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News Info & Prods    Archive - Jan 2009 to Dec 2009 Tales from Workshop

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December 2009 - Christmas & Ebay

Merry Christmas to all my customers and of course those potential customers too.

This year I have been lucky with customers planning their maintenance and Set-ups on guitars. I remember last year I had someone phoning me on Christmas Eve, asking if I could do a set-up on their guitar because they had an important gig the next day!
After an intense start to the month, things have evened up and allowed me just a little time on my own guitars for once, that combined with a good tidy up.
Memorable guitars for this month were two EBay guitars:

A Tacoma acoustic which I thought would be a piece of cake until I got it on the bench and found that due to serious neglect, it had got a massive forward bow and part of the fingerboard was coming away from the body. After straightening the neck I had no alternative but to take all the frets out, level the fingerboard and refret it. That was one guitar I didn't think would cause a lot of trouble because about 10 years ago I did a lot of set-up work on Tacoma guitars and found that they were very well set-up. I guess this one somehow fell between cracks.

The other Ebayer was a Fender Jazz bass, made in Korea. Unfortunately the guitar neck was made from slab sawn maple and this too had a massive forward bow in the neck. I straightened the neck but there was tremendous tension exerted by the truss rod to try to keep it straight under load but it just wouldn't hold its shape. After milling and levelling the frets twice, I decided more extreme action was needed - I hate being defeated! I took all the frets out, levelled the fingerboard and refretted it. What started out being a 3-4 hour job took a day and a half, off and on! I was chuffed with the result but after telling the customer some of the problems caused by the neck-stock wood acting like a limp rag he asked me "Should I get rid of it?" My reply was no! I have done everything to correct the problems - getting rid of it would just give someone else a nice guitar at your expense!
The dilemma associated with buying guitars from EBay is that they are fraught with problems because one is not able to tell whether a guitar is being sold for genuine reasons or being got rid of because of a major problem. I am sure there are people that just sell guitars to make money and are not interested in the construction or playability of what they sell.
Recently I did a little bit of searching on the internet and found one particular case that just about sums up the situation I find repeated time after time. Picture if you will - a customer comes to me with the guitar bought off EBay, I check it out, find several problems and cost the work accordingly. Now what I do not know is that, after seeing me, the customer then tries to get compensation for the setup and other additional costs from the seller by creating a 'dispute situation' . The seller then vents his spleen on a forum saying how the guitar was great when he had it and that 'Peter Allen' knows nothing and its all a load of b****cks. Well it only shows that the seller never knew his guitar was an absolute dog and it's a shame that the buyer didn't expect to have to pay something to get it into good shape. I have often said that it would be very interesting to get the original seller back to play his 'sell-off' and see the look on his/her face after its been put into good shape. It never fails to surprise me, how people expect a guitar to be good yet get a shock and are suddenly surprised that it costs money to put it right!
The customer with the Tacoma by comparison with some people, is a real gent. He bought his guitar under no EBay illusion but has the misconception that 'Peter Allen' can do miracles. Well in this case, I brought it back from the graveyard where the 'slide blues' was only thing that could be played on it or may be a little Hawaiian music. But I did warn him that there are limits to what I can or may want to do next time! I did also thank him for his faith in my services.

December 2009 - Pete's Tele

Those who have been following the 'Project' Guitar, will know that it was handed over to its new owner two weekends ago and a positive feedback response was received. He has promised himself a week's worth of indulgence with it - I am jealous……. So much so, I started to complete my own new Telecaster. See a picture of it with a little 'trade trick' thrown in. The binding had been masked off on the side but the top left exposed as it's too small to mask. This gets over-sprayed and in the same way that the Les Paul's are. It is cleaned up afterwards with a blade prior to final coats of clear lacquer. I guess you can do it free-hand but I use a tool for safety, speed and precision. This shows one aspect of guitar making where one often has to make a tool to do a job. Here you can see a simple blade glued into a piece of wood - allowing the set distance/thickness of binding to be scraped. Marrying both the topic of the Project guitar and my Tele, I have had two interesting proposals. First is a request for a Tele shape with a Strat scratchplate and trem - so it's a hybrid. The second is a Tele shape with Brian May configuration pickups and tremolo as the Brian May shape/balance is poor to play when sat down. These will be underway in the February of 2010 time.

December 2009 Pic: ref above (Pete's Tele)

December 2009 Pic: ref above  (Pete's Tele)

December 2009 - Customers Preference

One guitar I hadn't seen for a long time was a Tokai - picture below - which had the full set-up some years ago and had an odd request. The customer hated both pickups but especially the neck pickup being so mushy that it was taken altogether along with the toggle switch and controls for it. A cover plate blanks off the neck cavity. This week I got the guitar back to restore it to normal Les Paul status. I put a Kent Armstrong PU in the neck and it was very well balanced with the bridge Seymour Duncan, so the pictures below were a before and after situation……or is that an after to better than before?
The Les Paul that I should have shown was a 1975 Gibson that the customer said "just didn't sound good". As it's a sound thing there is not much point doing pics. It was one of those guitars that a previous 'Tech' thought needed to be symmetrical - strings to neck and saddle centres. What he didn't notice was that fitting new saddles and putting strings dead centre caused the treble 3 strings to miss the bridge pickup poles and the neck PU to miss the bass 3. I can't think of a worse thing than not having the brightest top and the deepest bass sound. It gets worse. Gibson only fitted 300K log pots (actually 290K). This meant that "Volume full @ 10 !" was never achieved. It was like turning a modern day Les Paul down to No.7 and we all know how mushy that sound can be. I changed all the pots to 500K and fitted new saddles ensuring the saddles were notched with the strings over ALL pole pieces. The customer wrote a feedback: " Peter, I thought I'd owned a Les Paul Gold Top since 1975, NOW I own a Les Paul Gold Top! ………….as you said its sound is 'blistering'!!!

December 2009 Pic: ref above (Customers Preference)

December 2009 Pic: ref above (Customers Preference)

December 2009 - Lucky Winner!

Finally, last year I did a 'Lucky Draw' for a Year's Supply of Strings but that was in the February time. Following on from last year and making it a tradition along with the 'giving season', I got my wife to spin a few invoice numbers (from the past 4 years) and then look at the name on the invoice. I'm too young to be Santa Claus (!) but the lucky name was Jez, who is the recipient of a year's supply of guitar strings (He is a well known local musician in Warwick & Leamington Spa so they will get put to good use: this chap plays so much he will probably use them up in double time!) Ho-Ho-Ho!

December 2009 Pic: ref above (Lucky Winner!)

December 2009  Pic: ref above  (Lucky Winner!)

Peter Allen Custom Shop2

November 2009 - Les Paul

This month has been packed full of memorable guitars. One worthy of comment was a newly purchased, 2nd hand Les Paul Gold Top. I can truly say it was the worst Gibson Les Paul I have ever seen from a build /geometry point of view!
The customer had tried to adjust the guitar to remove buzzing from the fretboard after visiting one of the on line forums for advice. Typically the forum advice was "just adjust the truss rod to remove the string buzz". This customer tightened the truss rod but nothing much seemed to happen, so he did it again……..and still nothing happened! Thinking there was something wrong with the rod, he then removed the little washer that had been fitted to spread the load of the adjuster nut. He then re-tightened the adjuster (too much) with the result that it buried itself in the wood and pushed up the veneer on the headstock! Eventually, he gave up and brought the guitar to me. I guess this guitar was a 'Friday afternoon Job' because it appeared that the metal plate was missing from the truss rod and a washer had been inserted instead - shortage on the production-line? I made a new D-shaped plate, cleaned out the recess around the truss-rod and fitted it, along with the truss-rod adjuster. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the story. Knowing that the truss rod was operative was one less issue, but the real problem was a massive forward bow in the neck - too much for the truss rod to deal with, plus a severe upturn on the body section of the neck. This required drastic action so I heat-straightened the neck. However, at the body-end of the neck, the upturn required even more drastic action. I de-fretted it, lowering the fingerboard, to straighten things up and then re-fitted the frets. Job done! The end result was a very playable Les Paul. Just think - I could have been dealing with a broken Les Paul truss rod if that pressure-plate had been fitted!
That isn't the end of the story - when I went on to set the guitar up, I found that the routing of the P90 pickups was so poor that it forced a high set action because the strings would have been sat on top of the pickups. I took 8mm of wood away from each of the pickup cavities, which gave me control over the pickup heights, allowing me to lower the strings/action. Finally I had a really nice playable Gibson Les Paul Gold Top. Now I wonder why the original owner sold it?

Novembers 2009 Pic: ref above (Les Paul)

Novembers 2009 Pic: ref above (Les Paul)

November 2009 - Variax/Gotoh Trem Arm

One problem I continually see with guitars fitted with push-in tremolo arm, is the poor assembly and adjustment of the arm's tensioner. Mainly this applies to guitars built with the Gotoh type tremolos. A typical case is illustrated below where the grub screw has been tightened so much, it has cut into the arm. It is clear when the tremolo sleeve it is dis-assembled that that the adjuster has lodged between the slits in the sleeve and pushed between the gap, working its way through and contacting the tremolo arm. For intention and purpose, the tremolos sleeve might well have not been fitted. The reason for the slits in the sleeve is for the sleeve to slightly collapse against the tremolo arm. When this assembly is put together the grub screw should be against firm (solid) plastic. All that this customer has done is tightened the grub screw against the tremolo arm cutting a deep groove in it. For this job, I machined a new sleeve - I thought I could get away without the two slits in it but what I found was the new plastic was so strong it would not quite collapse enough to tension (hold against) again the trem arm. A quick modification (2 slits) and the job was completed.

Novembers 2009 Pic: ref above (Variax/Gotoh Trem Arm)

Novembers 2009 Pic: ref above (Variax/Gotoh Trem Arm)

November 2009 - Bass String Wrap

One of the bees in my bonnet over the past month has been the amount of times I have had problems restringing Bass guitars. The problem is the silk wrap from the ball end which is applied so liberally that it extends over the saddle! My conclusion is that, either the bridge has been fitted too far forwards or the manufacturer intended it to be fitted with non-silk-wrap strings. As most strings have silk wrap on as an after market thing, you would expect the manufacturer of the guitar to place the bridge further back.
As for the string manufacturers, why put so much wrap on? All it does is muffle the sound. Yes I can get a blade and cut it back but that is not the point. This doesn't happen when strings are thro-the-body types. How many bass payers notice or realise the problem?
I had a Yamaha 5 string bass with a severely bent neck just like the Les Paul mentioned earlier. This too was heat straightened and when I came to fit the strings it was clear to me that the design of the bridge did not allow for silk wrap at the Ball End. In addition the mass of material at the start to the wind would have caused problems with the intonation. If I get a problem like this on a Fender guitar, I can always fit some spacers. On this guitar the recess in the bridge didn't allow me to do this. So after a little bit of thought I decided to make a plate up to allow the ball end to be situated further back. Then I realise that I wouldn't be able to adjust the intonation so I had to drill additional holes to access the intonation screw. Eventually what should have been a quick re-string was completed. The one question I ask myself is - Why it is this area of the bass design overlooked both by the manufacturers and the string makers? The action I set on this 5 string bass is low but if the action is increased, the saddle has to be move further back - which compounds the problem further. It was clear that the person who previously owned this 5 string bass was clueless, as two of the strings had the silk wrap extending well over the saddles. This is one problem that will run for ever and a day.

Novembers 2009 Pic: ref above (Bass String Wrap)

Novembers 2009 Pic: ref above (Bass String Wrap)

November 2009 - Ricky Springs!

Finally, I got my hands on a brand new Rickenbacker and it had a really bad rattle acoustically. I also noticed that the bridge was situated so that the strings were too near the treble side. I re-sited the bridge but noticed that due to the way it had been set up (high action) the springs on the bridge 'feet' screws had been removed! The whole reason for this is to keep the screws under tension and stop them vibrating loose! Muppets! I fitted two new ones and the rattle disappeared. Another Friday afternoon at the guitar factory?

Novembers 2009 Pic: ref above (Ricky Springs!)

Novembers 2009 Pic: ref above (Ricky Springs!)

Peter Allen Custom Shop3


Week ending 23rd October 2009

In the last couple of weeks I have had calls & visits from a couple of my most long-standing customers - some of whom have been with me right from the very early days when I would drive out to collect their guitars, do the work, write an invoice and return it! This seems to have put me in reflective mood - thinking about how my business has grown and changed over the 15 years since I started.
I believe my success can be put down to hard work and dedication in improving my skills year upon year (the actual aim is to improve each day!) As with most businesses, I started small and grew. In the first 2 years after leaving Patrick Eggle Guitars my advertising was based on entries in a local 'freebie' paper and also in Guitarist Magazine - and this did a good job of initially getting my name out there. My customer base has grown largely through 'word of mouth', so a big thanks to my loyal customers - past and present - who have done so much work in advertising my skills for me! As the word started to spread for good guitar set-ups out around Leamington and Warwick, I had to start looking at how to save time and so the collection and delivery service had to stop and I started taking work in at my workshop (by appointment), which is still the same system I operate today. As my volume of work has increased I have always resisted taking on any apprentice or assistant - and I do get lots of requests for this - as I don't want to rely on other people or be in the position of them trying to take the credit for what is, after all, a 'handicraft skill' developed over many years, as well as my 'good business practices'. Once the internet arrived it made the 'local rag' redundant and also increased my customer base even further. As well as local people I now get customers from a wider UK base and even some international ones! Thanks to customers in Spain, France, Africa, Ireland, Cyprus, Dubai and this week an old one (not in age!) came back to me all the way from Switzerland! Wow!
As I write up the blog for this week, and after looking at other Guitar Blogs sites, it seems a more productive use of my limited time to change to a monthly bulletin of things that have passed through the workshop. Sometimes the amount of time spent on pictures and explanations is disproportionate and placing more focus on the work on the bench makes obvious financial sense - after all, I only have one pair of hands!
So, this week has been a case of testing my handicraft skills with doing Professional
Set-ups on some cheap guitars - like an old 'Sunn' Guitar made in India that has now made it to 'Vintage Class'. The outcome is that it plays better than the average newly-bought Stratocaster. But then again, it should - because making the guitar is only part of the story. What makes the difference is the ability to get the best out of it through the Set-up (even though I do say so myself!) So, picture the scene where another customer, who had a 'free set-up' with a new purchase, is shown my Professional Set-up on this cheap Sunn Guitar from yesteryear and is blown away by how much better it is than his own guitar! Yet again, the moral of the story is that 'you get nothing for nothing'.

Week ending 16th October 2009

After this Spring's successful Coy's Rock Auction, I was recently sent an e-mail telling me that there is so to be another auction this Autumn/Winter - 1st December 2009. I intended to mention it on a blog - so here it is - Contact details in the picture below. A week after the email and I get a telephone call saying that the Auction House need to drop-off about a dozen guitars for me to give the once-over. That's OK, I have a couple of weeks to do them!

A point worth mentioning about this week is the number of times I have seen Strat pickups raised too high and then the intonation adjusted AFERWARDS to compensate. Wrong Wrong Wrong!
In one case, I had already commented to the customer that his last Stratocaster was 20% incorrect on the bass strings due to him raising all the pickups. Then he asked for my opinion about his latest Stratocaster and the first thing I did was look at the position of the bass saddles, which were all set too far forwards. The immediate comment was that the intonation was incorrect and the second comment was how high the pickups had been adjusted - all done by eye and years of experience which have shown me that the saddles follow a pattern. If they don't, then I can see straight away that something is wrong.
The customer said that he had had trouble trying to set the intonation, which is not surprising considering how high the rear pickup was.
Adjusting the pickups should be the last job done on a guitar, because they will tell you if there is a problem. If the intonation is incorrect AFTER the pickups have been set, it is most likely the magnetic field that is pulling on the string (sending it out).
A quick flip through the Fender handbook will show that their measurements relate to fretting the string up to a last fret. This is because the string gets nearer the pickup as you progressively fret the notes up the neck.
The other interesting thing to come out of this conversation was the inability of the human brain to hear consistent levels of sound. The customer said he had adjusted the bridge pickup to increase the volume level because he thought it was too quiet. When I checked the guitar against my Decibel Meter, there was an 8dB difference in volume, which told me that he had difficulty in balancing it. One reason I prefer to use the Decibel Meter is because of the odd times I have found my ears are tired at the end of the day and I've noticed a difference the next morning when I have re-checked things and confirmed it with the dB Meter. I prefer to have 1dB more on the bridge pickup, which seems to please most people. One word of advice would be to lower a loud pickup if the other/s seemed quieter - which is safer than raising them and causing intonation problems.

Pic ref above 16th October 2009

Pic ref above 16th October 2009

Week ending 9th October 2009

Occasionally I get thrown a curve ball - like when I had a Hagstrom guitar brought to me for set-up this week! When I took the truss rod cover off I was presented with what can be seen in the pic below and I thought that the truss rod was broken. Most people familiar with truss rods expect to see either a nut or an Allen (hexagonal) key-way for adjusting it. My immediate reaction was that someone had adjusted the truss-rod, broken it and sold the guitar on.
Looking at the guitar and the way it was built, I observed a gap between the pickup and the end of the fingerboard where I could just see that there was some sort of end to the truss rod. Out of curiosity, I took out the neck pick-up and found almost a mirror image of the headstock end, except in the body-end/pick-up area, I could see a very small grub screw. Then the penny dropped! My assumption that there should be a grub screw at the headstock end was correct - the only trouble was that it was buried right inside! Tightening up the grub screw at the Body/Pick-up end and undoing the one at the headstock several times allowed both screws to be set evenly (mid-way). I guess this was the intention when the guitar was designed/made. I am not sure what kind of fiasco would have been caused had the grub screw found its way into the truss rod channel! How near had I been to a disaster - Phew!
With the panic over, I was interested in finding more information from Hagstrom websites. Alas, I didn't find anything other than Hagstrom boasting they had a patent on it - I guess it's their way of re-inventing the wheel. I wasn't over-keen on the way that the neck reacted to the truss rod adjustment, however, I was able to dress the frets. One thing that did come from my search of the internet on Hagstrom Guitars was seeing a luthier like myself, who also runs a blog page. Wow! It turns out he is now in New Zealand but learnt/taught his guitar making skills in Leeds UK! I sent him a quick note to say well done, I like his site and it was a pity I hadn't known about him when I was over there for a month or I could have looked him up - what a small world! This is his website address for you to take a look.

Pic ref above 9th October 2009

Pic ref above 9th October 2009

Week ending 2nd October 2009

It's funny that, after 2 weeks back at work you forget you ever had a holiday!! I have also given up trying to work out the peaks and troughs of the Guitar business. If I don't get anything come in one day, I will probably get three in the next or the day after, so the problem becomes how to cope with the irregular flow of guitars coming in!

One guitar that was sent to me with tuning problems (from new) was found to have an array of problems which, individually were relatively minor, but all added up to a poor guitar set-up. I did a few photographs for the customer prior to working on it and so have taken another set of pictures after the guitar was set-up. One of the comments from the customer was that he "would not have noticed these problems in a million years".
The guitar was a Mexican Stratocaster - Classic Player 50's - custom shop design.
Some of the nut slots were too tight for the 10 to 46 gauge strings, there were burrs on the string tree and it was set too low (causing too much tension behind the nut), the first saddle had fallen to one side and although the intonation was correct at a higher action, the saddle was sitting against the trem post. If you think about what happens when a tremolo moves forwards, you can imagine the saddle would have been pushed backwards, altering the intonation. While checking out the guitar's tremolo, the first-string broke and, looking to see what was left of it, I deduced/found that there was no chamfer to the hole in the fulcrum plate. This too would have reduced the strings ability to slide if required.
So, apart from putting a chamfer on the fulcrum plate, reducing the burrs on the string tree, fitting a spacer to it and slightly modifying the first saddle, the guitar was relatively straightforward!

Other problems I had this week were a new Gibson 335 which had a massive forward bow (our American friends refer to this as 'up-bow'). This was rejected because it was brand new and there was too much tension on the truss rod and it still didn't pull it straight. A brand new Fender Squier was also rejected for the very same reason. Now before we all assume that Fender and Gibson often get it wrong when making guitars, we need to put a bit of perspective on things. I once remember criticising my Ford car, commenting on how many I had seen broken-down at the roadside. The recovery man simply explained that because Ford make so many cars, you are more likely to see a larger number of them broken down but, in percentage terms, the number is actually quite small. The same applies to Fender and Gibson because they make so many guitars; it is unfair to assume they are all full of mistakes. I personally have seen thousands of both and on average the cock-ups are very small but this doesn't help if you happen to be the owner of one. Other manufacturers can actually have more issues but because they sell less they also get less media/forum attention.

Pic ref above 2nd October 2009

Pic ref above 2nd October 2009

Week ending 25th September 2009

I got back from holiday to find masses of work and telephone messages to answer.
The first thing I did was complete the Gretsch repair and set up the guitar ready for the customer to collect. Pictures of it in a better state of health are shown below.
One of my new customers asked what I use the pile of dust sheets stacked in the workshop for - which is a fair question and one I am sure that many of my customers could have answered the question for him. I take it for granted that I should give due respect and care when working on anyone's guitar even if it is a beaten up wreck! It's of fundamental importance to ensure good protection when working on a guitar and this includes dust sheets and protective covers for the instrument tops/finishes. I had not realised the significance of this topic until I was looking through some other guitar technicians' websites and noticed pictures of guitars sitting on either a piece of carpet or underlay while being worked on. The issue I have against carpets being used as a work surface is; the amount of debris and bits and pieces that collect in the pile; they are rarely changed between working on one instrument and the next and they are often made of synthetic fibres which can potentially damage a customer's guitar by scratching it.
Back in the 'good old days' at Patrick Eggle, we went through a period when small dings kept appearing in the guitars. We found that this was being caused by the Assembly and Set-up Department when, as the line manager, I observed the potential dangers of working too close to the tools on the bench. The light-bulb moment in seeing how to prevent this was seeing one of the old school woodwork benches, with the trough in the centre for the obligatory carpentry tools. It was not difficult to emulate this by creating a wooden plinth to raise the guitar about three inches above the workbench, lifting it away from the other tools. These plinths I made at Patrick Eggle were covered with throw-away foam sheets for convenience. Nowadays, in my workshop, this is where the dust sheets come in. Each dust sheet is made of soft, natural fibres and is vigorously washed before use. I then fold and re-fold them in such a way that it gives me a clean surface area for each guitar. When a new guitar comes in I just re-fold the sheet and a new clean surface appears like magic. So there is another trade trick! (At this point I think my wife would like me to say that she gets the dirty job of washing the sheets and making them re-appear like magic in a clean pile in the workshop!)
I also noticed that, in the pictures of other workshops, guitars are often being worked on very close to soldering irons or other tools. In one picture, the workbench was so narrow that the tools hanging on a wall next to it stood a good chance of damaging a guitar had they fallen off. My work bench is quite wide so the question of tools falling off the wall isn't a problem. It's amazing what you can see in a picture other than the guitar!

Pic ref. above 25th September 2009

Pic ref. above  25th September 2009

Feedback - 23rd September 2009

I had a note back from the customer with the Gretsch (see 25th September) to say,
'The Gretsch is ****** fabulous! Not only is it the most 'Show Biz' guitar I now own, it is also the most fun! Having done a few shows with it, I found its unique tone fits perfectly in The Fortunes set and I used it for 50% of the act! I had none of the inherent Gretsch feedback issues to speak of until I wound it up for the Badfinger numbers, but I will go back to the Les Paul for those. Great job mate!!.................Now let's see what else I can buy to really test you with!!'

Interim Pics - 23rd September 2009

Interim Pics -   23rd September 2009

Week ending 3rd September 2009

Finally, this week has been a bit quieter and I have been able to get on with some of the jobs that have had to take a back seat for a while. The Gretsch is looking good (see pics below) and I now have a waiting game of letting the lacquer harden. It doesn't pay to rush a job, especially lacquer, as the polishing mop tends to tear into soft lacquer and burn it away. Patience is a virtue and so it's on to the next job.

I have had several Health Checks come in and I was a little surprised that some customers still think that it's ok to go up and down gauge of string without bringing it back for me to tweak. It's not that I charge for that, but the lack of understanding means that the neck is going to be a different shape for the new gauge of strings.
I know that many people are persuaded by people giving their 'expert opinions' on the various forums but do they really know what they are talking about?
About 10 years ago I set up a Les Paul for a customer whose only complaint was that the humbucker pickups wobbled when he poked them! I explained that they are only adjusted/hanging on two screw/springs both side and that was nothing to worry about - it's the same on all Les Paul guitars except for versions of pickups and surrounds that have either 3 or 4 screws/springs.
Now you can see my surprise when I see this customer (who shall remain anonymous) explaining this to others like he is the expert so it didn't take me much to deduce who was writing the advice. This is not intended as a dig at one of my customers but to show how you can't tell who is really giving you advice or how good it is. Sure enough the same guitar came in for an electrical repair 3 years later and the customer says to leave the set-up as it is as it's just how he wants it.
I observe a massive curve in the neck and the infamous 11 to 48 gauge string (supposedly for better tone) and a very high action. Furthermore the intonation is way out and the strings are really dirty. The electrical job was completed and nothing done to his set-up. Now he may like the set-up he has - fine - but can you imagine this person advising you on how to get a low action and using heavy strings for tone when I know his guitar is nothing like well set-up. The moral of the story is not to be persuaded by convincing forumites. For information, I had a guitar for set-up this week and it had great tone and the customer wanted 8 to 38 strings fitted. I have to say I really enjoyed playing that guitar. Going back to the 11 to 48/49 gauge, I can remember a few weeks back a customer wanted to go from 9 to 42 to 11 to 48 for better tone and I didn't think that the guitar was very resonant even with 11 to 48's on it. If I had to choose between them for TONE the Strat with 8 to 38 sounded better than the les Paul with 11's.
NB: I don't like 8 to 38 and I don't care much for the 11 to 48 (unless detuned) but I am trying to get the TONE point across here. So it comes down to - has the guitar got a good tone to start with, because if it 'naturally' doesn't sound good, it doesn't matter what string and pickups you put on it, it isn't going to get much better. That's my whinge for this week folks!

Pic ref. above 3rd September 2009

Pic ref. above  3rd September 2009

Week ending 28th August 2009

This week has been a quieter week compared to the past two and that has allowed me to get on with two big jobs. One of them is the Gretsch that had the back knocked out (see 31st July 2009 pics) of it in transit and the other is a 'Project' I took on which has been given its own page. The Project . A customer came to me with a neck and body and said "build me a guitar!" - so I am. Having its own page will save me time later on when I can give the customer his very own PDF storyboard for the building of his guitar.

Below are some pictures of the Gretch repair. It's not the way I first thought of doing this but short of rebuilding the guitar from the back I have come up with a cunning plan. By opening the back just enough to fit a bridge support - much wider than the previous one - and fitting another block between the pickups as a feedback damper, I hope to make the guitar earn its money. The guitar will be used on live/stage performances and I have had people in the past mutter about the feedback they cause. One trick has been to put a post between the front and back wall. In this case it's a combination of repair and effect. Eventually I will put a piece of ply back in the back after moulding it in a steam box. I shall then disguise the repair with a veneer patch.

Pic ref. above 28th August 2009

Pic ref. above  28th  August 2009

Week ending 21st August 2009

I said a couple of weeks ago that someone had brought me a Bass guitar with an aluminium neck and without a truss rod, which I refused to do a set-up on, so it will seem like I contradicted my own rules when I accepted a Fylde acoustic guitar last week which only had a box section in the neck - for some reason best known to the maker, he decided not to put an adjustable truss rod into the guitar. This guitar had a very high action with 10 to 47 (lightest) gauge strings on and the customer thought that it needed a neck re-set but, even if I had changed the neck angle, it still would have had a massive forward bow in the neck. Unlike the bass guitar, which has a longer neck and therefore extra leverage, I was able to bring the Fylde back to life by levelling out the fingerboard. It certainly wouldn't have worked with a bass guitar because there wouldn't have been enough fingerboard left at the 1st fret. As it was, after taking the frets out from the 1st to the 12th positions, I was anxiously looking at the third fret side dot marker while levelling the fingerboard, hoping that it wouldn't become too close to the edge. I did, however, lose two of the inlays and had to re-do them! One other problem I had to sort out was the dip or concaved area between the 7th and 12th frets. Eventually, I ended up with a level fretboard and was then able to refret and set the guitar up.

I just cannot understand why guitar makers feel that they don't need to put adjustable truss rods into necks. In the case of a wooden neck, whether it has a metal box section, or an I-beam fitted, the neck will (in most), eventually bend forwards. I had an architect recently tell me that even a steel beam spanning an opening will bend under its own weight, so nothing stays straight under stress/tension. One of the most important inventions of the last century, in the guitar world, was the adjustable truss-rod which can allow for varying counter tensions in accordance with the gauge of string. Yet still today, we have manufacturers of so-called carbon fibre necks who believe their product will stay rigid under tension. The fact is that carbon fibre will also bend (not as much - agreed) and, if it doesn't have a truss rod to accompany it, that neck will end up with is own memory and a slight forward bow irrespective of what the manufacturer believed. It does bring into question what the manufacturer had in mind as the appropriate gauge of string and how the instrument will alter over the years.

Just to show you that things don't always go according to plan - with a lot of assumptions and guesswork, I predicted that the Fylde neck would take a set of 11-52 gauge strings - which was the customer's preference. I got it wrong though because, due to a slight amount of compression as the frets were re-fitted, I didn't have enough relief in the neck to allow for the 11-52s. When the guitar was fitted with 12 to 53 gauge the right amount of relief was achieved with a low action. The only consolation is that, as the neck will continue to bend over forwards in the coming years, so the customer will then be able to fit 11-52 gauge strings to it!

I hope that this shows how much of a problem it is when guitar makers believe they are right and everyone else is wrong when they prefer to use stone-age methods rather than the proven adjustable truss rod. As for the neck re-set, once the fingerboard had been straightened the neck angle ended up to be correct. Phew! I am glad I have had only 4 of these in the past 15 years!

Pic ref. above 21st August 2009

Pic ref. above  21st August 2009

Week ending 14th August 2009

I had a customer bring in a Variax 700 with a problem relating to the on-board batteries and their failure to run the on-board microprocessor. After a little bit of investigation work I found out that one of the components on the circuit board had been fried! After a quick conversation with Line 6, it turns out that there is no 'reverse polarity protection' on the system - which is equally worrying for me as I also have the same model. I find it unbelievable that the most expensive guitar in their range doesn't have this safety feature built into the system. I enquired how much the repair would cost my customer and they told me it would be approximately £230 because it needs a whole new circuit-board and also needs calibration. When I told my customer about the cause of the problem and the cost of the cure he was quite upset, saying that if this was the case, surely they should have put a warning sign in the battery compartment to bring the customer's attention to the possible danger. It so happens that this guitarist customer is quite famous - and he is now considering his options - i.e. whether to ditch it rather than pay for the repair - which would be a pity as many people have commented on the guitar's flexibility and the sounds from his Line 6 amp.
Sometimes, you cannot believe how small the margin of error is between doing something right and wrong and it's a shame to see guitars ruined before they get outside the Factory. I was very close to giving up on a Roberts guitar made, I think, in Korea, which would have been a pity as it had many things going for it. It came in with a wrap-over type bridge that was sitting flat on the top of the guitar, so had no downward movement due to the glued-in neck to body angle being wrong. The intonation was set to give it over 25% flat! There was very little forward adjustment and the action was very high. I needed to lower the string height which flattens intonation further. I decided that by taking off the saddles and replacing them with Graphtech, I would have a much lower saddle than the original tall design. See photo below. These saddle adjuster screws are peened over so I had to punch the peened material to one side to get the saddles out. When fitting the bass saddles, I put them in at 180° to how they had been before. This allowed them to be brought further forwards on the 4th & 5th. With adjustments to the truss rod and levelling the frets allowed this guitar to just scrape through to my specification. The Graphtec stuff does add tone so by upgrading this guitar I also resolved a problem. Phew - another guitar saved!

Pic ref. above 14th August 2009

Pic ref. above  14th August 2009

Week ending 7th August 2009

Well, the GW fest show is over for another year - thanks to Matt Hernandez for organising it - and I understand they raised a good deal of money for the Air Ambulance Fund, especially considering that it rained most of the day! I also heard that the Band called Riff-Raff apparently stole the show. I wouldn't be as liberal to say I was their official guitar tech, but I have set up all three instruments for the guitarists in the Band in the past and was instrumental (pun intended!) in introducing them to the G W Fest organisers for this year's show.

By the time I got to the end of this week I was feeling quite fatigued on account of having to work Sunday and Monday - my usual days off - last week. I have decided to put the guitar I have been asked to build under a separate section so that the customer has a PDF of the guitar's progress through the various stages of its build. This is one of several ongoing 'long' jobs in the workshop at the moment. I also have an acoustic top to refinish, the Gretsch with the hole in its back, a Roberts with very poor intonation and a Variax 700 with a fried component in the circuit board.

This week I had a customer bring me a Stratocaster that I had set-up about 5 years ago. He was happy with the set-up but had worn the frets out and so now needed a refret. While I was talking to him, I noticed that the pickups were level and looked very symmetrical. As I have said countless times before, symmetry doesn't have much to do with the geometry and set-up of a guitar and, when I said that it appeared the pickups had been adjusted since the set-up, he sheepishly admitted to thinking that I had forgotten to adjust them "because they were slanted" and so he straightened them himself! I measured the top of the pole pieces in relation to the strings (1st & 6th) when fretted at the last fret and found the bass string to be as close as 2/64ths! I know people sometimes seem to think Fender don't know what they are doing but I disagree, as I concur with the settings in their Reference Manual for Vintage and Level pole pieces. In this case the Manual says 8/64ths. Because of the pickups close proximity, I could tell straight away that this customer's intonation was wrong - and this was without even having to check it! Admittedly, over time a grub screw had been lost out of the 6th saddle and it had moved slightly. I plugged the guitar in and tuned it up and the 12th fret showed 25+% flat. My customer was peering intently at the meter as I explained that I was now backing off all 3 pickups on the bass side away from the string. Before I re-tuned the string it was already showing it was flat even though I hadn't touched the machine-head! Then, I re-tuned and played the 12th fret again and a gasp and "I'll be ......." exclamation came from the customer as he saw the 4% sharp intonation reading on the meter - which means it was originally closer to 30% out in my book! The result was that nothing he played on the guitar after adjusting the pick-ups himself had sounded good because of the pulling effect of the magnets. I explained that this pulling effect is like hanging washing on a straight washing line - it becomes sagged in the middle, pulled out of shape and not able to freely move. Countless times I have seen intonations manipulated to compensate for pickups raised too high. The last thing I do on a set-up is the pickup height for this very reason.

One customer that got the short straw this week brought me an Alien Hondo Bass which has an aluminium neck and no truss rod that he had bought off eBay. I had set-up his other bass last year, so he must have been pleased enough with that job to bring me another - this EBay guitar. Regular readers will know by now how I feel about instruments bought off EBay, even though I do my best to rectify these cast offs if I possibly can. This time, though, the customer was left speechless when I had to tell him "I won't do a set-up on that" because it's something I very rarely say. I elaborated by explaining that, if I don't have control over the neck via a truss rod, I can't do a proper set-up. The customer pleaded "but can't you just do your best"…………answer - NO! I don't say I can do something when I know it can't be done and this guitar has a 0.012" relief that Robin Hood would be proud of so no - this guitar won't be set-up by me. I feel sorry for the guy but I won't take money off him under false pretences - that way he would just be throwing good money after bad.

Pic ref. above 7th August 2009

Pic ref. above 7th August 2009

Week ending 31st July 2009

I never know what is going to come into the workshop and I have to say that I am flattered that you guys seem to think that I can do anything! However, there are jobs I steer away from - not because I can't do them but because I don't like getting bogged down with a long drawn out job. Still, I hadn't the heart to say no when I was given an acoustic top to refinish and then, just as I had finished off a customers 'clean up' job (putting right someone else's repair), the same customer brought me another guitar with a slight crack in the back. Yes, you guessed it, bought off EBay and you regular readers of this BLOG know how that market place winds me up! Typically, I believe there was a little vagueness in the photo (it may have been genuine mistake). It took me 7 shots to re-create the same picture - see below. What the customer saw was a 'Plan View' shot of the crack in the back of the guitar, with enough flash to make a dark walnut colour look bright red. My customer says to himself 'Pete Allen can fix that - easy' and so bids and wins it - Oh dear! When I saw the guitar it confirmed my fears - the guitar had been hit so hard on the front it had pushed the bridge post (like a violin post) through the ply back of the guitar by about ¼" - nasty! Now if a picture had been taken from the side view, the real extent of the damage would have been seen. This job is going to take some thinking about as I don't want to do more cutting work than I possibly can and it has to look good when finished. Just as I put that job to one side for a breather another one came in that nobody wanted to buy on eBay but the guy who eventually 'won' it had had it for a year or two before realising something was wrong. When I got it on the bench I found the bridge is too far back- similar the BYO bridge the other week - but too high as well and a lot less easy to resolve. The bases of both the posts are massive and will show. After a lot of initially shaking my head saying it just wasn't possible, I now think I have a solution. So thank you to everyone for your confidence in me but I can't walk on water - and some days I have to be ruthless and say you have wasted your money buying some of these 'bargains'. You know what they say - let the buyer beware! The other saying also applies - if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

Pic ref. above 31st July 2009

Pic ref. above 31st July 2009

Week ending 24th July 2009

Occasionally I get weeks when it seems like every guitar coming in has some sort of glitch. This means that I cannot give a precise delivery date because I have to get parts in or it's waiting for a process to be completed - like (literally!) waiting for paint to dry! Then the flip side will be everything will come together all at once, heaping on the pressure. The result is that I have now started to get guitars queuing up, waiting like trains in a freight yard.

It was pleasing to find an e-mail from the customer who took delivery of his Berlin Eggle last week: he writes:

Hi Peter,

Well the Eggle is now finished, and I had to drop you a line to try to explain my thoughts.
Quite simply, it is the nicest guitar I have ever seen and the best guitar I have ever played. The whole experience from first catching sight of the guitar in your workshop, through discussing and agreeing the finish with you, getting Aaron to make the 'custom hand-wound' pickups and then finally collecting the guitar yesterday has been an absolute pleasure. Yet again your workmanship, attention to detail and overall customer focus has been nothing short of faultless, and I can't thank you enough.
I knew instantly when I saw the guitar finished and then played it yesterday, that this was my "guitar for life", and I am so excited about gigging it for the first time tonight that I can hardly contain myself.

Regards and thanks again, - - Rob. W. (Leicestershire)

So, below I have put a few of the photographs showing the finished job, but they don't do it justice no matter how many I take. See 15th May 2009 for other pics.

Those people who are fond of the Berlin Eggle with the old Wilkinson locking tremolo will note that I have made slight modifications to how the guitar was originally presented in 1994 and before. It was always for aesthetic reasons that Patrick didn't have the 2 slits in the back of the Tremolo back-plate. The problem was that this made it very difficult to align the trem locking pin in the back of the lock-nut. In fact, my first 'panic job' at Patrick Eggle was to repair a Berlin that had been damaged whilst trying to align the lock-nut when a gash occurred in the lacquer from a screwdriver. The panic was due to the need for the guitar to go to the Guitarist Magazine for review. The original design by Trevor Wilkinson always had the slits in the back of the tremolo plate (never used on Eggle's), as opposed to the locking nut, which allows for easy adjustment of the tremolo and pin. I personally do not think it looks that unsightly but it does allow for practical access when trying to align the locking mechanism. If anyone wants a plate made up, just e-mail me and I will see what we can work out.

Next Saturday is the GW Fest all-day event at the Great Western pub in Warwick. This event is to raise funds for the Air Ambulance which, as you may know, is not subsidised by the Local or Health Authorities and requires a constant drip-feed of money to keep the service going. Your help in attending and donating generously are much appreciated. Thank you to those customers that have purchased raffle tickets for the guitar I have donated as a raffle prize from Bandwagon in Leamington Spa or from myself.

One job that came in this week was a typical Custom Shop Service - more like 'Build Me a Guitar' as opposed to a week or so ago when we had a 'Build Your Own' guitar.
One of my weaknesses is failing to take photographs of finished repair or even guitars I've built! I cannot count the times I have done this - either because an alteration of delivery date or a flat battery and the camera has led to me not taking a photograph of the finished job. So, when this project of 'Build Me a Guitar' came in, I said that I would do a photo diary of the stages of his build. I am not sure whether to bore you with it as a blog item but I will maybe put it up as a separate PDF file.

Pic ref. above 24th July 2009

Pic ref. above 24th July 2009

Week ending 17th July 2009

It has been a bit of a strange week with deadlines to keep, planning for jobs to come in and go out in record time and shedding a little sympathy along the way regarding a small problem a customer had. The array of work has been very varied - I never know what is going to come in and that's one of the things I do like about this business!.

I could tell by the customer's phone call at the beginning of the week that he was in trouble. He explained that he had bought a brand new Patrick Eggle and when he got it home a knob had started to fall off. Thinking that this was simply fixed by tightening a screw, he got out a screw-driver, re-fitted the knob, tightened the grub screw, and then slipped, damaging the front of the guitar! I asked if he had torn the fibres of the wood or just marked the lacquer and he told me that, he had gone into the wood and actually made it worse by rubbing at it. I said that, although I do not do invisible repairs, I would take a look to see what I could do.
You can see by the pictures below how the fibres of the scratch were torn and how dark the wood becomes with any kind of sealer seeping into the end grain. The additional problem with this Patrick Eggle was how thin the lacquer is on this guitar - not that thicker lacquer would have stood any chance against a screw-driver! Normally I don't take on these jobs but I did feel very sorry for the guy because his excitement in owning a new guitar had turned sour so quickly. You can also see from the photograph that the matt finish had turned to a polished surface due to the customer frantically rubbing away in despair of improving it.

The reason why a matt finish appears as it does is because the matting agent (chalk) sits on the very top of the Lacquer, diffusing the light. Under a microscope the finish actually looks like sandpaper. When the customer started rubbing at it, he actually smoothed out the surface by taking off the matting agent, thereby polishing it. (Another way to create a matt finish is by using steel wool on a polished finish, making the scratches uniform in one direction.).

You can see from the pics how the shading on the guitar made it very difficult to match the colour. I have included a shot of the mixings of various coloured fillers I used to achieve a match. The additional problem with wood and lacquer shading is the 'flip in the light' of colour and shade that occurs as the guitar is viewed from various angles and in various lights. I lost track of how long it took me to achieve a good result and, finally deciding it was as good as it was going to get, called it a day and blew a matt lacquer finish over the filler. At least it did not look as bad as it was when it came in - quite a lot better, in fact.
By strange coincidence, while I was writing up the invoice for the scratch to the Eggle, I got another phone call from a customer who had scratched the front of his Stonebridge acoustic. He had tried to sand and French polish it, only to find that the lacquer finish was just a little more than paint fumes, and had found himself down to the wood in next to no time. Now this is a costly repair as blowing in a small amount of lacquer would cause a shady patch on the guitar and the customer wants a uniform, pristine finish - so in this case the lot has to come off.

One of my customers has been very patient over the past few months. He is the owner of one of the last guitars made at the Patrick Eggle factory in Coventry. I showed pictures of it earlier in the year as I took it from the bare wood to a stained finish. I left plenty of time for the Cellulose lacquer to harden off and this has meant that it was easier to build up into a guitar, which I also completed this week. Unfortunately for me, because I am so busy, this became a job for Sunday (my day off). Worth it, though, as the customer has finally taken delivery and is delighted! More about this one next week………………..

Pic ref. above 17th July 2009

Pic ref. above 17th July 2009

Week ending 10th July 2009

I had a quick note back from the customer with the Build Your Own - Mark Bailey guitar saying

"Hi Pete,
Just to let you know that I'm very happy with the work you've done on my 'Mark Bailey BYO' - it played pretty well after I'd finished it but it's improved greatly now and the pick up balance is so much better.
It was nice to read about it on your work shop blog too!
All the best and, as discussed, I'll give you a shout in 6 weeks or so for you to have a quick look at it again. Regards, Kevin M. - Warwickshire."

Whilst on the subject of thank you letters, the vast majority of customers don't write and say thank you and neither would I expect them to. However, it is nice to have an appreciation once in a while but, as many of these customers keep coming back for more, that in itself says more than words.

This week we have a horror story. A customer came in with three guitars, one of which was his oldest and almost abandoned - a Jackson with a Floyd Rose tremolo. From just a quick scan of the guitar I could see tell-tale signs of a 'DIY set-up'. I must be clear here that this is not a dig at this or any other customer but this was a typical example of many of the misunderstood issues regarding the Floyd Rose tremolo, hence the subject this week's blog in the hope of helping to enlighten others.

The first thing I noticed was that all the saddles were in a straight line. Symmetry rarely plays a part when setting the intonation (saddle positions). Secondly, the saddles were very uneven in height and one of them was actually different from the others, indicating that it had been broken and replaced at some time. Other points led on from the replaced saddle because, when I got to taking the tremolo apart, I found that I could not extract the small 'pusher blocks' because they had all been squashed from over-tightening when new strings had been fitted. The other point in conjunction with this was the way in which the strings had actually been fitted into the tremolo. You can see from the pictures below that the customer did not seem to have had instructions on how to fit the strings so probably used his own common sense and removed the ball end from the string and then fitted it into the clamping mechanism - maybe in pre-internet googling for information days! You can see from the pictures how the wrap of the strings comes up over the top of the saddle, destroying the clarity of the note and also ruining the precise point of intonation. What should have happened is the wrap and the ball end of the string should have been cut completely off and the pure string clamped in the saddle. Many years ago I wrote this PDF leaflet to help people re-string Floyd Rose equipped guitars.

To sort this guitar out, first of all I had to knock out the pusher blocks from the back of the saddle - a picture below shows how one of them had disintegrated. In the past I have often ground the badly marked faces down on these pusher blocks using a diamond lap but these were not salvageable, so had to be replaced. The next step was to calibrate where the saddles should go. Most people do not realise that saddles for Floyd Rose tremolos are often made in pairs - depending on the manufacturer. In order to replicate the radius of the fretboard, the saddles for the two outside strings (1 & 6) are set the lowest and the ones for the two inner strings (3 & 4) the highest, with the final two saddles at the in-between height, fitted to string positions 2 & 5. The person who did this one is not alone in under-estimating how complicated the Floyd Rose is when it comes to taking it apart and putting it back together. The difference in saddle heights is less than a millimetre so, if the difference cannot easily be seen, this will also make it difficult for the customer (hence the use of a Verniers gauge). With some slight mods, this odd saddle was re-arranged accordingly and when the guitar was finally set up, it played really well - a marked contrast from when it came in.

Finally, a quick note on the subject of string changing. It's been unbelievable the number of guitars that came in this week where the strings had been fitted to the machine-head with one or less turns on the capstan. It may look neat/good, but many of these customers also complained about tuning difficulties. I cannot emphasise enough that at least three turns or more should be applied to the machine-head capstan in order to create surface friction, preventing slippage - unless a 'locking method' is used. .In the same section of this website where the PDF on re-string a Floyd Rose came from, I also have a PDF on re-stringing for 6 string guitars using a 'string locking method' - the only method available where just over one turn on the machine-head can apply.

Pic ref. above 10th July 2009

Pic ref. above 10th July 2009

Week ending 3rd July 2009

One of my most long-standing customers brought a guitar to me for set-up this week, which is not unusual in itself. There were no clues in his e-mail headed 'new guitar' and when I opened his guitar case I found a very nicely hand-crafted, glued in neck guitar in the style of the PRS. "Very nice" I said, looking for indications of its origin - then my customer said "I made it myself ". He explained to me how he had taken Mark Bailey's 'Build Your Own' guitar course and, one week later, he was the proud owner of his new guitar. I was pleased for him and his achievement - and also pleased because he had asked me to take it one stage further and do a Professional Set-up on it. Assessing the guitar, I found he had done a very good job. The intonation was a little sharp related to the action height but it in order to have a low action I needed the bridge to be further forward on the treble side. The problem was that there was no adjustment room left to move it forwards.
I now need to explain something that transpired when he came to collect the guitar. He believed that the scale length was 25.5" but, when I measured it, I found it was almost 25". This may not mean very much to the average guitar player but when you get into building guitars and putting the bridge in the correct place, that 0.5" makes all the difference. I will try not to lose the reader in technicalities here, but the distance between the nut and 12th fret should be equidistant (the same as) from the 12th fret to the 1st string's saddle. So now you can see that 0.5" divided by 2 = 0.25" reveals the amount in error between the 12th fret and the bridge. As you can see from the pictures below, a small amount of rectification gave the customer his perfect guitar with a low action.
I still think it's a remarkable achievement that the guitar was built to such a good standard, from start to finish, in one week. The customer's own words to describe the experience were "it was very enjoyable and satisfying, yet very intense!"
When you consider that some colleges spend between one year and three years teaching the subject of guitar making he can be forgiven for making one mistake - I prefer to call it part of the learning curve!
Finally, if I had not spilt the beans in this blog on this tweak with the bridge post, no one would go looking for it - sorry about that!

PS: No, I didn't forget to fit the earth wire inside the bridge-post hole - that's one too many photos!

Pic ref. above 3rd July 2009

Pic ref. above 3rd July 2009

Week ending 26th June 2009

Sometimes I get customers who want to elevate their old guitar to a new level by customising it over and above its actual worth. This is in direct contrast to other, previously mentioned customers who feel it is not worth additional - UK labour rate - cost being applied to their relatively cheap guitars.
This week I had a 'blast from the past' - a Ventura Les Paul copy made when Gibson was in dispute with many Japanese manufacturers, such as Ibanez, for copying their brands.
The customer had originally owned this model of guitar and sold it but then he realised that there was more to this guitar and tried to buy it back - without success. He then purchased a similar guitar in good condition and brought it to me for customisation. He had already done his homework and come up with one of the old school pickup manufacturers who he had commissioned to make three pickups. The manufacturers' name is Adeson and they were responsible for Dallas pickups among many others. They are so steeped in history that they are still able to renovate some of those forgotten pickups of yesteryear like Hofner etc.
The customer asked me to do my Professional Set-up and fit the three pickups and fit new electrics. Normally this would not be an issue except that three pickups into a two PU toggle switch does not go! I devised a way round the two-way toggle switch by changing the wiring of the tone control. After new pots had been fitted one tone control became the centre pickup volume. By wiring the pickups to the volumes in a similar manner to the Fender Jazz Bass, it allowed the new centre pickup to be blended in with either the neck or bridge pickups as desired. Naturally, if the centre pickup was turned off the guitar had normal Les Paul switching. The reason for using the Jazz Bass volume wiring system is that it allows for the volume to drop to zero without cutting the whole system dead. Therefore all pickups can be varied down to zero without affecting the output.
I did have to make a new jig in order to route out the centre pickup cavity which had the initial problem of fitting a jig on a carved-top body - but this was easily resolved.
As I had an odd tone control knob of the same type kicking around, I remove the 'tone' decal and added my own 'Centre Volume' label just to give it that final customised look.
I have to say that these Adeson pickups were great and the addition of the third pickup in the centre being so close to the other two added that tone often described as 'the Sultans of Swing' sound - that comes from blending two pickups in close proximity to each other. This turned out a lovely guitar - one I was sorry to see go!

From the same 1970s era I had one of those previously-mentioned Ibanez versions of the Gibson 'Flying V' come in for me to change from left-handed to right-handed. The customer's simple instructions made it sound like a five-minute job - the idea was to take the brass scratch-plate and 'flip it over' so it became right handed, chamfer the edges and polish it clean.
I removed the electrics from the scratch-plate and turned it over, only to find some nasty zaz marks all over it! Chamfering the scratchplate wasn't a problem but I had to sand out some of the gouges and marks and polish up from there. So what had sounded like a five-minute job took two hours before it was in a presentable state and this was with the use of a buffing wheel! Upon re-fitting the scratchplate I find that it was not symmetrical - clearly this was made in the days before CNC design/machining! Eventually I resolved the problem and now the guitar is ready for the customer to collect. I wonder what will be in store for me next week.

Pic ref. above 26th June 2009

Pic ref. above 26th June  2009

Week ending 19th June 2009

Now here is an interesting twist to a customer's perspective on his newly bought guitar and a Set-up. A customer called me and told me that he had bought a £200 guitar and that, while it was relatively cheap, my set-up cost almost half the value of the guitar! This is correct, but what he's doing is relating the cost of making the guitar in China (for example) with the UK labour cost for setting it up.
If customers going out looking for a guitar they also need to put aside a budget for it to be set-up, the end result would not be a shock but expectation. When I was at the London Guitar Show, I was amazed at how cheap some of the guitars are related to the retail price tag. So now it is clear that you can purchase a guitar which is actually 10 times better made than 20 years ago but if you have not accounted for the cost of setting it up the whole guitar experience is more expensive than you thought.
The reason for the customer's phone call was because the guitar buzzed badly and didn't play very well even though the shop had offered a free set-up. This brings me on to the value of the 'free' set-up because, if a customer is looking at my professional set-up on top of the retail shops inclusive deal, it makes you wonder how good that 'initial set-up' was in the first place. Secondly, nothing is for free and therefore deducting half an hour or an hour's worth of UK time from the Guitars sale price tag would give you something more like the real value of the guitar.
He also stated that the saddle is now at a ridiculous angle but, tellingly, has not tried to get the shop to rectify the guitar. It seems he now has the guitar he can afford but a loss of confidence on the free 'initial setup'. Yes, I do feel sorry for him but, as many of my customers will testify, the Set-up I give has a 12 month guarantee and is well worth it on a new guitar that may develop a problem through settlement. Recently I have had three new acoustic guitars that developed buzzing within 12 months due to the drying out process where the tops sank down, lowering the action, which needed a simple adjustment to the saddle to resolve the problem. (Under my guarantee the customers didn't pay for these rectifications, which underlines the service I provide.) Only the other day a Stonebridge acoustic that had needed this doing at new came in for its 3rd year service and it has stayed put ever since, so it's not the craftsmanship in making it that is the problem but the moisture content in the top of the guitar that is drying out.
This only goes to underline that buying a new guitar is something of a lottery but having it professionally set-up gives you some insurance against any problems that arise during the first year of ownership, as well as giving you a more playable instrument right from the word go.

Week ending 12th June 2009

When I got a call from a bass player saying that he had the bass from hell and his friend had recommended my services to him, I was naturally interested in his tale of woe of how he had used one of my competitors to fit pickups and set up his bass guitar. The sad part about reviewing someone else's work is the knowledge that the customer has already paid out good money and not been satisfied. In this case it was easy to see why he should be disappointed.

Firstly the action height was very high and my first thought was that the customer had fitted tape wound strings in place of round wound. This point deserves a mention because many people believe that keeping the same gauge of string but changing the type has no effect but this is not so. Tape wound strings, by their very nature, have less air within their structure and more wraps and therefore the mass of the string is greater than its brother 'round wound' at the same gauge. Years ago, I too was not aware of this fact until a customer asked me to replace round wound with tape wound - same gauge 45 to 105. The result was greater tension on the neck and it pulled forwards badly, increasing the action height. A quick adjustment of the truss rod resolved the problem. I asked whether the customer has done the changeover himself but he told me that the guitar tech fitted the new strings. Looking at the machine-heads I noticed that one of the ferrules had fallen off the headstock - I would guess when the strings were removed - and because of this the string was pulling the capstan/post sideways. This is a recipe for disaster as machine-heads will be damaged by excessive sideways stress. The customer had not noticed the Ferrule was missing, either, until I pointed it out.
Talking to a customer can reveal a lot of things and when he reiterated what the previous tech had said - that the Jazz bass had complicated wiring (not true) - I felt the need to take a closer look. By lifting the control plate I could see that the pickups were correctly soldered in place but the capacitor was loose - dry joint. I plugged the guitar into my Multi-Meter and found that the neck pickup gave me a reading consistent with a healthy pick-up but the bridge pickup had no output at all.
I plugged the bass in and sure enough it had a weak, feeble sound coming from the bridge pickup confirming that the winding had broken-down.
Knowing the truth about the pickup shed a completely different light on what the guitar technician did for this customer. They had clearly soldered in the pickups correctly and then adjusted their heights relative to sound output. As you can see from the picture below, the bridge one was set almost touching the strings and the neck one put as far away as possible. No wonder the customer had a dreadful sound.
The problem was resolved by sending the pickup away to be re-wound. I soldering in the loose capacitor, fitting an additional earth loop finishing with the jack socket just for good measure. Just like the Telecaster, Fender believe that a dry earth fitting for the Pots and Jack Socket are sufficient. We won't let Gibson off the hook either as I have seen many Flying V guitars with a similar problem. The signs to look out for are scratchy, crackly electrics.
A quick look at the nut slots showed that one of the strings slots had been cut down too low - this required a replacement unit - yet another expense for the customer .
My Professional Set-up includes levelling and re-profiling of the frets, so when I made my first pass with the levelling block over the frets, they squealed out. This is a sure sign that the frets are loose in their slots. Gluing the frets in should have been a simple matter but for some reason the customer had the fingerboard covered in WD40 which needed cleaning off with liberal coats of degreasant before I could start re-gluing!
Although the customer has not picked up the bass yet, I am sure that he will notice a significant difference, not only from the re-wound pickup but the clarity of the notes off the frets that that are now not wobbling about in their slots.

Pic ref. above 12th June 2009

Pic ref. above 12th June  2009

Week ending 5th June 2009

Together with forgetting to post last weeks blog, I was pulled up short this week because I hadn't had time to re-order parts. So this week when I came to do a couple of jobs I was forced to take stock of pending spare parts shortages and place orders accordingly. It is very noticeable that over the past year, some parts have gone up by more than 25 to 30 per cent which I suppose is indicative of recent market forces. Of course this has to be passed on to the customer, so when a customer is surprised at the cost of parts I can honestly say yes, it was a surprise to me too to find how much things had gone up.
This week was a case of biting the bullet and applying the annual increase in the price of my Set-ups. The cost of overheads has equally had to be reflected and it is surprising how much consumables I get through in the Professional Set-up of a guitar. For instance, I go through five sets of abrasives, not including the file, when dressing the frets. Things like pure Lemon Oil are very expensive and not to be confused with lemon grass oil or some of the commercial guitar lemon oils - which are a mix with 50 per cent lighter fuel.

It is interesting what some guitar techs do in order to save money. One fairly common trick is to take a 'One needle file does all' approach rather than use/buy the proper nut slot files, which are expensive. The result is that the strings do not sit in the nut correctly and, as shown in the picture below, you can see the thin line in the base where the edge of the file has been and it's not even in the centre! The same tool used on the thinnest string slots causes the string to buzz around in the over-sized nut slot.

To explain my price increases this year, I have moved to a 'Customer Loyalty' system. I have a list of all my customers over the past 15 years - and also a good memory - so it is a simple matter of checking if needs be. Basically, all of my 'Set-up Customers' are automatically eligible for a 10 per cent (approx) discount on the normal Professional Set-up cost. I have recognised the same loyalty also includes GT Services customers who bring guitars to me on behalf of other guitarists. There are other new services which I intend to introduce in the forthcoming year, more about that later. Hopefully, my customer testimonials speak for themselves and I take this opportunity to thank all my customers for their past patronage.

Pic ref. above 5th June 2009

Pic ref. above  5th June  2009

Week ending 29th May 2009

One little thing I have noticed about the guitarist armed with a screwdriver and Allen key is that they often don't know their own strength! You would think it seems logical that a very small screw or cap-head means that it only takes up a small amount of tension before it is tight. When dealing with the smallest of machine-head screws and truss rod cover screws, it is surprisingly easy to over-tighten them just by the use of finger and thumb - depending on how strong your hand is.
One thing that people tend to overlook is that when a screw is fitted for the first time it cuts a thread into the wood so therefore, when a screw is re-fitted, it is easy to pick up the original thread by turning it anti-clockwise first and then trying to refit. In the case of Stratocaster back-plates for example, which are frequently removed to fit strings etc, the result is often to chew up the threads in the wood so eventually there is no wood left to hold the screw in. One of the obvious signs of this comes when I try to take the screws out and find they just turnaround in their hole - one stop short of just falling out!
The other issue is customers not using the correct screw driver - which chews up the cross-head. See picture below.
This week, seemed to be one of set-ups and filling screw holes so I could re-fit truss-rod cover back-plates and scratch-plates back on guitars. One 50 year-old guitar's screws were so badly fitting that when I put the guitar back in the case after appraising it I looked on my work bench and saw there were 3 screws that had literally fallen out of the tremolo plate! What I did not know was where the 4th screw was. No amount of tearing the workshop apart around my bench could discover the missing screw so I concluded that it had fallen out while the owner still had it. When the guitar was manufactured, these screws were partially decorative and only needed to hold on a cover plate but the constant removal over time, either due to curiosity or maintenance, had caused the screw threads to be ripped out, so no wonder the unit was falling apart. Unfortunately these were very unusual screws and as a last resort I fitted the most appropriate replacement small screws to keep the cover plate on.
Cap head bolts, as seen on the Floyd Rose, are more prone to abuse due to the regular sized Allen key supplied with the guitar. What many Floyd Rose guitarists don't appreciate is that less than half the leverage is enough pressure to pinch the string tight in its housing. I have explained this in my leaflet on restringing 'Electric Guitar with Floyd Rose' .
Using the full length of the Allen key's leverage can cause the threads to tear or the housing to split in two. Once this has happened, it's game over and a new assembly is needed. Cap-heads are usually made of hardened steel but some of the Indo-Asian countries' materials are much softer and can even chew up the hex inserts with normal tension - so too much tightening just ruins them.

Pic ref. above 29th May 2009

Pic ref. above  29th May  2009

Week ending 22nd May 2009

So, I'm back in the swing of things and here are the quotes of the week: "I don't think there is much wrong with the guitar" and "The guitar is almost new so shouldn't need a lot doing". This is the expectation of many customers who believe a guitar is correct when it leaves the factory and should be the same a few years later. Even a 9 year old Taylor acoustic had been described as "probably ok - a local shop checked it over a few years back but I think it now needs a service". I wouldn't want to scare people but this is what I found:
The first was a Warwick bass with an upturn at the end if the fretboard. The action had been set as low as a Fender Vintage Stratocaster and it apparently buzzed - it was just too low. The pickups were badly set so very little volume came from the bridge pickup. The only thing that was correct was the intonation!
The second was an Epiphone Les Paul which had a massive forward bow and needed to be heat treated to straighten it up. The bridge was on back to front and the intonation was very sharp and had been fitted in manufacture on its limits of adjustment. The nut slots were cut too low so it required a new nut.
The Taylor acoustic had severe wear to the frets and the neck needed resetting. It's a bolt-on and this is inexpensive to rectify.
Finally, a Takamine Acoustic Bass brought in with the request "please set it up" had a massive bow in the neck. This pulled out easily and the action was reduced from very high to very low. Too low in fact! I was not aware that the guitar was relatively new so I felt that I needed to go the extra mile to make it work - rather than reject it. The saddle was part of an integral saddle/transducer assembly and setting higher. I re-machined the slot to clean it up and fitted a shim to raise the action but there was more of the saddle out of the slot than in! (Something covered in past blog entries.) About 2 months ago I had an Ibanez Acoustic Montage and I saw that Takamine had designed the bridge plate deliberately to have a high front and a low back so this is not so unusual. That just an over view of some of the guitars this week.

Pic ref. above 22nd May 2009

Pic ref. above  22nd May  2009

Week ending 15th May 2009

Here is one thing that many people may not think about……….stopping a one man business to go on holiday is a bit like trying to stop or turn one of those oil tankers at sea and requires a bit of planning!. Often, I stop taking in work about 2 weeks before a holiday so that I can complete all my current work before I go, but that too can go out of the window. This pre-holiday wind-down one of my suppliers did it to me big time by sending my Monday order to another company with a similar name. When I chased the order on Wednesday they sent it again. By the Friday (my last working day) I was frantic as the order still hadn't arrived. At this point the supplier owned up (credit to them) and phoned me to say 'Woops - we have realised our mistake and you will get them Special D. (next day) for Saturday morning'. This time they did what they said but the planned customer collection date of Wednesday had now become Saturday. I did the job on Saturday and asked the customer to collect but he preferred Sunday - Grrrrrr! Then my wife tells me that if we don't leave Sunday afternoon we will miss the holiday so the customer had better come in the morning! All in all, the main thing is that the customer is happy - he collected his guitar Sunday morning, I got to go on holiday and all was well with the world……..finally!

Now I am back off holiday, and the first people to contact me are those with small problems/niggles to resolve. These often need no more than a tweak and are quick and easy to resolve - usually while they wait. I deliberately didn't do much in the 1st week back except answer emails and phone calls (as the holiday was in Mexico I used the excuse of quarantining myself because of the Swine Flu!). The second week was all about juggling who can visit and who can't and trying to start at least 1 job. I might have 2 pages of people planning to bring me work but, if they all came at the same tine, I couldn't physically do 2 weeks work in 1 so scheduling is quite an important element of my work. It's OK for other businesses to manage spikes in demand by getting in hired help or roping in a relative but I can't - the buck stops here. Thankfully, my customers are very loyal and understanding but emails and phone calls ordering strings and parts are administrative tasks (not my favourite part of the job) rather than bench work, which feels more like doing something constructive - so it feels like the pressure is on. Anyway, I hope this gives some insight into what it's like being a one man band where the organisation is down to me alone.

Last week, as I said, I was in 'Swine flu quarantine' but I did not sit twiddling my thumbs - there was still work to do. I spent the week re-organising the workshops as I had mislaid something before the holiday and the only way to find it was to tidy up! It actually took me 3 days to sift through stuff and, as well as finding the missing back-plate I had originally been looking for, I also found a guitar I started to make 7 years ago! I also re-stacked my drying neck blanks and did some work on a guitar that I had sprayed before I went away and which was now hard enough to cut and polish.
The decks were then clear and ready for customers to start calling again so the doors opened, people started bringing work in, the first guitar went on the bench and, a bit like riding a bike, I found you never forget how to do it!

Pics below show my current 'long job' - a Berlin Eggle: prepared, stained and lacquered.
Later on I will show it built up and ready for the new owner who has already taken a sneak preview!

Pic ref. above 15th May 2009

Pic ref. above  15th May  2009

Week ending 7th May 2009

As you can see I have not made entries to the blog for a few weeks. This is because I have been in Mexico visiting ancient Mayan historic sites and such like in the Yucatan peninsula. It's ironic but not unusual for me to pick a place of controversy for a holiday. We once had a near miss in Kissimmee Florida when it was hit by 7 tornadoes at once, taking part of the roof off our hotel in the process! Only last December a major power line blew up outside our hotel in New York. Anyway, because of this flu thing, as a precaution to my customers and because 12 to 14 hours of air travel knocks me about a bit, I have quarantined myself for 6 days after my return. The health authorities tell me that any symptoms would develop within 2 days so I am now certain I am not affected by the flu. That is a welcome change to last year's trip to India when a flu bug I picked up there took several months to get rid of - wouldn't even wish that on my competitors!
I think I have heard most of the jokes on the flu bug:……..
People have been phoning NHS direct and only getting crackling on the line!
The best solution is to rub oink-ment on the chest
One symptom of the flue is an outbreak of rashers and it can gives you the trots.
Please don't hog the lime light with your blog - yea! - otherwise it will create squeals of protests. Enough - please !

I apologise for those you I have not yet contacted on my long list of phone messages and emails - I am now starting to work my way through it, so you should hear from me soon.

Week ending 10th April 2009

Just when I thought it was safe to sort out a couple of long standing projects I had put to one side, a barrage of telephone calls for set-up work soon put paid to that.

Two expensive guitars came in that should have been a joy to work but both caused me a great deal of aggravation. One was a PRS which had a very high section of frets, the other was a USA Jackson with a through neck design which had problems with back-bow in the neck and a severe upturn at the end of the fingerboard. It just goes to show that you can pay a lot of money and get very good quality guitars but they can still have problems with playability.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to put together my personal review list of guitars, giving points out of ten, based upon how I have consistently found them to work on for set-up. The list will cover all sorts that I have seen on the bench, ranging from guitars like the Czech mass-produced Stonebridge to top quality instruments like Collings from the USA. Potential buyers shouldn't base their purchase decisions on this list, as it doesn't guarantee that a particular brand of guitar will be good week after week but some guitars which are consistently poor might be best avoided. It can happen that I get a pleasant surprise and find I get a good one of a make that is generally poor as well as what happened this week, when I got poor ones of makes that are usually very good!

One of the big surprises this week, after the aggravation from PRS and Jackson was a Collings acoustic guitar that I found absolutely brilliant! In this case I would give it 9 out of 10 (I can't give 10 out of 10 as something better may come along!) I was able to lower the action on the Collings slightly and the fret work was very, very good. I remember two other guitars - Taylor and Tacoma - which were very similar some years ago.

The pictures I have this week relate to the Les Paul which was owned by the guitarist out of 'Midnight Oil' band and is now one of my customer's most cherished guitars. It had developed a nasty crackle and kept cutting out - I found the Jack Socket was corroded and worn out and needed replacing. Some technicians fail to appreciate that this type of Les Paul guitar (of a certain era) does not have a string earth and it relies on the electrics to be completely shielded (it's the Faraday shield/cage again), so it is no surprise when they need to change the jack socket they often throw the whole Shielded Can away. Part of the reason for not having a string earth is that Gibson made the socket and lip of the can as an all-in-one part. I have never bothered to find out whether these can be bought as replacement parts but it is relatively easy to cut the old socket away from the can, ream it to take a new sockets and refit it to preserve the shielding.

PS: Sorry, I am back to a long waiting list again for work to be done.

Pic ref. above 10th April 2009

Pic ref. above  10th April 2009

Week ending 3rd April 2009

Week in, week out I see guitars that seem to be set up in without any knowledge of some of the main rules. Whether this is done by the customer themselves, previous owners or guitar technicians who knows, but there is little excuse for ignorance by music shops/technicians with so many articles available in magazines and on the internet about setting up guitars.

I once remember a customer bringing his son's guitar project to me to evaluate. Not wanting to be too unkind I said it was a reasonable attempt and asked how he had calculated the fret positions. The customer replied that he had copied it by eye from a book. What I saw was that all the frets were evenly spaced and as a consequence there weren't enough of them! My verdict was - nice try, but with a little investigation at the local library or by asking a luthier he could have produced a musical instrument rather than an ornament! I even tried to explain how it could not be played in tune because the fundamentals were wrong but unfortunately the customer seemed quite cross and didn't want to listen. I guess, like father like son, neither could be told anything!

When I get a guitar in for assessment, the first thing I look at is its geometry, as this tells me straight away whether it's going to work or not. I had both extremes this week. First, I had an oval-holed archtop made by the company 'Eastman'. I was so engrossed with admiring the nice geometry and the good build quality that I initially even forgot to look at the headstock to see what the make of guitar of was - which I put down to me having a senior moment! At least I can't be accused of making my mind up based on the headstock logo. After this, a Stratocaster came in with the action at 1/64 - far too low - and one look at the pattern of where the saddles were told me the intonation was way out on the bass side. I can only guess that the logic behind this was that it ought to be the same shape as the acoustic saddle (at a 1/8" slant) but this is wrong. The second picture shows the correct position. The pickups had all been raised too high and this had also affected the intonation (it makes the note go flat). The bass strings were 25% in error - too flat!

I then had another Stratocaster - a left-handed one - which was brought in for a consultation from a retailer where the customer was looking for a cheap fix. The problem was that the action was high (at 6/64) yet it buzzed when played! If this guitar had been a right-handed one I could have played it myself to check it out for buzzing but I can't play left-handed. However, looking carefully at the action, it was my considered opinion that it probably didn't buzz if played normally and, in reality, the customer's playing style probably had something to do with it. Problems with action heights/playing styles often occur when electric guitars are played like acoustics - this may be the reason some electric guitar companies set high actions to be on the safe side, to avoid them being rejected by an acoustic player progressing onto an electric. Having a high action on an electric is not wrong - it is largely a matter of preference - but no-one can have their cake and eat it - if you want a low action which remains buzz free then you might need to adopt a different approach to playing. The final nail in the coffin of this guitar was the fret height of 0.6mm which left me no room for manoeuvre in lowering the action height. All things considered, this was one guitar that I declined to do!
Incidentally, whether a guitar is right or left handed makes no difference to the quality of my set-up work because all the work I do, whether for right or left-handers, uses engineering principles and measurements in the same way. I have many satisfied left-handed customers as well as right-handed ones!

Pic ref. above 3rd April 2009

Pic ref. above  3rd April 2009

Week ending 27th March 2009

Looking at a guitar placed on the bench is like trying to see the perfect picture as far as geometry is concerned and when you've done this job for as many years as I have, it becomes a relatively quick assessment. This week I had 2 particularly shocking 'pictures' to look at.

The 1st one was when I got a call from a customer who told me he had a Crafter guitar with a high action - so high in fact that it was painful and putting him off playing it. I was a little surprised at this because my past experience of Crafter acoustics has often shown them to be set too low on the bass side. The customer explained that he had bought it on eBay and then taken it to his local music shop asking for a playable action. They fitted a saddle to make it playable and from the pictures (below) you can see the end result - but this only tells half the story. The guitar also had a new nut fitted which was too wide for the neck and too high. In order to fit a saddle, the nut slots need to be at the correct height but these were set so high it would have been ok for playing side but was impossible to play ' normally' in a first 3 fret positions. I have never come across work carried out so badly! The pictures show it before and after I worked on it. This guitar also has a transducer fitted so it needs to have a vertical saddle with a flat base to transmit the best sound - this had neither. The moral of this story is to take a guitar to a place that is recommended. This is eventually what the customer did by bringing it to me to rectify.

The 2nd shock of the week came when I was asked to fit new strings to a Hofner acoustic - which sounds like a simple request. The guitar was placed on the bench and my eye was drawn to the distance the strings were above the frets. It would be a better description to say that the strings were almost touching them at 1/64th! This situation causes alarm bells to ring because in the past I have been presented with guitars that customers have tried - and failed - to adjust in order to get a low action. The customer then wants me to produce the same action without the strings buzzing!
There was far too much relief in the neck of this guitar and any adjustment would have surely decked the strings! The saddle didn't look as if it had been messed around with but I refused point blank to fit any new strings because it was a complete waste of time and customers money unless the guitar was also set up properly. The customer had not realised how bad the guitar was and he was disappointed that he couldn't have it for the next morning's music exam! It was unfortunate that I could not do the work in time for the next day. On reflection, one very interesting point comes out of this - apart from short notice issues. I noted that there was a lack of bellying on the top of the guitar. It is my considered opinion that this guitar started out with the correct geometry and was originally ok but the moisture content of the wood changed over the past 12 months, since it was bought, causing the sound-board to sink and thus reduce the action height. Unfortunately, if a guitar has too much water content when new, the long-term result will be a drop in action. The opposite is also true - if a guitar is allowed too much humidity it is very likely to increase the action height as the sound-board bellies to excess. The UK has an even humidity and rarely causes the sort of problems seen on continents like the USA. I advised the customer to take the guitar back to the shop as being defective - we will see what happens.
UPDATE: 28th March 2009....... Custolmer reports that the shop that sold the guitar has gone out of business.

UPDATE 'Blog 30th January 2009': Eric Clapton/Peter Green 1952 Les Paul Gold Top was sold at auction for £13,800.00

Pic ref. above 27th March 2009

Pic ref. above  27th March 2009

Week ending 20th March 2009

After last week being very difficult, it was a pleasure to work on some better-quality built guitars this week.
One guitar of particular interest was a brand-new Gibson Les Paul Standard. What interested me most was that it was the first factory Gibson I had seen with their newly applied 'Plek' system being used to level and profile frets. On first impression it look very good compared to previous Gibson fret jobs that leave the fret tops very flat. The Plek system, for those not familiar with this phrase, is for fret work utilising a computer precision levelling machine, supposedly to get the best out of a guitar. The Plek system is not new to me and, some years ago, one of my customers took a guitar (one that I had built a new body for) to his guitar teacher. The teacher tried my Professional Set-up and was astounded to find that his Plek guitar set-up (costing double mine) actually had a higher action and didn't play as well in comparison. My customer was so chuffed that he phoned me immediately after the guitar lesson to tell me about this, saying "it looks like Peter Allen beat the computer system".
I won't slag off the Plek system as it is definitely a step in the right direction but, like most machines, it is only as good as the operator and his instructions! I would also add that when I checked this Les Paul Guitar, I did find three or four high spots on the fretboard. However, compared to other Gibsons, I would give it 9 marks out of 10 - a big improvement compared to the usual 4.
It should be remembered that the Plek system being done at manufacture is no guarantee it will be perfect when it reaches the customer. Neither would my Professional set-up, if checked 5 years after being done, because wood is natural and moves over time. Some necks move more than others. Many of my customers come back to me with additional guitars that they want setting up and, at this time, I often invite them to bring back their original guitar, for me to do a free health check. By doing this, I can assess how my work stands 'the test of time' over a longer period.
Getting back to the Gibson I had on the bench, it was clear that the neck stock wood had changed since set up because there was no relief whatsoever in the neck. This meant that, when I set the correct amount of relief via the truss-rod, the action height increased to the measurements that Gibson states as their set-up height. This just proves again that wood moves. In this case, no relief would have caused more buzzing. If it had gone the other way, it would have raised the action to higher than the Gibson setting. So, wood moves and my customers know that my 1 year guarantee allows them to bring back their guitar for a Health Check at anytime during that period. Now, try asking Gibson if their guarantee covers adjusting their set-ups for a year free of charge!

Below are shown some of the interesting changes to the Gibson Les Paul. I am not sure that all is for the best - the electrics look so neat that they 'showcased' them with the 'See Thru' Control plate so now, if a control needs replacing, it's made more difficult and expensive! However, I do like that they have raised the overall quality of parts and finish.

Pic ref. above 20th March 2009

Pic ref. above  20th March 2009

Week ending 13th March 2009

It certainly was week ending Friday the 13th!
Sometimes a week will go by when nearly every guitar is nothing but hard work. Often I will try not to apply surcharges but sometimes it is unavoidable due to the amount of time involved.
A Pignose traveller guitar came in with a very high action due to a poorly fitted neck joint. I resolved this only to find that the bridge was in the wrong place by about 3 mm. so I then had to mill out the slot in the 6th string saddle, in order to fit a string and have the saddle in the correct place for the intonation!
Next was a Norman acoustic guitar with a very high action. A previous guitar tech had missed an obvious very high spot at the 1st, 2nd & 3rd frets and had over-tightened the truss rod to compensate, trying to level out the fretboard. There was a loud cracking noise as I undid the truss-rod nut, indicating how tight it had been. Instead of milling these three frets down to next to nothing, I took them out, levelled the fingerboard section and re-fitted the frets. By doing this I had a straight neck without massive tension in the truss rod and also saved the fret height. When I strung up the guitar, it was clear that the neck had been put on with an incorrect rake angle as the action was still massively high. There was no also no leeway to reduce the saddle height and the bridge plate - they were the thinnest that I had seen. Had this not been a bolt on neck, I would not have gone this far but rejected it. The only solution now, was to undo the neck and reset it so that a reasonable saddle height could be achieved with a nice low action. Now you can see that what started out as a normal set-up soon became a long job - but in the end, at least I achieved a good result with this guitar.
It seems that, at the moment, many of my customers are looking to improve their existing guitar rather than buying a new one, but there is only so much that I can do. Still, if the set-up is worth doing, the outcome will be fine for both of us. If, however, I have a guitar in like I had the other day, I will be cruel to be kind. For example:
I had an instance this week where the customer's acoustic guitar did not have a bolted on neck like the Norman - it was a budget Epiphone Acoustic. It had a very high action because this neck had also been fitted incorrectly. A previous Technician had ' done his best' by lowering the saddle to a hair's breadth above the bridge plate and fluting it for the strings but the action was still very high. My conclusion with this guitar was to tell a customer to dump it on eBay and buy a new one. It was a pity that the previous Technician didn't have the guts to tell a customer this, rather than doing the job just to take some money off them.
As a foot note to this: taking necks off acoustics is most difficult and time-consuming - especially on budget guitars that have probably been put together with no intention of allowing after sales service work. The repair bill in these cases can often exceed the cost of the instrument twice over! In recent times, the cost of a quality built budget guitar actually exceeds the cost of the raw materials bought in the UK (without adding the labour cost) and for this reason it's just not worth doing the work on some guitars - unless the owner has a particular sentimental attachment to it - but then he has to pay in advance of set-up!

After receiving so many emails asking if there is a 'quick check' when buying an acoustic, I have now outlined a method you can use - see below.
Please bear in mind that if the neck has a bow/curve in it, the results of a check will not be accurate enough, however a bow/curve in a neck should tell you enough about the guitar you're looking at to put you off buying it. Another good reason for not buying mail order & Ebay.

Pic ref. above 13th March 2009

Pic ref. above  13th March 2009

Week ending 6th March 2009

I can see that many of my customers possess a wry sense of humour as they have brought me not 1 but between 4 and 7 guitars at one hit/appointment. I am flattered - but also flattened - by the workload! A couple of days ago I was brought all the guitars from a London recording studio to service, so that accounted for one 'BMW load'. I also see from my emails, that my customers drop in to 'the blog' to find out when to bring their guitars to me. This is interesting but, sadly, I am currently back to a 10 day waiting list again - sorry.
The Coy's Auction is March 12th, so very near now, and I have to admit that it's not the most user-friendly website from the guitar people's point of view but I am told they are working on improving it. Meanwhile, on my website, I have just redone the description on how to view guitars listed to try and make it clearer/easier to view the guitars - see Coy's Rock Auctions. As I had done 8 of them, they sent me the glossy Coy's Auction Catalogue and if that could be transferred to the internet it would be brilliant. However, if you are interested in investing in notable, rare, relic and antique guitars you may wish to hedge the current zero interest rates with an alternative investment for future years.
And now, a sad story: I had a customer bring me a guitar to assess, one that he had set-up by a shop. My heart sank for him as he showed me his pride and joy Epiphone Custom LP that had been murdered with a setup. Similar to something I have seen before, where chunks had been taken out of a bass guitar fingerboard edge, this 'tech' had taken nicks out of the guitar binding of the LP! See pics below. The customer tells me that he took it back 3 times because he wasn't satisfied and it's still no good. I'm not surprised because the frets have been filed away leaving lumps and bumps you would expect to see on a guitar that's done 20 years not 6 months! I guess that this may have been the Tech's experiment at levelling the frets but they had been left with flat tops instead of being re-profiled. The customer can't afford to have me do the real 'proper job' yet, having spent so much on the bad set-up recently, so it suits us both for him to save up and come back for me do the job at a later date - when he's got more money and I've got more time!

Pic ref. above 6th March 2009

Pic ref. above  6th March 2009

3rd March 2009 - Beware of the Computer Scammers !!!!!

Not quite guitar stuff but it could save you money!
It's bad at the best of times but worse in hard times when scammers try to con people out of their hard-earned money. Today, I was called for a 2nd time by a guy who had an Indian accent, telling me he had been told "my computer was running slow".
The first time it happened I said that I deal with the IT and computers and I would not call him if I had a problem and put it down to some vindictive prankster.
Then today I got another call saying the same thing so I told him that if he called again I would report it to the police - not that they care - and he rang off. I then went and 'Googled' the phrase "your computer is running slow" and have found that this is a scam to rip people off. Below is one link to similar stories but BE AWARE that, as many people have computers and they sometimes run slow, it's easy for you to invite them to rip you off. You have been warned - pass it on.
also this is worth a read too:

A better view of last week's 'Dallas Guitars'

A better view of last week's 'Dallas Guitars'

Dallas Guitars - England

The Dallas Guitar was made by Henry Weill's company in 1957, and marketed by Dallas Arbiter of London. Arbiter was also the company that imported Fender for many years. It is reported that Henry Weill beat Watkins (a better known name to the guitar world) by a mere week!
See pictures above:

Week ending 27th February 2009

As I said last week - even though I think I have seen pretty much the majority of stuff guitar-wise, sometimes I can still come in for a shock or two.
This week I had no less than 2 Dallas guitars in for a check-over. These were the first electric guitars made in England and are quite rare. They were actually made out of one piece of wood - neck and body. They are not good for playability because they don't have a truss rod or any adjustment for height/intonation. Nevertheless they are someone's investment and, at first glance, I thought that there was not much wrong. However, when I took the strings off one of them to replace them, I found that the fretboard was being held in place by the 'zero fret'. As you can see in the pictures below, I was able to lift the fretboard quite away. (A couple of weeks ago I had a similar situation with a different guitar but I could detect that problem quite clearly and impact being the cause of it). It would have been wrong of me not to try to find out how bad the delamination on the Dallas was, so I kept on lifting until it came off completely! Now, I have had my share of difficult to remove fretboards in the past but this has to be the easiest/fastest I will take one off EVER - how about 30 seconds! I guess the reason was that it must have been stored somewhere very damp and maybe humid - the remains of the wood glue were actually mouldy!
There is good reason for not putting a guitar in a loft or in an airing cupboard or an outhouse. I have been asked before about the best place to store the guitar and I say; treat the guitar with the same respect you would deserve yourself! So keep it at a nice, even temperature - not too hot and not too cold. Never keep it anywhere that is going to experience wide fluctuations or extremes and certainly not in damp or wet conditions. And for those people who like to put their guitars on guitar stands and look at them - remember this gives them the best possible chance of getting knocked over and broken - usually at the neck/headstock. My recommendation is to store a guitar in a hard case - even if it's on stage while you go have a drink. At least then it will still be in one piece when you get back to it!
Anyway, back to the Dallas. I was able to clean up the 2 surfaces and glue it back together so it now has a new lease of investment life.
I wonder if next week is going to bring any surprises across my work bench!

Pic ref. above 27th February 2009

Pic ref. above 27th February 2009

Week ending 20th February 2009

Thank you to all those people that have been patient and are on my waiting list.

The principle I adopt when doing a job is that it's 'difficult until proved simple', that way I hope not to get any nasty surprises. But there are times when I still do!
The guitar in the pic below has a two way truss rod. These devices allow the manufacturer and end user to control a neck that may otherwise be scrap. Manufacturers in the Far East are now fitting 'two-way / double acting truss-rods' to their guitars, which must improve their scrap rate statistics no end. The normal truss rod can only straighten out a forward bow in the neck - usually caused by the tension of the strings. Occasionally the neck-stock wood can be so strong it has a tendency to a 'back-bow' or 'reverse bow'. In these cases the normal truss-rod is often useless and just rattles around with the strings buzzing away on a hump. Heat treating the neck can be an effective cure but sometimes the wood 'memory' takes it back to where it was originally.

This is where the two-way truss-rod (as seen below) comes into its own. There are many different versions but this is how Fender applied it to their USA Models of the Telecaster and Stratocaster. The wooden plug is not in use at all with the normal working guitar (forward-bow) i.e. pulling the neck straight.

My customer's USA Stratocaster was set-up a couple of years ago and I went to adjust the truss-rod but it was loose. There wasn't enough relief in the neck and I decided to adjust it by 'PUSHING' the neck into some relief. By undoing the truss-rod adjuster it can be seen to push against the metal washer and wooden plug. The only place left for the rod to go is into the neck with more forward bow as a result because it is already biased that way. The net result is more relief. I remembered this neck from the last time and what happened then was that the tension was so great that the wooden plug popped out! I did a conventional repair by cleaning the plug and hole and re-gluing it with wood glue. You can imagine my surprise when I was re-adjusting it, as it emitted a loud crack and the plug broke loose and pushed out again!
Not liking to be beaten, I cleaned it up and re-glued it with superglue - a very trick operation as you only get one chance to get it right. All in all I resolved the problem and didn't charge for re-doing the repair.

I thought you might like to see what is inside a USA Stratocaster neck…………………

Pic ref. above 20th February 2009

Pic ref. above 20th February 2009

Week ending 13th February 2009 - Lucky for some !!

Terry B. finally collected his 'Year Supply' of Ernie Ball Acoustic Strings and the two guitars I worked on, changing them from left handed strung to right-handed strung and note the way he plays the guitar! - Mentioned in last weeks blog.
Pic ref. above 13th February 2009

Its time to call a halt to work coming in for the next two weeks as I cant take any more on. Anyone who emails me from now on will have to decide whether they wish to be added to a waiting list. Health Checks and other appointments and people I have spoken to will be accommodated - so don't worry you have not lost your place.

The thing about a 'craft' business is that its hands on. Unlike people you sell a product and then move it through to the next person, the buck stops here and its labour intensive. It means that I sell the service, consult/explain/advise and then most importantly I do the hands on work at the bench - then Invoice the job and tweak/modify when finished as a tailored service. The only way to get the work done is not by talking about it but to buckle down and get on with it. Sorry for any possible delays if you were looking to come to me in the next two weeks.

Week ending 6th February 2009

I am currently operating at about 7 days turnaround now on work coming in and no let up in sight as far as slackening off of work. What would I do if it did? ….. I hear you ask. Well, I wouldn't be twiddling my thumbs, that's for sure! I actually have some very patient customers that I have yet to build up some guitars for and it would just mean that I could do them sooner rather than later.

Two guitars came in this week from a chap that I did some work for middle of last year, when I converted a left-handed acoustic to right-handed so he could play left handed up-side-down strung. Yes, you did read that right - and you will probably have to read it again to make sense of it! He had bought the new guitars and had them set-up by a guitar shop but the intonation was 30% flat on the treble stings and 15% sharp on the bass strings. He had to admit that, after the work I did, he realised he had been duped into letting the guitar shop do some modification work where he bought them. Moving the bridge posts, which is what it needed, looks naff so I machined some flanges to hide the original, filled post holes.
Now, the reason for mentioning the left-handed customer…………… Last year I hooked up with Bandwagon Music Store locally, and part of the promotion deal was to give away a year's supply of strings (10 sets box) to a lucky customer in a Christmas draw. Because Christmas was so busy I didn't get round to it and when I did (last week) I pulled out of the hat the left-handed customer Terry B. Now I don't know if you have these 'déjà vu' or 'coincidence' moments but an hour after doing this, customer Terry B. phoned me up to tell me about the two guitars he had bought and wanted me to rectify! Spooky, or what? I felt like I had passed into the twilight zone! I told him his name had just been pulled out as the winner of the draw and his shocked reaction was "but I've never won anything in my life before!" Well, sounds like lady luck is on this guy's side this year!

NOTE: I am going to make the Prize Draw for a 'Year's Supply of Strings' an annual event but this year I am not restricting entry to customers referred to me from Bandwagon. As from the beginning of this year (2009) all Guitar Technical Services customers who have Professional Set-ups from me will be eligible.

Finally I was also taken a back at a nice, well-looked after 1970's Stratocaster that came in. The customer had replaced the tremolo. It was actually the wrong one sent him but, as luck would have it, it was better than the right one would have been! This one is not made of rubbish soft alloy saddles and one-piece cast fulcrum plate/sustain block but an upgrade. Until I told him the difference he didn't realise how lucky he'd been - he just said 'Well, it's what Fender sent me!' With some small mods the guitar played better than when it was first made. See Pics below.

Pic ref. above 6th February 2009

Pic ref. above 6th February 2009

Week ending 30th January 2009

I thought last week was hectic, but this one's been even more hectic so now I have to say that I can't take any more work on for about 10 days. The commitments already given to customers that are scheduled to deliver work to me this week and next are fine, but if I take any more work on just now, then I would start to be like other techs, hanging on to guitars for weeks on end and no promise date in sight. I only have one pair of hands!
The week started off with a trip to the doctor for my hepatitis and tetanus jab. The relevance to guitars is that it's easy to get cut or jabbed by strings and sharp objects and you never know what you might catch, so I cover myself with these regular inoculations. Now that's something many Techs may never even consider!

I once remember a customer telling me how a music shop keeper went a little strange and rebuffed him when he said that he was interested in collecting guitars - which was odd because most people would have tried to sell him a guitar (or two!). Anyway, when he first came to me some years ago, I never thought that one day he would tell me that he was bringing a very special guitar. I have done work for him over the years and never quite know what he will bring me, so you can understand my surprise when he delivered a 1952 Les Paul for setting up and assessment.
The guitar is special because it's known as 'Duster Bennett's ex-guitar'. There is a rumour that Muddy Waters gave it to BB King, who then gave it to Eric Clapton but this is unverified to date. What is known is that Eric Clapton did own this guitar and from him it went to Peter Green and then on to Duster Bennett. As if this isn't enough, the next owner was Top Topham, founding member of The Yardbirds. I am a sad enough old git to remember those days and never thought I would be setting up a guitar that has passed through so many famous hands. I don't often make time to play the instruments I work on but I have to confess I couldn't resist having a little go on this one! It's almost enough to make a grown man cry!! The guitar is going to auction so, if you're interested, you stand a chance of owning it!
I had a scary moment with it when setting the pickup height as I found that the bridge sound cut out. I took it out of the guitar and discovered that the problem was due to the bobbin being cracked. "The wires were touching the pole pieces" is what Aaron Armstrong told me when I sent it to him. He painstakingly stabilised it - bearing in mind its heritage and the importance of 'less is more' when it comes to collectable items. (Note that the pickup was not rewound, just stabilised.) So, with the express delivery to and from Kent Armstrong & Son Rewinds plus all the extra work, it's been a mad old week.

Week ending 30th January 2009.......continued........

This guitar is so interesting I thought that my customers/readers might like to indulge in some shots rarely seen. I put together this PDF - please note that these pictures are copyright of Guitar Technical Services.
The file is 25MB so it will take several minutes to download - suggest you save it to your computer.
One customer said he was privileged to see it and that it was the kind of thing you would queue and pay £10 for to see - Darn it ! I never thought of that!
Enjoy the pictures!
WIDTH="100%"> Les Paul Guitar 1952 ('Duster Bennett's ex-guitar')

An exceptional instrument!

Eric Clapton, Peter Green & 'Duster' Bennett_PDF

This rare Les Paul Guitar 1952 (Ex 'Duster' Bennett) is being actioned 12th March 2009. Coys Rock Auctions

Pic ref. above 30th January 2009

Pic ref. above 30th January 2009

Week ending 24th January 2009

I had a 'bostin week' as they would say in the UK Midlands 'Black Country' - you wouldn't think there was a recession on. Yet it should be no surprise given that I read in a British music industry magazine recently "Christmas sales up dramatically on 2007 despite the economic downturn". Talking to friends on the retail side, they say "it's been almost embarrassing". Well, I don't have anything to be embarrassed about because I just keep on doing what I do best and a recent flurry of conversations with past customers that started with (for example) "you did a fabulous set-up for me about 8 years ago……" makes it all worth while. We will also see if the recent trend of "I was going to buy a new guitar but I decided to have you customise this old favourite" continues.
This week I had in one of the new Telecaster 'Custom Shop Design' guitars from Fender Mexico. All the basics are there but any 'Custom Shop' finesse was sadly lacking on this one. The fretboard was very badly out of level and it was lucky there was a decent height on the frets to straighten things out. This may just be a one off but you would think that anything with a 'Custom Shop whatever' would have been double checked. Geometry is all important, so when I thought I was on the last leg of the set-up, I was surprised to find that it had been wired up incorrectly. According to the User Sheet on pickup options, the 4 way switch should have had a 'Fat - in series' selection of both PU's. In fact it had an out of phase sound. It may be that the wiring colours were correct but to my ears it definitely sounded 'out of phase' and a quick check with the meter for polarity showed that this was indeed the case. A quick shimmy with two wires sorted it out but clearly nobody in the supply line had checked this guitar. I know it sounds a bit of a gripe but you expect that in using the 'Custom Shop' inference to jack up the price they would at least have put on a set of compensated brass saddles. Not that it matters as I can quite easily tweak them to play ok - but just a thought. What I did with this Tele was to screen the electrics, fit one of the jack-socket upgrades to the ElectroSocket for Telecasters and notch the saddles. There is still the option to fit the compensated ones if the customer wishes, at a later date. Looks nice, though! (See pics)

Pic ref. above 23rd January 2009

Pic ref. above 23rd January 2009

Week ending 17th January 2009

Last weeks Guild Acoustic, which was brought to me in a sorry state, got re-united with its owner this week. I did make the point that the customer ought to think about whether he really wanted to have it repaired and set-up. I proposed that he buy something new with a good tone with the money he would spend on the repairs but he liked the guitar so much he was happy to have it resurrected. I have been told off in the past for not taking photos of the finished job, so this week's pics (below) are the same shots as the previous ones but showing the end results. When I glued the fingerboard back down I did find that the neck was quite warped, so the refret operation allowed me to straighten it before the frets went in.
Based on the recent surge of customers coming though my doors it appears that many people are preferring to treat their current guitar to set-ups, customising and up-grades rather than buying a new guitar. Added to this, I have been a bit overwhelmed with 3 or 4 guitars per customer recently, and it plays havoc with the work loads and 'promise to complete dates' - but I am not complaining!
I was recently commissioned to build a bass guitar but the customer is keen to track down the right colour of wood himself, so I have a reprieve for now.
One worthy tip that needs mentioning: I had a customer come to me for a Pro Set-up and he pointed out a 'scratch' across the back of the neck. Further investigation showed that it was positioned exactly where the 'scarf joint' is on this Epiphone Les Paul. This 'little scratch' that the customer was willing to waive for the sake of the budget price turned out to be a cracked joint - a major issue. I cannot do a set-up on a guitar that doesn't have a stable neck - this was the similar issue to the Guild last week. The moral of the story is that if you do buy mail order you need to check it out and, if in doubt, take it to an expert to have it checked. Then, if there is a problem, you can notify the supplier immediately.

Pic ref. above 16th January 2009

Pic ref. above 16th January 2009

Week ending 9th January 2009

Occasionally things don't go according to plan. A Levinson Blade Strat came in with the customer complaining of a static charge on the scratchplate. I took it apart, showing him that the person who had installed the Powerhouse pickups and mid-boost system had not shielded controls, EQ or pick-ups. He had also used 240v 16 amp cable, which is too thick and totally over the top. I pruned/replaced the wires and felt sure that the (Faraday) shielding would do the trick. When completed, although the florescent light noise was reduced, I found the same static still there!
I struggled to think of anything else that could be causing it so I sent a quick email to Charlie Hall (electronics guru) who has been helpful in the past. He suggested that I hot wire it from the PU switch and by-pass the active circuit. This I did but found that it was still there - although much quieter, due to the lack gain from the pre-amp. Charlie's thoughts were that there was possibly an imbalance with the PU's and the Fender active unit. Defeated again, I put it back together and, just to try a last one last thing, I polished the scratchplate with a good amount of 'Pledge' furniture polish and - guess what? - The noise disappeared! So simple! So it appears the static was in or on the plastic - the same static that creates the electric shock that you sometimes get when leaving a car. This is partly down to the man made fibres from our clothes which, in turn, can cause all of us to generate static when in contact with other man made surfaces. This laminated plastic pickguard/scratchplate may have created layers of static - whatever, the problem was nailed!
This coming week looks equally hectic. I assessed a recently-purchased CF Martin for a customer and found that it was very close to perfect and therefore deferred the set-up until the instrument has settled down a bit over the next few months. Many of my customers like me to set-up a brand new guitar, or at least let me check if it needs it. If there is something wrong with it, they can change it or get their money back. If it's good, I sometimes say we'll let it settle, basically to see how natural movement changes geometry over time, before doing any set-up work.
Customers can be so different, and my next customer told me how the set-up SHOULD BE done. When I pointed out that if I levelled 0.6mm and 0.7mm frets with grooves in, it was a waste of his money because they were too low. At his point he started to take note, especially when I further pointed out that I couldn't do anything until I had glued the loose fingerboard back onto the neck - something he had not even noticed. Finally, a word of warning: This customer also needs a new transducer because he tried to take the old one out 'just to check it' and to lower the saddle but it then fell apart. Unfortunately, these cannot be repaired so he needs a new one - take note, anyone else out there who is thinking of messing with their transducer - they are very fragile and easily damaged! - see pics.
At least I can now get to work on a couple of nice basic jobs with a neck repair and refret - should help me forget about the phantom static on the Blade, which drove me to distraction!.

Pic ref. above 9th January 2009

Pic ref. above 9th January 2009

Week ending 2nd January 2009

A Happy New Year to all.

In the midst of the festive season I took pity on a guy who wrote to me: "Nice to see you're doing well. I remember you doing a bass I had about 10 years ago, and have never had a better set up done. I've recently acquired a Michael Tobias bass 5 string from eBay, but found the set up to be too high and strings very old. I gave it to a shop to do but have found the bass returned with a bloody awful set up. I've corrected some of the problems but ideally I think it needs some attention from a Pro. Can I drop the guitar off with you?"
When I got the guitar it was clear that, although the previous Technician had removed sharp fret edges, there any similarity in work ended!! In short, the customer had spent over £50 on a set-up that hadn't even included sorting out the high and low frets. This is a nearer equivalent to what I call a 'Standard Set-up', which would only take half an hour at most! So, at £100 an hour, you would think the service should be top rate rather than what was actually delivered. Looking a little closer (literally) I found the lacquer was chipped at each side of the fret - showing that whoever did this job didn't bother masking the lacquer to protect it. See pics.
As people get more savvy about what constitutes a 'value for money' set-up it pays to dig deeper into what you're actually going to get for your money. It's not a case of knocking the competition, but it is worth re-iterating that I give 100% effort in making the set-up the best it can be, including dressing the frets, and I do whatever it takes to get a good and consistent result. There are some 'dabblers' in set-ups who just give the industry a bad name. One customer, who has in the past been to several different 'Guitar Technicians', recently commented there ought to be a 'Standards' governing body. Sadly, the only protection available is to know what a good job is, not get stung for a poor one a second time and put it down to a lesson learnt. Reputation and recommendations are probably the main safeguard for customers and I am afraid that the saying "You are only as good as your last job" is true in this industry - one of the reasons I pay so much attention to achieving consistent results and the best I can for every instrument.
Anyway, back to the bass………….I dressed the frets (see pic) and set it up accordingly. Intonation was out and the pickups were unbalanced. The 5th string silk wrap was over the saddle too, so I had to trim it back - I do find it odd that string manufacturers make this too long. The interesting thing about this bass was that the way it was built meant it was great instrument to work on - which makes it even more incomprehensible how the previous 'Tech' got it so wrong!

Pic ref. above 2nd January 2009

Pic ref. above 2nd January 2009

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