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News Info & Prods    Archive - Jan 2010 to Dec 2010 Tales from Workshop

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December 2010 (a) Strat refret

This Christmas was busy but I had to take a week off to do one job I had been putting off for 6 months which really needed doing and that was to reformat my computer instead of living off a backup box. I may have mentioned it to customers before but I loaded a programme to speed up my computer with the disastrous effect that it dismantled part in my registry!
I suppose it did me a favour in tidying up all the junk I had accumulated over the years but it still took nearly a week to do, what with reloading all the programs and transferring backups.

One guitar that fills the whole 3 sections of this blog I usually use for individual cases was a Stratocaster from the 70s that came in requiring a refret. Other things that needed rectification were the tremolo and the scratch plate.

The main job was to refret the guitar and when the lacquer was removed the fingerboard was bleached to remove the black stains and then the process of fretting and lacquering could begin. The final job can be seen below

December 2010 Pic (a) Strat Refret

December 2010 (b) Trem Holes

Looking at the tremolo, it was clear that a small amount of adjustment was needed around the scratch plate but the tremolo looked as if it was ok. However, I took the tremolo off to find that all 6 fulcrum screws had been shortened and were very loose in their holes. A closer look at the holes revealed that the two outside screws (the ones I use to govern the tremolo) were found to be filled with toothpicks! Apparently, a two pin tremolo had previously been fitted. It was clear that this particular tremolo was badly setup and that complete overhaul was needed.
One last job needed rectification - those two outside fulcrum pins needed good solid anchor points, so by drilling them out, making some dowels, gluing them in place. I then redrilled these holes and fitted new screws the full length and I thought the job was completed.

December 2010 Pic (b) Trem Holes

December 2010 (c) Trem Block

After I got the tremolo off I noticed that there was a big gap between the fulcrum plate and the sustain block. The gap was so big I was able to push a plectrum into it. Most people take the tremolo sustain block for granted - in the majority of cases these are not made of steel but alloy. It was clear that someone had bought an upgraded steel one and fitted it but the assembly screws were slightly off centre and the fulcrum plate was badly buckled. This would lead to poor sustain and sound. When I looked at the sustain block, the surface was very uneven. Eventually, a not so straightforward overhaul of the tremolo allowed me to put it all back together ready for fitting and set-up

December 2010 Pic (c) Trem Block

December 2010 Pic (c) Trem Block 2

December 2010 (c) Trem arms

One last thing. I found the tremolo arm had been bent and would not screw in properly - required a new arm. This is the kind of thing that destroys the alloy sustain blocks because they are so soft.

December 2010 Pic (c) Trem Arms

December 2010 Pic (c) Trem Done

Peter Allen Custom Shop12

November 2010 (a) Chipped Nuts

A customer brought me a Gibson Explorer for setup. Generally speaking I can assess issues and problems and convey to the customer before he leaves and, in this case, the string height from the nut looked ok so I said that it would be the normal setup price. When I took the strings off (incidentally they were 11 to 48) I noticed that the composite material making up the nut had started to disintegrate at the front. You can see from the picture that this would affect the clean trigger of the string off the edge and also it increases the scale length of the string. This was clearly unstable and whilst it might have been ok reshaped if it were to happen on the back of the nut, it was clearly unacceptable at the front. One thing I hate is telling a customer that I had to cut the nut out and replace it. It could look as if I was trying to make more money out of the customer but, from my point of view, it increases the amount of time I work on the guitar and delays me from getting on with other customers guitars.
In another photograph alongside, you will see a chip in the back face of a nut, which does not affect the clean trigger of the string off the front face. As you can see a small amount of reshaping gets rid of the chipping.

November 2010 (b) Custom Built Guitar

I have started work on a guitar which has come to me by default. I was asked about building such a guitar about three years ago and the main thing the customer wanted was a very wide neck similar to his Spanish guitar. He also wanted very wide string spacing at the bridge. When he refused to accept it couldn't be done, he took it away and pursued it himself and, in this case, he was right because he did manage to do it! The only reason I could see for it not working was the conventional Stratocaster pickup and the pole spacings.

The customer brought the guitar to me loaded with Langcaster pickups on a scratch plate concocted so that the pickups were able to move forwards or backwards. He explained to me that he could only get the harmonics on the 1st 2nd and 3rd strings by moving the pickups! (Clearly he didn't understand harmonics as they have nothing to do with pickups.) I asked him if he had taken the plain silver pickup covers off and he said no. I removed the covers and re-fitted the strings to the guitar only to find three strings running over the pole pieces so, by moving the pickup, he was actually moving it towards the strings. He could see that he had bought the wrong pickups but explained that Langcaster had told him they would do for any string spacing. This is where people have to be careful about salesmen who claim the product will do what you want it to. Sheer physics say that building this guitar messes with tradition as it doesn't fall within the bounds of a Fender/Gibson industry-standard.
When I mentioned the point about the string spacing and sent a picture to Langcaster and I was amazed at the reply I got saying that they should suit any string spacing.
Having ditched the Langcaster pickups as unworkable, I contacted Aaron Armstrong and he came up with the solution of using their specially designed 7 string bar magnet pickup which is fitted into a Stratocaster sized mould.
So there you have it, Aaron Armstrong came up with the solution for the pickup string spacing where I thought it couldn't be done. And the customer was also wrong in believing an off-the-shelf Stratocaster string spacing would work.

The only problem with the pickup design is fitting it into the guitar so that it looks good. In the past when the front section of this type of pickup has been missing (used for soldering the windings to the pickup wire), I have used black foam pieces, cut to fill the void. To show off the most amount of wood, I made some inserts to surround the pickup which make it look nicely finished off. I took a photo of them and sent it to the customer who said he didn't like them and wanted a gold scratchplate. Uhm! Ok plan B - I ordered PU surrounds in gold and here they are fitted.

November 2010 Pic (b) Custom Built Guitar

November 2010 Pic (b) Custom Built Guitar1

November 2010 (c) Poor Sounding Strat

I had a typical request from a customer to set up a Stratocaster. He told me that many years before he had fitted a DiMarzio humbucker pickup in the bridge position. Setting up the guitar was no problem, however when it came to the pickup he had installed there were 4 fundamental errors to contend with .
Firstly, it was clear that the strings did not run over the pole pieces, especially on the treble side. Secondly, one of the height adjuster screws had been used and the pickup cut and squared off with a scratch plate. The reason this is wrong is because the single coil is actually put at an angle. When I did a copycat of the Green Day guitar, this humbucker utilised both height adjuster screws with the humbucker set at an angle. What was not covered on one set the pole pieces, was covered by the second set. As you can see from the pictures, poor treble response would be the end result. The guitar needed wider spacing on the bridge pickup i.e. 52 mm 'F spacing' not 48mm. The third problem was in the routing inside which was not wide enough and the ears of the pickup where the height adjuster screws fit were badly bent (to make it fit) causing the pickup to be lopsided. And lastly, (unseen) the pickup's polarity was incorrect, although it had been perfectly wired in accordance with DiMarzio's instructions.
The only way to resolve this was to do the job properly, by fitting a new scratch plate with the correct cut-out, routing the wood for the pickup underneath and wiring the pickup in such a way that the polarity matched and buying the correct pickup for the string spacing. You can see from the photographs how out of line the DIY modification was compared to the new scratch plate. When the customer came to collect the guitar, he commented on the fact that the guitar had never sounded good before but he was well chuffed at the end result now.

November 2010 Pic (c) Poor Sounding Strat1

November 2010 (d) Nothing lasts for ever.

Recently, I have been plagued with mechanical breakdowns of various bits of equipment. If I had to vent my spleen over these issues it would be in the direction of the design elements of the products.
For instance, my faithful Nikon camera which has taken most of the pictures on the website has eventually been laid to rest. I could have carried on using the camera but something as simple as the battery compartment door wore out. I repaired it by using a screw and then the battery connections became intermittent. The thing is that I returned the camera when it was new because the flimsy battery compartment door catch failed - and so the problem eventually came back to haunt me. Why didn't they bother to design something a little more substantial, especially as it's going to be used frequently? Consequently I didn't buy a Nikon to replace it.

Last year, I treated myself to a new Dremel 400 (digital type) to replace my old one which has faithfully served me for 12 years - and the thing still works! However, about two months ago, whilst using the new Dremel, it blew up! Now you may think this sounds like an exaggeration but, picture if you will, I am sanding a small section of wood in a guitar cavity when there was a there was a large blue flash and a very loud bang followed by a shutdown on the main trip-board of the house. I believe that all the digital electronics inside this unit are exposed to the possibility of dust settling on it and arcing whereas the old unit simply had a hand lever to select the speed. Is new design better? No - but it should be!
The only consolation was that when I contacted Bosch four days before the warranty ran out, they duly collected it, replaced it with a new one and send it back to me, all free of charge. Whilst I have no faith in the product, I did get a new one but I had to laugh at Bosch's comment that it would be guaranteed for the remainder of the warranty - all 1 day of it! Ho-Ho !

Just recently my heavy duty table router developed an air leak and had I to replace one of the valves at £100 but I do take my hat off to the quick response from the Italian company in the UK who responded by ringing their local supplier outlet and getting them to ring me. They put it on order and received it the next day when many places were at -17° and Gatwick airport was closed by snow. Now that was truly quick service.

November 2010 Pic (d) Nothing lasts for ever

Peter Allen Custom Shop9

October 2010 (a) Backlog

This month is going to be very sparse information-wise which is down to unusual circumstances. To start with, this month I got hit by three very big jobs.
The first came from one of my customers who has a 335 Gibson, which I recently set up. When the conversation started with the words " You remember the 335 you set up for me recently?". I thought there must be a problem and there surely was. It turns out that the customer had not really played the 335 for years but since I set it up, he could hardly put it down. But, when he did, he put it on the guitar stand which was the duly knocked over when moving a chair! It's quite a common thing for the neck to break on Gibsons and for that reason they need to be treated with more respect than other guitars. I generally try to avoid doing this kind of repair because they are so expensive and time-consuming but it was difficult to refuse this customer as I have set-up many of his and his friends' guitars.
I am not going to repeat the in-depth coverage that I have done before (See here 14th Dec 2007) on this subject but have included a few photos below to show the work in progress.

The second big job that came in was a customer asking for help with a" build your own "Stratocaster with an exceptionally wide neck with scalloped frets. The customer told me that he had suffered a partial loss of memory due to a heart attack and was unable to complete the project himself, so would I take it over for him? I agreed and there will be more on this project as it progresses.
Those people that know me will know I am very particular on planning, giving promise dates for completion of work and delivering when I say I will. However, due to the size and complexity of these two jobs, neither of these two customers have been given completion dates.

Other customers will also know that I have had to put them on a waiting list - currently about 2-3weeks. This is not only because of the 2 big jobs mentioned above but also the 3rd one, which is that I had planned to rip out our kitchen and re-fit it. That's the problem when you're good with your hands - you prefer to do these things yourself so you know they'll be done properly/how you want it! Well we bought the kitchen and all that was left was for me to fit it, so instead of just doing the 'fitted kitchen' for my wife, I have also been doing the repair work on the 335 at the same time.
I am pleased to say that most of the kitchen has now been assembled and fitted, allowing me to concentrate more on the guitars in hand. The 335 is almost finished too.

October 2010 Pic (a) Gibson 'hold up'

October  2010  Pic (a) Gibson 'hold up'

October 2010 (b) Gibson Safety - Hiscox Case?

The last word I will say about Gibson necks breaking is to repeat that it is very common. Shortly after taking on the one 335 broken neck, above, I was phoned by a customer who pleaded with me to repair her son's guitar. I refuse to do a cheap repair and I remember when the SG guitar came in before, it was in a soft case. I told the lady's husband that the guitar needed to be kept in a hard case to prevent damage but he replied that, "Yes, his son did have a hard case but preferred the soft case". The resulting situation now speaks for itself. Now you would think that any case would be better than nothing, and I suppose it is, but one particular thing needs to be pointed out. It's the rake angle of the headstock cutting across the grain that causes the Gibson neck to be vulnerable and any hard case that the Gibson headstock fits into should have at least 20 mm or 3/4" inch of space behind the tip of the headstock.
Not too long ago, I pointed out the situation with some of the 70s Gibson hard cases that were too shallow in depth - i.e. with not enough to allow protected space around the headstock. The back of the headstock therefore touches the back panel of the case. The result of keeping a guitar in this type case is that it allows outside impact to be transmitted through to the guitar! It's worth noting this point when buying a hard case for a Gibson. This is why companies like Hiscock's cases have two separate versions -- one from Fender and one for the Gibson type guitars.
The day after I turned away the work to fix the broken Gibson SG, a customer rang who had been referred to me, asking if I could re-repair a previously repaired broken neck! I explain the cost implications, to which the customer said they could not afford to have it fixed. The cheap repair had only cost £70 - so you only get what you pay for. The point is that, if you have an expensive guitar that you can't afford to have fixed if it breaks, then keep it safe - which means put it in a purpose-built case when you're not using it.

October 2010 (c) Variax Jack Socket

One little job that I did, was to repair a Variax guitar. From the pictures below you will see that the complicated jack-plates that they fit are made from injection moulded plastic. This would be okay except that it is my belief that the screws are either fitted off centre or too tight in production. This results in the plastic breaking away from the four screws holding the plate in place.
I chose to repair this by buying a piece of stainless steel kitchenware from IKEA and then chopping it up to create a new jack-plate. I have to say this took me one hell of a long time to do and I will not be repeating this process in the near future. It's a pity that they didn't punch out a similar plate in stainless steel in the first place as a more robust feature.

October 2010 Pic (a) Variax Jack Socket

October  2010  Pic (a) Variax Jack Socket

October 2010 (c) ParcelForce Part II

After my last rant about Parcelforce letting me down, I now have to give credit where credit is due and so thanks go to DHL! Last week, using my new courier, I sent a parcel to Los Angeles. DHL collected within 30 minutes of me making out the request, the parcel left East Midlands airport late that same evening and, due to the time difference, it arrived in LA the next day where my customer was very pleased to receive it before 12 noon! How about that for service?

Peter Allen Custom Shop8

September 2010 (a) Suspicious Customer

I had a phone call from a customer who had just received his guitar back from a guitar technician. He showed the guitar to his friends who all agreed that the guitar was unplayable. Rather tentatively, he asked me if I would be able to set this guitar up (sounded like a subtext of 'Do you know what you're doing?') He brought the guitar over and, sure enough, I had to agree that the guitar was badly setup and virtually unplayable. After talking through all the issues with him, he was happy for me to go ahead with the work and he then got out another guitar and asked if I could set up that one as well! A week later he collected the guitars and brought me two more!
He explained that, for one of them, he had a bought a brand-new Fender USA tremolo off eBay and then taken it to someone who had tried to install it for him. In the first instance, when I had a look at the tremolo, I could see that it had been used before - there were tell-tale signs of string wear on the top of the saddles. I offered up the tremolo to the posts already inserted into the guitar, put a straightedge down either side of the neck and could see that the strings fell off the side of the fret board. At this point I felt really sorry for the guy as he had not had much luck with some other professionals of my trade! You can see by the pictures below that I had to take out the inserts from the body, machine some maple dowels to glue in place and then re-drill the post holes again. I applied a light touch of coloured lacquer to finish off, even though the holes do not show. Interestingly enough you will see a section of the scratch plate which needed to be cut back (from the blue masking tape line).
The other guitar was a Hondo which he also had me set-up, irrespective of it being a cheap brand. When the customer collected these second two guitars, I was again surprised to find him bringing yet another two guitars for me to set up - I guess I must be doing something right! At this point, I had to tell hum that it would be a few weeks before I could finish them as I now have a four week waiting list whilst I complete two major jobs.

September 2010 Pic (a) Suspicious Customer

September  2010  Pic (a) Suspicious Customer

September 2010 (a) More Heavy Metal

More Heavy Metal
A returning customer asked if I could set up his BC Rich guitar and fit volume and tone controls for each pickup. This was the Flying V type BC Rich, which has a limited amount of cavity space, so I use stacked pots/controls. He then gave me new pickups to fit into it and that seemed like a simple job. However, I should take nothing for granted, because when I came to fit the neck pickup with the fitted pickup covers, it was miles too big/wide. You can see from the pictures that BC Rich have bolted on the neck using a steel L-shaped plate! Well - yes, I can weld, but we are talking about wood here and if I messed with the L-shaped metal plate the neck would fall off! Instead, I machined some wood from one side of the pickup cavity and reduced the width of the bulging pickup cover. I was left with a slight tilt to the neck pickup and this time had to accept this as a compromise which goes against the grain - pun intended!
He Writes - Just a very quick line,
I used the newly set up Speed 'V' during a gig on Friday night, that's the first time I've played it live. I'm really chuffed with it, great job as always! Thanks, Darren G.

September 2010 Pic (a) More Heavy Metal

September  2010  Pic (a) More Heavy Metal

September 2010 (a) When 12 was really 6

It is often good when a customer takes me into new territory and I, too, learn something I had recently done a Rickenbacker for a customer who told me how he really wanted a 12 string but decided it might be a bit limited in how he used it. He collected the set-up Rickenbacker and later emailed me asking if I knew about the Nashville guitar tuning? Well….no, I didn't but, with a bit of digging, it became obvious that this guitar tuning was basically taking the secondary strings (thinner ones) of a 12 string and applying them to an ordinary 6 string guitar. I suppose with the existence of a baritone guitar one could say that this was now a soprano guitar -- ha ha. He wished to donate his telecaster for the experiment - I had already set this one up some years ago but, due to the fact that I had slotted the nut according to the fatter strings, a new nut had to be fitted. I cut the 3rd string so that it would accept either a 17 or 9 gauge. I was taken aback with the sound using the 17 gauge 3rd string but, when I changed it over to a 9 gauge, all those 12 string nuances came flooding through. Obviously, playing this guitar whilst double-tracking gives you all the presence of the 12 string without actually owning one. By playing the guitar without layering, the guitar has its own ethereal presence. I have to say I just love it to bits and it will become one of my 'must have guitars' to go with my Baritone Telecaster. So thank you to my customer for that introduction. After he had picked it up he later emailed me to say:
"I just wanted to pass on my gratitude for the amazing work you have done on both my Rickenbacker and the Telecaster custom (the Nashville project!) I have been playing both all afternoon and I wanted you to know that I am extremely happy. Sorry for forcing you to sort yourself out with a suitable Nashville tuned guitar!.....But it really does sound amazing. Thanks again for the great work! Warm Regards. Paul S."

September 2010 Pic (a) When 12 was really 6

September  2010  Pic (a) When 12 was really 6

Peter Allen Custom Shop7

August 2010 (a) Country Boy Guitar

I had several guitars brought me by one customer, one of which was a Mexican Telecaster. Not only did he go for a complete set up but also requested that I fit Fender custom shop pickups along with a rare 'Palm Bender' from Bigsby. For those people not familiar with these, Palm Benders and B-Benders are mostly used in USA country music. Then there was an additional request to fit 'String Drops' on the two bass strings. When I got this request, I admit I had to go and look at what 'String Drops' were. Here is the Tamara String Drop Link, and for those people that wish to drop down to D (or more) on the E string quickly on any six string guitar this is the baby to use - but no, you can't use it on a Floyd Rose! By the time these units came in, the customer had also gone for an upgrade to his scratchplate. The only problem with having parts bought for you, is that sometimes they don't fit! What transpired was that one of the flames of the scratchplate was in the way of the Bigsby unit - or should I say the Bigsby unit was in the way of the flame. Well I took the liberty of using the wife's hairdryer and warming up one of the flames and bending it over slightly which was a lot better than just chopping it off or making it shorter. Eventually, when all the work was done, the customer had an unusual and individual guitar. To put the icing on the cake, I turned a small aluminium disc to cover over the unused spring base on the Bigsby casting and now it looks as if it was part of the unit.

August 2010 Pic (a) Country Boy Guitar

August 2010 Pic (a) Country Boy Guitar

August 2010 (a) Jazz Bridge

One of the issues with archtops is the way that the loose wooden bridge is fitted to the top. I have seen some diabolical work done in this area on really expensive custom handmade guitars. One of the acid tests is to see if you can slide a piece of paper underneath the feet of the bridge on either side. The bridge structure itself needs to be reasonably solid in the lower section otherwise it starts to look and act like Daffy Duck (feet turned up at the ends
One of the other issues when mating the base of a Bridge to the top (soundboard) is to check how the top flattens out under pressure - i.e. how much deformity, if any, is applied to the centre of the lower bridge. The small movement of both top and bridge base can culminate in it being possible to fit pieces of thin cardboard underneath the edges of the bridge! - Poor sound transmission.
In the picture below is the procedure that I use to check out whether the two surfaces match. There is an element of leeway that needs to be given due to the final position by altering the intonation. Personally, I like to have a very thin area in the centre of the bridge base not touching the top so that the sound is concentrated onto the 'feet', which in turn transmits to the top of the guitar and to the two tone bars running the length of the body underneath this area where the feet are. It can be seen from the ebony dust on the sandpaper whether the bridge plate matches the top and also from the marks on the base of the bridge. On occasions, unevenly carved tops can cause one of the corner edges of the bridge plate not to be in total contact - and that's just bad luck.
Once this mating process has been done, the strings can be loaded and tuned to pitch and then the base of the bridge feet can be checked to see if they still fit snugly.

August 2010 Pic (a) Jazz Bridge

August 2010 Pic (a) Jazz Bridge

August 2010 (a) Eggle Bridge too far!

For my sins, I often get Eggle guitars sent to me for setup due to my detailed knowledge of the instruments, having worked at the original factory. One thing I have noticed over the years is the change in the position of the bridge or tremolo on these guitars, since they moved to Musical Exchange in Birmingham. This comes to light when I set the intonation and find I have run out of room on the bass side. I am assuming that they use a jig (we did at Coventry) or, if not, then a calculation. It's evident from the amount of post-1994 Eggles that the bass side often requires at least 2 mm more distance/adjustment further back. On this New York Broadway pictured below, a wide Gotoh Bridge had been fitted and its position was almost parallel with the bridge pickup. Most people will notice that the bridge on a Les Paul is at a slant, which is what I expected to see on this guitar. In this case, even having a wide bridge with the ability to move the saddles further than the typical Les Paul saddle would not allow me to get the correct intonation. This Gotoh bridge is designed to allow people to get out of trouble with big tolerances for intonation but that's providing you stick it in the right place! In this case I had to heat up the intonation nut and bolt until I could break the seal and undo the nut. Once that had been done it was easy enough to take the saddle off and turn it 180° and reset the intonation. The nut was replaced and glued in position and now works normally. This adjustment allowed me the extra millimetre I couldn't get before the modification.
The irritation with having the intonation at its limit is that, if a customer wants to fit 11 to 48 gauge strings, the intonation is too sharp and we may be on its limits again.
In the past some Eggles had Wilkinson tremolos fitted and they also had problems with the sixth string. Sometimes I have had to mill a slot in the saddle because the intonation adjustments sandwiched/locked the string in position and, if left, there would be no chance of changing the string! Milling the saddle allows the intonation to be set and the string to be changed. If only they had allowed about 2 mm more.

August 2010 Pic (a) Eggle Bridge too far!

August 2010 Pic (a) Eggle  Bridge too far!

Peter Allen Custom Shop6

July 2010 (a) Gibson Les Paul Makeover

I had a Gibson Les Paul sent to me from Scotland for a complete overhaul and, when I opened the case, it was obvious straight away that there was something wrong. One look at the Stop Tail Piece showed it was angled over - as you can see in the picture below.
A Gotoh wide type bridge and Tail Piece had been fitted. The customer said that the guitar had somehow lost its sustain and sound over the years and needed looking at. The Gotoh bridge post gave the game away on this 1970s guitar. It was clear that, in the past, someone had decided to give the guitar a makeover. The trouble is, if you don't know what you're doing in this area, you can make things worse. It was clear that a previous customer/repairer had pulled the ferrules out of the body (which were an imperial size) and replaced them with smaller, metric equivalents. You can see from the pictures, the metric ones are slightly smaller and the strings had pulled the stop tail posts and inserts/ferrules over to one side.
To resolve the problem, I removed the Gotoh inserts/ferrules and fitted some imperial ones - like the original Gibson - in nice solid brass! Before fitting these, I re-threaded the inserts so they would take the metric threaded posts. It's a pity the previous repairer had not thought of this - they could have re-threaded it in situ and fitted the metric bolt straight in, instead of which they caused a big gap which was then filled with wood glue!
The other reason that the Tail-Piece was tilting over was because it was set so high off the body of the guitar in order to prevent the strings fouling on the back of the wide bridge. I had to mess around with the bridge posts - 4 mm would look odd inserted into wooden dowels, so I left the metric 8mm sleeves in place and used some specially machined adapters with threaded 4mm posts. Looking closely at the picture it's a dead giveaway that they're not the original posts but now the narrower Gibson Bridge (ABR) can be fitted and doesn't look so bad. The strings off the back of the bridge can now come down at a more acute angle which therefore allows the bolts on the Tailpiece to be set close to the body of the guitar.
The moral of this story is that upgrading components and not taking into account whether metric will fit properly can actually be a retrograde step.
The other modification to this guitar was to replace the 300K pots with 500K, therefore improving the sound.
Eventually, when the guitar was finished, you would think it's a simple matter of sending it to the customer. Wrong!
I have explained what went wrong on this score as a separate incident.

July 2010 Pic (a) Les Paul Makeover

July 2010 Pic (a) Les Paul Makeover

July 2010 - A Waste of Time and Money!

This may seem like a rant, but I include it here to show how much time and effort can be involved in bending over backwards to try to please the customer when handing over the final service to a courier - who then lets you down!
The Les Paul described above was worked on and needed to go back to a place 30 miles outside Aberdeen, Scotland. Originally it was delivered to me by DHL on a next day service. I kept the customer informed of progress during the customisation work, he paid promptly on completion and I then enlisted Parcelforce for the return delivery. The guitar was booked for "Next Day" delivery - what they call their "Express24" service.

On Wednesday, at just after 9 AM, I booked Parcelforce to collect from me but, by 7 PM that evening, it was clear that no one was going to collect it.

On Thursday I am on the phone at 8 AM. asking why they didn't turn up to collect the previous day, explaining that the promise I gave to my customer of 'Next Day' means we have both failed to provide good service. The reply I get is one of indifference and "Would you like to rebook it?" followed by "We don't do 24 hour service to that part of the country". Interesting, as it's already going to be more than 24Hrs by the time the customer gets it! I get a new Tracking number and I wait.

At 9:36 a.m. on Thursday Parcelforce turn up, oblivious to the phone call I had just made to them, to book it on the original Tracking Number from the day before. I tell the driver the situation and he really believes in his Company's aims as he tells me "Don't worry, it says 24 hours and that will get there - no problem". I say "but it's Aberdeen" and he says "It will still get there in 24 hours - you paid for it!"

Friday AM - the customer and I track the guitar to Aberdeen at 6.53AM and by 6.58AM its on its way via 'Delivery Agent' . Wait for it ………they gave it to Royal Mail!

Friday PM I get an irate email from my customer saying that ParcelForce can't be bothered to go the 30 miles up the road but instead they have given it to the local Postman who is their 'Delivery Agent' !

Customer writes: You won't believe this. I checked the tracking all day
…… I thought I'll get it today. Nope. Parcelforce handed the parcel on to Royal Mail
today, and my postie will deliver it to me tomorrow I'm told. When I
remonstrated that this is not a 24hr service, I was told there are
disclaimers ………..Not your fault Peter, but ParcelForce would be my last choice - period …………….Oh, well that's another night in a damp truck and it'll take a few hours to let it acclimatise before I open the case.

Saturday - I fire off an e-mail to Parcelforce asking why they haven't delivered my parcel to my customer. Later in the day the customer finally gets the guitar I booked and paid for on Wednesday! Is that service? - not by my standards.

Monday AM - I receive an e-mail from Parcelforce telling me they are sorry that I haven't RECEIVED my delivery. Clearly they did not look where it was going to/from before they replied to me.

Monday PM - I get a telephone call from Aberdeen Parcelforce assuring me that they WILL deliver the guitar that day. At which point I held my breath to stop myself from giving a torrent of abuse and politely explained that it had already been delivered on Saturday. To which the lady replied how that was an abnormally good service for the postie to do that on a Saturday!

My conclusion is that Parcelforce ought to be renamed Parcel Farce. They dismiss any claim of a 'refund of 50% under their failure to deliver on time'. They do not seem to understand the frustration and amount of wasted time it takes to chase people like them. It also takes more than five minutes to write a letter of complaint which was my threat to the indifferent individual rebooking my parcel.

Meantime I switched to DHL and have had one instant success with a delivery to London - yes the customer was right to use DHL to send to me because they do venture 30 miles outside Aberdeen!

Now a week after sending Parcelforce the letter, a lady from the Complaints Department phoned "In reply to my letter". I said "Yes, what do you wish to say?" The reply was "Sorry".
Stunned at such a short conversation, I said "Is that it? - the sum total of the call?" and she said "well - no we want to find out why it went wrong".
Some 15 minutes later, after a reiteration of the points and being told that the local Parcelforce Depot had said they did call Wednesday but got no answer and left a note to that effect, was the last straw. No one came as I was in the office all day and could see clearly any visitors. I asked if they were going to honour their 50% refund for failure to deliver on time. "No," she said. "We did very well and delivered it in 48 hours so you get nothing". I hung up in disgust.
The one big mistake was to think ParcelFarce cared - they don't. They were not even interested in signing me up for an account. Yes the customer is right, I too will never use ParcelFarce again.

July 2010 (b) Tricordia, a type of Mexican Mandolin

One of my old customers rang up and said that he had got a rather strange instrument. He tells me he has a Tricordia or aka Mandriola , a type of Mexican mandolin. He explains that, instead of it having 4 sets of double strings, it has 4 sets of 3 strings. he brought it over and I had a look at it. My first comment was that it was a pity that the action wasn't lower because then he would be able to play it. The customer agreed to my proposal to alter the neck angle without taking the neck off. There was a sizeable chunk of Rosewood which allowed alteration of the neck angle by taking the frets out and re-shooting the fingerboard. After refretting, the strings became more parallel with the frets and it was possible to play all the way up to the 10th & 12th fret area.
Normally I wouldn't contemplate doing this, but the mandolin is built up around the neck and trying to remove it would be short of destroying instrument. As the instrument was so screwed up in the first instance any remedial work was going to be better than nothing. In total, the mandolin got a complete makeover. The original frets were very poorly done and the bone in the bridge was badly chipped. The end result was a complete refret and a revamped bridge and one happy customer…. well he was happy after I gave him his mandolin soft case back! Unfortunately there were so many instruments about the little case got mislaid for a day or two.

July 2010 Pic (b) Tricordia, a type of Mexican Mandolin

July 2010 Pic (b) Tricordia, a type of Mexican Mandolin

July 2010 (c) Hum from a Jazzer

One regular customer brought in a jazz arch top for a setup. He decided to bite the bullet and get his worst guitar brought up to the same standard as all the other guitars that I had set up for him. This guitar he rarely played amplified. When I finished the guitar I plugged it in only to find a loud hum. I touched the tailpiece but nothing happened. I got the ohms meter out and could not register the presence of a string earth. The guitar was an old Eastman and whilst the quality of the build was very good, they had forgotten to put in a good string earth. One remarkable discovery was the pickup, which happened to be a custom-made Kent Armstrong similar to that of the Bartolini. Well, it's sod's law that when you have finally set up the guitar there is a slim chance you'll have to take it apart. As you will see from the pictures below I took the strings off and with the clever use of a small hook was able to fit a string earth and reassemble the guitar. The customer said that he was pleasantly surprised at how quiet the guitar was when it was plugged in. Now he has yet another jazz guitar!

July 2010 Pic (c) Hum from a Jazzer

July 2010 Pic (c) Hum from a Jazzer

July 2010 (d) Gibson taken down a Peg

One big shock I had was working on one of the new Gibson acoustics. For some reason the bridge plate holes for the string pegs were enlarged on the bass side. I could see by the wrap on the string that something was not right - when the wrap starts to come over the saddle top, there is something wrong. In this case, instead of the ball end staying against the under bridge plate and against the string peg, the ball end had travelled up the side of the string peg, wedging itself in the hole. Not only is the ball end in the wrong place, it is also very difficult to remove the string pegs. It is a misconception that the hole is need to be bigger on the bass side, they don't. The holes only need to be big enough for the ball end to go down them. You can see from the String Peg PDF here where the ball end should sit in relation to the string peg.
I built up the internal diameter of the hole and then reamed it out to the correct size and re-fitted the string. Now the wrap of the string is far enough away from the top of the saddle.

July 2010 Pic (d) Gibson Peg

July 2010 Pic (d) Gibson Peg

Peter Allen Custom Shop5

June 2010 - Problems

Problem 1.
All went quiet so where did I go ? Well life is full of surprises!
I planned to take nearly a month off and when my back is turned, my website disappeared - Sods Law. What can you do if you're not at home to deal with a crisis? It's worse if you're out of the country without contact details!
As it turns out, it was a simple administration error with the renewal of a domain name (nothing to do with my website) which caused the problem. I also learnt that my website was actually there as an IP address but not as the regular wordage www.etc..... we novices take for granted.
Customers on my 'waiting list' will be contacted from July 1st.

Problem 2.
Not only did I have an email compacting issue before I went away when all emails were corrupted but, now I have sorted that out, I find that my email service is spasmodically not sending or receiving emails. Apparently, word on the forums attributes this to Orange - my Broadband provider. I am not sure of the reason, but it has made life very complicated. If you have sent me an email which I have not replied to, it is because I haven't had it! Anyone wishing to contact me should use the website email contact link Peter's Email , which is an facility and therefore not affected by the Orange issue.

Peter Allen Custom Shop4

May 2010 (a) Stratocaster Springs

A Stratocaster came in for a setup but there was something very odd about the way the tremolo worked, although it looked as if it was correct.
Initially I paid very little attention to it, but continued by taking the neck off the body in order to level and profile the frets. However, when I came back to the tremolo, I noticed that, without strings, the tremolo was still sitting in a forward slanting position! As I loosened the two outer screws the tremolo settled backwards, flat to the deck. Fitting the tremolo arm, I tried the tremolo for operation/movement and found that it was impossible to move! Then I recalled the customer telling me how he had bought a new steel sustain-block and fitted it. It's my guess that this new sustain block came with three new springs which I believe he fitted. I strung it with 10 to 46 gauge and removed one of the springs off the tremolo and found that it was still too difficult to use due to the strength of the springs! I think I could probably have got away with only one spring but this would have been ridiculous. I then checked out these tough springs against typical Fender production issue and they turned out to be three times the strength!
I have found that some people are keen to put heavy duty springs on but they are missing the point of how the tremolo spring should work. If the spring used is too tense, it will create a clunking sound as it becomes loose on its anchor points on the upward pull. It will also be really hard to push down on the tremolo arm. After fitting three calibrated springs equivalent to the Fender tension, the tremolo worked perfectly.
The other issue with tremolo springs is whether they have enough clearance when pushing forward on the arm. In the picture below you will see that this body was not machined quite deep enough and in addition there was a massive build-up of lacquer. I removed about 2 mm more and this allowed the springs to move freely without bottoming out.

May 2010 Pic (a) Stratocaster Springs

May 2010  Pic (a) Stratocaster Springs

May 2010 (b) Worn Ovation

A local customer brought me his Ovation guitar, which he has had for 20 years, wanting me to refurbish it. You can see from the pictures below that there was severe wear to the fingerboard - let alone the frets. Because the neck had not been adjusted/straightened since new it had a pronounced curve, especially in the lower section - between frets 1 to 7. I removed the frets, intending to refret the neck later on. By adjusting the truss rod, I could then rectify the upturn at the nut end and this also allowed me to remove the severe wear spots in the rosewood. Once the neck was levelled, I fitted new frets and then set up the guitar. This guitar will now probably do another 20 years, hopefully with just the occasional pit-stop to check the shape of the neck!

May 2010 Pic (b) Worn Ovation

May 2010  Pic (b) Worn Ovation

May 2010 (c) Gotoh Battery Box

One customer, who's been loyal to me almost since I started G T Services, sent me his bass guitar with some requests for customisation. One of these requests was to clean off the body and bleach the wood to make it lighter in colour. A spur of the moment idea was to put a Gotoh battery box in it. Previously it had been covered by a plate with four screws where I believe there was originally a battery box which had disintegrated. Fitting the Gotoh battery box would have left an unsightly gap either side with an infill of wood at one end.
I had previously worked on this customer's other bass, fitting a new bridge which required a whole section to be blanked over. I did this by inserting a section of white-ish maple into the reddish-wood as a contrast. Unfortunately for me, the customer liked the inclusion of this type of inlay and requested that I put a similar maple insert/surround for the battery box! A simple request - not so simple to do. Well, several hours later I managed to achieve the result that he wanted.

May 2010 Pic (c) Gotoh Battery Box

May 2010  Pic (c) Gotoh Battery Box

Peter Allen Custom Shop3

April 2010 (a) Worn-Out Gibson

Occasionally I get a guitar in that has basically died - in this case a Gibson Blueshawk guitar I originally set-up about 10 years ago. From the pictures below you can see the state of the frets - they have worn down so low that fret-dressing would not save it. Even though I have been known to dress out severe wear like this, it would be a false economy in this case because re-fretting (including the professional setup) gives the customer another 10 years worth of wear - just like new.
This guitarist is gigging player and also teaches in his spare time, so the guitar gets a real pasting! Not all guitars come in like this, but if I had to choose extremes of a 'before and after' set of pictures, this would be top of my list.
One of the main problems I had was trying to remove the height adjustment screws from the saddles which were corroded/seized in. The clear memory of my accident last month I made sure that this time I used I used the mini-vice!

April 2010 Pic (a) Worn-Out Gibson

April 2010  Pic (a) Worn-Out Gibson

April 2010 (b) Strat 2 Point Pivot Trem

One of the problems that I frequently encounter on the Stratocaster two- point trem is the way that the tremolo jumps when in heavy use. From the pictures below, you can see the reason why. The one post has a 'U' shaped flat surface rather than a 'V' shape. I guess this is probably because of worn manufacturing tools, or an error by the operator. From the picture on the right you can see the correct 'V' shape that prevents the tremolo fulcrum plates moving up and down. Correction is relatively simple, but it's not a rectification that you would expect to be needed.

April 2010 Pic (b) Strat 2 Point Pivot Trem

April 2010  Pic (b) Strat 2 Point Pivot Trem

April 2010 (c) A Split In The Frets?

I had a phone call from a customer who said that one of his frets had split in two! I replied that I had never heard of that before and would like to see it. When the guitar came in, I got my old spyglass out and showed the customer what had really happened. It was clear that something had fallen against the string which in turn had hit the fret wire. Strings are made out of hardened spring steel and fret wire is made out of a combination of soft materials including nickel, zinc, brass etc. When the two come into impact-type contact the result can be disastrous!
I resolved the problem by re-dressing and profiling the frets. Now the customer can go for those big bends without stopping dead on his split fret!

April 2010 Pic (c) A Split In The Frets?

April 2010  Pic (c) A Split In The Frets?

April Interim -

Thank you to all those people who rang or e-mailed me to say that my website was down for a few hours yesterday (29th April). Apparently it was not just me, the whole Web Hosting Service was affected but the obnoxious message that greeted people was "Account Suspended" which looked like I hadn't paid the bill! Never mind, I guess these things happen and now realise that this was an automatic default message - Phew!

Peter Allen Custom Shop

March 2010 (a) Knowing the Drill!

There was a point in the process of writing this month's news where I was deliberating on whether or not I should say anything about my recent injury. In the end I decided that maybe it was worth just showing the 'warts and all' aspects of being a guitar tech.
Ok, to set the scene:
I had a Stratocaster guitar with a vintage tremolo that was heavily rusted. No amount of persuasion with releasing fluids or heat would allow me to unscrew the intonation adjusters, so I decided to drill them out using a 3mm drill - I've done this before. I should have stuck the tremolo in a small vice but I guess I wasn't thinking straight and so I steadied it with my left hand, whilst drilling with my right. You're there before me………… the drill slipped out of the screw head and straight through my finger! Ouch! …and more ….. not only did it go in, but it came out the other side! Well that meant an enforced lay-off which put paid to my keeping on top of my work-load and forced me to take a revised look at my schedule. I have to say that most of my customers were sympathetic and understanding, and in the scheme of things it hasn't caused many delays.
By the way, it was a lucky escape and I am gradually getting some feeling back in the poorly finger. Now what did those teachers say about keeping the hand behind the drill?
Another situation arose recently where the saddle height screws just would not come out and the pic below shows how it should be done.

March 2010 Pic (a) - Drill adVice

March 2010  Pic (a) - Drill adVice

March 2010 (b) -Scallops Anyone?

I have had a mammoth task of trying to bring back to life a 1967 Telecaster that had been customised many years ago. The problems were
a) The fingerboard had a shallow and uneven scallop and the level of the wood was so poor that the fret heights were varied - all over the place
b) The fretwire was too wide.
c) It's apparent that the last luthier sanded heavily on the 12th fret area and partly lost the black dot! He didn't bother to sort this out but soldiered on and lacquered over it.

In the process of finding level wood and keeping the vintage radius, I too found the black marker dots becoming oval and partly disappearing. I will do a proper job, though, and replace it - and any other ones that start to vanish - if it needs it.
I could see the way the last luthier tackled the fret job was by lacquering the fingerboard to a complete finish, cutting the frets just under size and putting them in afterwards. This is untidy and is equally difficult to do well - especially without damaging the new lacquer! The correct way of doing it would be to initially do a lacquer sealer coat, fitting the frets and tidying up, followed by an initial tint (if necessary) and final lacquer coats. Finally, clean off any excess lacquer, exposing the frets for dressing. In this age of 'distressed finishes' the rest of the neck looked good but this neck was re-lacquered when it was not a fad and the previous finisher didn't even bleach out the dirt and grime but lacquered over it! Now my customer asked me to do a refret and keep the same tone/colour. Well, it was difficult but I got there in the end. One thing that has to be borne in mind, with the staining process, is the way the (sanded/bleached) wood darkens with the effect of ultra violet light (sunlight). It is very easy to darken a tint so that it looks good when the job is finished - however, in a few years time when it has darkened further it will be very noticeable. Below you can see some pictures from start to finish.

March 2010 Pic (b) - Scallops

March 2010  Pic (b) - Scallops

March 2010 (c) Ricky Bass

I had a customer bring in a Rickenbacker Bass for a setup. The strings were set very high due to a massive amount a curve in the neck. The pickup 'cover-bar' is integral with the pickup itself. In trying out the guitar I noticed the bridge pickup swamped the neck pickup, because it was too high. In lowering the bridge pickup, it became obvious that the cover bar was being lowered at the same time. I suppose this seemed like a good idea to the manufacturers, but it did limit what can be done with increasing the string height if the pickup was lowered too much. I was surprised to find that the pickup cover bar is (I believe) chrome plated plastic. By moving the adjuster springs to the other side of the bar, it caused the bar to stay put but allowed the pickup to go up or down independently. This is just as well because, when I came to balance the pickups, the neck pickup was at maximum height causing me to lower the bridge pickup even further.
One issue that I did have while setting this bass up was the bridge saddles, which initially rattled like crazy. On closer inspection I found that they were not actually seated on top of the bridge, but sitting on the intonation adjustment screw itself! You can see from the pictures the light in between the saddle and the bridge. I made some shims - not the most ideal solution, but it did remove the rattle and, I daresay, any side to side movement. I don't remember this being a problem on previous Rickenbacker basses.

March 2010 Pic (c) Ricky Bass

March 2010  Pic (c)  Ricky Bass

March 2010 (c) 'See Thru' Plates

I had a customer phone and ask me to change the pickups in his brand-new Gibson Les Paul. I took it for granted that they would be 500K pots as they have normally been for some years, so I said not to worry - shouldn't need changing. The next day another customer brought in a new one and I notice that they have gone down to 300K pots for Volume with 500K for the tone controls! I had to admit that I had been wrong in assuming that they would all be the same - I have no idea why.
On the subject of the Gibson Les Paul, but moving on to 'see-through' control plates, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not a Gibson innovation to put clear plates on the back of the guitar. A Gretsch Committee guitar (circa 1970s) that I had in for a set-up had a nice thick see-thru' control plate - see pic.

March 2010 Pic (c) 'See Thru' Plates

March 2010  Pic (c) 'See Thru' Plates

Peter Allen Custom Shop1

February 2010 - Acoustics & Humidity!

It came as a surprise when a customer wanted to bring back an acoustic guitar for a check because of a sudden buzzing problem. I did a Pro Set-up on it a couple of months ago so I had an open mind as to what the problem might be. It was even more of a shock when several people start phoning with the same problem - an epidemic?
On analysis, the first thing that I checked was the relief. When there is a reduction in relief caused by the neck straightening, the string height also reduces together with less space for the string to vibrate and consequently buzzing occurs.
I checked the guitar neck of the first customer to return and found that it was ok!
Then I checked the string height. Consistently from the treble to bass side the action/string height has dropped by 1/64th = 0.4mm - Wow! I shimmed the saddle and the guitar was back to where I originally set it - but why did it happen?
I queried the place where the guitar was kept, looking for possible use of a dehumidifier in the area but nothing unusual came from the conversation. What I did note was my humidity meter at the time was less than 30% and this is unusual for long periods (i.e. a month or two) in the UK.
After the 5th acoustic came back with the same problem it seemed evident that it couldn't be a coincidence. The average 'house humidity' has dropped due to the weather we have had recently. I don't know the technical differences between the 'average regional' and 'average house' humidity but I know that the averages of humidity shown on the BBC etc say it's 70% ish most of the year, yet my meters have been at 40% to 50%, depending on weather changes, with just the occasional spike to 80% . I told my acoustic customers that required the tweak/adjustment that they will need a further check-up in a month or two as I expect a return to the more usual, higher humidity will raise the action and I can then take out the shim and everything will be back to normal. Humidity is not really understood by the average Joe, and the paradox of a wet a January 2010 of snow and ice with low humidity and, maybe, hot summer with very wet humid air is not considered as affecting the humble acoustic guitar!

One of my customers didn't have any hesitation in buying a humidifier. He wrote back " I bought 5 humidifiers - one for each of my guitars - just after I last came round. The action has started to return after a few weeks - good advice for all your customers to use I'm sure - I'd stock them and offer one after a set-up, cheapest insurance for 15 quid!:" Andy S. "

I am now stocking these - See Pic below:

February 2010 Pic - Acoustics & Humidity

February 2010 Pic - Acoustics & Humidity

February 2010 (a) - Battery Card

From time to time I get a problem guitar from a customer that initially seems really difficult - so much that even I (!) could have a problem diagnosing it. This is where my experience comes in - to the customer's benefit. A customer this month had a classical guitar where the onboard electrics were dead, occasionally bursting into life only to die again.
That sounds like it needs a new jack socket and it would be easy to charge for one as the old one was not as positive as it could have been. Instead of jumping in to do this without further investigation I plugged the lead in and it was dead but with some moving the guitar around it clunked into life and then died again. Wiggling the jack socket usually tells me whether or not it's the cause of the problem but with this one it had no effect. The next step was to check the battery box and as soon as my hand touched the battery tray the guitar clicked into life and died again. That's when I knew what the problem was! I took out the battery and - sure enough - the battery holder was slightly longer than the battery's length - probably to cater for all variations of the PP3 9 volt battery. The problem is simple to fix and with 3 strips of card fitted to the bottom, the battery terminals now reach the internal contacts when fitted. Part of the problem is oxidation on the terminals, so lightly touching may cause an open circuit. The battery terminals actually get pushed back as the battery slips inside the housing so they are below or level with the surround of the holder. This goes down as a 'cheap fix' that costs the customer nothing in my book. The customer's reaction was "Damn! I could have brought you another guitar to do but I could only carry two!"

February 2010 (a) Pic: ref above (Battery Card)

February 2010 (a) Pic: ref above  (Battery Card)

February 2010 (b) - Leather Protection

After doing the electrics on my Telecaster someone brought me another brand new Tele that was a replica of the 50's style with the awful, dull sounding neck pickup. I rewired this to give the more acceptable Telecaster sounds and realised that it's worth showing off a trade secret. When I work on the electrics I use a sheet of leather to protect the surface from sharp pickup tops, wire components and hot solder. I find that a slit in the leather sheet allows me to work in isolation knowing that the lacquer surround is protecting the underneath - its not quite like a hospital theatre but it's simple and it works.

February 2010 (b) Pic: ref above (Leather Protection)

February 2010 (b) Pic: ref above  (Leather Protection)

February 2010 (c) - Action Height

The same old problems do keep coming up on a regular basis. One particular customer was reading the 'Forums' and was guided by his 'friends' who boasted that "they have an action where you can only just see daylight between the fret and the string" - Hmm!
Well, I have worked hard on my set-up technique that I use now and I have never taught or explained my system for getting the action and set-up I do. It took years to work out what worked and what didn't. In fact I had to work out some different rules when I did Retail set-ups for shops that consisted of a 'work-around' - i.e. not dressing the frets! So you can see that when most people are sitting at home trying to do DIY setups on guitars without addressing the fret issues and claiming great results, I have to wonder are they luck or fantasy? This customer presented me with his efforts at a low set-up, partly based on what I had done with the frets, but it still buzzed. I measured the action and I couldn't see the 1/64th marker on my ruler which means that in euro terms it was less than 0.4mm! I noted that, since the setup about two years ago, some areas of the fretboard had moved causing high spots.
I explained to the customer that many 'techs' use the principle of lowering the action until it starts to buzz and then raising it up a touch to stop it buzzing. This leaves the guitar just the other side of the border line of playability. I don't do this and have noticed at my 'Health Check' how the action sometimes becomes lower by itself as the neck moves. Typically, customers say they have no problems and with a quick tweak to the guitar they are on their way. This also brings me to a point that, if I have worked on a neck and set it up and the customer goes to another shop or tech, the chances are that they will have to do very little and can claim a result which is based on my original work!

The FEEL of a low action is to do with the relationship of the string to the fingerboard whereas a PHYSICAL low action is the relationship of the string and the top of the fret. I have explained this before but it looks like I need to explain it another way this time. You will see from the diagram (below) that I have put the typical vintage fender fret and a nominal setup of 2/64 = 0.8mm - right-hand side. Physically, you will see the same 'action height' on a Gibson or Ibanez or modern USA Strat with a jumbo fret - left-hand side. The action is the SAME but the feeling is quite different.
If lacquer coating is applied it reduces the fret wire height even further!
The people that seem confused over this are the owners of the jumbo frets like the USA Stratocaster, Gibson and Ibanez. As it happens, the particular customer with the action problem had a modern USA Stratocaster. His problems were resolved by a reset at a reduced cost and the guitar was put back to my spec.

February 2010 (c) Pic: ref above (Action Height)

February 2010 (c) Pic: ref above  (Action Height)

Peter Allen Custom Shop2

Month: January (a) - 2010 - Broken J45!

As a change to previous years, after this Christmas, I decided to go away on holiday for the month thinking that, with the current 'recession', things would be quiet. It seems that I couldn't be more wrong. I did try to keep in touch with all my emails while I was away but the internet in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos is not what it is in the UK. One top grade hotel's antivirus even prevented me from writing emails and other places had a mix of slow computers and poor bandwidth - grrrr!

Just before I went, I had a cry for help with an acoustic which had been accidentally damaged on the sidewall. Normally I don't say whose guitar I am working on but this time I'll let on that it was the guy who won the strings and featured in last month's blog. As you will see from the pictures below, the sidewall of the guitar had caught the side of a chair causing an overlapped split. Trying to butt joint a torn edge is not easy but, with a few cleats on the inside to tie both sides together, the repair went reasonably well. It's ironic that many cheaper guitars in the past have been made with laminated sides and these will take more of a knock than more expensive guitars with solid back and sides. This Gibson J45 was very unforgiving but it's better now!

January 2010 (a) Pic: ref above (Broken J45!)

January 2010 (a) Pic: ref above  (Broken J45!)

January 2010 (b) - Pete's Telecaster

My own Telecaster build was finished ready for me to enjoy over Christmas, just before I went away. For those who are wondering why it has a Fender neck, I fitted a Baritone neck to the body of the original Fender Telecaster it belonged to - I have done several of these baritones for other people and couldn't resist making one for myself! Afterwards, though, I missed having the normal Telecaster so I made a new body and fitted it to the redundant neck. I always wanted that wine red colour with the white binding and it's a joy to have that distinct Tele sound back! I now have two lovely custom guitars made from the two halves of the original Telecaster - and it makes a nice change to take a bit of time out to do something for myself once in a while!

January 2010 (b) Pic: ref above (Pete's Telecaster)

January 2010 (b) Pic: ref above (Pete's Telecaster)

January 2010 (c) - Gibson Strap Buttons

By coincidence, one of my long-standing customers brought me his new Gibson Les Paul - a Christmas present - for a quick check prior to a Pro Set up due in the next month or so. It turns out that he was going off to Angkor Wat (one of the places I've just come back from) two weeks before me - Wow! Small world, or what?! The Les Paul comes with those small strap buttons that beg for the strap to come off and land the guitar on the floor. The cheap way some people get round this problem is by buying a couple of Grolsch beers and using the bottle-washers (with the hole in) to put over the button after fitting the strap. I guess a hot water bottle washer would do if you can find one - but then you wouldn't get to drink the beer!
The best solution is to fit Schaller strap-locks, which are a very good investment but can be difficult to fit. The problem is that whilst the upper body strap button is easy to swap over, the screw used on the base strap button is huge! Below is how I deal with this problem. A closer look shows that the hole is already fitted with a plastic rawl plug! Why? Well, the reason is that this hole is what Gibson and other companies use to spray their guitars and they don't make a small threaded 'Vine-eye'. So, a larger hole is created to hang up the guitar while it's sprayed, the Vine-eye is removed, the hole plugged and a larger screw fitted. I see on many forums the 'Heath Robinson'* approach to fitting Schaller strap locks by using tooth picks, matchsticks etc. but the correct way is to plug the hole and redrill it - only then can the Schaller screw be securely used.

* A "Heath Robinson device" means an absurdly ingenious design but impracticable to use!

January 2010 (c) Pic: ref above (Gibson Strap Buttons)

January 2010 (c)  Pic: ref above  (Gibson Strap Buttons)

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For Jan 2009 to Dec 2009 see 'Archive'

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For Jan 2008 to Dec 2008 see 'Archive'

To go to last years Archived Blogs' 2008 - next section PRESS HERE

For Jan 2007 to Dec 2007 see 'Archive'

To go to the start of the blog 'Archived Blogs ' - next section PRESS HERE

For Day One to Dec 2006 Tales from Workshop

To Day One to Dec 2006 Tales from Workshop - section PRESS HERE