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Archive - Jan 2013 to Dec 2013 Tales from Workshop
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December 2013 - Blu Tac? - Not normally!
Often the un-boxed Stratocaster is found to have a silver label or disc covering the threaded hole where the tremolo arm fits in. This is done to prevent the small spring fitted in production from falling out. It's a pity that there is no mention of the spring or the reason for the label stuck on the tremolo in the Fender literature - well, at least the last time I looked. Usually I receive the guitar with the label removed and the spring nowhere to be seen!
Often a quick hunt around the guitar case yields the missing renegade spring loose in the case and it's probably the reason for mysterious dings in the paintwork of a new guitar.
The reason for the spring is to tension the loose threads between tremolo arm and block - often called 'lash' or play, which is clearance or lost motion in a mechanism caused by gaps between the parts/threads. Whilst the threading on Fender USA parts is good, the 'lash' is so bad on Indo-Asian copies that I am more inclined to call it 'slop' as in sloppy.
One trick that can resolve this issue is to use a couple of turns of PTFE tape on the trem arm thread and then tread the arm into the tremolo - this packs out the threads and makes the tremolo very sensitive.
NB: one word of caution is that there are at least two sizes of Fender tremolo arm - metric and imperial. It is important to know if the arm will fit normally without the PTFE tape first before applying it, because the lubrication qualities of the PTFE could allow the wrong size tremolo arm to start its 'run' into the block and if tightened it could result in a jammed or broken block or arm.
The other way of removing the 'lash' is to use the small Fender spring and, to keep it from falling out, a very small amount of blue tac at one end is enough to do the job when the tremolo arm is extracted. This eliminates the need to keep that manky self-adhesive disc covering the hole. You do have to insert the tremolo arm to bed it onto the blu tac but after that it stays in place.
December 2013 - Classical & Spanish guitar nut slots mod.
One of the problems that must have been an issue even in times when they use gut strings, is the way that the nut edges can cut into the string material. Even with nylon and the silk/nylon coated wound strings can be chaffed by the edges of the nut slot. Furthermore, the angle at which the string leaves the nut slots can increase friction against the back edge of the nut. For a long time now, I have created a string flute or chamfer at the back of the nut. This widens the strings slot and creates less of a sharp angle, thereby reducing the chafing/sticking on the strings slot edge. I like simple but effective things.
December 2013 - G & L Tremolo mind block?
The G&L tremolo block by design has been deep drilled, which means that only the 'bullet' Fender string will actually fit. If you try to fit any other strings the wrap will most likely come over the top of the saddle, particularly on the bass side. In the past I have machined brass lugs with holes in to fit permanently at the end of the tremolo block in order to extend the string length. A quick solution can be seen below, using one of the old ball ends threaded onto the new strings in order to extend the wrap away from the saddle tops. My other niggle about this guitar tremolo is the way that the saddle top is almost square, creating a poor trigger point for the string.
November 2013 - Getting back in the saddle.
Sometimes it's amazing the state that guitars get in prior to being brought in for a setup - it's almost as if I am their only hope short of selling it. On the other hand, I also get guitars brought to me as soon as they are purchased, for me to put right.
Below is a custom Strat that was brought in with a tale about a new purchase having a Callaghan tremolo fitted. I was presented with a bag of Callaghan saddles which were the worse for wear. The original Fender saddles were the stainless steel block type which don't give a particularly nice sound in my opinion. I advocated that the Callaghan replacement saddles would be the better bet.
Unfortunately, the only thing that was 'Callaghan' about the guitar was the set of saddles and three tremolo springs. Everything else was stock Fender.
You will see in the picture below how mutilated the Callaghan saddles were.
It took a bit of elbow grease to grind and revive the tops of the saddles so they could be used again. If this hadn't been done it would have resulted in a really poor sound. What you see below are the before and after pictures and the result was a very nice Strat.
This is experimental, and the jury is still out on how successful it will prove, but if he still has the screws in place in six months or a year's time then it will have done its job.
November 2013 - Ukulele of Brazil
It is only recently that I realise that the ukulele was a Portuguese instrument that was adopted by the King of Hawaii. So, just as I had finished watching a programme about this instrument I get a call from a customer who loved the sound of his Brazilian ukulele but seem to be running out of plasters for his fingers due to the rough fret edges. On one string he actually got the same note twice because of a very first high fret! He also explained that the action was very high and could I do something about it. Well, the fret work was a dog's breakfast and the neck had been made and fitted at the wrong angle to the body.
There are many instruments that are built up around the neck block so it is impossible to take the neck off the instrument. This is how classical guitars are made. One of the few ways to correct the rake angle in these cases is to taper the fingerboard - short of replacing it. Now some people would say it doesn't look right but after the repair, does the instrument play well?
In short the instrument received a complete makeover. The frets were taken out, the neck angle adjusted by tapering the fingerboard, the fret slots were re-cut and new frets fitted. I didn't need a new nut because the original finished up looking like a house brick! This was reduced to size and it became a very playable instrument. One last request from the customer was that he had some fret markers put into the side of the neck.
I have to say that the instrument sounded really good and played with a nice low action.
This is experimental, and the jury is still out on how successful it will prove, but if he still has the screws in place in six months or a year's time then it will have done its job.
November 2013 - No tremolo? Tremol-no Mod.
One of my customers changes tuning/pitch quite regularly including 'drop D pitch' 6th string with a Strat tremolo and found the tremolo-no would suit his needs. I fitted this and sure enough it did all the things that it was supposed to do. My final word of warning was that the customer needed to "be careful about losing the small knurled screws from the back". Well it wasn't more than three months later that the customer e-mailed me while I was on holiday to say that all the screws had gone missing!
The usual stockist in the UK said they were out of stock and didn't know when they would be in but he managed to get them from the USA quite quickly.
I reset the guitar and we concluded that it may have been because of clothes rubbing against the grub screws that cause them to become undone and get lost. I made him a back plate to give some kind of protection and yet allow access to adjust the grub screws.
This is experimental, and the jury is still out on how successful it will prove, but if he still has the screws in place in six months or a year's time then it will have done its job.
November 2013 - Peter's Website Down - No Problem
Yes, I had my websites down for a short time due to an error caused by changing over to a faster server. Last time there was an interlude, I was surprised to see a panic message occur on a forum asking "Where has Peter Allen gone?" Not to worry this time either as I guessed the error was an ISP address but I also had a customer's guitar to do so that took priority. That's what happens when you are 'jack of all trades' Ha-ha.
October 2013 - Bizarre World !
"Well what a surprise - I go on holiday and, as usual, I look out for interesting music to bring back home to remind me of the holiday but also because it adds to my collection of music that other people may never come across. So, there I am, on a coach tour in the USA when the Tour Manager said 'I have a CD for you to listen to, tell me what you think of it?'
Well, in the middle of Wyoming you would expect it to be Country Music - correct! But then he elaborates by saying that the band is from the Midlands - UK rather than USA! Well I never, to see the CD cover and details (see pic below) you would never think 'West Midlands' - more Mid-West! How very curious - and what serendipity!
It was so good I bought it and is that the end of the story? No!
Now the world gets even more bizarre because I am only back a few days when I get a phone call from a chap called 'Big Al' from Knoxville Highway! He tells me how the CD was recorded in Aldridge UK and when I asked who owned the studio . well, well, well it just happens to be one of my long standing customers - Simon Ash from Urthworks Studio Aldridge. (currently his website is down until Christmas http://www.urthworksaudio.co.uk/tracking.htm). How weird a set of circumstances was that? So credit where it's due: the recording is very good too!
I often get given CDs by my customers of what they have done and it's surprising the amount and variety of talent out there. As I said, I actually offered to pay for this CD - that's how impressed I was. I do like Country but am also into Rock, Blues, Metal, Folk and many other styles including World Music. The thing is, it has to be good, no matter what the genre - it needs to pass the 'old grey whistle test'.
If the music by 'Knoxville Highway' can be performed live like the CD (and 'Big Al and Simon Ash' assure me it is) then the band deserves more exposure and fame for the future - maybe one for the Bob Harris Show.
There are 3 original tracks and 3 covers, so the album is only a taster of things to come, but still worth a purchase. Luckily Knoxville Highway has put its Website details on the CD sleeve so you can look them up for yourselves at:
If they came to a location near me I would certainly go see them."
October 2013 - 10 Mistakes that are regularly seen.
It's been a short month due to holidays and one thing I have been meaning to do for a long time is give a list of the most common mistakes I see, made by customers and repairers - so here is a fill-in long overdue:
1. Over tightening screws
Screws give a clue as to how tight they should be by their size. Small screws such as those used for scratch plates only need a finger and thumb to tighten after fitting by the factory. New screws into wood for the first time will need a fair amount of pressure as the screw cuts into the wood and care should be taken when tightening up the final fractions of a millimetre so as not to over-tighten.
Neck bolt screws will obviously need more than finger and thumb pressure - I would call this hand tight. Over tightening these screws can cause the back plate to dig into the paint and crack it. If the neck and body can be held together at concert pitch with a one hand grip, it doesn't take any more than hand tightening screws to keep the neck on the guitar
2. Re-stringing guitars
Many people complain about instability in tuning, even buying new machine heads, and yet they still fit the strings poorly to the string capstans. Also the angle at which the string leaves the nut is important to produce better tone. Very little downward pressure can actually cause the string to buzz in the slot because the string runs up the capstans.
3. Setting pickups too high
In one case I heard a guitar expert from a national guitar magazine explain how he had set the pickups close to the strings for more intimacy! Wong, wrong, wrong! What this does is restrict the freedom of the string by bringing the magnetic field too close to the string and the string is actually dampened. In cases where there is a strong magnetic pull the intonation goes flat, forcing the saddle to be adjusted forwards to compensate. I have lost count of the times I have lowered the pickup/s and shown the customer how the intonation goes sharp - without even touching the machine heads. Why set the pickups close to the strings for more intimacy when you can adjust the amp EQ?
4. Changing gauge of string
It doesn't matter how many times I bang on about the truss rod being in balance/harmony with the string tension, I still find that people are quite happy to change the gauge of string thinking it will not affect the guitar in any way. Strat & Floyd tremolo users are the first to realise that something has gone amiss - often putting up with a higher action as a result of heavier string gauges.
5. Changing the pitch of the guitar
Nowadays, with some of the songs requiring different tunings, many people do not realise that these tunings are using less string tension. Detuning causes the neck to straighten out and the action to lower itself. Many's the time a customer refuses to go a gauge 'heavier' thinking it's more difficult to play - but the reality is he would only be compensating for 'sloppy string feel'. In order to deal with de-tuned songs, the guitar needs to be set so that it is comfortable with the detuned situation and yet can still play when tuned higher/normally.
6. DIY set-ups on the nut
Countless times customers bring a guitar to me that has had some modification to the nut slots because someone has felt that they could improve on the manufacturer's setup. Unfortunately, this area is also where shops and repairers ruin guitars. It is rare thing to find that the strings are too high and once the nut slots are cut down too low, a new nut is my preferred remedy -and this costs money. One of the reasons for the misunderstanding is the use of tall frets by the manufacturer and this gives the illusion that the nut slots are cut too high. The other issue is that nut slots are cut too wide and then the string will rattle around in the nut slot, giving poor sound.
7. Tremolo guitar users putting heavy gauge springs on their tremolo or actually fitting extra springs!
Most people do not appreciate that a spring has a memory between two anchor points. At one extremity the spring will deform and lose its memory. At the other point, where the spring is almost loose, the spring will have poor memory and therefore it will not return to pitch consistently. It is better to have less springs and for them to work (open) properly than to have more springs fitted and them hardly work at all.
8. Many people are oblivious to how to clean their guitar properly.
Some furniture polishes are fine, providing they don't have petroleum additives. Furniture polishes which have beeswax should not be used on guitars as they build up a layer which dirt and sweat add to, making the instrument look shabby. Numerous times I have found myself removing the wax using a degreaser, only to find that the customer is astonished at how new the guitar looks on collection.
9. Guitar stands and protection.
Many of the broken necks on guitars are caused by guitars falling off guitar stands. The safest place for a guitar is either in a good guitar case or properly strapped around your personage. Guitar hangers are fine, providing they cannot be knocked by children or other passing 'traffic'. Cheap black rubber guitar stands can cause damage to cellulose lacquer as the chemicals leach out of it. Once these black marks have leached into the lacquer it is impossible to get them out. Black rubber should be replaced by 'surgical rubber' which, by its very nature, will not leach chemicals. Find it on EBay. Even if these measures are taken, a heavy guitar such as a Les Paul left sitting for a long time may cause pressure grooves either side of the head stock or body.
10. Many people are oblivious to the difference in sound when amplifying an acoustic guitar.
Acoustic guitars which use transducers have very high impedance. Transducers have thousands of times more impedance than PA systems (which stands for public address) and the mode of amplification for a PA system is the microphone. Using an acoustic guitar straight into a PA system will lose the middle and bottom end of the sound regardless of what the engineer does to try and improve it. Preamps such as Fishman and LR bags are designed to get the best sound when playing into a PA system.
Finally - yes I can count to ten - this one is often responsible for causing some of the above from bad advice!
11. Finally, this one is often responsible for causing some of the above from bad advice!
I do have customers that have read things on the Internet and believe what has been said because the person has said it convincingly. When I have drilled down on what facts support a theory you would be surprised at the blank looks that I am given. Therefore I would recommend customers to cross-reference any 'statement' with other independent sources before they accept a theory as 'fact'.
September 2013 - The G & L Telecaster is for sale.
The G & L ASAT (Telecaster) featured last month is actually for sale. The guitar was set-up by myself before the customer bought a very expensive 'Vintage Telecaster'. The sale of this guitar obviously will go towards paying for his new acquisition. The guitar can be reset to the new customer's wishes and the set-up extended to cover the new owner. E-mail me to arrange a viewing of the guitar. The set-up is transferable to the new owner and here is the
link to the guitar
September 2013 - Nut too BAD !
One of my more recent customers can only be described as being addicted to my set-ups. It all started about nine months ago when he lost faith in his previous guitar technician. Apparently, he had been back to him no less than three times trying to resolve problems with one guitar before he gave up and came to me. Since then I have steadily worked through his guitar collection. The last guitar I did for him is pictured below and deserves a mention to show the kind of poor quality that can sometimes be delivered by a so-called professional guitar technician. The customer told me that he had previously had a lot of work done on this guitar, so I was interested to see the results.
The first thing I noticed was a very badly cut nut, where the nut slots which had been done in an amateurish way using a 'V' file. It's the kind of thing that I would expect to be done by someone who didn't know any better. To do the job properly required the right tools and it is necessary to spend £15-£20 on a nut file for each of the slots. One 'V' file for all just won't do.
The nut might have been salvageable except all the slots had been cut down far too low. I replaced the nut which then allowed me to deliver a lower action. Even the way the nut had been bedded in was poor.
The second thing that caught my eye was the use of plastic shims underneath the string trees. I am baffled as to why this guitar technician thought he knew better than the Fender research and development team!. The reason it is wrong comes from reducing the amount of downward pressure from the string and logic should have told him this. The shallow angle he created allowed the string to vibrate in the nut slot and therefore lose sustain. Generally speaking, a good break angle from the back of the nut is shown as similar to the 5th and 6th string - this is why Fender set the string trees at this particular height - so it was an easy fix to remove the plastic and refit string trees.
Even the replacement pickups had been set for uneven sound balance and wired in without cutting back on the excess wires from the manufacturer. All these little things add up to a poor service by an amateur.
September 2013 - The Difficult Pile
I have to admit that one of my customer's requests got parked on the 'difficult pile' and took me a couple of months to resolve. The seemingly simple request was, 'could I put a pickup in a bouzouki?'
For those who do not know, this instrument is similar to a mandolin. In this day and age, when most people prefer a transducer, the problems fell into two categories. Firstly, it is very difficult to place the transducers in the correct place inside the instrument, especially when you have hands like a gorilla! Even if I asked my wife to try and place the transducers it would have been difficult. The second issue is that many the transducers require a preamp and battery which is equally difficult to fit to the inside of the instrument. In the past I have used Ashworth transducers routed into the bridge but these are no longer available. I asked Aaron Armstrong if he had any ideas and sent him the measurements that I had to work with. After a few days he came back to me to explain that his father, Kent Armstrong, used to make these pickups and that he had found the moulds and could make some for me. A few days later, the pickup arrived and then the pressure was on me to design and make a plinth that would house the pickup without damaging the soundboard while also allowing for height adjustment.
You can see from the pictures below the end result and in addition, I have to say that the pickups are absolutely great.
September 2013 - Ukulele Banjo Resurrection
I seem to have had a spate of oddball requests lately and one instrument that I was very reluctant to do, but said that I would have a look at, was a banjo ukulele (banjolele). These instruments are notorious for being badly made and, although many of them are family heirlooms and have sentimental value, the cost of rectifying them is usually in excess of the instrument's value. It is always best to have an open mind, though, because you never know when you might have a rare Bacon & Day banjo come through the door.
I agreed to look at the instrument and when it came in I could see that it had been very well made. The customer didn't mind what it cost to have the instrument brought back to a playable condition but charging the earth is not how I approach things. I estimated an outline cost and the customer was pleased that I would take the job on.
The frets were popping out and required tidying up - no problem. The machine heads were of the interference fit ebony style and I could see that fitting more modern machine heads would be a vast improvement. Amazingly, some kind of gut string was still attached to the instrument but when I looked closer at the tail piece one of the fitments had been broken off where someone had tried to rectify it without success. All in all, I gave into my better judgement and set about reconditioning the instrument.
So, the tailpiece seemed to be the main issue because someone had tried to modifying it and damaged it beyond repair. The tailpiece could not be bought off the shelf, so I made one out of solid brass and instead of using a pin design I went for the more traditional approach of using drilled holes so that the strings could be attached in a similar fashion to the classical guitar. This item alone took far more time than I bargained for but the end result - pictured below - pleased both me and the customer. The bridge was much shorter than the traditional banjo and I found myself making a slightly smaller version for it to work.
Somewhat nervous about the vellum, I cleaned this in situ using my leather furniture cleaner and restorer to nourish the skin in order to prevent it from splitting from dryness. After a few days I re-tensioned the skin and surprisingly it turned out to be quite a loud instrument. The ukulele machine heads were almost a perfect fit - which could have been a different story as many of the ebony keys have different sized shafts.
So one of the highlights of the month was looking back on resurrecting an old instrument that just so happens to be a family heirloom as well - see below.
August 2013 - Convert Tele to Nashville Tele (Strat type)
I have had a few enquiries about the wiring I used on one of the 'Stuart's Telecasters' I set up many years ago. Initially, I thought that an enquiry from one of my customers was going down this particular route but it turned out to be a preference for turning his telecaster in to a Stratocaster. The customer supplied the pickups but required me to machine 2 single coil routes into the scratch plate. Unfortunately the Strat single coil pickup doesn't cover the adjuster holes used by the telecaster neck pick up. Plan B was to have a vintage telecaster scratch plate (without the holes for the adjustment of the neck pickup) and route the two single coil Strat pickup holes. This worked out fine but one thing many customers would have been confused with was that the polarity of the original Fender bridge pickup was different to the Bareknuckle pickups the customer supplied me with. As the bridge pickup was the odd one out I decided to reverse the polarity of the two wires and give it a separate earth wire. This is just one of the issues that the average do-it-yourself guitarist may not pick up on - no pun intended! I once remember the Band Ash brought me Tim's Flying V and the pickups were wired correctly according to the manufacturers spec but the DiMarzio was out of phase with the original Gibson pickup so that, too, was a simple fix of reversing the wires.
Compared to the Strat's in-between two pickups sound, the real 'out of phase sound is something that is very nasal and thin because the middle and the bottom end frequencies are cancelled out. So not only did the customer get a custom routing he also got a good match of sounds from the pickups because they were wired together correctly. Below you can see from the picture the modification I had to do to the bridge pickup wires.
August 2013 - Skidders Mando
One of my customers, who has been with me for many years (at least 15), brought in a mandolin for me to set up. The neck was slightly back-bowed and the truss rod would not help resolve the issues with the shape of the neck as it only worked one way. I decided that the only way the mandolin would set up was to remove the frets from 1 to 12, level the fingerboard and then refit the frets. This went according to plan and the mandolin setup in textbook style. The one thing that I noticed - being observant always pays off - was that the bridge was sagging in the centre. This meant that the transducer that was fitted to the bridge would not have had uniform pressure along the transducer. Rather than make the whole bridge assembly again, I set-up the mandolin and then measured the thickness of the gap in the centre. I then made a spacer that fitted the gap so that when the pressure of the strings was applied, the transducer had a more even pressure along its length.
The pictures below show the lengths I went to in order to set up the mandolin and also the modification I made to the bridge using the spacer.
August 2013 - Cross Bolted Bass
I never think I've seen it all because there is always something new just waiting around the corner. Occasionally, when I am intrigued by what appears to be something new, I find that it is an old idea that has been revamped!
I got an expensive bass in for setup and was interested in the neck plate which appeared to have some magical and mysterious way of fitting the neck to the body. It was interesting to see that this design had been patented so surely it must have been a revolutionary new design? When I undid the cover plate I saw an arrangement of screws that had been fitted at varying angles. The neck was already a snug fit and, in my traditional way of working, I took the neck off in order to dress and re-profile the frets. The screws were undone in the normal way and it soon became clear that this wasn't a newly thought up method of fitting two pieces of wood together. Most carpenters are familiar with cross nailing/screwing in order to prevent two pieces of wood from pulling away from each other and the nails from pulling straight out. As these were screws rather than nails, even with the normal fender method of fitting a neck, the neck is hardly likely to pull away! Maybe the idea was to help prevent sideways movement. It is equally interesting to see that when amateurs screw necks to bodies it is done with so much vigour that it often cracks the lacquer. The truth of the matter is that many adults can actually hold the neck in the body and tune to pitch, using just hand grip tension. Therefore there is no need to over tighten the neck bolt screws. I might not be the person awarding patents for design, but the only thing I saw of new interest was a neat route and plate which was fitted to hide the angular mass of fitted screws.
July 2013 - G & L Telecaster! Part I
One of the things I see from time to time is customers who have tried other guitar technicians and shops in a quest for getting the correct setup before coming to me. One of my customers commented on my approach to having an appointment in order to set up the guitar and continued by saying he had always dropped off a guitar with very little communication with the person setting it up. He was amazed at the first meeting with me, when I went through the instrument with him, to find how many things he didn't understand or misunderstood because of incorrect information gleaned from the Internet or friends.
The owner of the guitar shown below had been to a guitar maker and builder in the south of England and, when he was not really satisfied with that, he went to someone in Bristol. He then looked closer to home in the Warwick and Leamington area and a shop charged approximately £60 for setting up his guitar. This shop advised him his G & L guitar had a really bad neck and that they had rectified the poor quality build by fitting a neck shim between the body and neck. In a nutshell - BS !
This is where I come to the defence of Leo Fender's reputation. The customer showed me the guitar and you can see below that nasty plastic shim that has been fitted, purely because the so-called guitar technician didn't understand Leo Fender's neck tilt mechanism. I felt so sorry for the customer having been told a load of BS. The customer explained that he had gone back to the shop and they had charged him a further (approximately) £30 to do extra work. Disappointed in the outcome, he had put the guitar away and left it on the 'too difficult' pile. I haven't a clue what the shop did for their money but one thing was absolutely clear - the nut slots were very high which, as a fundamental part of any setup, and had a detrimental effect on the final action height and set-up.
July 2013 - G & L Telecaster Part II
The first thing I did was to remove the awful plastic shim that had been fitted to the neck socket. You can see from the pictures below that even with a marginal amount of tilt from the neck tilting mechanism, the guitar setup beautifully with a low action but not before I had levelled and reprofiled the frets.
The whole reason that this customer came back to me was because I drilled down on the detail of how he wanted the guitar setup and listened to the problems that he had experienced in the past. The first guitar - a telecaster - he gave me was atrociously set up before I sorted it out - which I believe meant I passed the test! Then he brought me a second guitar to set up - a Gibson Les Paul. This is where the story gets quite interesting because, in this business, you need to keep learning and have an open mind and try to do each job better than the last one in order to improve.
I set-up the Gibson Les Paul and the customer tried it out in the workshop and seemed happy. Some 45 minutes after the customer had left, he phoned me up to tell me that the intonation on the wound strings (bass) was flat by almost semitone! This call- back has never happened before and it was clear that he didn't live very far away. I asked him to come back immediately so that I could take a look at the issue. I checked out the intonation and it appeared to be correct. I then asked the customer to fret each note on the 12th fret. What was remarkable was the customer has flexible ability when playing the strings. What I mean by this is that his finger pressure was very consistent with my own on the plain (treble) strings but, when it came to the wound strings, he managed to press the string down with such a light touch that it registered 2 to 4% flat! I tried to replicate his 'magic touch' but I couldn't however much I tried!
The answer was simply to sharpen the intonation on the wound strings by at least 2%. I gave the guitar back to the customer and he was perfectly happy with the outcome.
I learnt two things were learnt from this incident: a) customers have different ways of playing a guitar - usually they press too hard with the left hand, causing wear and sending the guitar out of tune. b) a flat note sounds far worse than a note which is slightly sharp. It appears that the flat note is somewhat exaggerated in our minds ear - as we can see here, 2 to 4% in the customer's hearing sounded far worse than it actually was. For the customer's initial statement to be true, the meter would have read 80% or 90% flat as opposed to the actual 2% to 4%.
The good thing was being able to show the customer the reality of the situation. I adjusted the intonation according to his playing style in his presence and showed him the results afterwards and I believe this was the reason that a year or so later he brought me a vintage 60's Fender telecaster to set up. In order to pay for the vintage Fender he has decided to sell the G & L for £750. I have put the guitar up for sale which can be seen by appointment. The set-up is transferable to the new owner and here is the
link to the guitar
July 2013 - Gretsh Floating Bridge
Even though I have years of experience, there are always lessons to be learnt and new things to see. In this case I was presented with a Gretsh Viking, which has an unusual bridge system to share with you. The customer referred to it as a 'tuning fork bridge' but the bridge system is actually floating! The intonation and clarity of the string is created by threading the string in and out of a three round bar assembly. The larger bar has a machined radius, supposedly to match the fingerboard. One thing that I did learn about this innovative and short lived floating bridge system was that it is very easy to ruin a perfectly decent string with it! In fact I can say that it is the first time I have ever ruined a plain string when fitting one to a guitar. I restrung it after the fretwork and had a really weird buzzy resonance from the second string. I played it at the 1st & 2nd fret and it seemed to be less of a problem - still there though. I actually thought it was the 'zero fret' issue, which I found to be loose but even gluing this in place didn't achieve a result. Finally I decided to cut the string off and start again. This time I made sure there was as little stress as possible to the string as it weaved in and out of the 'bars' on the bridge.. Eureka! This weird buzzy resonance disappeared.
I have to say this guitar gave me an awful lot of grief before I eventually I got it into a playing condition. Someone once said that if you mess with tradition in guitar making, it will mess with you! In this case, it was an innovation one step too far and it didn't catch on - hurrah! I don't really see any advantage to this system and obviously having one single bar for a bridge causes a compromise with intonation. This guitar required a wound 3rd string because a plain one would have been too sharp for the intonation to be correct. In fact the wound 3rd needed to be slightly sharper and I toyed with the idea of fitting a slightly heavier gauge - from 24w to 26w. I fitted a 10 to 52 gauge set on the final set-up.
It was one guitar I was glad to see the back of, simply because of the amount of hassle involved. Apart from the binding that was falling apart, the fretboard was probably one of the worst I have ever seen due to the fact that it had an 'aeroplane propeller' twist. Part of it was brought about by the manufacturer over-sanding a 7 inch radius on the treble side lower frets. Towards the end of the fretboard the juxtaposed position lifted upwards to a 12 inch radius! After finding the old frets were too low, I stopped levelling & set-up work and did a full refret which allowed me to straighten up the fingerboard to a consistent radius. Apparently the customer said it had never played very well before, which was probably due to be awful shape the neck was in. We will never know whether it was made badly or if time and poor wood choice caused the twist.
July 2013 - Rod For My Own Back
Being inundated with work had me working through a couple of week-ends and evenings to get back on track and I am pleased to say that the 'backlog' is now cleared. It's difficult to predict the volume of work coming in, so it only takes a few customers bringing in 2 or 3 guitars each to create a 'waiting list'. As I said before, I only have one pair of hands (nothing subcontracted set-up wise). On a personal level, since last month one of my close family members has become seriously ill and I have taken time out to give support.
The importance of running a business is being organised. It doesn't take much to see what I can do in a week and what promises can be given to the customer for 'delivery/completion dates'. When a week's appointments have been filled, I move to fill the next week. Sometimes a customer fails to respond to emails and I move to the next customer. Gaps do occur naturally but it's fascinating how the 'free period' gets filled! Receiving a request for 'Set-up' by email allows me to copy and paste to Excel spreadsheets quickly and apportion the time needed to do the job.
In one sense, doing this blog has made a rod for my own back - hence it has been behind. For some customers it's important and I have even had complaints on it not being up-to-date. The good news is, I am back on track and only lost 3 customers who couldn't wait for work to be done. I thank all my loyal customers for waiting their turn patiently. There were very few hiccups with working through it and, if there is anyone who thinks they might have been overlooked, then please do give me a call.
July 2013 - Strings Attached!
In the blog I try to show some of my day-to-day issues. This time it is some of the 'behind the scenes' activities involved in running the business. In fact I have to be a 'jack of all trades', ensuring I have enough inventory, checking advertising and making sure the website is running ok, keeping the accounts up to date, answering e-mails and keeping on top of business events like new products and ideas, the PR - communicating with customers to ensure that they get what they ask for - and then there is the 'on the bench' work where I actually achieve a finished product which is what earns me my money! It's one big balancing act.
The element of ordering stock and specially requested items should be a simple task. Having worked in the automotive and aircraft engineering industries, it comes as something of a shock to find that the suppliers of musical components often have a different approach to their customers - i.e. shops, luthiers and repair centres. I 'dual sources' as many products as possible - an industry must! Where this cannot be done you risk being held to ransom by a sole importer/supplier. This week I was running low on several items and needed to re-order - which should be a simple procedure. I placed orders with 3 different suppliers, taking into account availability and cost of the products. Even though I expect my suppliers to send me the order straightaway I am still thrilled to bits when orders actually arrive the next day. This is what happened with 2 out of 3 suppliers but the third - who shall be nameless - can cause me problems - firstly because they switch to answer phone if I call them and secondly because my website browser doesn't like their website certificate if I try to order on line. Therefore, I send them an e-mail order (just as I have done with the other 2 suppliers). Because I know from experience this one supplier appears to have a 'laid back' approach, I usually phone to chase the order as well. I shouldn't need to do this but experience has shown they can forget to progress orders, so I leave nothing to chance. Phoning them didn't help because they had switched to answer phone but were unable to take a message. This means I need to ring every day to find out if they have received and processed the order and when it will be dispatched. When I have better things to do, this kind of task becomes a frustration dealing with what appears to be apathy or incompetence. The knock-on effect is having to tell a customer that you are waiting for the parts to complete their guitar but you haven't a clue when they will arrive. This makes me sound dumb - but it is what happens. So next time you get a vague reply from a music shop it's likely to be because they truly haven't a clue when the product is in until it turns up.
The irony is that the supplier did email back 2 days later to say the parts were being despatch that day. In the past I accepted this and duly waited for them to arrive within 3 days but the supplier got distracted and a week later I was chasing them for the missing parts - not sent.
One subversive trick I have tried with this supplier is to use my uncle's e-mail account (different name) to ask when they will be receiving the part. Amazingly, Uncle is told by immediate return e-mail that the component will be with them in three weeks. Furthermore, they are quick enough to e-mail 'Uncle' as soon as they have the components in stock - which they never did with me!
Keeping an eye on suppliers' prices is something that I have often overlooked in the past and, with today's creeping inflation, I have found some prices rising by as much as 30% in one year. In the past, annual price increases were the norm but there is a growing trend within the industry to increase prices every three months. The compounded increases can see them rise to 30% before you have realised it.
One of my string suppliers has such a cavalier attitude to orders that I don't even get a reply e-mails if they don't have the stock and, when they do have the stock, the prices are almost equitable to retail mail-order prices. Recently, after noticing this, I also realised that this supplier also charges £10 for delivery. When this was added together with the VAT, the typical online retailer was able to sell me the strings for a cheaper price and delivery was FOC ! Admittedly, I was purchasing over 20 sets of strings but it does show how running a business requires the tenacity to work out whether your suppliers are doing you a favour or not.
Another string supplier I use is D'Addario, who have been excellent and dispatch to me the 'next day'. Only on one occasion, which coincided with their premises move, were they late by one day and then they refunded the carriage cost in compensation! This is the kind of 1st class service that you would expect - or at least hope for! When it comes to customers who require special strings I have often ordered from two competitive mail-order companies who I know dispatch the same day. However, the post office now seems to have its own plan to make 1st class post a 3 day event - but sometimes they do arrive next day.
All of this has led me to review my long-standing policy of pricing my setups with strings included - or attached!! Also, some customers prefer to provide their own particular type of string and others require special strings to be purchased, which I probably can't get much cheaper than the retail price. For all these reasons, I am adjusting the setup price to be 'without strings'- no pun intended, so the base cost may appear to have reduced slightly but I will be charging for strings, as I will just pass on my string costs where I supply them.
June 2013 - C F Martin - Shedding Lacquer
One of my customers brought me his C F Martin acoustic guitar and explained that one my previous competitors had repaired the guitar but had ruined the neck by fitting masking tape to it. This in turn had burned into the lacquer and, when he removed it, the lacquer raised slightly. I have seen this kind of delamination on many C F Martin guitars and have put it down to a combination of them sanding the neck too finely so that the lacquer doesn't key into the wood or maybe it not being degreased prior to spraying with lacquer. It could also be that the lacquer was too thick with its first coat application and cured without actually seeping/keying into the wood. One of the annoying things is that I lost the original pictures I took due to a camera card malfunction but below you can see the pictures of the finished job. One thing that was interesting about the neck was the amount of dark stain used all over the neck by C F Martin. This was obviously used to disguise the two different colours of wood used around the heel joint. I decided to show off the grain a little and used only a dark bursting effect around the heel and lightened it towards the neck. It seemed a shame to blast the whole neck in a dark colour.
I actually quoted to do the re-lacquer far too cheaply. I hadn't realised the time it would take to scrape off the lacquer to maintain the shape. I know some refinishers would have stuck most of the neck into a drum of acetone and scrubbed the lacquer off but this would have soaked through all of the neck wood and would have also brought off the Martin logo which I managed to preserve.
I was pleasantly surprised after the customer collected the guitar, to receive a handwritten letter in the post which said
A note of grateful thanks for the excellent refurbishment job you have undertaken on my Martin D-28. The neck was in sore need of tender loving care following damage occasioned 20 years ago; it now looks better than new with the grain of the hardwood properly revealed, similarly the headstock, plus the making good to the repaired crack to the lower bout and ding to the top, all above and beyond the call of duty. It's rare to find a true craftsman these days and I do appreciate the time and care you have taken with this project.
Kind Regards, Julian P. Leamington Spa
June 2013 - The Right & Wrong Way?
Sometimes I see things that the majority of people wouldn't see and it's hard to believe that people would come up with such different ways of doing things but below are two examples I came across that led me to do a double take in disbelief. The Dobro was bought from a shop where they had fitted new strings. I can only think that they got the 'work experience' lad to do it and he forgot the first rule which is 'observation' before he took the old strings off. One of the reasons it is wrong to restring in this fashion is because there is less down pressure on the bridge due to the lessened angle and it causes the tail-piece to be lifted upwards away from the cone cover. There is also a piece of felt underneath the tailpiece, to reduce/prevent rattle as the tailpiece is actually forced down onto the cone.
In the second picture 5 out of 6 strings have been fitted the opposite way round on the capstans/machine-heads. Maybe a tendency to go clock-wise? This means the customer goes with pot luck as to which way to turn the machine heads when tuning. Even if this was a valid alternative method, the problem is that it goes against the design of Leo Fender to try and keep the strings as straight as possible through the nut - the idea being that it reduces friction, keeping the string in a straight line. The second reason that it is problematic is due to the amount of sideways pressure that is exerted within the nut and is one of the most common reasons the nut snaps down the edge. I usually see this restring error on the 3-a-side machine heads. When this error is made, the amount of sideways pressure is massive because, particularly on the 3-a-side, the strings are never in a straight line to start with and restringing it back to front just increases the stress excessively. In this case, the customer who brought the guitar in for a set-up got away without the nut splitting.
June 2013 - Floyd Tremolo - Knife Edge
One of the reasons that I have a surcharge on Floyd Rose tremolos is because they require a fair amount of tweaking before they will work properly in accordance with their design. In the pictures below is a classic case of a tremolo that has been fitted and abused - probably without the owner realising it. Very often, if people take ALL the strings of the Floyd Rose tremolo, it will jump out of the V in the tremolo posts. When it is restrung it can become lodged against the thicker part of the post causing damage. This is what happened in this case and there was no longer a knife-edge to create a positive rocking motion. With a little bit of a re-grind, the sharp edge can be re-established. As I have pointed out in the past, the tremolo posts also need to be checked to ensure a reciprocal V shape as opposed to a worn U shape. It is noticeable how soft the metal is on cheap Floyd Rose imports compared to the quality, upmarket products such as Schaller - West Germany.
May 2013 - Write-Off Month & Waiting List
The month of May was a bit of a write-off work-wise as I had a 2 week holiday and there were also two deaths in the family. You can plan for a holiday but you can't for the other event! The unprecedented 8 week 'waiting list' even caused me to be emailing while away abroad in order to orchestrate work for the weeks following my return!
What I won't do is take a guitar in and then leave the customer without their instrument while I wait until I am good and ready to do it. Not everyone is so considerate - last year I subcontracted a spraying job of several guitars and, when I went to collect them 3 months later, there were the same guitars waiting for the work to be done on them! So, my apologies if you have to wait for me to be able to take work in but, that way, at least you won't be without your guitar for any longer than necessary.
April 2013 - Son of a Bitch - Guitar
I have done several guitars for one of my customers whose enthusiasm actually caused his father to learn guitar, so it was not a surprise to have an e-mail from him saying that he had bought a seven string guitar off eBay and could I set it up?
Naturally, I have an open mind and when the guitar came in I was surprised to find it looked like a first attempt at building a guitar. The body was quite thin - big mistake - which causes its own problems, especially when fitting a neck. The pickup cavities looked as if they had been cut out the hard way with a chisel and hammer and the bridge had been sunk into the body because of the massive error caused by the neck rake angle.
Surprisingly, after taking the neck off the guitar, I found it to be reasonably good. However, taking the neck off was quite a shock because it was actually coming apart from the body anyway! In the first instance, the screws had been up crudely cut off too short and without any reshaping of the screw ends. Furthermore, looking at the neck, it was evident the guitar maker had tried (and failed) at least once to get the neck correctly set or maybe - I'm being lenient here - the neck could have come off another guitar he had tried to make. The story gets worse! Wooden dowels had been fitted to the neck to correct the first neck-set cock-up but these weren't even glued into the wood! It was because of this the neck had started to pull away. Given that the screws were less than 3mm into the wood in one place, it was hardly surprising that the neck was loose.
Quite clearly you can see that one of the screws had been fitted on the central line of the neck. There was no foresight by the guitar maker as to what would happen if he fitted a screw in this position. I believe one of the credentials required by guitar makers is the ability to think their actions through before they strike the first blow. In this case, it was clearly another error as the screw would not go in much deeper than 5 mm because it hit the truss rod which runs central to the neck! As there was only 3 mm worth of thread in a loose dowel, I can only say it was just there for show.
I dressed the frets and then turned my attention to re-fitting the neck. You can see from the picture that, even with the bridge being sunk into the body of the guitar, a piece of plastic had been fitted to tilt the neck further backwards. I decided that the only thing I could do, apart from remaking the body, was to fit a wooden wedge that would improve the neck rake angle and increase sustain. If the body were thicker, the angle could be made greater. Before dealing with neck angles I had to pull out the loosely fitting dowels and glue in more substantial pieces of wood. Once this had been done it was then easy to mark and pilot drill for the neck bolts. I also managed to achieve a decent fitting central bolt using a longer screw.
When the customer's father phoned after receiving the guitar back, he couldn't understand why this guitar maker's guitar was so poor given that other guitars on his website were for at least £2000 or more. I could only say that pictures of the guitar sold on the Internet can be deceptive - hide a multitude of evils - as is the case in point. I am afraid that looking at the initials on the headstock I would be inclined to think the initials S (something) B stood for 'son of a bitch' but maybe that's my dyslexia kicking in! At least the customer has now got the guitar he originally thought he was buying.
April 2013 - PRS Guitar - overseas
PRS Guitar - overseas
One of the things that customers sometimes do is believe that, if they buy a branded name product they will have quality even when purchasing a budget product from the same manufacturer. Recently I have come across a couple of PRS guitars with glued in necks that have been at the limits of workable neck rake angle. If a customer wants a low action I will try to deliver it but, if the neck is glued in at the wrong angle, achieving a low action can be impossible. There should be a reasonable margin of adjustment in the bridge height screws to allow for this.
Over recent years I have struggled with the Korean made PRS guitars because of the variations in fret work. It came as a surprise to find one with reasonably good fret work but, for some reason, the neck had been fitted lopsided! This meant that, in order to achieve a low action on the treble side, the bridge would not go beyond a certain point. Sometimes a small amount of reduction in height can be achieved from the saddle but, in this case, that was asking too much. Previously, I had machined one of these PRS posts to achieve a low treble action but on this guitar it was impossible due to the thinner flange material. I decided to remove the bridge post insert, shorten it slightly and then refit it. After setting the insert just below the wood, I then ground the wood down sufficiently to allow for the post flange to fit into it and, by re-colouring the wood black, the modification goes unnoticed. I now have sufficient adjustment to obtain the action I wanted. This was quite a costly setup because the nut slots had been cut too low and required a new nut. The degree of lopsidedness can be seen from looking at how the bridge angles downwards. Again, a guitar has been rectified and returned to the customer a very playable instrument - how it should have been presented in the first place.
April 2013 - The Silent Guitar
I have mentioned this guitar before in passing when I was setting up a classical Yamaha but, unfortunately, this guitar was made without a truss rod and the wood was so flimsy that it rendered the guitar unplayable. It was treated with heat and bent backwards 3 times - each time I failed. On the 4th occasion I decided to take it to the extreme. The guitar was subjected to heat and bent backwards and set much further backwards than I usually apply. 24 hours later when I took the clamps off I thought I had really overdone it as there was now a pronounced backbow within the neck but I left it for a further 24 hours and the neck straightened up! Phew! One day later I noticed a curve in the neck. One tool I like to use for assessing curvature is the one pictured below - I have seen dial gauges used before for various bits of set-up work but totally disagree with their use for gauging and slotting the nut.
As you can see from the series of pictures below this neck got worse and worse as the days rolled by and, unfortunately, I had to report to the customer that I could not resolve this issue using 'normal' tactics.
This situation clearly shows how different one neck can be from another. In this case the neck stock wood was very flimsy and typical of a slab-sawn timber. Another piece of timber could well be very dense and rigid. Had I been given a free hand - no expense spared - I would've taken the fingerboard off, fitted a truss rod, and refitted the fingerboard. As it stood, the guitar was sent back to the manufacturers. I have to say it is rare that a guitar gets the better of me but in this case you win some and you lose one!
March 2013 - Japanese Improvements?
There was a saying when I was growing up - something like "they're clever these Japanese!" That was my conclusion when I was asked to set up a Yamaha classical guitar. The previous month a customer had brought me a Yamaha Silent guitar (electrified classical log?). Initially, the neck had a severe forward bow, causing a very high action and I had 3 attempts at heat bending the neck with the final attempt over-egging the correction - which seemed to work well. After leaving the guitar for 24 hours, this had levelled out to a slight backbow. I refitted the strings and tuned it to pitch and, over the next few days, I watched the neck get worse and worse to the point that I phoned the customer to tell him this was a 'no can do' situation. Of course, I could have taken the fingerboard off and rectified it properly but who wants to spend more on a repair than the purchase price of the guitar?
This issue emphasises how important the truss rod is in establishing the straightness of the neck. Without it you are in the lap of the gods. You can imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, another customer brought in a Yamaha classical which he had had his eye on. Now this guitar was something special in so much as it was chosen for its rich tone over other more expensive guitars. The initial check of the guitar showed a slight forward bow in the neck. This customer has several very expensive classical guitars and one issue that he had with the new Yamaha was the string spacing at the nut. Apparently, he had difficulty playing some of the more complicated pieces on the Yamaha and so asked me to replicate the wider string spacing he was comfortable with. You can imagine my surprise when I removed the nut to find that Yamaha have improved the design of the classical by putting a hidden truss rod which can only be accessed under the nut - normally at manufacture. I was delighted and used this to improve on the setup. The pictures show the difference in the spacing required and the truss rod adjuster - I had to dig out a set of old magneto spanners in order to slide in and adjust the nut.
March 2013 - Making an old Jaguar work.
Having slated the Jaguar guitar a couple of months ago I had a concern when one of my customers went out and bought an old Jaguar and rang me to say that he wanted a setup but all the frets were very badly worn. True enough, when the guitar came in it really needed a refret. All the issues I commented on before were now in my hands to correct. I purchased some Graph Tech saddles and in the meantime set to work on refretting the guitar. Normally, after straightening the neck, the frets slots are re-cut. This guitar had a veneered rosewood fingerboard, which means that if we are not careful, recutting the fret slots could actually cut into the maple neck stock wood. To avoid this, I recessed the fret ends but slotted the centres deeper. The fret end holes were then filled in, making a nice looking finish. When it came to chamfering the edges of the frets, just like when I made the telecaster 12 string, I kept a more upright edge in order to gain more of a fret width. This proves the point that Fender have over-chamfered the edge of the fret to the detriment of the playing surface. You can see from the pictures below what a remarkable effect this has on the playability of the guitar. The whole guitar was reworked, including a damper pad fitted to the bridge. This was a story in itself, as the supplier put it in an envelope but it got tangled up in the letter posting machinery where the envelope and invoice were put back together minus the part! The second attempt came in a Jiffy bag! The Graph Tech saddles were duly fitted along with 11 to 48 gauge strings, which worked well with the extra width on the frets. However, I have to amend my assumption that these Graph Tech saddles could be modified as there is very little material to change the position of the slotting.
March 2013 - A Blast from the past
After completing a setup on one customer's guitar, he asked me to do another on his new acquisition which was an SG with a Maestro tremolo. Apparently, this was brand spanking new and fitted with 11 to 48 gauge strings. In one sense, I was a bit surprised by this choice of gauge but then, thinking back to when I last set-up one of these, the spring was so unbelievably strong, the strings never seated properly in the bridge saddles. I took the tremolo off and forced the spring into a different position. This was no easy feat and, with a brand new guitar in front of me, I needed to re-evaluate what I was going to do. It was clear that the 11 to 48 gauge strings were a desperate attempt to make the guitar work. This had obviously failed as the upper front part of the tremolo was lifting the strings out of the saddle slot. All the other customer's Gibsons were fitted with 10 to 46 and, so when I fitted these to this SG, the problem was exaggerated. I believe this is one of the worst tremolos to fit to the SG. The design of the tremolo is fine, it isn't even the strength of the spring, it's the position the spring settles into when loaded with 10 to 46 gauge strings. If this position was somehow changed, the tremolo would work reasonably well. Obviously, the angle of the string off the back of the bridge doesn't lend itself to any degree of 'pull up' but is only supposed to be used as a vibrato anyway.
After some pondering, I had a 'Eureka' moment and worked out that, if I were to wedge some 5mm nylon rod in the spring, the front plate would be lowered, thus enabling me to use the 10 to 46 gauge strings. This was one SG Maestro that I was able to get the better of without too much aggravation.
February 2013 - Arch-top - I bent over backwards!
Over a number of years I have done a lot of work on arch tops for one particular customer. He brought in a guitar that he loved to play but was put off by changing strings. Unfortunately, he changes his string quite a lot so the guitar was relegated to 'least played'. He brought the guitar in, asking if I could do something about it - apparently the strings sometimes came off. I couldn't see the underneath of the Tailpiece so I said I would have a look later. The guitar was handed over with the condition that if I sorted out the tailpiece I could continue to set the guitar up.
It's rare that I have a red face day but this was one of them. Sometimes, there are two ways of fitting end pin jack sockets into tail piece guitars - in this case it had been put through the plate only - sensible. I jumped to the wrong conclusion.
On a previous arch top - a month ago - the jack socket was put through the end block and trapeze tailpiece. On that guitar it was merely a case of undoing the strap flange and nut and removing the tailpiece. On this guitar, I tried to do the same thing only to find that the strap collar had been glued on. I tried everything to undo the strap flange and nut but failed - I even tried to undo it with pliers without protective leather and predictably damaged the outside edge. It was clear that it was not going to come away cleanly. I got the dremel out and cut the nut off . When I did take off the trapeze tailpiece it was a red face day! Yes, the strap flange had been glued on but it had been fed on from the outside and then bolted to the inside plate. There was no attachment to the end block! Grrrr!. Oh well, a new jack socket was simple enough to fit on reassembly.
February 2013 - Archtop - rectified.
The trapeze tailpiece, in true luthier fashion, had been specially made. The design used a piece of flat copper strip cut with slots in it to anchor the strings and it was clear that the string could come out - especially aided by gravity when tightening up . This was easy to resolve by soldering a thin rod of copper on the outward edges. I then cut slots to accommodate the strings. This now allows the ball end to sit firmly on the other side of copper rod and thus ensures that it won't slip out. With the setup completed the tailpiece looks exactly the same as it did before I started work.
February 2013 - Banjo 5th railway pegging.
Some time back I was asked to fit some railway pins in a G banjo for the drone string (5th). After fitting them, I found that there were problems with using them due to the need to have them low enough for the string to ring but then they are very close to the fingerboard and not so easy to push the string under. When I got one in with these pins in I had to take them out to complete the set-up so when I refitted them I modified it by a slight scallop to make it easier to peg the string and to allow the string to ring out. I should have thought about that last time! They say that the simple ideas are always the best.
January 2013 - Complimentary Chip on edge of fingerboard Sir?
A customer was recommended to me because he was disappointed in his local service. Ironically another customer's mother told me how her son had said "I'll never take my guitar to another guitar shop for repair!" Whatever, it depends on the competence and quality of service that is given.
Below you will see the damage done whilst setting up a guitar. The customer said he was absolutely positive the damage was not done before taking it into the shop. My only analysis was that the damage had obviously been done without the 6th string being fitted because there were two deep dents in the fingerboard which lay underneath where that string ran. Quite often when an impact occurs to the front of the guitar neck, it hits a string which dents both the fingerboard and the frets.
It is only a guess but whatever hit the fingerboard causing the two dents most likely broke off the side of the fingerboard.
I did think about building up the side with a resin but opted for a more traditional solution of gluing a piece of wood on and reshaping it to the original profile. As George Formby apparently said 'it's turned out nice again'!
January 2013 - Classic guitar repairs?
One of my long-time customers assumed that I did not do setups on classical guitars and so opted to go to someone some distance away. By all accounts, this person knows what they are doing having been to a "School of Guitar Making". I corrected my customer by saying that many classical guitars are not so well made in terms of geometry and therefore I was reluctant to set them up, which is a different way of looking at things. No sooner had I said that, he went away and brought two of his three cherished classical guitars to me!
I was pleasantly surprised to find that both guitars had a good action, albeit lumpy fret work.
Normally, classical guitars do not have a truss rod and so there is a big question over how much relief there will be within the neck. Sometimes luthiers put too much curve in the neck and this relief can vary, depending on what type of strings (in terms of tension) are fitted. The strings my customer used were 'high tension' and I was relieved to find that they created the right amount of relief in the neck when tuned to pitch. Whilst both guitars were made by the same family of guitar makers, they were both consistent in their 'natural' neck curvature under load.
One very disappointing thing to find was previous work done (or should I say the lack of work done). While certainly not up to Luthier standards, all of the saddles had very uneven bases. One of the nuts was cut down too low (buzzing on the 1st fret), another nut was loose and a third was loose but jacked up with a piece of card as a spacer. I mention this not to 'big myself up' but to show that being technically qualified doesn't necessarily guarantee good practical work. I would much rather have reported back to the customer that his guitars were in good shape except for lumps and dips within the fret work .
While some websites show use of dial gauges for questionable use in cutting nut slots, I made up a tool which allows me to measure the relief on a Classical/Spanish neck which doesn't have a truss rod. This will be shown next month when another classical requires some constant monitoring.
As I mentioned before, when replacing one of the nuts, I found that the original maker had used a very wide bone blank. I struggled to find a replacement and, to resolve the issue. Below you will see I use the widest nut blank I could find and filled in the gap at the rear with a thin piece of ebony. Obviously, if a future owner wishes to rework this section, the ebony will come away easily. At least it looked decorative.
January 2013 - Ibanez Musician pickup change
One of my customers brought in an Ibanez Musician. I had somehow only thought of the customer as a bass player. I shouldn't pigeon hole people and it turns out he actually started on classical before going to rock guitar and then on to jazz bass! Anyway, he came in with this 6 string Ibanez Musician and asked if I would restore it back to original as he had the pickups. It seemed like a simple job but when I removed the normal Humbuckers I was surprised to find that there was no wood to screw down into. On closer inspection there was evidence of 2 screws having held a sub frame in place, which must have been 'H' shaped. I decided that there was enough wood to fix a metal plate and that would hold the machine screws of the pickups. It was time consuming and complicated to drill and tap the metal strips and then set them in place so that the pickups could be adjusted as they were originally designed to work. Eventually the only remaining sign that the pickups had been messed with were the screw holes where the plastic surrounds had been fitted.
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