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Welcome to Peter Allen's Monthly (and past Weekly Blogs)
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Current Entries, Month / Week Ending .............
December 2017 - A Bigsby Bodge
Another year has almost gone and I have still got jobs to finish for Christmas. It's been unfortunate for some people who thought that they would treat themselves to a set up as unfortunately my waiting list has extended into the New Year. As I said earlier in these blogs, I have cut down my weekly hours as part of my semi-retirement plan. From now on there is going to be a waiting list and that will probably be at least 4 weeks if not more. I am sorry about this but for many years I have worked 7 days a week and more hours than would be allowed under health and safety, so now is time to chill out a bit - I wish all my customer a Happy Christmas
One giveaway this Christmas deserves a mention. A customer had gone into local guitar shop thinking that the person was very knowledgeable about guitars. He asked that person to set up his guitar and several days later he paid £60 and collected it but when he got it home he noticed that all the strings buzzed. He took it back and asked the shop to rectify it. They raised the action and made it worse! From the picture below you will see how the guitar was presented to me. The second picture shows a guitar with the same tremolo unit on it but properly restrung. This just goes to show what customers let themselves in for when they employ someone without the expertise. I felt sorry for the person and so invited him in for me to look at his problem. Firstly I was surprised that it was a Gibson that he had taken into the Bodge-it and Scarper Music Shop, but secondly, Gibson would have fitted the strings properly and I would have expected an inexperienced 'work experience' kid would have observed the way the strings had been fitted and duplicated the process when fitting new strings. The point is, the way that the strings had been fitted created no down pressure on top of the bridge, so the bridge has to be raised dramatically high before the strings sit properly on the saddles. The shop got nothing right with this guitar and I felt it was my Christmas duty to help the guy out. Save us from rogue music shops!
November 2017 - A Bridge Too Far Removed.
Over the years, I have had a quite a few acoustic where the bridge plates have lifted from the soundboard. The customer who brought in his recent purchase for a setup was shocked to hear the news that his pride and joy it was coming apart. It was probably the reason that it was sold. Knowing this type of assembly, it was clear that the bridge was being held in place by two bolts. What was not apparent until taking the bridge plates off, was that Gibson had actually stuck the wooden bridge plate to the lacquer! There was no way this was going to stay together. I took pictures to show the customer the problem and so I can now share it with you guys. The normal practice is to mask off the area where the bridge is to be situated and then spray the top. Lifting the masked area then reveals bare wood to glue to. Another way of doing it is to spray the area, assess where the bridge plate is to be fitted and then cut around it with a fine knife and lift the new lacquer from the wood. It's not really a good practice because the wood can absorb lacquer and block the pores meaning that there is less grip. One guitar maker used a practice of lightly wiping water over the wood grain surface to be glued to open the pores and then leaving it to dry. It does improve the grip as the glue ingresses into the pores.
October 2017 - Retired but not out!
This month was a monumental moment as I reached the grand old age of retirement! There have been a number of customers that have said "you cannot retire, what will we do without you!" Well it is comforting to know that you are appreciated so thank you past and present customers.
My working week has actually reduced although not quite to a part-time basis but I felt that I deserved more 'me time'. My waiting list has got longer but many people are accepting this situation.
September 2017 - Old Customer Returns
From some 20 years ago, a customer came back to me asking for help on one of his eBay purchases. When it arrived he took the tremolo off only to find that it had some nasty splits from the tremolo posts. It was clear that this damage had been known about and two of the chips of wood that had broken off had been glued back together in a very poor fashion. The lacquer was breaking up around the tremolo posts and the customer wanted a functioning guitar. When manufacturers choose wood for a guitar they may not know the density of the wood until it is machined. This guitar was very fibrous and the wood very soft. With the leverage from the tremolo the post had pulled through the wood on the top chipping away some of the wood. It didn't help that the area between the cavity and machining for the bridge pickup was so close.
The question was whether to chop out a section of wood or do a more local repair. Chopping out a big section of wood still leaves a very small area to secure to the main body of the guitar. As this was not a problem, I decided on a more local repair. By turning some hard maple wood and then drilling it out I created a sleeve that could be glued in place and would resist the leverage from the posts. You can see from the pictures below that some of the splits from the original repair were dealt with by inserting these slivers of wood. Eventually the whole area was cleaned up. The hollow dowels were drilled out to the correct size for the inserts which were then fitted. Matching the lacquer was a complete nightmare due to the fact that various areas of the guitar
August 2017 - Don't Reuse Bass Strings!
A bass guitar was brought in by a customer who wanted a setup. On checking the guitar over, there wasn't one thing correct with the geometry and then I noticed that the strings were badly kinked. You can see what I saw and I knew the reason why before I asked the customer. The customer owns several basses and decided that he wanted to try this bass out by using a set of old strings off another bass. Unfortunately the customer chose old ones off one that has through-the-body stringing. By using those strings on a precision bass, the kink caused by rapping over the bridge now found its way about an inch and a half further along the string. This wasn't a good idea and shouldn't be done the opposite way round either - i.e. top strung swapped to through-the-body restringing.
One of the problems I often find with through-the-body restringing is finding what the 'working length' of the string is. To clarify this, it is 'pure string' from the nut to the saddle. It's bad enough when string manufacturers put too much rap on the ball-end of a string but when restringing through the body there is always the chance that the working string length may be too short. This could mean that once the string has been fitted and brought up to tension the diminishing wraps of the string at the head stock end find their way into the nut slot and being of a smaller diameter it rattles around. It will also cause the string to buzz on the first fret.
July 2017 - Acoustic String Earth?
There are times when hum is present on an acoustic guitar when fitted with a transducer. Very often the customer notices that when he touches the jack socket, the hum reduces. With guitars designed with string pegs, the answer is to fit a string earth. In the picture below you can see a guitar that was brought in with this very problem - of hum that reduced when touching the jack socket. By touching the strings fitted with a string earth you become part of the circuit and reduce the mains hum. This is a good time to mention that any guitarist using an amplifier should have a residual circuit breaker between the amplifier and the mains just in case you plug into a venue or residence that has the wiring reversed. Should you encounter this problem without a circuit breaker you stand a good chance of getting electrocuted. In the picture below is a simple string earth that has been fitted below the bridge plate. The wire soldered to this copperplate is then soldered to the earth of the jack socket. As you can't play the guitar without touching the strings, the hum reduces as soon as you start to play. It was interesting when I went round the Taylor factory to see that this method is used on some of their guitars. Taylor don't trust players to buy and use a circuit breaker and so they safeguard themselves by fitting a fuse in line with the string earth wire. Should the player encounter a badly wired venue, the fuse will blow and the player may experience a small shock but at least the connection to a live wire will be broken.
The strings are connected to the earth plate by friction, held in place by the string peg. As the string is tightened so the string pulls against the copper plate and a good connection is made.
June 2017 - Autographed Guitar
An old customer from about 25 years ago contacted me because he had bought a raffle ticket at a charity event in Birmingham and won a guitar. Apparently there were many well-known guitarists that signed the back of this guitar as part of the appeal for fund raising. I will leave you to guess who the signatures are from.
The customer asked if I could put some lacquer over the felt tip pen autographs? The problem presented to me was one of physics as most people will know that painting or lacquering a shiny surface will cause the lacquer to peel off. Whilst the organisers had good intentions, it would have been better to have the lightly sanded the surface with 600 grit paper in one direction -- no they did not sign the guitar!
De-nibbing the surface prior to autographing makes it easier to sign but also simple to add a lack of protection once the signatures have been applied.
Rather than turn this customer down flat, I agreed and sat down for a couple of hours sanding the surface in between the signatures in order to allow the lacquer to grip. Here below you will see the finished product but there is always a chance of delamination on top of the signature area itself. At least my customer was happy with the result.
May 2017 - Fake Tele News for someone!
Last month I dealt with what I believe to be a factory second. It's one thing knowing the origin of the guitar but how about counterfeiting? A customer said he had a USA Telecaster and would I do it set up on it? I am not snobbish on what I setup and have been known to make a squier knock the socks off a USA Stratocaster after it has been set up. I have been told that some Tokai guitars have been re-badged and tweaked in order to look like USA Fenders - although personally I have not seen one. I duly set up the Telecaster and it play very well but it niggled me that the customer believed it to be a USA Telecaster when it was clearly not. Irrespective of its pedigree my motto is to achieve each setup better than the last, so I achieved a result. It took me quite some time to track down the original surrogate. Those people who are more knowledgeable than I am will know instantly that the USA manufactured telecasters are not made like this one, nor are they fitted with foreign hardware.
Looking at the serial number on the back of the headstock showed two different fonts. Neither were in the USA Fender style, nor was its position on the head stock correct. I had wondered whether part of the serial number had been removed deliberately. I concluded it was coincidence as there were too many errors for it to be a USA made guitar. I will let you be the judge of this from the photographs below.
I queried the origination of the guitar with the customer who told me that it had been genuinely sold to him as a USA Fender by his local music shop. So the moral of this story is that the music shop was equally deceived or they chose to deceive my customer by selling it on. Regardless of this, the guitar plays really well.
April 2017 - Moving a Les Paul Bridge
In the past few months I have commented on mistakes made by guitar manufacturers. Here is one guitar which lacked the adjustment/travel of the saddle due to the bridge being fitted in the wrong place. As I do not know the technique that Gibson use for fitting the bridge I can only conjecture two reasons why. The first is on the assumption that the bridge pins were drilled and fitted before the neck was attached to the body. Fitting the neck further into the body, then requires the bridge to be fitted further away from the neck. In this situation a modification is needed to correct the intonation. My second assumption comes down to either worn jigging on the production line or poor measurements - either way no excuse.
I have noticed recently that when customers have brought in guitars where the action is too low for practical use (less than 1/64th @ 12th fret), the intonation has been incorrect. This needs a little explanation as the customers have adjusted the intonation themselves. I have checked this intonation and it appears to be initially correct. However, when the guitar has been properly set up, the intonation is wildly out. Yes, a higher action will require the saddles to be moved further backwards but I now realise that when the string is set too low, it can clip other frets and produce a false intonation. This just goes to show that I learn something new every single week!
The method I used to resolve the Les Paul bridge can be seen in the pictures below. By using additional thumbwheels, a post is attached to the thumbwheel by drilling and tapping and threading in an additional shaft/post. A new thumbwheel is then fitted in order to adjust the action height - but further back or forwards as required. By rectifying the post position in this way, there is no plugging the original hole and drilling another hole in the top. Therefore the top is unblemished and for those anoraks that require the guitar to be in the original 'cocked up' condition, it can easily be retrofitted.
As Gibson fit 10 to 46 gauge strings in the factory the least you would expect is a little bit of additional movement in the saddles to cater for a slightly heavier gauge string. The only reason for making a modification like this is because of setting the intonation with a 10 to 46 gauge set of strings and having no adjustment.
March 2017 - Yamaha SG
Last month I explained that guitar makers make mistakes. Here we have a few on a Yamaha SG which the owner specifically went looking for after he played one that was set up by me. When the guitar came to me it was obvious that there was something wrong with the geometry. There was an upturn at the end of the fret board and the bridge had been lowered down to a point where there were no further adjustments possible and yet the guitar had a high action.The upturn at the end of the fret board was dealt with by removing the frets, lowering the fingerboard and then re-fretting, using the original frets. The bridge height adjustment was much more difficult to resolve. For those people not familiar with this guitar, the main feature of the Yamaha SG is the glued in the neck. So in order to make this guitar work, I found myself again treating the symptoms and not the cause. It would be nigh on impossible to remove the neck from the body and so modifying the bridge seemed the only option. As you will see from the pictures there was enough meat on the one side of the bridge to mill away material including the area where the thumbwheel rotates in order to lower the action. It would not have been possible to cut a deeper V in the saddles just to lower the action so this was not an option. It is only if you look closer that you will see the modification I made and now the guitar plays very well with a low action.
It is my belief that this guitar was a 'factory second' from Yamaha. It is the only explanation as Yamaha are known for their quality and I drew the assumption that this guitar was most likely only sold within Japan. How it got to the UK is another matter but there were other tell-tale signs of it being a second. In places the lacquer had a 'blooming effect' (moisture in the lacquer as it dries) apparent on various parts of the guitar. That issue would have required a sand and respray but with the neck angle and upturned fretboard would have sealed its fate as a reject.
February 2017 - Extra Long Strat Saddle Slots
There is a lot of trust in guitar makers/manufacturers getting the geometry of a guitar correct. You would think that a guitar maker (luthier) making one guitar at a time would create the perfect geometry. Recently, I have witnessed 2 UK guitar makers having fitting an acoustic neck to body at the wrong angle!
In the pictures below you will see a production line Stratocaster where there is an error in routing the neck or placement of the tremolo unit. This has caused the saddles to be positioned further back than they should be in order to get correct intonation.
You can see from the picture, as the saddle moves further back, its snags on the back of the slot. In addition to which the screw altering the intonation almost acts as a clamp against the back of the saddle! As a rectification measure the saddle slot is increased -- elongated -- and the intonation screw is shortened together with the spring. This is one of the few occasions when I treat the symptoms and not the cause. It would become rather messy to plug and re-drill the tremolo holes so I advocated the easier option. If the tremolo is moved further backwards it could open a can of worms whereby the tremolo block has restricted movement and that would mean machining more wood behind the tremolo. I once read that Stevie Ray Vaughan modified his Strats by elongating and the slots on all his tremolos. Piecing together the information about him, he used heavy gauge strings which in turn required the saddles to be moved further back and therefore longer saddles slots would be a bonus.
January 2017 - A hard Heritage to start the year!
A customer asked me to set up a Heritage archtop. After being on my infamous 'waiting list' for a while I called him in and it was evident from one look at the guitar it was a complete dog with a ridiculously high action on the treble side. The second thing I noticed was lots of damage to the lacquer around the base of the bridge area. There was too much relief in the neck so I wanted to find out the real shape of the neck by straightening it. To my surprise I found it was impossible to put the normal hexagonal adjuster on the truss rod nut! I could only deduce that neither the previous shop that tried to set up the guitar nor the factory had ever used the truss rod to adjust the nut. So out came my trusty curved chisel to remove just enough wood for me to put the 'Gibson' wrench onto the nut and tighten it. Well what a shock, I found that the nut was actually loose so concluded that the truss rod has never ever been tightened.
Taking a closer look at the bridge, it was clear that the thumbwheel adjuster on the treble side had no adjustment left and was completely on the deck. I was looking at an action of 6/64th at the 12th fret when I wanted just a third of that. To add insult to injury I also found that the nut slots had been cut too low so the true action was actually much higher than I had recorded.
Sometimes with archtops the action lowers as the saddle/bridge assembly is moved further away from the neck due to the curve in the body's archtop but we have to be mindful of correct intonation. With this guitar, the bridge had been put in the wrong place and too far away from the neck and the intonation was 50% flat. So by moving the bridge to the correct position near the neck the action raised itself again!
The actual fault in manufacturing was due to the neck being fitted at a sideways twisted angle so that the treble side was much lower than the bass side. It is clear to me that the heel of the neck couldn't have been perpendicular to the centre line. The only plus side was it looked correct as the neck met the body.
With a complete overhaul of the guitar, a new nut fitted, the frets dress and loaded with strings I could then see the magnitude of the problem. By just using the bridge that came with the guitar it was clear that I would have my work cut out. Before messing around with the geometry neck angle it was clear that I had to repair the lacquer from the last shop's setup. You will see from the pictures the shop had ground away at the base of the bridge where it meets the lacquer in an attempt to lower the action. Then they screwed in the bridge posts in and lowered the bridge. What they had not thought through was that the bridge posts would now go all the way through the bottom of the base plate and jack-up the base plate as the end of the post dug into the lacquer - zero result apart from damaging the lacquer!
After repairing the lacquer, my first job was to reduce anything that would lower the action on the treble side. Ironically, to repair the base of the bridge I now had to increase its height by gluing on thin slivers of rosewood to protect the lacquer. Now I could carve and shape the base to match the arch top. The posts were reduced in length so that they would not push out of the bottom of the base plate.
The next job was to remove the flange on the top of the base plate which would give me an extra millimetre or so to lower the bridge. After bedding the base plate to the arch top I was ready to load the strings and find out if I had achieved my the usual low action. Irritatingly, I still needed the bridge to be lowered further. Looking at the way the thumbwheel was manufactured I could see yet another area which I could reduce. The thumb wheel was put into the lathe and the lip machined down together with the pin height allowing me to gain even more reduction in height.
So to recap:
* Rosewood added to the base of bridge - increases height = raised action.
* New nut - slot heights increase action.
* Increase action by adding lacquer where worn away.
* Reduced action by straightening the neck.
* Thumb wheel posts reduced at the bottom
* Flange on bridge base removed = action reduced.
* Thumb wheel step removed and pin height reduced action.
Finally I achieved my low action on the treble side.
From the last picture looking up the neck you can see how ridiculously the neck is tilted to one side. The only problem that I could not solve short of a complete refret was that the 5th and 6th strings were too high. It was clear that the fretboard radius did not mirror the bridge's saddle radius. As this Schaller Bridge has fixed roller saddles, the problem must be in the fingerboard/fretting. From the 1st to 4th it seems fine but then suddenly rises on the 5th and 6th, so there must be a roll-over along bass side of the fingerboard, consequently lowering the frets in that area. Another way of looking at it would be to say from 1st to 4th was at a 10" radius and the 5th & 6th area was at a probable 6" radius. Well the bass action is higher than I would have liked but was comparable to a Gibson action on the bass side. If I had not been restricted by the roller saddles I could have changed the radius by reduced saddle heights. Unfortunately there are no alternative low profile metal bridges available short of me making a solid rosewood piece - win some lose some.
December 2016 - "they could only say sorry"
It's rare for me to buy a new instrument but by making a guitar you understand what goes into it in the cost of the materials. So at my disposal I had some bass guitar parts but after looking at the price of the modified Fender Squier I realised it just wasn't worth the effort of making something similar. I had a few of these Chinese Squiers recently and found them to be very good so, as it was coming up to Christmas, I decided to treat myself. Please note that I paid the going rate online just like many of my customers - no special deals.
I ordered the bass from a large mail order company and sat back and waited for it to arrive. It arrived the following day and I was impressed to see the courier lumbering down the drive with a big box. As he got closer the alarm bells started to ring as I could hear the instrument rattling around like a pea in a pod but I duly signed for it and then opened the box.
After having set up Fender guitars from retail shops I am well aware of how they are delivered to the retailer - double boxed. This guitar had been taken out of its original Fender box, cloaked in some thin foam and then the big box was sealed. Looking over the bass, I found that something had impacted the back of the guitar, chipping the lacquer. Grrrrr! My next step was to complain to the mail order company that they have delivered a damaged guitar. I explained that the best form of transporting the instrument would be to have one cardboard box inside another with adequate packing - dare I tell them their job. The reply back was that they would replace the guitar and collect the original and "they could only say sorry and they were surprised as it doesn't normally happen".
So, some two days later the courier arrived with the guitar. I could see straight away how much lip service I had been given because the guitar was being carried down the drive by the courier in the original Fender box -- which was unopened. An immediate glance at the outside of the box showed that it looked like someone had emptied a Kalashnikov into it! - And the MO company are surprised? I refused to sign for it and opened the box while the courier waited and saw that my fears were founded with this guitar having also been damaged on the back and the sides. The guitar was returned 'unsigned for'. After an irate e-mail back to the company I got the same annoying "we can only say sorry" comment asking me if I wished for a replacement. This time the manager of their mail order department assured me that they would deliver the guitar as requested.
So third time lucky the guitar was delivered with the Fender box packaged inside another one. However, it was clear this is not standard practice as, to my surprise, I could see that to fit the bass guitar in its Fender box inside another, they had had to specially make a box by piecing two together! After unpacking the guitar, at last I found I had got one in one piece - hooray! The footnote on this subject just outlines the poor professionalism of one of the biggest mail order companies in the UK when I noticed that the delivery note had a special box for comments. Within this box the manager had written "the customer requests that the guitar is sent with one cardboard box inside another." So if you received a damaged instrument for Christmas it was almost certainly because of poor and careless packaging on behalf of the mail-order company.
Two days later I fancied buying a lap steel from a German mail-order company and, some 4 days later, the courier arrived with a large box. The irony of this story is that the lap steel is not much bigger than a computer keyboard and yet it arrived in a box bigger than the one used by the British mail order company to deliver my bass. Sure enough, the German company had not left anything to chance and was full of airbags -- almost struggling to find the lap steel nicely situated in the centre. Needless to say the lap steel arrived first time in perfect condition without any damage.
Although the British MO company had not charged for delivery, they had paid out for 3 deliveries and 2 return boxes, so 5 deliveries in all. On the basis of these deliveries costing at least £7 each way, that is at least £35 in all just because of not wrapping the product with due care and attention. In addition, they now have 2 damaged guitars to sell off cheaply. So it is a much a bigger loss to them than £35.
Just to show how narrow minded some mail-order companies can be, one company I knew would send a guitar out in the same box as the practice amp so that they didn't have to pay for two parcels and then wondered why the guitar had got rammed into the amplifier - well, I would leave that for the Who band to do.
November 2016 - A Nutters Job
So I get a phone call from a chap who says his mate needs a new nut putting in a Stratocaster. I said that it would be a couple of days to do that particular job but apparently he couldn't wait and his local music shop sent him to someone to do it for him while he waited.
At the end of the week the customer brought a guitar in for a setup along with his mate who had a rather sheepish look on his face. I was horrified at the work that had been done to the friend's guitar. After drilling down on how much it had cost him, the chap replied that it had cost him nothing! I could not get my head around the idea that somebody had ruined the guitar, done a really bad job but had enough guts not to charge for the damage done. And he did this all while the chap waited and looked on!
Into the bargain the strings were set really high and as you will see from the pictures, the nut was wedged in, not even sitting on the bottom of the slot. Apparently this chap who effected this repair is quite proud of the fact that he puts guitars together and sells them.
The pictures below will show you what it requires to take the nut out properly without damaging the fingerboard. I have had people tell me that "it's easy to change the nut in a Stratocaster -- all you need to do is to hammer it sideways and out it comes". Well sometimes this happens but more often than not it is glued in place and you are more likely to take a chunk of wood out of the side or the end section of the fingerboard will split off.
So, by splitting the nut near as dammit all the way down to the bottom, pliers can be used to squeeze the nut together and take it out without damaging the surrounding area. In this case, an off-the-shelf nut would have been too thin. A new one was fashioned from a thicker piece of Graph Tech nut blank. Once the slot had been cleared out and the bank was sitting on the base of the slot, the sides could be shortened so that they were flush to the sides. It is then only a matter of setting the correct string spacings and cutting them down to the correct height. This all takes time and is not a five-minute job. So the guy with a sheepish look has had his guitar restored with a lesson learnt. I didn't charge for repairing the fingerboard but so wish that he had gone back to the guy who did the damage and asked for compensation just to make him think twice about what he was doing.
October 2016 - John Birch Bass
One very troubled guitar came to me earlier this year. There was so much wrong with it I do not know where to begin. This guitar is the reason that many of my customers were put on a long waiting list. The guitar in question is a John Birch bass. It may not be any consolation to my waiting customers that the owner of the John Birch guitar had to wait about 18 months before I could even think about taking the problem on board. If I had the offer again, I would have refused it point blank. But as they say 'I've started, so I will finish it'.
The customer explained to me that the neck was badly bent and that he had broken the truss rod trying to straighten it. I think I would be rich if I had money for every time I have heard this from a bass player! On first inspection the truss rods seemed tight but there was no effect from it other than to loosen it. Which ever way you looked at it Robin Hood would have been proud of the curve in the neck. As the customer was about to depart my workshop, he casually pointed out that the electrics had never worked since someone had tried to re-wire them! More bad news.
The glue used to attach the fingerboard to the neck was malleable and I eventually removed it after initially negotiating location nails for the fingerboard. There was one hairy moment when detaching it over the body because the joint was closer to the surface on one side than the other. As the truss rod had not broken, I quite expected to take out the biasing fillet or box channel but on removing the fingerboard there was no sign of either! Now my problems got worse. I drew a line from the anchor points to the adjustment nuts, fitted a carbide cutter into the Dremel and went looking for the depth and position of the hidden truss rod. To my surprise the deflection of the rod was only 2 mm so it was no surprise that the truss rod fitting was nothing more than useless. I used a carbide cutter again to separate the anchor point and hammered the truss rod out of the guitar.
Now work could begin on fitting the truss rod properly, allowing more control over the neck. John Birch had thought himself clever in fitting the truss rod embedded sideways into the neck and then gluing the other side on before shaping and carving and fitting. There are so many things wrong with the design of this neck that I would sum it up as it should have:
* Not made it so thin,
* Been laminated for strength and to reduce dead spots,
* Had a controllable truss rod with good deflection
* Lastly, had the foresight to deal with the severe leverage of the very long neck when joining the body.
Just when I thought that I needed to fit a new truss rod, the neck stock was badly warped like an aeroplane propeller. So now I had to put the neck into a jig and, with moisture and heat over several days, twist the neck the other way in order to straighten it.
Then I could finally begin with fitting a new truss rod. Just so that I didn't get caught out, I made a double acting rod with approximately 6 mm worth of deflection, which is enough to keep any neck straight up to the point where it joins the body.
Normally fitting the fingerboard onto the neck would have been a straightforward situation except that the wood was very wet when the guitar was made and as it dried out the frets had pushed the binding off the fingerboard. In a previous life much of the binding had cracked and some of the frets had been badly mutilated. Whilst it's a long way around it was simpler to remove the frets and rebind the fingerboard and then put the frets in afterwards. Each side was made up of one black and one white strip of binding the position dots were duly placed. A new nut was made because the old one had to be cut out and you will notice that it has a Zero fret.
Irrespective of my preparation for removing the fingerboard by putting scorelines down the sides of the lacquer, sometimes the fingerboard separated in a different place and small chipping was inevitable. This meant that time had to be taken to blend in the original paint to the edge of the binding, together with lacquering the fingerboard ready to take the frets. New frets were fitted and even though I had taken into account my usual assessments for the leverage of the neck, I was later to be in for a complete surprise!
September 2016 - John Birch Bass
The re-fret on the John Birch Bass went well. I loaded the strings 2 semitones below concert pitch and adjusted the truss rod to see how it would settle over 24 hours. It also allowed me to look at the bridge only to find that this had been a botch in relation to the fitted neck. Basically the neck was glued in at the wrong angle. No way was I going to be able to rectify that. The bridge had been made to run in a double flange for height adjustment. This was in addition to saddle height. I found that I could not get the bridge low enough for the low action I wanted. So with this information together with a neck that was always badly bent, one can only conclude that it always had a very high action. My trusty Myford Super 7 lathe came into action and I machined off the lower flange so that the bridge could sit flush with the body. This presented another problem because the ball end of the string would not enter into the back of the bridge without jamming on the body. I found that gluing a thin piece of brass to the rear underneath was just enough to give clearance.
As you may have gathered John Birch is not one of my favourite guitar builders and while he had become famous for making powerful pickups and Slade guitars I personally believe he failed miserably at understanding some of the principles of guitar making. I remember a Les Paul guitar came in with a neck pick up so powerful it should have been used in a scrapyard. I found that the guitar would never stay in tune unless it was 25 mm away from the string! I set it 15 mm below the actual pickup ring! Only then would the intonation be correct (within reason) as you moved up the neck. In true form these pickups were also too powerful and out of balance.
Back to the Birch Bass - just when I thought I was close to finishing, I had those darn electrics to deal with. One helpful chap on the Internet had actually posted the circuit diagram for the guitar. Unfortunately, he had not put the value of the capacitors - probably didn't know them. On the assumption that the capacitors that I already had attached to the pots were the correct ones, I wired in accordance with the wiring diagram. It became clear that the wiring to the rotary switch was incorrect. When corrected, it had 3 settings which only worked when BOTH PU's were selected - it beggared belief that it gave;
1) out of phase
2) in phase
3) out of phase.
Having two 'out of phase' is completely pointless because the sound is exactly the same when you rotate the wiring as opposites. In order not to confuse the customer more than needed, I reset the rotary so that it was either in phase or out of phase -- job done!
Getting the sound for each pickup to have separate volume with a treble to bass passive sweep tone control proved impossible. After spending hours running in to days, I decided to use G & L's treble and bass passive filters for each of the two pots. Yes, he lost one volume control but now had individual treble and bass in its place. I did experiment with various capacitors to improve the bass but as the experts will tell you, you cannot add to a passive system - only take away. The only niggle with this stereo system was the requirement to use a Y lead (or stereo jack plug to mono ) which I had to make up specially.
Finally, I was able to bring the guitar up to full concert pitch and adjust the action accordingly. What transpired over the next few days was both a shock and a learning curve. I could maintain a dead straight neck with the truss rod - success. You may know that truss rods do not have any effect over the body area but I was shocked to find that the neck leverage had created a small upturn over the body. It had gone from fall-away to upturn within days. I had been well aware of how thin the wood was between the neck and the body top and also how thin the fingerboard was when cleaning up to refit. There was no room to adjust the wood so the only solution was to take the upper fret height down. This is not the correct way of doing things but reduces the problem.
The customer seemed very happy when he collected the guitar but it is one of the few guitars I was glad to see the back of. My reluctance to remake a badly made guitar may come across -- partly because the original guitar maker takes all the credit for something that was an abomination to start with. In this case, I was caught off guard and didn't really appreciate how bad the instrument was from day one. It was only when taking the guitar apart, I could wholly appreciate my predicament.
August 2016 - National Town & County 1958 part1
I think I will have to stop taking on big projects in the future - they take way too much time! The following guitar a '1958 National Town & Country by Valco USA' is an example but one that also has some unique history attached to it. As it turns out, one of my connections with a London guitar auction house had recommended a customer bring his guitar to me for renovation. Some years ago, I renovated the Peter Green guitar which was sold at auction and an associated previous owner of this guitar was Duster Bennett - a rising star of the 60s who sadly died before his time. So when his son brought me his guitar I was privileged to renovate it back to its former glory. Apparently one of Duster Bennett's band members had kept the guitar to hand on to his family.
The picture below shows more or less the state the guitar was in when it came to me. The neck was attached but was severely dented on the back and most of the frets were badly worn. The body had no scratch plate fitted and the electrics were presented in a separate bag, so way back in the 60s and 70s it was clear that customisation had taken place but on a relatively primitive basis. Someone had tried to fit an extra pickup in the centre and the original pickups had been monkeyed around with to the point that the housings had split open and were at the wrong height.
It was clear that there were several projects here all rolled into one:
Project 1: the neck needed renovating which meant doing a complete re-fret. This in itself was not an easy matter as there was no truss rod within the neck so it was difficult to predict what the final shape of the neck would be after applying the load from a set of strings tuned to pitch.
Project 2: rectifying the body was slightly simpler based on the fact that most of this work was underneath the scratch plate and would not be seen.
Project 3: rather tricky, dealing with the electrics and the pickups which required making a new scratch plate, new pickup housings and wiring it back together.
Project 4: rectification of the bridge and tail piece and setting up the guitar.
So the neck requires a little bit more explanation. This neck was described as the 'National Stylist Bolt-on-Neck'. At its main core is an aluminium fluted casting with a wooden fingerboard and a thick wooden outer veneer and onto this was spliced a wooden head stock. The heel section was aluminium and fitted to the body with a single bolt and two screws.
Remarkably, levelling the fingerboard and re-fretting it came out very well when loaded up with a new set of strings. There were obvious problems such as the binding being loose and it needing a new nut and the back of the neck was full of dings and was worn away, so a sympathetic filling of dents and a black lacquer coat gave the guitar a new lease of life. At some point, the metal fitted decal with the word 'National' on it had gone missing and Duster Bennett's son had managed to get one of a similar size to the original to replace it from a National Amp. The only problem was that the locating pins were in the wrong place but, with a bit of clever placement of the logo, new locating holes were drilled which covered the old ones and the decal was fitted.
July 2016 - National Town & County 1958 part 2
Repairing the body seems a simple repair job from the layman's point of view, because it cannot be seen once the scratch plate is fitted. The problem was with the unseen aspect, though - the pickup mountings required screws to be screwed into the top but the wood had been cut away underneath so they would have only been attached to the scratch plate and this is not the way in which the guitar was originally made. Fitting a block of wood to the area was a simple fix, allowing the pickups to be screwed down into the wood.
The more difficult job was recreating the original scratch plate design. The first modification was to use polycarbonate plastic as opposed to the original Perspex. The problem with the original was its fragile nature - any undue force on the jack socket or knobs causes the scratch plate to crack or split in two. In fact, I made a template of the original by gluing back together the original pieces.
The problem I was faced with was the clever way in which the plastic had been routed on the inside underneath the scratch plate by about 1 mm to cause a line effect. So a clear piece of polycarbonate was first machined down to shape and 2 attempts made at the recessed decorative line before admitting defeat. I then made a template of the scratch plate and recessed this, which allowed me to rectify any mistakes before actually cutting. With a template now finished, I was able to machine a new one out all in one go, including the rebate line. Without taking it off the template I now sprayed the whole of the underneath black. When the paint dried it was then put back onto the routing machine and the rebate line was re-cut, cleaning out the black paint. Then the rebate line was sprayed with silver so that when the new scratch plate was taken off the template a silver line was visible on the black scratch plate. Job done - well almost! Masking tape was then applied to the face of the scratch plate to prevent it being scratched and also as an aid to refitting the pickups.
June 2016 - National Town & County 1958 part 3
The Town & Country pickups that were presented to me were in bits, held together with tape. It was obvious looking at them that there was a design flaw - when someone tightened the side screws to hold the pickup in situ too tight, they split. It was a simple design but not tested - either that or the plastic became brittle with age. At the point of the screw it would actually cut the pickup in two especially when both sides had applied pressure. The pickup height was pre-set very much like the Rickenbacker with no possible adjustment, which caused the neck pickup to be louder.
I took the opportunity of increasing the height of the pickup by adding a few millimetres of wood, glued to the original to make the mould template for creating a new casting.
Having never moulded plastic components before, it was something of a trial and error process. I made several components which turned out ok but the colour was not quite right. I eventually managed to achieve the right colour before the mould started to show signs of wear!
On account of this being a poured mould, there were some elements of flashing or webbing. This was easier to deal with rather than having holes in the casting, which I luckily avoided.
When I put these pickups together it was a delicate operation. Many plastics today have a certain amount of give in them but there was limited flexibility in the resin that I use so I made sure that I didn't fall into the trap (like others before) of using too much pressure from over tightening screws. I tried to incorporate a 'closed base' but soon found that this was impossible when trying to adjust the pickup pole pieces. You will see from the pictures that I was forced to modify them with a milled slot to allow for these adjustment screws to be lowered.
And finally to explain the row of knobs - well, they are tone and volume for each separate position of Neck PU only, Both PU's and Bridge PU. Pickups selected by a rotary switch. The rotary knob had also been damaged by the locking screw and torque applied in selection because they had not thought to use a metal insert. With some of the resin that was left over from casting the new pickups, I made another knob using the original to create a mould and I fitted a brass centre. This did not have such fine detail as the original but was very passable if you weren't told about it. My fallback position was to just use one of the cream chicken head amplifier knobs. I added my own touch by painting a small dot black dot to show what had been selected. This will be shown in the final photos.
May 2016 - National Town & County 1958 part 4
Like so many guitars made in the 60s, there was a bit of a slapdash attitude when it came to assembly. Not much has been said about the neck to body joint. Whilst it was a fairly simple affair it did require a small amount of shimming in order to get the right neck rake angle. In fact I got it wrong the first time, trying to match the strings/action with the bridge that I was given. This led to me cutting away at the scratch plate in order to accommodate the shallower angle. I then realised that if the neck was correctly fitted in relation to the scratch plate, it should be correct at the bridge. So, the realisation that the bridge was not original -- or at least part of it was not original. It was clear that in order for the bridge to work correctly it needed to be set higher. So, I had to make a new scratch plate and start again - Grrrrr! In trying to maintain an original theme I added a section of Rosewood to the base and reshaped it and then everything started to fall into place. The first thing I had to do after getting the neck correctly fitted to the body was to make sure that the trapeze tailpiece was fitted securely. From the pictures you will see that it had been butchered and so drilling and fitting dowels was the only answer. Because the tailpiece had been fitted incorrectly the original saddles had been hacked about with at least two notches to each string. Replacements saddles were the simple answer.
It was a pleasure to complete the setup and fire it up! The first impression with this guitar is that there are a tremendous number of knobs. The separate volume and tone of each of the three settings makes complete sense and it does allow the player to choose appropriate tones for each pickup combination and then just rotate the rotary switch between settings. All in all, the guitar is a snapshot from the past and whilst it has a certain crude nature, the guitar was a pleasure to play. I am certain that the originals never played as well as this one -- but of course I would say that!
Apologies for some of the photos as a setting on the camera was knocked and therefore the pictures were not so clear as they usually are.
The feedback from the customer was ..
I have now had a few days to reacquaint myself with the National Town and Country that you undertook extensive repair works on. Last weekend I put off lots of jobs that I should have been doing and spent plenty of time playing it. In a word, it's fantastic! It's so much more playable than ever before, I don't doubt it is better than when it left the factory in the 50's.
The guitar sounds great and has plenty about it when pushed a bit! The prefect package - very playable but with undoubted vintage mojo.
April 2016 - The Pressure is on Fretting !
Recently I have had a spate of customers bring me guitars which they say "keep going out of tune".
Sometimes the problem is simply that they don't put enough turns on the machine head capstan (3 or more is best) - I use a 'string lock method' as shown on my
Standard Guitar Restring.PDF
The second most common cause is that the strings have not been 'pre-tensioned'. Imagine what would be the situation if you were playing a gig and you bent the string in a 'middle-eight' and it went south by 1 semitone? Anything else you play is badly out of tune so the answer is to bed the strings in as soon as you put them on so it doesn't happen. This pre-tensioning is covered in the 'words' for the
Standard Guitar Restring.PDF
. Stretching them too much will destroy the string so it needs to be a calculated stretching/tensioning.
The third and most prolific reason for tuning issues is people press down too hard on the frets when they are playing. A good guitar teacher from day one should be instructing on the amount of finger pressure needed to voice the fretted note. A friend of mine who was having guitar lessons saw a video on YouTube when it was explained that "you press down as hard as you can" WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! This problem only came to light when his guitar teacher tried to alter the intonation to suit his massive finger pressure. So why didn't the teacher notice the error in his execution of a chord? Why make guitar playing harder than it needs to be?
Recently, I had a customer with an ES335. In his case he had fitted it with Gibson Brite Wire strings. These strings are, in my opinion, one of the worst strings out there as they don't intonate properly and the stability is poor, either that or the ones I have been given are poor fakes, but it seems a coincidence they don't conform like other reputable strings. After all, the odd thing is, I see comments suggesting that these strings are what Gibson fit as standard on all their production guitars and haven't had a problem with those. If that's the case, the strings customers have provided me with are definitely fakes! Nonetheless, even with these strings on, I found the tuning was reasonable to good and stable even if the intonation was wrong.
The other thing that this customer had done was fit the strings in a 'wrap-over' way like Joe Bonamassa - however he had not elongated the string wrap by feeding it onto a spare ball end. This stops the nasty kink as it comes out of the tail piece giving it a smoother wrap over.
So I tuned the ES335 guitar to pitch and give it to him to play. I have not worked on the guitar at this point. It's important to see how the customer plays a cord - but wait - after a couple of chords he then retuned the guitar! .............. obviously he's not happy with perfect tuning done 15 seconds ago................after being satisfied all is ok, he plays a few chords and then gives me the guitar back. I am perplexed with this re-tune, so I immediately re-check it on the tuner. What I found was that he had re-tuned most of the strings 20% flat in order to deal with pressing down too hard on the fretted strings. He had used that 'Bert Weedon's Play in a Day' method of using the fretted 5th (and 4th) against the open string. So here you see that if the fretted string is pressed too hard and taken as good, the end result is a poorly tuned and poor sounding guitar!
The nut slots are a point that can pinch a string but this is easily checked by pressing down behind the nut and seeing if the pitch of the string on the tuner comes back to the same note. If it goes high it is snagging in the nut slot. Sometimes this will happen on the bridge too but is less easy to determine. I now use a PTFE lubrication in the nut slots to reduce friction. It's a lot cleaner than pencil lead and works better.
One comment on old strings - the intonation will become flattened in pitch, especially on the plain strings. Strings can deteriorate more quickly than normal due to any combination of hard strumming, vibrato, bending and the alkali-salts/electrolytic effect from perspiration off the hands. Each person has a different rate of perspiration - some players lose such large amounts of sweat through their hands that the tone and brilliance of the strings can be lost in one night's playing! Don't chase the intonation with adjustment, change the strings.
Finally to demonstrate the problem of pressure, I tune up and show the customer the fretted 1st fret on the bass 6th E string. My finger pressure gives a 8% to 10% sharp reading even on these suspect Gibson strings, which is about normal. I then carry on pressing down all the way to the fingerboard (wood) and the needle rises to an almost perfect F# on fretted F !!! - well, does that demonstrate the problem? I haven't said the reason for this.
Generally most frets are guitar 1mm or 0.9mm high. If 1mm is taken as 100% and we measure the 335 Gibson fret height, it comes out as 1.43mm - that is some 43% higher than standard. Now let us be clear on this, Gibson use two sizes of fret wire as do Fender.
a) a normal 1mm approx and
b) a tall fret wire 1.40mm to 1.50mm high
so doing this test on a 1mm dressed fret could be 0.9mm or 0.8mm high and is not going to give such poor tuning when pressed down too hard. The tall - depending on how much is dressed off the top to level - it will cause problems because the string is being stretched more with more finger pressure.
So the customer says he has a Rickenbacker and a Strat and he doesn't have a problem with theses guitars. Sure! That's because the Ricky has 1mm fret wire which is then blathered in lacquer thus reducing the effective fret height to 0.8mm or less. The same would go for a lacquered Strat (unless it has tall fret wire).
So in conclusion, the massive amount of wear to the frets and fingerboard only keeps people like me in a job! I would prefer to hear a customer play chords that sound good - after all I am taking my pension now and taking the odd day off to go fishing!
March 2016 - A Broken Stick Bass
A customer brought me an instrument called a 'stick bass'. It is nothing short of a double bass without a body and it delivers its sound through a transducer. In fact it is closer to a plank of wood similar to the original Les Paul prototype.
The customer explained that he had other people replace the machine heads because they kept breaking! WHY?
It didn't take me more than a couple of seconds to realise that the person who had built the bass had blatantly disregarded physics and geometry. He must have thought that he could fit the machine heads any way he liked OR he cocked-up drilling the holes in the head-stock and making the tuner/buttons too close to the top. Either way, fitting the machine heads in this way allowed them to self-destruct.
Regardless of the design faults (positioning of the holes), I ordered some new machine heads, refinished the damaged front face and fitted them in the correct manner. From the pictures below you will see that the leverage caused by a string should force the cog fixed below the shaft into the worm drive allowing tuning to take place. This can be seen clearly on a Fender precision bass open type machine head I have used to illustrate.
If it is done the opposite way round, the cog pulls out of the worm drive, damaging the tips of the cog and the result is a mash of metal. For this reason it is always important to fit the correct machine heads -- for example left-handed machine heads on a Stratocaster will not go on a right-handed version.
February 2016 - Alex Lifeson - Rush Guitar
I often get customers give me projects - for instance where they have thought about a design and bought the body and the neck, together with various hardware and then asked me to put the whole thing together such as this Alex Lifeson - Rush Guitar.
The customer found a suitable Stratocaster with Floyd Rose fitted. Some of these do not have the proper full cut out, so the tremolo sits on top of the body with no back-pull, so it required the proper full routing. Because this Alex Lifeson guitar had a special pickup - Bill Lawrence model - and different controls layout, the whole scratchplate had to be made from scratch -- pun intended. This required making a template so that I could cut out the odd-shaped humbucker and single coil pickups in one go. You will notice that there is no five-way sliding switch but it has been replaced by a three-way toggle similar to a Gibson Firebird. You can see from the pictures that the controls had to be re-routed. With a complete set up, the customer got what he wanted - although there was one awkward moment when I found that the Bill Lawrence pickup he supplied had a damaged adjuster tag so it would not height adjust. A little bit of repair work where it wouldn't be seen allowed this to be as good as new from the outside. When the customer came to collect the guitar he said that he had saved himself a lot of money doing it this way and yes, he could have bought one handmade but it would cost a fortune. He added that, even if he had bought the custom-made one, he would still have brought it to me for a professional setup.
January 2016 - Not so Simple -- Mandolin
A customer asked me to fit a transducer to his newly acquired mandolin. I said yes on the assumption that he knew that it would be feasible. He duly presented me with his mandolin and a Headway transducer. I realise that it wasn't going to be an easy job because I couldn't get my hand inside. I remembered that I had this problem before and used a pull-wire to get the transducer in place. So I said yes I would do it and then put it on one side.
When I came to do the job I realised that the thickness of the body, together with the style of tailpiece, didn't allow me to fit the preamps/jack socket in the normal place. The preamps/jack socket also acts as a strap button, similar to some people who have them on acoustic guitars. These have to be fitted through the end block but in a mandolin that is a small area.
Determined not to be beaten, I decided to cut a hole in the tailpiece to the same diameter as the preamps/jack socket. If I had chosen to drill it out, it would have turned out ugly and I might have even lost a finger or two. I took the tailpiece off and decided that I would cut a circular hole using a carbide cutter. Eventually I was able to get a perfectly deburred, half inch hole which left me with refitting the tailpiece and drilling a half inch hole in the wood in line with it. During the process, I had to make a couple of corrections due to the original strap button hole off centre, which tried to send me off course.
Next time I take on one of these jobs I will factor in the extra work in order to achieve the end result. I'm not sure the customer realised how problematic fitting this transducer was. Still, it looks as if it grew there or the tailpiece was bought already modified!
December 2015 - Slip Siding Away - Floyd Rose.
One of the problems that can catch out even the most experienced technician is something moving when it shouldn't. From the pictures below you will see a Floyd Rose tremolo that had been carefully set in the final stages of setup when it was found that the guitar would not stay in tune! Observation was the key to resolving the problem together with continual measuring. I noticed that on using the tremolo with severe back-pull, the guitar would go out of tune even though I knew full well that the strings were bedded in. I have written before about how to pre-tension strings. On checking the string height I notice the action had increased!
Looking over the tremolo, there was no 'V' in the posts as it was a different design. However, I noticed that the ferrule or sleeve fitted into the body was actually sliding up and down! I pushed on the tremolo, which confirmed that the ferrule was now moving into the guitar body along with the trem.
There are a couple of reasons why this can occur: the first is when the hole drilled is too large for the ferrule. The second is when using a wood with a soft/opening grain which, despite having the correct hole drilled, gives away under the string tension. Whichever the reason, it was easy to resolve by gluing the ferrule in place.
There have been occasions when this problem has occurred due to the bridge pickup cavity being too close to the tremolo posts. One of the tell-tale signs is a crack running from the posts, through the wood and underneath the scratch plate. It has been known to lift the scratch plate and find that the wood underneath has actually broken away. It was annoying to have to take everything apart in order to resolve the problem when almost finished but it didn't get the better of me.
November 2015 - Do I do acoustic guitars?
This was a strange month for enquiries which started by someone asking me if I did set-ups on acoustic guitars? For some reason my website had left him with the impression that I only did electric guitars. Whilst there are many types of electric guitar and mechanical problems attached to them that require resolving, most acoustics will set up without a problem - and if not I can tell and reject them out of hand. Rejecting the guitar is simply a case of saying that I cannot achieve my standard of the setup so will not do 'a half-job'. So, for a change, I am now showing you one of those acoustics that did actually caused me a lot of trouble.
I had a telephone call from a customer in Mid-Wales who explained that he had taken his guitars to 4 or 5 different people for set up but each time he got them back from the technician or shop which had worked on them, he felt that they were no better than before they started.
I have explained in the past that I wrote a PDF on checking steel stringed acoustic guitar geometry for the sole purpose of helping people make sure they purchase a good acoustic instrument. This customer had already spent money on new guitars and then having them setup without satisfaction. Following our initial telephone conversation, this customer brought several of his guitars to me for setup over a number of weeks.
One of them I did have to reject. The customer explained that this was an expensive guitar made in the USA by someone who was apprenticed to a luthier equally well thought of. Unfortunately, nearly everything about the guitar was wrong. It had been made without a truss rod -- only a box section; the neck had clearly been put into the body at the wrong angle because the bridge plate had been machined down wafer thin (3mm) and it still sported a high action! To compensate, the nut slots had been cut down far too low. In short, I had to give the customer the bad news that he would be better off selling the guitar in order to recoup some money as I wouldn't hear of him spending another penny on it. Reluctantly, he went away with the guitar.
The following week he returned with another guitar called a Naga. These are apparently made in China but they do look very well handcrafted. Again, unfortunately this guitar had also had the neck fitted at the wrong angle which left it with a high action. However, unlike the USA guitar he had brought me the previous week, this one was fitted with a real working truss rod! The customer pleaded with me to do something to make it playable. I said I would think about it.
What faced me was a bridge saddle that was just peeking over the wooden bridge plate. The action on the treble side was over 6/64th which is nearly 2.5 mm - at the 12th fret. With this calculation, in order to bring it down by half that amount (3/64) meant that the saddle would actually have to be lowered by double that amount! (3/32)=2.5mm). There was no way that the saddle/string could be lowered more than 1 mm before touching the wooden bridge plate let alone 2.5 mm. After thinking about the problem for a few days, it became apparent that the fingerboard tapered badly towards the body, which I can only think was a cock up in production. However, this did allow me a way of resolving the neck to body angle without taking the neck out of the guitar. Secondly, by taking the frets out from 1 to 12 the fret board, it could be lowered - especially near the nut - and I could alter the neck to body angle.
I put this plan into operation and removed the frets and nut, reduced the thickness at the nut area and first and second fret and then levelled the fingerboard. By using two pieces of fret wire placed at the 1st and 12th fret I could see the neck angle change. When I decided enough was enough I then refitted the original frets. You will see from the pictures the shocking amount of wood I had to take away in order to achieve the correct angle.
NOTE: I am pressing the strings down on the 3rd fret to illustrate the original height but doing this on a set-up guitar, the strings would be close to the fret. Remarkably, the guitar fingerboard looks quite normal so you can imagine how much of a wedge-taper there was before I started work!
Also from the pictures you will see that the saddle looks as if it has not changed in height. In fact a new saddle had to be fitted because the old one was too low on the bass side. I was sure he would be delighted that I had saved his guitar and been able to do a good job on it rather than rejected it like the last one.
The customer emailed me after collecting the guitar ..Hi Peter, thank you for the fab work you have done on the Naga. It is awesome. It always sounded good, but now it plays like a dream. All the best. Robbie R.
My only fear is that he will now think I am a magician and will bring me further problem guitars to fix!
October 2015 - String? What are you getting?
I have been oblivious to counterfeit, fake or copies of guitar strings within the guitar industry until now - I never even knew it was a problem! I have had occasions when I have just ordered from a wholesaler and then got a request for strings to be fitted which I wouldn't normally stock or of which I am out of stock and so I have to do a 'one-off' order. The minimum order for my bulk-buying of strings is usually about £100 so it would be pointless putting in an order for one packet strings because I wouldn't get them sent to me.
My next option is usually to go with one of the big online stores and pay the same price as everyone else but I also found that sometimes a high-street store may sell strings on eBay. Usually I am pretty savvy on the correct place to order but I have to confess that I screwed up in a big way recently.
I don't know whether it was because I was tired and ordering late at night but I had ordered strings before from one high-street store which sells on eBay and not had a problem. However, this time I ordered some Elixir Nano Web strings which I had been requested to put on an acoustic when it was set up.
When the strings came they had no paperwork and were a very slow delivery. The packaging and internal sleeves the strings came in all looked correct and, as the nano-web coating was thinner (as expected). I naturally assumed that the strings were correct. I was somewhat concerned about the deep red colour of the strings but though that this was just a new version of the Elixir as I hadn't used these string for some time. You can see the comparison of the colour in the photo of the returned strings. I now guess they had no coating on.
The customer was happy with the setup and he didn't say anything about the strings but when he got home he emailed me to say that he wasn't happy with the strings as they didn't sound right. He obviously knew the sound of guitar better than me. He changed the strings himself and said everything was then fine. Obviously, I have to make recompense for this error but it does bring into question what we are buying when it comes to strings off the Internet.
On a few occasions recently I have been given Ernie Ball packets in a clear sealed bundle without the proper luminous outer packaging.
After speaking to Ernie Ball, they tell me that they are called their Element Shield packing, so plain cling-film type heat shrink wrap is obviously fake.
The first time I saw these, I commented that these were not Ernie Ball but the customer said yes they are. He did further explain that he thought there was something strange when he didn't receive them in the normal packaging as outlined on the advert on eBay - i.e. Element Shield Packing.
After contacting Elixir and doing a little bit of digging on the Internet it appears that counterfeiting is a massive problem and the main culprits are the Chinese/Asian countries. It appears that many of the high street familiar brands are now being copied including D'Addario which come in a sealed bag with coloured ball ends. They are even copying the reference stamps on these plastic bags.
A further worrying aspect of fake strings is a report about poisonous chromium contaminates coming from the strings as a result of backstreet manufacturing. Naturally, the people faking the strings don't care about their end users' health! They are not going to worry about metal toxicity leaching from the string through your skin or the possibility of you ingesting it if you should put your fingers in or near your mouth. On the other hand, strings made in the USA and UK are subject to stringent environmental and health regulations.
The problem is that people are accepting fake strings just because they look like they are the genuine article and they get them for a cheaper price. In my case I went back to drill down on where I actually got the strings from, only to find that I can do nothing about it. The person is not selling strings for me to report on them and so I cannot report it to eBay. From what I see about eBay they are not interested in putting up a platform to deal with this. If they did there would be an easy way to report the situation so that they could take action and the customer could have some redress. I have reported it to Trading Standards, Elixir and Paypal.
It goes without saying that if a set of strings is wholesaling at £3.50 or £4 it's not going to be sold at that price to the general public unless it's fake.
40 years ago in business studies, the point was made that you could tell the price leaving the wholesaler or manufacturer/wholesaler by reducing the 'resale/retail' price by 25% or 30%, so if a Recommended Retail Price of set of EB strings is £7.25 we can do the sums:
25% is £1.81 off the price of £7.25 which brings the cost down to £5.44
If we take 33%, the cost is £2.39 off the price of £7.25 giving £4.86.
So a quick look on the internet at 'real' shop prices of £4.99 shows a good saving on real Ernie Ball strings and probably a loss leader.
If we go to eBay and see strings for £4.99 or £4.85 PLUS free post now brings the price down to £3.99 and £3.85. Anyone who has sold on eBay and posted a product knows that it will cost approximately £1 or more to send it.
The seller isn't getting a freebie here so the question is what you are getting when scraping the bottom of the barrel for £3+ a set of strings.
One of the ways eBay suppliers cut down on the cost is to break up 'Packs of 3' and in the case of Ernie Ball - see picture, these are approximately £13 a 3 pack, so divided by 3 and you get £4.33 each and then your likely to get a clear wrap not the Element Shield Packing - so how are to be sure they are what they say they are? Wouldn't it have been better to buy a pack of 3 with the Element Shield Packing? This is why Ernie Ball have gone to the trouble of trying to ensure the public know if its authentic or not.
As it stands, it is down to the vigilance of the individual to make the correct choice - and here is the rub - it's not necessarily on price but on an authorised/authentic string reseller. The old adage of 'if it looks too good to be true, it probably is' certainly seems to apply here!
September 2015 - Confused about Acoustic String Gauge?
One of the problems acoustic guitar players have is in understanding string gauges. I think that the problem seems to have occurred way back in the history of guitar string making and the labelling of them.
If we look at the stresses and strains with the strings being under tension, they are basically trying to pull the neck off the body and the bridge plate out of the soundboard. Given that these events don't happen, the neck will, however, be levered forwards (but corrected by the truss rod) and the bridge plate will tilt slightly on the soundboard causing it belly behind the bridge plate area. These points are inevitable unless the guitar has a trapeze tailpiece and a floating bridge.
The weight and composition of the strings that are fitted to the guitar have an effect on how loud it sounds, how easy it is to play and consequently how much stress is applied to the instrument in general.
First of all I am talking about strings when using the standard tuning for a guitar.
For years, the general ruling by guitar manufacturers has been to fit 12 to 53 gauge or 12 to 54 gauge strings as standard (53 or 54 is a manufacturers preference and matters little). The problem with terminology for the strings such as 'light gauge' is it brings up the question: What is 'normal' gauge when the customer goes in to buy a new set of strings?
Well the logical answer to this is for the customer to think that 'normal' is somewhere in the middle - I know I would think that way. So some players buy medium gauge strings as a safe bet. The problem becomes more confusing when you find out that there are three categories of 'light strings' to choose from!
So here is the list of the usual suspects - string gauges on offer:
10 to 47 Extra Light Gauge
11 to 52 Custom Light Gauge (Ernie Ball referred to these as 'Light')
12 to 53 and 12 to 54 Light Gauge (Ernie Ball referred to these as 'Medium Light')
13 to 56 Medium Gauge (Ernie Ball & D'Addario & Martin)
14 to 59 Heavy Gauge (D'Addario)
Now if we take the 12 to 53 and 12 to 54 gauge as 'Standard or Normal', you get a better picture of how the strings relate to the guitar and other corresponding sets.
Here are the strings that are available for restringing but with MY interpretation:
10 to 47 Extra Light Gauge ..agreed
11 to 52 Light Gauge . Custom Light Gauge (D'Addario)
12 to 53 and 12 to 54 Light Gauge .(Normal & Standard)
13 to 56 Heavy Gauge ..(String Industry reference = Medium Gauge)
An exception to the system:
14 to 59 Extra Heavy Heavy Gauge (D'Addario)
Generally speaking my personal point of view is that all guitars should have 12 to 53 or 12 to 54 to get the best out of them in terms of volume and tone over a long period of time without doing too much bellying.
13 to 56 gauge strings are heavier and will therefore inevitably cause the soundboard to belly more over time. This will raise the action and, unless you have the facility to lower the bridge saddle, it will inevitably require a neck reset later on in years. On a glued-in neck this is very expensive. Taylor now fit 13 to 56 on all their guitars but they have a bolt-on neck system that makes neck adjustment about one-tenth of the cost of a glued in neck reset.
The exception to the rule of not using the 13 to 56 gauge would be when:
a) the guitar has a shorter scale (less than 25.5") and is tuned to standard pitch such as found on parlour sized guitars.
b) if the guitar is going to be played in a permanently detuned tuning by a semitone or in a drop tuning.
Too many times I hear guitarists say that "I normally play it with a certain gauge" and apply this to all of their guitars irrespective of the different scale length. One example of this recently .to use 9 to 42 gauge on a Stratocaster (with a 25.5 inch scale length) and a Gibson Les Paul (with 24.75 inch) !
So recently I had a customer who brought in a signature acoustic Keb Mo Gibson Acoustic which has a 25" scale length. For the setup he asked me to fit 11 to 52 gauge strings because he always uses them. He then asked if the setup would be fine to accommodate some drop tunings? I set the guitar up for standard tuning and to accommodate his drop tunings. When he collected it, I asked the customer if he had other guitars and he revealed that he had a standard scale length which he also fitted with 11 to 52 gauge strings. After explaining to him that the 12 to 54 gauge may feel similar to the 11 to 52 gauge due to the scale length difference, he agreed that it would be a good idea to change gauge in the future, given the drop tunings which also have less tension. NB: Changing gauge requires reset of the truss rod tension - free for my customers' guitars.
Bouncing back to the electric guitar string tension, I had a customer request a setup on his Les Paul that he wanted to play 3 semitones below the standard pitch! I duly worked out the equivalent gauge of string as follows:
24.75 inches @ standard pitch = 10 to 46 gauge Gibson factory fitted.
24.75 inches @ 3 semitones drop @ D# lower than standard pitch = 12 to 54 gauge see the picture for compared tensions ..the customer is almost on the way to playing a baritone!
August 2015 - Truss Rod - one way no way
Chapman Trad Tele
I have seen a number of these guitars recently. I am led to believe that they are effectively designed by a committee as in 'forum devotees' which conjures up the old saying that a camel was the result of a committee designing a horse! I have seen some good ideas put into these guitars but the neck shape and frets have been really hard work to get right. The most recent one was one was this telecaster shape 'Trad'. The customer didn't particularly like the jumbo frets - I think he believed were going to be wide frets but they were also very tall and this didn't suit his playing due his heavy finger pressure. He asked me to mill them down to the standard fret height. Phew!
Unfortunately, one of the disappointments with this guitar was the truss rod which was a single-acting type whereas I would have expected a 2-way rod. This neck had a backbow and the customer wanted 9 to 42 gauge strings (it came with 10 to 46). Had he been happy to stay with these 10 to 46 gauge, the guitar would have set up without any need for truss rod tension but with the 9 to 42 gauge strings there was no relief in the neck, even with the truss rod in a slack position.
Rather than phone the customer and tell him the guitar needed to go back, I hit upon the idea of converting his truss rod into double-acting by placing a shim behind it. This meant that, as I continued to undo the truss rod adjuster, it then put pressure on the overall rod, feeding it into the neck and causing the neck to bow forward, thus allowing me to set up for the 9 to 42 gauge strings.
You can see the small shim in the picture. It begs the question why they didn't machine less from the body in this area and create the two-way rod system in the first place as this works far better.
One other thing I have noticed over the years is the way in which the Korean and Indonesian guitar makers have gradually moved to using the two-way truss rod in even the cheapest instruments. This is a no-brainer from a manufacturing point of view as it's highly likely that a percentage of guitars will back-bow sooner or later. In the past when I did setup work shops I would often find an instrument arrive out of the box from the Far East tuned above concert pitch and, when the truss rod was checked, it was always found to be loose. I concluded that this was their way of trying to bend the neck back into shape. Sometimes a neck would look good and even setup correctly only to gradually move backwards after the guitar had been sold. If the customer brought it back to the shop there was no alternative but to replace it and send the old one back, just because the truss rod was ineffective - i.e. not double acting. When the Chinese started making guitars it is interesting to see that they all are fitted with two-way truss rods. There seems no point in making a guitar that does not have full control over the neck. Some guitars that have one way rods are made with a deliberate forward bow just in case they flatten out or back-bow. The problem comes when they then have excessive forward bow and the truss rod is over tightened to compensate. This is when people break truss rods.
So, overall, I prefer a two way truss rod to get me out of a back-bow problem.
January to June 2015 - More Delays
As a way of communicating with past customer, rather than sending everybody an email, I decided to let readers know my current situation.
At the end of last year my father died suddenly. So I took charge of moving my mother to a care home in Coventry. That wasn't without its problems. Since January my mother suffered poor circulation in her legs and was admitted to Coventry University Hospital 3 weeks ago. Unfortunately, while we were away on holiday she died - at the end of May. At the beginning of June, my sister who had been treated for cancer for the best part of 2 years suddenly died too.
In the scheme of things catching up from a holiday is one thing but due to sorting out various family issues it has eaten into the working week and has left me with a long waiting list. I am staggered by the amount of loyal customer that are prepared to wait for work to be done, but rest assumed that I will get through my list and maybe even get time to 'blogging again'. In this instance whilst it give a personal situation, this blog is about how things impact on the workshop throughput. Apologies all round.
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