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Archive - Jan 2011 to Dec 2011 Tales from Workshop
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December 2011 - (a) New Website
Surprisingly, you would think that I would have run out off things to write about over the years but each week I see something that I think will be of interest to at least some of my readers/customers. It is also interesting to see that many other people's guitar blogs are either non-existent or just another means of advertising.
I am pleased to announce that I have finally completed another website which I have dedicated to explaining the big difference between a Professional Setup - which includes every aspect of trying to create the perfect guitar - and a Standard Set Up which doesn't address fret levelling issues. This is how I differentiate between the two types but it is easy for people to be conned into thinking that because a business states "we do Professional Setups" that it includes all the points that I cover when what it really means is that it is only 'professional' because you had to pay a professional business to do it!
The website is designed to help people to understand what it takes to set up a guitar and the first customer feedback about it has been very pleasing. A couple of comments were .
"I've gone all through your site - it's very good. You give a lot of trade secrets away though!"
"Thanks for the link to the new website - really superb. To be able to see the whole process is enlightening and also shows what excellent value your Pro Set-up is. I was also pleased to see that some things that I just guessed regarding the 'steel rule/feeler gauge' that you taught me I got right, i.e. doing the measurements/truss rod adjustment with guitar in playing position. I must also say that the photos on all your website are excellent."
The actual website can be viewed at
December 2011 - (b) New 12 String Guitar
I finally managed to build myself a 12 string electric guitar which I had hoped to complete by Christmas as a present to myself! However, the quiet spell I usually get in the week or so before Christmas didn't occur this year - in fact I was so busy that it forced me to postpone completion until during my Christmas holiday - sad git that I am! It was a difficult challenge as the neck width was somewhat governed by the Gotoh bridge that I used. This meant that the normal chamfer I would have put on the fret ends was changed to a lesser angle to ensure that the strings didn't fall off the edges. I have experimented a bit with using a slither of American book-matched oak on top of the main body of Sapele. I have fitted two Seymour Duncan lipstick pickups with a four way telecaster switch that gives me the additional fat series humbucker in addition to the normal telecaster selector switch configurations. For some reason, I seem to have lost some of the photos of the early stages but I do have a couple showing how I managed to avoid routing the top for the pickup wiring. Eventually, the whole thing came together remarkably well and it gives out fantastic sounds evocative of The Byrds, Beatles and Eagles era - which, unfortunately, I can remember quite well!.
December 2011 - (c) USA Stratocaster Truss Rod
One of my customers brought me a Stratocaster that he had 'moth-balled' due to its unplayable nature but he couldn't bear to get rid of it. There was a massive back-bow in the neck and, in his presence, I tried to adjust the truss rod only to find there were no hexagon slots for the Allen key to fit into and therefore no adjustment. I concluded that the last person to adjust the neck had literally tightened it so much that he had ripped out the hexagonal drive from within the truss rod adjuster. If this was a normal adjuster and it had been possible to undo it would have been an easy matter to replace it - the USA Stratocaster has a clever design which allows for the truss rod to push a curve into the neck by forcing itself against the dowel insert. So, there were two problems to resolve apart from the massive curve in the neck. Firstly, the truss rod had to be undone and secondly the dowel insert needed to be removed. From a selection of Allen Keys I found one that was very slightly oversized and ground it to a taper. I then hammered it into the adjuster and, with other people's helping bending the neck backwards, I was able to undo it! I then had the job of removing the dowel insert. I could have steamed it out but I didn't want to ingress water into the neck/truss rod assembly so I hit on the idea of making an insert that would fit into the centre of the dowel with the other end stamped into my soldering iron. The idea worked and, whilst the glue was still soft, I was able to unscrew the adjuster which pushed the dowel insert out of the guitar headstock. Phew! All that was needed now was to replace the adjuster and re-glue the dowel insert. The final stage was to heat-treat the neck and straighten it so that the truss rod would operate properly and the frets could be dressed. This was an obstinate neck and took five attempts before I got the shape I was looking for but, in the end, the guitar setup well and the report back from the customer tells me that it's all ok. However, it is due in shortly for its health check just to make sure.
December 2011 - (d) Another Ibanez Floyd Rose !
Just when I thought I had seen it all pertaining to variations of Floyd Rose tremolos, I had a customer bring me yet another variation on a theme. I thought I would share this experience with you as people can get caught out when buying a Floyd Rose in respect of whether it is locking or not. There are some Floyd Rose tremolos that have the string threaded through tubes in the back of them and are therefore not locking. This allows the string to move around when the tremolo is depressed and can cause tuning instability. In fact, there are businesses which deliberately deceive by photographing the tremolo from the front and make a vague description when selling these types.
The tremolo seen below is interesting in so much as it has metal pins that work in the same way as the string pegs on an acoustic guitar. The difference is that the metal pins prevent the ball end from turning around and also from pulling through. The end result is a very workable/stable tremolo while still retaining the ball end. The important point to realise with this guitar is that the screws holding the metal pins in place should not be over tightened as they only need to keep the pin in place.
November 2011 - Late with the Blog ?
I got an email from a customer saying "What happened to the last quarter's blogs?" Well, I usually write up the past month during the next month so I haven't got round to December yet. As for October, I spent that in Ecuador ! When I got back in November there was so much to do in getting organised and taking the work in I am almost late for the November Blog - so sorry about that.
The interesting thing is that, when I go on holiday, I have to plan on reducing the incoming work some 2 weeks before - as I don't have some one to fill-in for me while I am away! I often liken it to a super-tanker slowing/turning. It's not as simple as saying to customers 'You will have to wait'. I have never done that and never will - so they get deferred appointments and scheduled work with a completion date. That way they are not without their guitar for any longer than necessary. What has interested me is that as the recession has bitten, the only change for me has been less impulse work coming in but an increase in planned work. There was a time when I wouldn't book anything in over 2 weeks in advance but I now have appointments through to January!
Here is the late edition...................
November 2011 (a) Sharp End of a BC Rich!
A customer brought me a guitar that had been sent to him after he bought it on eBay. Well, if the guitar wasn't rubbish when it was sent, it certainly was when it landed! - a deliberate choice of word because the guitar was sent by courier in a soft gig bag with no padding. This resulted in damage to the pointy ends and a delaminated fingerboard running almost 2/3rd the length of the neck. As you can see from the pictures, it was not a pretty sight!
The customer said he would have brought it to me for set-up anyway, because I had done several guitars for him before. I was able to reshape the headstock and fill in a ding at the bottom of the guitar before moving on to deal with the neck. If this guitar had been made in the same fashion as a Les Paul, the headstock would have come off but, because this guitar had been made with a scarf joint, the break occurred along the glue joint of the neckstock wood and fingerboard. It is important to be very meticulous in cleaning the old glue from both surfaces as new glue will not stick to old, so it all has to be removed. Eventually, when the guitar was glued back together, there was some obvious undulation in the frets - which is a good reason for dressing the frets prior to set up. The customer was very pleased with the outcome and pleasantly surprised that I had been able to re-shape the headstock and yet it still looked like a BC Rich.
November 2011 (b) A tale of two Ricky's!
There is something to be said for those proverbial corporation buses that come along in two's.
I had a customer who had bought a Rickenbacker bass which had a high action. He had done a lot of homework on this guitar and was very reticent in doing anything to the truss rods. He was telling me that rumour had it they could break as soon as you looked at them! Well that's stretching the imagination a little bit but these guitars are infamous for problems with truss rods, mainly caused by user error and also a poor design. They should never be adjusted under string tension and even then there is a particular technique needed for tightening them.
You will see the weak aluminium anchor plate at the headstock end from the pictures below. The way that the truss rods are designed is similar to the old Warwick bass. The rod is made from one length and folded into two pieces but only one section has a thread on it. What actually happens is, as the rod is tightened up against the anchor plate, the other rod pushes against it from the other side. Well, that's all right in theory but in practice, the anchor plate gets pushed over and in so doing, bends the ends of the rods toward the wood. Once this process has started, it can be difficult to put a socket adjuster on the end. As a result of the 'push-over effect' the truss rod slackens off tension causing the user to have another go at adjusting it and the problem gets worse each time.
I resolved the problem by making a solid, larger anchor plate from brass. As you will see from the pictures I had to extract both of the truss rods, chop off the bent sections of thread, re-thread each section of rod and resize the push rod. The end result is a Rickenbacker brought back from the dead.
The other issue with this type of truss rod is that they will only take 40 to 95 gauge, round-wound strings. Any heavier and the neck cannot cope with the tension.
I had just finished the first Rickenbacker bass, adding a bridge pickup surround/cove, when the phone rang and another customer explained that he had a Rickenbacker which he couldn't play because of an extremely high action.
When the guitar arrived, it turned out to be exactly the same problem as the previous Ricky! How about that for coincidence? This guitar had gone one better - the truss rod had been tightened so much that the push rod had cut through the aluminium anchor plate. This customer benefited from my other customer's research and asked me to fit the same infill for the bridge pickup surround/cove.
Both guitars now play extremely well, albeit with lighter gauge strings.
November 2011 (c) New Sound for a Jazzer
One of my customers is particularly picky about the sound from his jazz arch-tops. Once he has got the right sound coming out of the guitar acoustically, his next quest is usually to find the correct pickup to bring out the sound in his mind's eye - or should that be minds ear! The guitar was brought along with a Benedetto pickup for me to fit. Often these pickups are screwed - albeit by very small screws - to the scratch plate/pick guard. When I turned over the scratch plate, I found the pickup had been super-glued in place. One of the remedies for softening this glue is cellulose thinners but there was no way I was going near this guitar with thinners that could have quite easily melted the finish. I decided on the second method of breaking the superglue, which is by applying heat.
After several attempts with my 100 Watt soldering iron I had to give up and turn to an old-fashioned copper soldering iron that you heat up with a blow lamp which I bought years ago. The beauty about using this little baby is the amount of intense heat you can apply very quickly and it took only about 15 seconds worth of contact before the pickup became detached. I have to take my hat off to the way the Chinese had made damn sure that the glue would key into the metal tab running from the pickup! The additional problem I had was that the Benedetto pickup had a chamfered plastic tab, which meant the scratch plate had to be modified to get it to sit evenly. The job might have been a pain in the arse but the end results - both in sound and looks - were worth it.
October 2011 - Holiday
No input this month as I was away on holiday!
Help in Quito
It's ironic that, when I am on holiday its one of the few times I get to use my sunglasses as I hardly seem to have time to venture out of the workshop, normally - sad, I know! So, I'm on holiday in Quito (Ecuador) and the first time I use my sunglasses they promptly fall apart! As I am in foreign lands and without an optician in sight - pun intended - I ventured out to look for tools to fix them myself. I spotted a hardware store and, in my poor Spanish, explained the problem. The assistant (son of the owner) gets out a set of miniature screwdrivers, fixes my glasses and then puts them away - no charge! Therefore, I would like to publicly thank that guy for helping me out.
I did insist on buying the tools and also got myself a replacement file for doing frets at the same time - what a sad git I am! It turned out that the guy is a guitar player and he told me that the guitars in Ecuador are poorly made and very expensive. I checked this out and yes, 'Mi amigo', if you're reading this, I agree with you - and I hope things change in the near future!
September 2011 (a) Sparrow Guitar?
A customer phoned and explained that he had a Sparrow guitar which had 4 inlays starting to peel off the guitar which needed fixing - and could I set it up while I was at it.
I had never heard of these guitars and it didn't take me long to find that a North American company takes advantage of the cheap labour from Indo-Asia and imports them and then customises them in various ways. Personally, it's my opinion that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear but I guess they do have a quirkiness - it's just a shame that they don't make them from start to finish - but then they would cost a hell of a lot more.
I peeled back the inlay, which was egg-shell thin, and I was gobsmacked to find how much wood underneath was chopped out. In the first instance, the inlay needed to be a reasonable thickness and back of it does need to have some support i.e. wood, so the hole only needs to be just deep enough for the inlay. Obviously, it looks a mess while re-doing the inlays as I had to literally fill up the void below. The clean-up is magical moment as the inlay begins to appear and the customer finally got the guitar he should have had when purchased off eBay.
September 2011 (b) Wild & Wacky - Part I
One of my customers had the idea of taking his stock Ernie Ball guitar and making it into something special. He had seen a local artist at a recording studio doing some artwork on a wall. - he liked the style and asked if she would do some artwork on his guitar. He asked me about it and I explained it's not easy to mix different types of paint so, as an experiment, I suggested she use acrylic only.
He brought me the guitar with the artwork applied but it had spread more than necessary so that the scratch plate would block out some of the continuity. See below the how the guitar was delivered:
September 2011 (b) Wild & Wacky - Part II
The customer realised his original scratchplate would be a problem and came up with the idea of using a clear Perspex scratch plate. This is alright in theory except that Perspex actually tends to crack or split under the slightest amount of stress. I took up the idea and using a different product to achieve what was in his mind's eye. I went one stage further and made a back-plate in the same material.
Lacquering the guitar was fraught with issues because the paint (artwork) was not smooth. I put on several coats, flatting off in between each one, and eventually came up with a mirror finish. It is experimental, and whilst it's like glass at the moment, I expect that the lacquer may sink or even crack as it ages. The end result will be possibly an aged finish. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this guitar over the next two years.
Emily Knight is the artist and her details can be got from contacting me by email -
. Finally - below - the Ernie Ball guitar as never seen before !
September 2011 (c) Gordon Bennett !
One of the things that I dread most is hearing the words 'Gordon Smith guitar' and 'eBay' in the same sentence. In the past 17 years one of the very few guitars to 'die' on me was a Gordon Smith 12 string. This happened some years ago when I adjusted the truss rod but the guitar was so thinly carved at the anchor point at back of the neck that the truss rod started to protrude! It's really annoying when somebody else's incompetence defeats me!
One of my regular customers obviously believed that I can do miracles, which is plainly not true (well, only occasionally!!). His plan was to get a Gordon Smith guitar off eBay -- one of the older ones -- and bring it to me for setup. If he'd asked me about these guitars beforehand, I would have explained to him that none of the ones I have dealt with have been easy going.
The guitar arrived with the bridge screwed so hard down on to the top that it had buckled the lacquer. Part of the reason for this was that the neck/body joint had been manufactured with the wrong angle, causing a high action. I tuned it to pitch and found a massive forward bow in the neck - and it still had a very high action. The customer explained that when he got it, it had been fitted with 8 to 38 gauge strings - an obvious ploy to reduce tension from the strings and therefore also reduce the bow effect. He had put on 10.5 to 48 and that had just made things worse.
After adjusting the truss rod to its maximum tension which had no effect, I concluded that the neck required heat straightening. Clearly the geometry cannot be assessed until the neck is straight, so the plan was for the customer to ring back a few days later to:
a) see if the heat straightening had worked and
b) make sure that the truss rod would hold the set relief in the neck.
Heat treating the neck and resetting the relief worked but it revealed a massive upturn in the fingerboard towards the body. You can see from the picture below that, with the straightedge sat on the frets and with the upper frets removed, the bottom of the straightedge actually sat on the end of the fingerboard! I concluded that this was part of the error created by the original wrong 'neck rake angle'. I assessed that the only way to recover the situation was to take the frets out from the 13th onwards, lower the fingerboard wood and re-insert the frets. You can see how severe the upturn was and had I tried to correct it by levelling the frets only, I would have been down to the Tang/insert on the fret!
Eventually, with the frets rectified, I was still faced with an action that was too high on the treble side. Luckily, there was enough meat in the saddle tops to cut deeper slots and achieve my objective of a low action. On the final leg of the set-up it was also apparent that the bridge had been put in the wrong place (forwards) because it was on its limits of backward adjustment.
This was one guitar that took all my efforts to make into a playable instrument. I won't even bother to explain the rectification of the cocked-up neck pickup installation! A friend of mine used to joke about applying a ' WAT tax' and, when I asked him what he meant, he explained that this was an extra levy for Wear And Tear on the nerves! Sadly, I only felt able to charge this customer what I had quoted.
Hope I never see another Gordon Smith again anytime soon - I don't think my nerves will stand the 'WAT'!'
August 2011 (a) Ibanez ReVamp Lacquered
I had a customer say that he wanted more lacquer put on the back of an Ibanez he had bought off ebay and could I give a price for the job? I asked if it had sweat marks and he said no but, when it came in, I could see someone had sanded off what little lacquer Ibanez had originally put on and there was a greenish, blackening of the grain. It was not possible to heavily sand out the marks as the neck is so thin already and, anyway, who wants a narrow neck with strings falling off the edge? So the only way round this was to lightly sand the wood and apply various bleaches to remove the stains. It took about 3 applications before I got the crap out of the grain. Admittedly, it still isn't 100 % but it is much better than when it came in. What many people don't realise is that lacquer can be matted down to reduce friction without removing it altogether and that way it still protects the wood. The other problem with this guitar was that there was a massive upturn at the end of the neck and I had to take the frets out, remove over 0.5 mm of wood and put the frets back in to get the neck straight again!
August 2011 (a) Dusty Pignose
One of the things that causes a fair bit of trouble, particularly with switches/mechanical things, is bedroom dust. I would say that about 50% of customers keep guitars and other musical products in the bedroom region of the house so it's not surprising that, when a switch starts to go faulty, the culprit is often a good smattering of bedroom dust. Sometimes switch cleaner can help - other times not.
One customer recently sent me a Pignose Guitar that had stopped working. The first thing was to take the electrics out and give them a good clean down to see if this would make it work. In this particular case, there were additional, compound problems such as a worn out battery clip and faulty volume control - part of a push/pull pot and Jack socket. You can see the before and after shots of the printed circuit board. Sometimes the dust can create static which is a good way to ruin a circuit board.
August 2011 (b) Dobro Ukelele
I received a phone call from a customer who had already phoned up a music shop with their very own guitar technician asking if they could fit a strap-button to a ukulele. They told him "Sorry - I can't help but Peter can!"
Initially I thought that the ukulele was the normal wooden-made variety. The customer explained it was actually made of metal but did not say that it was a dobro ukelele. I have never seen one of these before - however I came up with a simple solution. Obviously it required a special tool which was paid for within the cost of the job. The answer was to fit a threaded rivet and, once this was in place, a strap button could be easily fitted. From what I could see after drilling a hole, there was a limited amount of space inside - just enough room for fitting the rivet. Hopefully that shop technician might see this article and learn something new himself!
July 2011 (a) Tele Revamp
One of the things my customers will tell a prospective new customer is that I endeavour to do the very best I can within any given circumstances. When a customer came to me with a 70s telecaster, it was clear from measuring the fret height that I could not dress the frets any further and, unfortunately, a re-fret was the only solution. This is a relatively expensive job and, as many people are reluctant to spend much nowadays, it was refreshing to hear the customer say "make it a great guitar - just do whatever it takes". Re-fretting is a major operation and I have seen many instances where the repairer has got out a Stanley knife and cut down on either side of the fret - into the lacquer - in order to take a shortcut in getting the frets out. Personally, I go the long way round and believe that the work done will be an investment in the future. As you can see from the pictures, it's all very well having a vintage worn guitar but when it plays badly it doesn't inspire the player. This telecaster was fitted with the old die-cast saddles, which the strings had eaten into, killing the sound. I suggested that Graph Tech saddles would improve the tone - reminds me I must get some shares in that company, the number I recommend!
July 2011 (b) Superglued Gretsch
A customer rang me and explained that there were copious amounts of 'something' all over the back and side of a guitar he had recently purchased. The seller gave him some cock and bull story and he assumed that it would be easy enough to get off but, after trying unsuccessfully, he brought it to me. I checked it out and it didn't take long to deduce that the original customer had had a problem with one of the strap buttons on the Gretsch coming loose. He decided -- probably after some clever advice on the Internet -- to use superglue to fix it! From what I saw, he obviously used a very thin superglue which he must have applied to the hole before fitting the strap button screw and then suddenly realising that the superglue had run all way down the back and sides of the guitar. It was obvious from the way that the superglue was spread all over the back that panic had set in and he didn't know what else to do apart from get stuck to it. I know from experience that a little Superglue can go a long way!
Luckily, this Gretsch has a resin finish and, by cutting and polishing the superglue off the original finish, the customer was left with a guitar looking like new. It was difficult trying to remove the Bigsby as the strap button prevented it - but I have way of moving this stuff. Once off I found there was no earth wire but, after rectifying this, a spot of thick superglue did the trick on the strap button and the customer got a 'nearly new guitar' .
July 2011 (c) The End of Payment by Cheque.
I went to get some wood this week and found that they had a notice taped on the counter that said:
"After 1st June 2011 they would no longer accept cheques."
Strange, I thought as the government recommendation said the cheque should stay. A few days later I heard a radio financial report where it was said that at least one bank has stopped issuing 'Guarantee Cards', and another has written to all its customers saying that the Cheque Guarantee Cards would no longer guarantee payment made by cheque. One person even remarked that suddenly his newly issued chequebook has "Not for use with a guarantee card" printed across the cheques!
So what has that got to do with guitars? Well I have tried to show that all sorts of things affect the 'guitar technician's' business, from breakdowns of machinery to the strangest of requests. Here, we have a fundamental change in the medium of exchange and whilst, banks tried (and failed) to get rid of the cheque, they have now actually done it by the indirect method of refusing to guarantee payment with the guarantee card. Now the UK will be like the USA where you wont be able to use the cheque because it wont be accepted.
Years ago I accepted cheques and, after a few bounced ones, quickly learnt that you cannot tell who will not have the money to fund the transaction. From then onwards it has always been my rule to ask for a Cheque Guarantee Card when taking payment by cheque.
As I can no longer do this - because the cards are being withdrawn I will no longer accept cheques in payment. A very sad day. However, I can accept both Debit & Credit Card on transactions.
June 2011 (a) Broken Trem Arm !
I get a great many customers bringing in guitars they keep for nostalgic reasons. One of these guitars was a Squier Strats that had been lent to a mate. Many years later the customer retrieved the guitar only to find it in a horrendous state and unplayable! One of the things I noticed was that tremolo arm had been broken off in the block. With a little bit of conjecture I assume someone went wild with the tremolo when doing a 'Stevie Ray Vaughan' as it had 13 gauge strings fitted. Repairing tremolos like this can cost more than a new tremolo but, luckily, I attempted a quick solution and, using my engineering skills, managed to extract the broken stub of thread from the block. The guitar set up well and the customer was overjoyed with the result.
June 2011 (b) Switch to Rubber
About six months ago, one of my customers found one of these Ibanez jazz guitars after he had spent ages looking for one and I duly set it up for him. He phoned and asked me to replace the toggle switch (pickup selector switch) and I said fine. If you've ever wondered how to sort out these rubber mounted switches, there is only one way. The customer asked me to keep the original switch, thinking that it would add value to the guitar. Unfortunately as you can see from the picture, it had been fitted with the cheap box type switch which is unserviceable. I fitted a typical Les Paul switch in its place, checked the set-up and phoned the customer to arrange collection. The beauty of these rubber surrounds to the switch is that they don't come loose or turn around in the hole - one good reason for making dam sure you get it right first time.
I was surprised when he said "do you want to buy the guitar - it's up for sale". Maybe it's a sign of the times and the economic downturn - pity as it's a lovely guitar.
June 2011 (c) The Back of Eggle
My past association with Patrick Eggle Guitars brings in many that I helped produce at the Coventry factory. These guitars - particularly the Berlin Pro - bring back memories associated with starting at the factory in the very early days. It was always Patrick's contention that the slots designed by Trevor Wilkinson to facilitate setting his tremolo up were unsightly and, admittedly, they were a lot bigger than what I use. Therefore he did not put them in the back plates and struggled to set up the tremolo by moving the 'Arm Locator Housing and lock nut' on the back of the guitar. Ironically, in those early Coventry factory days, my first recollection is of mad panic to rectify a gash in the lacquer of a guitar due to be reviewed for a guitar magazine the next day, caused by 'someone' slipping with a screwdriver. No names mentioned! Initially I raced down to London only to find the finishers' workshop had burned down and so I came back with some of the surviving chemicals and repaired it myself.
Naturally, I offered the customer who brought in this Berlin for a professional set-up my modification to the back plate to allow full adjustment of the tremolo as Trevor Wilkinson had designed it. Personally I don't believe that the 2 slots machined in the place are unsightly - they are certainly not as big as the slots machine in Trevor's aluminium plate. Now the customer has the ability to adjust the tremolo, not with the 'Arm Locator Housing and lock nut' on the back of the guitar but with the 2 Tremolo Spring Claw screws. On this model of tremolo the 2 cams on the tremolo arm were starting to bind so I also fitted a thin bearing washer to reduce the friction. Perfection!
May 2011 (a) Service & Parts Failures - Part I
I have to say that the past month has been filled with frustration caused by difficulty in getting various service, communication or parts. Whether this is due to the recession is another matter but, when running a small business, you are dependent on the reliability of your suppliers.
As seen on the last blog, I had a 1980s Les Paul guitar that was just waiting for some new saddles. Yes, I could have bought them from an online retailer in the USA, but I chose to go with my normal supplier had them listed as 'out of stock'. It took a week for him to come back and say they were 'on order' and update me that it would take about a week for them to come in from the USA. One week later, I chased the order only to be told they had not come in and they would be another week. Nine days later I phone again only to be told they have been sent out to me. When I made reference to this 3 week wait in a separate e-mail, there was no apology, only a statement of fact that they were sent to me the day after they arrived! Does that warrant any applause?
The problem I have is that this laid-back attitude reflects badly on me because my customer only sees me giving him the same relayed lame excuses about something over which I have no control. Eventually the Les Paul was completed - and then a slight hiccup with the old electrics and contacts sorted out - but completed nonetheless. The customer emailed me saying::
Hi Peter - thanks for all your time, trouble & possibly a bit of cursing in getting the LP Deluxe to be not only Gold Top but a fantastic sounding guitar which plays like butter. I took a chance on taking it mmediately from your workshop straight to a gig. It looked the business and sounded even better.
All the best.
MARK / 'Sweet Townshend'
ACOUSTIC WHO band
May 2011 (a) Service & Parts Failures - Part II
The hand built Stratocaster with the wide, scalloped neck also went out to customer - who was duly satisfied.
The customer wrote me an email saying:
The guitar plays great and the ranges of tones are amazing! I am in the process of totalling the overall cost and expect it be cheaper than a 'big name' model from Gibson or Fender.
Once again Peter thanks for all your help and all the hard work you put into my Guitar.
I hope the experience has been good for you and that the new Special Kent Armstrong (hand wound) pickups can be something you would offer all guitarists in the future.
All the very best,
May 2011 (b) Machine Failures
One thing that most people would not think warrants a mention are issues not directly attributed to guitars - for example machines are my helping hands toward working on and making guitars, so when I come to use one of them and there is a loud popping noise and it fails, I realise something major has happened! The equipment in question was my trusty belt sander, used every day, which I believe I've had for at least 7 years. The first thing I did was to use air to blow out any dust in the machine and reset the fuse box trip-switches and try again. This time there's a whole series of popping noises followed by a loud bang! You've guessed it - the machine is DEAD! It takes me about half an hour to find a replacement on the internet, which is ordered and delivered the next day. Now this is good SALES service, however, when the machine arrives I find it is an exact copy of the machine that blew up except that it is not as well made - looks like they have had to cut costs somewhere.
The cost of replacing machinery and equipment has some particular relevance to guitars and prices, because the new sander cost me exactly the same price as the one I bought seven years ago. It's made in the Far East where the labour force was paid a low wage compared to the UK and the impact of this cost difference in the labour rate is one factor many customers do not fully appreciate. For instance a guitar made in the UK similar to one made in the Far East would probably cost at least £1000 to £2000 as opposed to £200 and £500 but, because their guitar cost less, people decide they can't afford - or think it's too expensive - to have it professionally setup. If they appreciated the true value of their guitar, the professional setup cost (also priced at UK labour rates) wouldn't seem such an issue. As an exercise, just try costing your own guitar if you try buying all the components separately and I guarantee it'll give you a shock! So, anyway, I got my new machine and spent 1 hour (again at UK labour rate) modifying it so that it was equal to the old one!
Just as I had dealt with one machine crisis, I was confronted with another. I changed the belt on my thickness sander only to find the belt tension wouldn't work. Again, this machine was bought for nearly £1000 about 10 years ago and I remember it being about half the price of its competitor. Oddly enough this too is about the same cost today! This machine was also made in the Far East and I have since found out it was made under several different Trade names. The same company that were so keen to sell me the 'belt sander' machine failed to reply to 4 e-mails asking about a replacement part and after Sales Service. They never even replied to an e-mail complaining about poor response/service to e-mails - so maybe they can't be bothered once they've sold the product?
One of the reasons I mention all of this hassle with machines and parts is because it comes under the banner of 'Tales from the workshop' and shows some of the problems that the customer doesn't see from 'behind the scenes'. It took me - off and on - the best part of 2 weeks to track down the components I needed to rectify my thickness sander and I still had to complete bench work day in day out. For those who may be interested 'the tensioner' has been completely redesigned on the latest version of my thickness sander and I was keen to use this £6 upgraded part. Eventually, I got hold of the part and was able to repair the machine. Phew!
May 2011 (c) Sound Improvements
Some of the Stratocaster tremolos use stainless steel block saddles and one of my gripes is the poor sound caused by the use of stainless steel. There are some guitars around that have stainless steel fret wire and it is immediately noticeable how thin and weak the note is when played on this type of fretboard.
A customer came to me with real issues with his Stratocaster that had two humbuckers fitted as standard. I have serviced this guitar before and he asked: "Can anything be done to improve the sound?" The first recommendation was to replace the saddles with Graph Tech, which gives a much fatter sound. The second recommendation was to improve the sound of some of the open strings. As this customer complained about the D string when played open, I explained that some of the energy within the string was being lost due to not enough 'down pressure' on the nut. It's ironic that the telecaster only had one string tree whereas the Stratocaster alternated between one and two that were fitted over the years - depending on the whim of Fender. More recently, Fender have used staggers machine-head capstans, I assume to get rid of one of the string trees. Unfortunately, it's my opinion that this doesn't quite work. One way I work around this is to fit 2 string-trees to the guitar - again Graph Tech parts. One small variation is to swap over 2 of the machine heads to improve the angle of the 5th string. As you can see from the picture, the slightly sharper angle of the string after the nut improves the tone without causing too much friction in the nut slot.
The customer was so pleased with the result that he e-mailed me this comment:
I gigged the blue Strat last night that that you modified for me. What a difference! There seem to be more power, there was definitely a bigger and rounder tone with more bottom and when I turned the gain up it roared.
Thought you would like to know.
The other pictures showed the same improvement with the string angles by using an additional Fender string tree and swapping the two machine heads around. Obviously there is some wag that is going to comment on the machine heads being back-to-front but you and I know the reason why.
April 2011 (a) Delays and Time-out
It strange how work seems to balance out with allotted time. This past month I have been dogged by computer problems - hence being late with the Blog - caused by two viruses that got past my Antivirus software. I was not alone as 2 of my neighbours also had the same problem and both had different Antivirus to me ! So I had to reformat and re-input my computer TWICE - for me it's not a quick job. I was lucky I had the time to spare as one thing I didn't realise when I booked the operation on my wrist was the effect that it would have on organising the work for the next few weeks. I also hadn't realised how most people would seem to stop working for 2 weeks due to Easter and the Royal Wedding. Consequently, I had the quietest week for about 6 years - not that I had no work, far from it. I am now faced with customers who postponed work expected to come back in the next few weeks which is basically rearranged appointments. And post-operation, there was a lot less pain in comparison to my "Carpal Tunnel Release" and I only lost a week's worth of 'time-out'. The operation cost £1100 which unfortunately is not tax deductible but was definitely worth it!
April 2011 (b) Long Jobs
Currently there are two jobs that are taking their time due to the need to allow for the lacquer to dry between coats . The first guitar is an old Les Paul 1980s model with P90's. The guitar originally had a yellow natural top but the customer wanted to do a copy of the Pete Townshend Les Paul for his "Who Tribute" band. I removed the electrics and sanded the top down and then tinted the binding to make it look old and lacquered the front. I then applied a base coat, two coats of metallic gold and a clear lacquer finish. The aim was to scrape back on the binding to reveal the antique colour. However, I got I wrong (I am not infallible !) I actually removed some of the antique binding by accident while scraping. This meant that I had to take off the binding colour and do it again. Now all I needed to do was to apply the top coat and the guitar would be finished. It needed another week to harden off and I then started to rebuild it but the Pro setup was halted due to a shortage on the replacement saddles - now on order.
The second guitar is the custom-made Stratocaster. This was held up with sourcing parts and discussion/agreement on electrics. Once this was out of the way, the procedure for finishing the guitar could begin. Again, this guitar has taken some time due to the amount of sinkage of the lacquer into the coarse grain structure.
April 2011 (c) Smartwater Option
One new service I am now offering as an option for setup customers, free of charge, is the application of a product that you may have seen called 'Smartwater'. The idea is that if a customer wishes for me to invisibly mark their guitar with this product, the guitar will then be put on my register of customers protected by my Smartwater product.
What this means is that, according to the police, they check to see if any stolen item has this 'forensically formulated' invisible ink applied to an object. Apparently there are not two codes alike so it is like a DNA fingerprint, in this case applied to a guitar. The police are then able to trace 'Smartwater' by using the Smartwater Company, who, in turn, have a record of the product sold and who it was registered to and theoretically the guitar is returned. My idea is that, by using this product, if the police contact me with a view to returning a stolen guitar, I will be able to tell them who the true owner is/was at the time of the Professional Set-up and then you are able to get your will guitar back should it be stolen. Simple! You can of course purchase the product yourself via the Police at a reduced cost should you wish to.
April 2011 (a) Strat Refret Overdue
I had the difficult task of explaining to a customer that his guitar had previously been levelled to the point that it was almost impossible to dress and re-profile the frets one more time - not that it was me that did them before. In the early days, just to prove a point, I would bring the guitar back from the dead and, whilst I could have done the same this time, I really wanted the customer to see he would be wasting his money on re-profiling and that a refret was actually better value for money. On average, I would expect a player to get about 12 years worth of playing out of one set of frets, depending on how hard they press down or bend strings. 12 years versus two years seems a better choice to me and the customer agreed as he decided to have the work done and his guitar now has a new lease of life.
March 2011 (a) Planning?
When I started writing these blogs, the intention was to give some idea of day-to-day life on the workbench. I could 'Twitter' but don't feel the need to vent my spleen every few minutes, so I will stick with blogging! Whilst the articles are about guitars and their problems, it doesn't portray some of the problems encountered in organising the workflow and I thought I would share with you the circumstances over the past few months.
January was a welcome break and it is often a quiet time of the year, so going to the USA NAMM show and taking time out seemed appropriate and I set off on my trip. However, sod's law, I had a stream of requests for services throughout January! This was the first trip I took my computer away with me, which was really useful as each day requests came in and I was duly able to answer each one. It's good to be busy but the amount of work coming through by the end of a holiday made for some concern wondering how long it would take me to get back to a normal - run-of-the-mill - situation? You can plan all you like on a computer, but it's a hands on service that produce the goods!
I ended up starting February with a 4 week 'waiting list' (thanks to customers for their patience) and I decided that the best way of tackling it was to work through my weekends off. In this job there are no EEC rules on the permitted hours worked. - good job I'm my own boss and can give myself permission to work what hours I want! By the end of February I had clawed back a considerable amount of time, reduced outstanding jobs down to about 10 days 'waiting time' and then I started getting severe pain in my left wrist and thumb. It could've been worse - I'm right-handed - but in this job, my left hand is equally as important as my right. I went to the doctor who said I need an operation. Great! The last time this sort of thing happened I pushed myself through the pain barrier, had an operation and worked through the convalescence so as not to let retail shop outlets down. This time round, I saw the consultant surgeon the following day and had the operation a week later. Haven't had the bill yet - but it will be worth every penny as I have to say that the operation was an instant success and whilst the wrist is still a bit tender, I have already been able to pick up where I left off. The previous operation was for carpal tunnel syndrome on my right hand and it didn't properly heal for 11 months, so I'm well happy with the better treatment and result this time.
I hope this article shows how I can sit down and plan things on a spreadsheet - almost playing the equivalent of air traffic controller - but when it comes down to it, it's all about assessing how long something will take, making the appointments, completing the job, satisfying the customer's expectations and moving onto the next job. Finally, it is exciting to see that, according to my invoice numbering system, I am now at the point of having done 6,000 Professional Set-ups since I set up my business! Wow! This doesn't include 11,000 repair invoices and excludes retail shop work.
March 2011 (b) Credit Cards
One good thing that came out of being incapacitated was the chance to sort out taking payments for work done by credit card. In the past I had quotations ranging from £65 a month plus a percentage on each transaction all the way down to £15 a month plus the percentage on the transaction providing I joined the trade association at £150 a year.
So I am pleased to announce that Payatrader - who advertised in my Guild of Master Craftsmen's magazine - seem to provide the perfect solution to my problem, now that the Banks intend to phase out the cheque. I still have to pay a % on each transaction but the set-up costs are much more reasonable.
March 2011 (c) Gibson ES335
One of my customers, who first brought me guitars way back in the mid-90s, found himself a 335 with a difference. He actually managed to do a lot of legwork on this job himself and found the correct Bigsby tremolo that would have originally been fitted. The only problem was that it had been converted to a stop tailpiece and the small screw holes once used by the Bigsby unit had been filled in with rather large plugs of wood. It was clear to me that the whole top had also been re-sprayed over. Rather than strip the top off and put a veneer on to hide the bigger holes now left by the stop tailpiece, I decided on a simpler solution. I took a piece of paper and traced where the large post holes were and made a template of the base outline of the tremolo. This baseplate was then cut on the inside so that it looks as if it was part of the tremolo unit. Eventually, the plate looked inconspicuous and during the course of time I am sure it will blend in even more.
Then I had an email from the customer ......................
Just spotted my guitar in your "Tales from the Workshop" so I thought that you might like to add this to your testimonial page :
"Just a note to say that, having spotted yet another of my guitars in the Tales from the Workshop section, the 335 played fantastically well at the last gig. The vibrato worked perfectly, the guitar stayed in tune and everyone was impressed with your solution. I don't think anyone would have even noticed the plate if I hadn't pointed it out to them!
More worryingly, have I really been bringing my guitars to you since the mid-nineties?!
Thanks again for a great job."
March 2011 d) Carvin USA
Sometimes I can get caught out with assumptions. That's what happened when a customer told me he had a Carvin guitar he bought in the USA. When it arrived I looked it over and because some of the craftsmanship from Korea and China can be so good, I started to believe that it was of Korean origin - that was until I found a plate on it saying 'Made in the USA'! The customer liked the guitar except for the fact that he could not get on with the plain fingerboard so he asked me if I would inlay the guitar and I did this in addition to the setup. When the guitar was completed I have to say I was completely knocked out by it. It sounded great and it obviously played very well but the inlay just made the look of the guitar - even thoughI do say so myself!
March 2011 (e) Gretsch White Falcon
One guitar that just needs a mention is a Gretsch White Falcon in white and gold that I had in. The only reason this guitar gets a mention here is because it left me drooling with envy. The other point is that the level of the frets was very good indeed and in a week when most of the guitars gave me grief, this one was just a joy to work on. I enjoyed playing it too. I got an e-mail back from my customer said he was thrilled to bits with the outcome of the set-up - I can't tell you how many guitars he's already had done!.
February 2011 (a) Strings Give-away
For the past two years I have given away 10 or 12 sets of strings at the end of the year. This is effectively a year's supply to one of my lucky customers. This giveaway usually takes the form of making a random draw from my invoice numbers but this year I decided to award half to up-and-coming young blues singer-songwriter Jack Blackman and the other half to a customer who came up from South Wales when there was 6" - 1' of snow on the ground. I thought afterwards that this sheer determination to deliver the guitar for setup deserves some kind of recognition. Unfortunately, this customer preferred not to be photographed, however I did photograph the guitar I put together for him, consisting of a new neck and a Hondo Strat copy body.
February 2011 (b) G Banjo Alternative Tuning
I had a peculiar request from a banjo player who had seen his tutor's drone strings on his G banjo clipped down at various points with metal tacks! He asked me if I had seen anything like this and I replied that I had come across it in an article from the USA. It's often referred to as using railway spikes - as used in model railways for keeping the rails on the sleepers. I enquired from a UK model railway company and they very kindly sent me a variety of these but I found that none of them were small enough or adaptable for the delicate banjo. In the end I made my own out of stainless steel wire. I have to say that fitting these in place was new territory for me and I believe that next time I will slightly scallop the fingerboard to allow more thickness at the top of the spike. The customer didn't want to have the Shubb 5th String Capo fitted and preferred this simpler, quick but very effective method of hooking the string down. Using wire meant that the spike didn't split the fingerboard and it could be fitted with a simple drilled hole.
February 2011 (c) Intonation and Finger Pressure
One of my customers sent me a message saying that one of his guitars had a problem with the intonation. He continued by saying that it had never been quite right since he collected it and therefore he was sending it back to me. The interesting thing about this guitar, apart from its £2500 price tag, was that the frets fitted to it were Dunlop 6105. These frets are very tall and one of the problems I notice when customers try these guitars out is the way that the strings can be pressed down too hard, thus sending them out of tune. Currently I have a scalloped neck in the workshop and have had people say how difficult it might be to play. One customer said it must go out of tune when you press the strings down! Sadly this player was not alone and, judging by the wear on his frets, also pressed down too hard. I am surprised at how many tutors are more concerned about where the fingers are positioned than the pressure exerted. One of my demonstrations to a customer was on a new Gibson Les Paul. I explained the problem of string fretting/pressure and played the bass 6th string = F. The note is often slightly sharp due to normal inaccuracies found in the majority of guitars. I then continued to press down on the string and asked the customer to observe the needle on the tuner. The needle moved through to 25% sharp, then 50%, then showed 50% flat off the note F# and by the time I had pressed the string down onto the wood (fingerboard) I had managed to achieve a perfect F# ! The other point I often notice is customers see me tune their guitar to pitch on the bench, and when I give it to them, they play it but believe it is out of tune because it doesn't sound right and they consequently try to tune it themselves. Obviously the customers' finger pressure is the key factor here and makes the difference between a chord sounding good or out of tune. Back to the customer story ..When I got the Telecaster back from the him it was evident that he had tried to reset the intonation himself but made it even more sharp. You can see from the white lines where the saddles should be - left picture below. Those people that set guitars up for a living know only too well that the intonation should follow a set pattern - if it's not the same it's wrong - and it's this pattern that tells me if the pickup magnets are pulling on the string, because the bass saddle is set too far forwards. The middle picture you will see that a Jaguar has been set correctly and the intonation follows a particular pattern. I often refer to this as two sets of three. If I set the first string correctly, I can judge where the other saddles should be. It's then a matter of fine tuning which saves time. The third from left picture alongside is the wrap-over bridge on a PRS guitar. Here you can see that PRS people knew what they were doing with the intonation when they designed this bridge. There is one footnote to this issue: This PRS bridge is only good for a plain 3rd string. If a wound 3rd is used, then the old Gibson wrap-over bridge is better as it has the 3rd string notch/saddle set forwards.
February 2011 - A PRS with a difference!
Now, having mentioned the PRS wrap-over bridge - in the subject before this - a customer brought me a Korean-made PRS but he thought he would improve on the adjustability of the bridge by getting a wrap-over with adjustable saddles. I was presented with a guitar with the new bridge already fitted. It was clear that with the saddles as they were, it looked ok but the intonation was flat by about 30% ! In order to try and make it work, I removed the springs so the saddles would sit near the front edge. Then I found that the bridge was so badly made/designed that the adjusters wouldn't work. So after machining each adjuster head I got the bridge in working order. By the time I had fitted some new strings it became apparent that, whilst the intonation would be correct, the strings actually buzzed on top of the saddles because there was not enough downward pressure. In short, this was a poorly designed bridge and certainly not a replacement for the PRS. After informing the customer, he duly supplied me with the original bridge which I fitted. Now guess what? The intonation was correct and therefore didn't need any fancy tweaking of the saddles. Furthermore, not only was the PRS correct in the set intonation pattern but there was enough down pressure to give the string a clean ringing tone. This is one case where customising and 'improving' went sadly wrong!
January 2011 - Happy New Year
One of the highlights of 2010 for me would have been going down to the London Music Show, However, it appears that it was cancelled due to lack of interest. When this was announced, I became a member of the National Association of Music Merchants of America better known as the NAMM organisation with a view to attending their show in Los Angeles - where I have just come back from.
I thought booking the hotel would be simple matter but, boy was I wrong! Apparently the NAMM show is so big that the organisation take over ALL the hotels in the area and allocates the rooms through the NAMM website. Therefore you have to login and reserve your rooms from a specific day onwards. On the day, the rooms were released for booking and, within the first two hours, booking hotel rooms for the NAMM show period became an absolute frenzy. Looking at the plan of the conference centre and the hotels nearest it, I tried to make a choice yet just by flipping pages and looking at the map layout and then going back to the hotel on offer I found the rooms had nearly all gone! Because of this we lost out on the last day of a block and in complete panic had to book another hotel for the last day. As it turned out the second hotel was literally only two blocks down the road and was something of a refreshing change.
At the show I was able to meet up with Martin Adam - a Yamaha UK Manager, and a good friend of mine, along with his previous boss Noel Sheehan (from Sheehans Music Store in Leicester). I commented to Noel that I was amazed at the panache and professionalism of the NAMM show and how much less noisy it seemed than the UK ones. I also commented on how disappointed I had been with London Music Show in past years. Ooops! I had totally forgotten that Noel is actually part of the MI Pro Organisation that put on the LMS! He explained the completely different attitude the Americans have compared to the British Trade. He went on to say that many retailers wouldn't attend the LMS because they were so worried about closing their shop just for one day, irrespective of the benefits that they might reap. He convinced me that we would never get the same kind of music show in this country even though MI Pro strive to make the LMS better each year.
The one thing that stood out for me was the quality carpets throughout the various exhibition halls that drastically reduced the associated din of noise one experiences that most music shows. Less din, less stress and you can actually hear more!
One of the negative points, which was associated with performances mainly in hotel lobbies adjoining the conference centre, was the lack of balance from the soundmen. You wouldn't believe the amount of times I actually looked to see if the guitarists/lead guitarist was actually plugged in! Maybe soundmen hate lead guitarists?
So basically the blog for January is on the thin side re: technical stuff due to me being in the USA for most of that month.
Finally, I would like to thank the staff of Taylor guitars in San Diego for taking as round the factory and allowing us to photograph anything we wanted. Some time later on I will actually put all the photographs together in a PDF. I would also like to thank the Hilltop Deli, just up the road from Taylor Guitars, for their wonderful food and generosity toward us UK 'intrepid travellers'. They put chains like Subway to shame both in their service, quality and quantity of food! It did take me back to the good old days of Patrick Eggle in Coventry when we would have given anything for good takeout food close by. I guess this is another good reason why the staff are so content, working at Taylor guitars. I make no apology for thinking that Taylor make great guitars and recognise that Bob Taylor is not afraid to use modern technology and methods to improve the quality of his guitars.
Thanks for the patience of my customers that have been prepared to wait until I got back - I am now back at my workbench and in the process of working though my backlog.
Unfortunately 'new customers' will have to wait until March for a Set-up date. Bye for now
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