seat! At the moment my main concern is not letting customers down and my waiting lists has reappeared with a timescale of about three weeks -- end of May.

Peter Allen Custom Shop117

February 2012 - (a) Kevin's the new man on the Block!1

As often happens, I got two very similar situations occur within a short space of time. I had a customer bring me a Fernandes Stratocaster but the tremolo arm had ripped the threads in it and had become very sloppy. In the past, I have repaired these by drilling them out and fitting a Helicoil. Recently one of my customers, a member of the Warwick Shadows Club, brought me his guitar to set up which he had fitted with an upgraded steel sustain block in place of the original Fender part. I was so impressed with this upgrade I asked him to send me the supplier's details. This he did - thank you Roger! - And I have put a link here should you wish to buy one (Kevin's Blocks eBay). The cost of replacing the block was roughly what I charged for repairing the threads using the Helicoil system but the advantage of using the replacement is that you get better sustain/tone. Only yesterday, the owner of the Fernandes phoned up especially to thank me saying that, apart from my setup, there was an exceptional sound difference compared to when he brought the guitar in! The next day, I had a nice looking 'brand new' Fender Squier with Seymour Duncans fitted but with the most awful sustain block. I suggested to the customer about upgrading this component and he readily agreed. I removed the sustain block and sent it off to the supplier (Kevin's Blocks eBay) and, in a very quick turnaround, he copied the various drilled holes (tapping threads where necessary) and sent back the new and old blocks - an excellent service, first class workmanship and at a reasonable cost. I took a closer look at the new components made by Fender in China and found they were badly made. The tremolo wouldn't move forwards when it was first received because there was no deep bevel/chamfer on the leading edge - which can't be seen unless you take the tremolo off. Secondly, the holes underneath should be deeply counter sunk to create a knife edge on the screw but the holes had only been lightly chamfered. I think this is a case of the people making the components not understanding the importance of the design and manufacturing operations required. I will make excuses for them and say that I believe their token efforts of chamfering and countersinking were just to de-burr edges - no way!
I rectified the fulcrum plate and coated the bare metal with clear lacquer for protection and the tremolo worked perfectly. As the customer will probably be reading this, I will explain one slight hicup. Some days afterwards when the customer came to collect the guitar, this lacquer protection made a slight plastic squeaking sound! This was easily resolved with a small amount of lubricant.

February 2012 -  (pic)  Steel Blocks

February 2012 - (b) Positioning on saddles - Hmm

From many of the guitars that come in for set-up, it is evident that there is a lack of understanding with regards to what position/height the saddle ought to be at. The intonation adjuster screws take care of forward or backward movement and it doesn't take much common sense to work out that the greater the string angle off the saddle, the greater the downward pressure. On a bass guitar, this is very important in order to push as much sound into the guitar body as possible. I once met someone who owned a bass guitar shop who told me he preferred to get the saddles as low as possible even if they did look like rugby goal posts! At that point I gave up even mentioning adjustment of neck rake angle to reduce the action height. In the picture below you can see how I actually managed to get a lower action than the customer had by adjusting the neck rake angle. An added benefit to increasing the height is that it also reduces the tendency for the grub screws to dance around and unscrew themselves.

The reason for mentioning this was because the same day I had in a Fender Strat which had apparently been set up by a professional guitar technician who had set the saddles as high as he possibly could. There was some cryptic note on the invoice to the effect that it was easier on the hand - shame on you! It appears that because the grub screws are only made in certain sizes they generally end up sticking out of the top of the saddles (especially in vintage type) and in recent years I have taken to reducing the height of the grub screw so that it doesn't stick out and/or cut the player's hand. In contrast to the bass guitar saddle just mentioned, the Stratocaster saddle needs to be set lower in order to reduce the friction on the top of the saddle, because of the tremolo. The point at which the string enters the tremolo usually gives a reasonable amount of downward pressure to the saddle. In the picture 2 below, the amount of pressure due to the high saddles is so incredible the intonation screws almost ceased to work! No wonder the customer gave up and sold it on. Along with the sham invoice for work done, I found a host of spares, one gold saddle (missing from set in the picture), five chrome saddles (Hmm) and a set of Graph Tech String Savers which were duly fitted and set up. Finally, what was also amazing was the lack of use made of Fender's micro tilt to set the correct rake angle!

February 2012 -  (pic)   Saddle heights Part I

February 2012 -  (pic)   Saddle heights Part II

February 2012 - (c) Wooden Heart into a Gibson

One of my customers has a nice collection of archtops. He previously never went near a Gibson but recently added one to his collection. Then he surprised me by buying yet another Gibson but this time it was a Herb Ellis signature model that he'd taken a shine to. About 10 days later he was asking me about the Gibson metal bridge as all his other guitars have either ebony or rosewood compensated bridges. I explained that a note ringing off wood has a warmer sound than that off metal -- naturally! He believed this warmer improved tone was worth a try and, the next I knew, he called to ask me to fit a replacement bridge he had bought. The foot or base was slightly smaller but there was an impression left on the Gibson lacquer - the drilled post holes were at the same intervals. Rather than shaping the new bridge to the arch top and seeing an outline where the old bridge had been, I elected to use the Gibson original. Like anything in the guitar industry, there isn't an industry standard unless created by the big guitar manufacturers and so the new compensated saddles section was too sloppy to retrofit. Luckily the post holes were big enough for me to custom make two brass sleeve inserts. These were fitted and glued in place and it now looks like it was an original part. The customer tells me that Herb Ellis actually preferred the wooden bridge - like him!

February 2012 -  (pic)  Putting wood onto a Gibson

February 2012 No reply to emails? !

Sorry if I haven't replied to your email in the past few days 15th Feb to 23rd - There has been a coding error on redirecting them and they have been lost! Yes, your emails were sent but I can't retrieve them. If you have the patience to email again, I promise to reply.

Peter Allen Custom Shop116

January 2012 - (a) (Dis)Harmony of Yesteryear

Some 40 years ago I had a Harmony Sovereign acoustic which was replaced by a music shop after they damaged it. This is a story for another day but the replacement they gave me never sounded as good as the first one I chose with my ears. In my memory the guitar was a fantastic build - however my illusions of the past are brought back to reality when I see similar guitars from that era. This trip down 'memory lane' occurred when one of my customers brought in an old Harmony H75 Semi for a repair and possible setup. With a little bit of investigation work I found the reason why the truss rod didn't work as expected - as you will see from the pictures below, it appears that the truss rod can be taken out. The way in which this truss rod works is very similar to the Rickenbacker 4001 which I repaired recently. In a vain hope that I could make the truss rod work I removed it, cut off the bent thread, re-threaded and re-fitted it but it was clear after re-installing it that the truss rod barely did anything more than reduce the amount of relief. As I always say, if I cannot control the neck - via the truss rod - I cannot do a set up. Sadly, even though the guitar was put back together better than it was, I had to tell the customer I was unable to set up the guitar. The truss rod has a design fault and doesnt push enough or in the correct place - it's annoying when you have to accept defeat! I told the customer that I could achieve a result but this would mean removing the fingerboard, machining out the neck, fitting a proper truss rod and then putting the whole thing back together. Understandably, he declined as the cost would have been twice what the guitar was worth.

January 2012  -  (Pic)  (Dis)Harmony of Yesteryear

January 2012 - (b) Badass Mother!

One of my customers brought in his friend's precision bass for me to set up together with a brand-new Badass bridge unit - it had one on before. I completed the work on the neck and then started to fit the bridge he supplied. However, it soon became clear that two of the screws could not be fitted as something was blocking their path. Out came the big drill to let me investigate and I realised that the previous eBay owner had snapped off 2 of the screws! Luckily the footprint of the bridge allowed me to use a special tool to sort it out. As can be seen from the pictures below, I initially drilled out a larger hole (the size of a standard dowel) and then I was able to position a drill tube over the broken screw and drill down the outside of it. Eventually the drill bit came away with the broken screw inside it. Once the broken screw had been removed the dowel hole could be extended, and a dowel glued in place. The whole reason the screw had broken was because a pilot drill had not been used to fit the Badass bridge. Recently I saw some machine heads that had been fitted with the screws only halfway in and another screw broken off. People do not realise why they call this wood 'ROCK' maple - it's because it's bloody hard and has nothing to do with rock and roll!

January 2012  -  (Pic)  Badass Mother!

January 2012 - (c) G & L out on a ledge

One guitar that recently came in for a set-up could have been much better made. The bridge was locked down because the previous customer had 'tuning issues'. I duly worked on the neck and then started the setup process by taking a close look at the operation of the fulcrum plate and bridge posts. Without the strings attached it became clear that, when the bridge was flat on the deck, it was not actually in contact with the bridge posts! It would appear that, in production, the rout for the tremolo was in the wrong place - 3mm further back than it should be. As a consequence the block was pivoting on a ledge of wood - something I have never seen before. That meant removing the scratch plate and bridge pins and routing the excess wood off. You can see from the picture where the offending ledge of wood was. Finally, I was able to re-assemble the guitar and make the tremolo work very well. It is a pity that the block is drilled so deep because I had to revert to threading the strings through an old ball-end in order to prevent the string wrap from sitting on top of the saddle! In my book, this G & L gets low marks for attention to detail in manufacture. The good news is the customer got a well set up electric.

January 2012  -  (Pic)  G & L out on a ledge

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