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Category ArchiveGuitar Repair & Maintenance

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Vincent’s Guitar Workshop – Issue 1

Guitars are funny. Six strings, a piece of wood, and a rather simple electronic circuit is all they’re made of. They’re all the same thing! Why does one cost $200 dollars, and the next is $2000? While many would jump to “brand name” as their go-to answer, you have to consider how the big brand names got there in the first place. The real answer is two things in my opinion, the first being the quality of the components used, and the second would be attention to detail. For example, Pablo Picasso could take a pencil and piece of paper and create a priceless masterpiece that would be cherished for years. I could take those same materials and make some decent kindling. Same components, but a much different end result!

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No matter the price of the guitar, the fact is that they all operate the same way and all need to be maintained the same way. Recently, I began an article series called “Vincent’s Tips on Tones” (check it out if you haven’t!). In the first issue, I mentioned that a proper guitar setup can have a large impact on your playing, and ultimately your overall tone. In this series, I’ll go further into detail about setting up your instrument and fixing issues that prevent you from playing to your full potential.

For starters, a little about myself:
My name is Vince and I’ve been working as a guitar technician at Eastwood Guitars for the past three years. It is my job to inspect, set up, repair, and prepare the instruments for shipment to their final destination. For the first few entries, I’ll go over the essentials of a basic guitar setup assuming there are no major problems with the instrument.

The first thing you want to do is look over the entire guitar for any blemishes, and make sure the electronics are functioning properly. There’s nothing worse than doing a full set-up only to notice a problem that’s going to require more work. If you’re working on a heavily used guitar, it’s still good practice to familiarize yourself with any damage on the guitar before you work on it. That way, you won’t notice it afterwards and think “uh-oh, did I do that?”

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If the guitar looks clean and is working, you can begin the setup. The first thing you need to understand is that whatever adjustment you make will have an impact somewhere else on the instrument. For example, flattening out the neck will both lower your strings and alter your tuning and intonation. For this reason, it’s important to inspect each piece in order, and make the adjustment where necessary. Often times you will need to go back and readjust changes you’ve made so everything will balance! Today I’ll focus on:

 Neck Relief.
Generally speaking, you want your guitar neck to be as straight as possible. A neck that is too far “back bowed” can cause significant fret buzz problems and dead notes, while one that is too far “over bowed” can cause your action to be impossibly high and throw off intonation.
With a keen eye, you can visually check for this by holding the guitar by its body, and looking down the side of the neck from the nut to where the neck meets the body. Be sure not to push on the neck when doing this as you could influence the bow in the neck. What you’re looking for is a bow in the neck. A neck that dips down like a valley is referred to as being over bowed. One that dips upward like a hill is known as being back bowed.

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If I’m working on my own guitar or I know what the owner likes, sighting the guitar in this way is enough to know what kind of adjustment I need to make to be happy with it. If it’s for an unknown customer, I prefer to use a measurement method that will turn out the same way each time.

Using a capo, clamp down the strings in the first fret. Then, push down on the low “E” string at the 17th fret. Now, look at the 8th fret. There should be just a sliver of space between the bottom of the low “E” and the top of the fret. If you have one, slide a .010 feeler gauge underneath the string. If it just sneaks under, you’re golden.

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If there’s a large gap between the feeler gauge and the string, it means your neck is over bowed and you’ll need to tighten your truss rod. If the gauge pushes against the string too much or doesn’t fit underneath, your neck is back bowed and you’ll need to loosen the truss rod.

Once you’ve determined the state of the neck, you can try an adjustment if necessary. First you’ll need to find the truss rod access, which is typically located where the headstock meets the neck just above the nut. You will need the right sized Allen key or truss rod wrench to make the adjustment (your guitar should have come with this when you bought it). If the key does not fit perfectly snug, do NOT turn it! The last thing you want to do is strip your truss rod!

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Once you’ve found a wrench that fits in tight, start by making a small turn counter-clockwise to loosen the rod. You never want to tighten first incase the rod is maxed out. Once you’ve learned that the rod will spin, you can start to make small adjustments whichever direction required to straighten the neck. Counter-clockwise will loosen the rod, while clockwise till tighten. Remember to sight the neck after each turn to see what’s happening with the neck.

When you think you’re happy with how straight the neck looks, you can check the relief again with the capo method, followed by a play test! Many times a simple neck adjustment is all a guitar will need to play smoothly. However, if during your play test there are still problems with the guitar, the issue lies somewhere else – but we’ll get to that in a later “Guitar Workshop”! Next time, I’ll talk about the two things I follow up every neck adjustment with; String height, and intonation!

Happy playing!

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Fret Levels For Accurate Guitar Set Ups

As a full time repair tech, I would say that set ups are probably the most common procedure I do in the shop on the average day. And probably 90% of the guitars that come through the door need a fret level and recrown along with the set up. I thought I would share with you the process I go through to inspect frets and what is actually involved in a fret level, as well as some of the reasons your guitar’s frets became undeveloped in the first place.

When I assess a guitar for set up, the first thing I do is sight down the neck. I want to see how much ” relief ” or bow is in the neck. I like to have the neck as straight as possible to check for unlevel frets, twist in the neck, and humps in a certain part of the fret board. I also like to move the truss rod a bit to make sure it works properly.

Once I have sighted the neck and made necessary adjustments to make sure it is straight, I take a fret rocker (multi sided straight edge) and check the frets, three at a time to make sure they are level. If I encounter a high fret, the straight edge will teeter back and forth to the other two lower frets on each side. I always check on the bass side, middle , and treble side while the guitar is tuned to pitch. Because the frets are over radiused before installed, they have a bit of spring to them. Frets can become unlevel on one side or the other as well as the middle, causing buzzing on specific areas and strings.

Once I have determined the need for a fret level, I remove the strings and adjust the truss rod again to make sure the neck is straight. I may mark certain areas of the frets with a sharpe that visually stand out as high spots in the fret board. I pay close attention to what the neck was like with string tension as well as with out to see how the plain of the neck changes. I want to account for these changes when leveling.

Depending on the severity of unlevelness, I will use either a leveling bar with 220 grit sand paper or a single cut fret leveling or mill file. I always check for loose frets that maybe glued before I start leveling. I prefer a leveling bar or file over a radiused block so I can better control the amount of material I take off in a certain area.

Once I have milled the frets level I need to go through with a crowning file to make the frets round again. I use a 150 grit diamond crowning file and then touch up with a 300 grit crowning file.

Once the frets are levels and crowned I go through the process of dressing the frets with 360, 400, 600, steel wool, and 800 grit. Then I follow with micro mesh sanding pads that go from 1500 to 12,000 grit. I finally finish with a light buffing compound and a buffing wheel on my Dremel tool to give the frets a smooth, mirror like finish. At this point I am ready to string and setup the instrument.

Unlevel frets is very common problem that can show up on new guitars as well as used instruments. Buzzing and sizzling sounds in a specific area are common signs of unlevel frets as well as divots and wear from general playing, which can cause intonation issues as well as buzz. Set ups are general maintenance for guitars and fret levels are needed on well played instruments to insure even playability so if you haven’t had your guitar looked at in a while, take time to visit your favorite guitar tech. You’ll be glad you did!

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Posted By: Dave Anderson
Read more about the author: http://www.riverfronttimes.com/2012-12-06/music/dave-anderson-interview-tritone-guitar/

David Anderson

Guitars & Humidity: Taking Care of Your Guitar

David Anderson

David Anderson

So, it’s cold out side and the snow is falling. You decide to sit by the fire with your favorite hot beverage and your guitar for a little one on one time. You give your prized axe a strum, but it seems someone has replaced your instrument with an imposter. This guitar looks like your old friend in every way, but it’s buzzing and rattling, and the frets are sharp. You ask yourself what is going on.

Humidity is what’s going on, or more accurately, the lack of humidity. Guitars and other stringed instruments require 45 to 55% relative humidity in the environment in order to function properly. If your guitar gets below 45%, it will actually begin to shrink. Your instrument can easily loose 1/8 of an inch of mass from shrinkage due to a dry environment, and that means sharp fret edges, notes that buzz, cracks in the wood, lifting bridges, and even failing neck joints. If your instrument is over-humidified, on the other hand, you will notice an immediate difference in the way it plays due to the neck relief changing and the top rising and bellying up. You may even notice a difference in tone.

But don’t “fret”…it’s not too late! You can reverse the condition of your guitar by simply changing the relative humidity of the environment in which it resides. If you have a hard shell case, you can easily add humidity by purchasing a guitar/case humidifier, but you must be sure to keep the guitar in the case while not in use to allow the case interior to act as the immediate environment for the guitar. If you like to hang your instrument on a wall or display it on a stand, you will need to get a cold mist humidifier for your room (home furnaces with built in humidifiers will not suffice). It’s a good idea to purchase a hydrometer so you can keep track of the relative humidity in your area. Expect it to take a few weeks for your guitar to acclimate to its proper environment. This may seem like a lot of effort, but so is humidifying and repairing a top crack or dressing frets due to dryness, fixes not covered by the manufacturer as warranty work. Prevention is key!

So, if you want to give that special stringed someone the gift that keeps on giving, give the gift of humidity. Your guitar will be happy, and you will too.

Written by: David Anderson

Adventures in Intonation

Getting a guitar in tune, and keeping it in tune, is often an interesting endeavor—in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times!” Most serious players know that there is a never ending series of adjustments needed to keep your instrument playing right.

Joey Leone’s recent article on the importance of set-up was spot on. Years back, I worked as a salesman in a small, independent music store. I’d never worked in music sales before, so unpacking brand new guitars fresh off the UPS truck was a new experience for me. I quickly discovered that they were almost never properly adjusted. It was a roll of the dice at best. The guitars that happened to come in playing well were the first to go out the door in the hands of happy, paying customers. The other instruments would hang on the wall a lot longer, while we repeatedly explained that a professional set-up would make them play and feel much better. So I got to thinking that if I learned the basics, and at least got the guitars and bass guitars into reasonably good adjustment, sales would go up. I started talking to our guitar tech, and asked him to explain to me how it all worked. He was amazingly patient with me while I relentlessly picked his brains, until finally, I began to “get it.” I got pretty good at setting up the instruments, and sales went up substantially—not that the owner of the store was in a hurry to give me a raise for my efforts!

Still, I was glad for what I’d learned. While major repairs and maintenance (including fret work and the neck set on acoustic guitars) were things I was wise enough not to tackle, routine adjustments became, well, routine. The electrics were the easiest to work with, because most of the adjustments were done mechanically, with a screwdriver and an Allen wrench.

I found a quick way to scope out a truss rod adjustment, without needing the expensive machined straight edge our tech used. Using both hands, I’d just press the bass string down in two places on the fingerboard, simultaneously–say at the third and 11th frets–and then pluck the string with a free finger. If the string bottomed out, it meant the rod was too tight, and the neck too flat. Conversely, if I could see much more than the thickness of a playing card’s worth of space between the string and the frets (looking from the side, as you would while playing), it meant the rod was too loose, and the neck had too much forward bow.

After that, I’d start adjusting the saddles—up or down for string height, and on the electrics, forward or back for string length. These two adjustments—height and length—are highly interactive. If your strings are higher, you have to press them down farther to play a note. That means more stretch, higher tension, and raised pitch—resulting in the need for lengthening the string, by moving the saddle away from the nut a bit. Lower strings mean less stretch, and less need for compensation. Different players like different string heights, of course, so there’s no single right way to do this, but at the store, I’d try to find a middle ground that would satisfy most players.

Nut slot adjustments are something untrained players shouldn’t mess with. The tech showed me how to do them, using an X-acto saw blade and 400 grit sandpaper. If the slots aren’t shaped properly, the strings won’t seat and flex properly, causing all sorts of problems. I started out doing nuts on cheap, entry-level guitars that had action bad enough that I could hardly have made them worse. And amazingly enough, I had a pretty good touch, and was able to do them well. Still, I left the top-of-the line instruments to our tech, though I’ve done the nut slots on my own pro guitars, since then. Ironically, most guitar techs don’t take the slots down far enough, in my opinion. That’s because if they go too far, the strings start buzzing, and they have to make you a new nut, or at least do some extra shimming—things they really don’t want to take the time do. I think the open string clearance between the nut and the first fret should be about the same as the clearance obtained between a closed string (that you’ve pressed down at a given fret) and the next fret up (toward the bridge). That way, you don’t get additional stretch at the first fret, sparing you the all-too-common aggravation of a guitar that plays sharp at the first fret. But talk to your guitar tech about it. As the saying goes, don’t try this at home.

Worn frets make guitars play sharp! That’s because as a fret wears down, the string vibrates from the front edge of the fret, rather than from the crown—effectively shortening the string, and thus slightly raising the pitch. Worn frets can also cause string buzz against higher, less worn frets. If you then raise the action to offset this, you create all sorts of tuning and playability problems. So get your frets worked on, when they need it. A guitar tech I know suggested that changing your strings is like buying gasoline for your car—something routine and inexpensive. Getting your frets adjusted and replaced is like buying tires. More expensive and done less often, but it’s something you simply must do, from time to time.

Keeping your guitar in tune requires strings that still have some elasticity. They don’t have to be brand new, but over time, strings become stiff and brittle, long before they break. Stiff, brittle strings play sharp, so once they reach that point, it’s time for a new set.

String gauges can make a difference, too. I like fairly heavy strings on my Strat. I use a 12 to 52 set, with a wound 3rd string—pretty much the same gauges I use on my acoustic flat top. I find them more stable, tuning wise, than lighter strings, and I like the fatter tone I get. But some people have no trouble with the lighter, faster, 9’s, 10’s, or 11’s. It just depends on your touch and style.

The weather affects your guitar! Humidity swells wood, higher temperatures expand everything, colder temps contract everything, and all of these variations affect the tension on your strings. A guitar can be in tune at home, and get wonky in a cold car trunk on the way to a gig. At the gig, you re-tune the still-cold guitar, only to have it shift on you again as it warms up in your hands, requiring you to re-tune again (and again!). Don’t worry. It’ll eventually settle down. Better still, arrive a little early, and let the guitar warm up before you play it.

Finally, let me just touch on the question of scale tempering. Musical scales are built around theoretical mathematical ideals, but real world instruments have built-in compromises. These compromises are called scale tempering. The modern equal-tempered tuning system was a major innovation developed for keyboard instruments during the time of J. S. Bach, and his composition, The Well Tempered Clavier, demonstrated its effectiveness. Prior to that system’s introduction, you could not play in some keys without retuning your keyboard. These days, most guitars are built according to the equal-tempered system, but ironically, acoustic pianos employ a variation called “stretch tuning,” to compensate for the sharp harmonics generated by their stiff, massive, bass strings. The piano sounds more in tune with itself, but it’s a challenge to get guitars and other instruments in tune with the piano. Guitars with compensated nuts, guitars employing the Buzz Feiton nut and tuning system, and guitars with computer-designed curved frets are all examples of recent attempts to improve tuning accuracy and compatibility with keyboards.

There’s no way this short article can address all of the things that affect how in-tune a guitar plays on its own, and with other instruments. But I hope it points you in the right direction.

Gordon Kaswell is an award-winning composer, working musician (playing guitars, keyboards and bass guitar), and freelance writer. He lives in the Pacific Northwest. You can email him at gordon@efn.org

Guitar Troubleshooting: Finding the Source of a Bad Electric Guitar Connection

Sooner or later your electric guitar, cable, or amplifier is going to have problems and you need to do some guitar troubleshooting. There really isn’t much that you can do to prevent it. Honestly, instruments and equipment just get old and need repairs.

But, it’s still good to know what components of your electric guitar connection need replacing so you can prevent yourself from spending money on something that wasn’t actually necessary. Here is a basic order for troubleshooting the connection between your electric guitar and amplifier.

1. Cable

  • Before you even attempt to get your precious guitar or your expensive amplifier fixed, you need to find out if your cable is just messing with you. The fastest way to check it is simply… replace it.
  • Switch it with another that you know is guaranteed to work and you’ll know immediately from your guitar troubleshooting if you need a new cable.

2. Guitar

  • Jiggle and turn the tone and volume knobs. There could possibly be something wrong with the volume or tone knobs of your guitar and you can find out by giving those knobs a little jiggle. If there appears to be static in the sound or no change in tone or volume when the knobs are manipulated, now you know it’s a guitar problem and it’s primarily in those knobs.
  • Lightly jiggle the cable input. A lot of guitar troubleshooting finds bad guitar input jacks, because they tend to go bad with lots of playing while you’re sweaty. If you have your guitar plugged into the amplifier, move the cable around in the guitar’s input slightly and notice if you hear any static or dismissal of sound.
  • Press the strings to the pick-ups. The pick-ups underneath the strings where you strum are where all the tone gets absorbed into the hardware and if those aren’t working, your guitar is now a poorly made acoustic. To check, simply turn on your guitar while plugged into an amplifier and lightly press a string to one of the silver dots on your pick-ups. If you hear a sound come through your amplifier, then your pick-ups are all ship shape.

3. Amplifier

  • Check the power: This one is a no-brainer, but sometimes it can be overlooked when you get overwhelmed by your guitar problems. For this guitar troubleshooting, if your amplifier won’t turn on, you’ll need to try the power cable. Simply switch it out with another and see if your amp turns on. You’ll immediately know if something is wrong.
  • Move the cable around lightly inside the input: Just like you tested the input on your electric guitar, the input on your amplifier should be tested the same way. Jiggle it around and if you hear any static or the sound begin to cut out, you’ll know it’s an input problem.
  • Press and turn all of the knobs, even the ones not used often. I once had a faulty knob that chose to create a loud, blaring noise every time that it was pushed in slightly. Test your amplifier knobs by pressing on them and turning them in their appropriate directions.

It really stinks when you have to get repairs on your electric guitar or your equipment, but doing the necessary guitar troubleshooting can save you some money on unnecessary repairs. Go through these steps the next time there’s a problem with your guitar’s connection and discover where the source is.

Kyle Hoffman is an experienced guitarist that loves to play just as a hobby, and to perform live on stage. To learn Kyle’s valuable tips for beginning the guitar the RIGHT way, visit How To Play Guitar as part of his popular guitar blog, How To Tune Guitar.

Guitar Tuning & Set-Up Tips of the Stars!

This month’s column focuses on my pet peeves and some very important and yet overlooked aspects of guitar playing and your enjoyment of your guitar: tuning and set-ups.

Tuning a Gibson Acoustic Guitar

Tuning a Gibson Acoustic Guitar

Everybody deserves to have a guitar that plays well, stays in tune, and is in tune with itself. This is not just the privilege of globetrotting superstars, but everyone who owns a decent instrument.

Before I go any further, let me give you the proviso that I am not a guitar tech, set-up guy, or luthier. I’ve been playing for almost 4 decades and I’ve picked up a lot of valuable information along the way. What I do know is when to go to an experienced guitar technician / luthier to get problems solved. The whole purpose of this column is to inform those of you who were curious about some of these things but were afraid to ask or just plain didn’t know. You experienced guys and gals – Eddie Van Halen and Django Reinhardt: who’s better? Discuss.

New Eastwood Wandre Deluxe Electric Guitar

New Eastwood Wandre Deluxe Electric Guitar

New Guitars

In preparation for our upcoming cross-Canada tour this summer as a member of The Bachman Cummings Band, I decided to take my 2005 G&L ASAT Deluxe to my friend Brian Mascarin, a very in-demand luthier and guitar technician in Toronto, to have him dress the frets for me. Now you would think that the frets on a $2,500 guitar like a G&L would be set-up to perfection. Not so.

Consider the journey that guitar took to get to me: it was made in California in a very temperate climate, traveled across the continent in a truck, possibly in freezing weather, and arrived in Toronto where it hung in a music store for the better part of two years by its neck! And with the same set of strings!

I detected an annoying buzz under the D string that I couldn’t get rid of so I took it to Brian. He said it is not uncommon for some guitarists to come directly from the music store with a brand new Gibson, Fender, or Paul Reed Smith to his shop where he sets up the instrument to its new owners specs and tweaks any minor flaws that the factory may have overlooked. Keep in mind that with the worldwide explosion in popularity of the guitar, these manufacturers have to pump out literally hundreds (thousands?) of guitars every month. It is not realistic to assume that these instruments are 100% ready to go in every way for every player’s needs.

The need for a set-up by a qualified expert is even more crucial in the case of instruments made offshore: drastically different manufacturing climates, month-long trans-oceanic journeys with varying degrees of temperature and humidity, and high volume factory output are factors that have to be considered. No one can dispute the very high levels of quality and workmanship that goes into guitars made in Asia but keep in mind the changes and the journey your instrument has undergone before it got to you. No wonder it needs a bit of tweaking and TLC!

Guitar Strings on the Wall

Guitar Strings on the Wall

Strings

Quite often I hear of guitar owners complain that their newly purchased axe just doesn’t play the same as it did when it was purchased (Hey! It was in tune when I bought it!).

Did you change the strings? Of course you did. You took off the now tarnished and oxidized strings that the factory installed and put on a fresh set of your favourite brand with your favourite gauge – you know the super slinky .008’s with the .056 E string! Or the good guys at the store or e-store threw in a set of strings for you. Now the neck has a bow in it and the strings are an inch off the neck.

Why? Because you changed the geometry of the instrument. Here’s a real nugget for you – a guitar’s playability is affected by the gauge of string you use! A set of strings exerts hundreds of pounds of tension on a guitar’s neck. When you change the gauge or thickness of those strings, the tension on the neck changes. Your guitar was set up with a certain gauge of string at the factory. Unless you replace the strings with exactly the same brand (string characteristics in the same gauge vary from brand to brand owing to different manufacturing techniques and different metals used), your guitar will play differently. The only way to accurately determine the gauge of a string is with a micrometer and not many music stores have one of those under the counter.

What to do? Pick a brand and a gauge of string, get your guitar set-up for that string and stick with that string. When you experiment with different brands or gauges (and you should!), get the guitar setup again for that particular string.

Guitar Neck Truss Rod Diagram

Guitar Neck Truss Rod Diagram

Truss Rods

The truss rod is what is adjusted to add or reduce – relief – or bow in the neck. As I said in the opening, I am not a repair guy and I’m not going to tell you how to adjust your truss rod. I personally don’t think you should because the potential for permanent damage is huge. This is when you should go to an experienced technician.

Tune-o-Matic Guitar Bridge

Tune-o-Matic Guitar Bridge

Intonation

Ever wonder why some chords play in tune and others don’t? That’s intonation – the guitar’s ability to be “in tune” with itself. Without going into a long boring treatise on the tempered tuning system developed in the 16th century or whenever it was, suffice to say that your electric guitar, thanks to Mr.McCarty and the engineers at Gibson in the 50’s, has a bridge with little moveable saddles on it called a “tune-o-matic” bridge.

These little saddles adjust the string “length” relative to the 12th fret, which theoretically is the midpoint of the note. There are many resources on the net to get more details on the theory, but the idea here is to let you know that if you have a decent electronic tuner, a small screwdriver and a bit of patience, you can intonate your guitar so that it plays more in tune with itself.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Plug your guitar into your tuner.
  2. Tune the strings to pitch.
  3. Pluck the harmonic of the 6th string (pluck the string with your finger directly over the 12th fret without fretting the note).
  4. Fret the note at the 12th fret and compare it to the plucked harmonic.
  5. If the fretted note is sharp, move the saddle back (or to your right looking down on the guitar). If it is flat, do the opposite. Make small adjustments until the pitch of the harmonic and the fretted note is the same. Do this for all 6 strings.
  6. If you’re confused, go see your friendly neighbourhood guitar technician or luthier. A set-up with new strings, truss rod adjustment and intonation costs around $20 – $50 but it is well worth it.

Resources

Please visit David’s Website and don’t miss the Bachman Cummings tour this summer!

Here are the names of three very qualified technicians / luthiers in the Greater Toronto Area:

  • Musicality, Brian Mascarin (416) 787-1531 Toronto
  • The Peghead, Mike Spicer (905) 972-9400 Hamilton
  • The Guitar Shop, John Bride (905) 274-5555 Mississauga

Frankenstein Longhorn Guitar

I have been playing guitar for 40 years. I have owned everything, from ES175 to a 58 Les Paul Std, 59 Strat, Travis Bean, Alembic, Cort, Samick, Guilds, G + Ls, you name it, I owned one. And you know what? If I see one more damn Les Paul, Strat or Tele I think I will vomit! Good lord, are they the most boring thing in the world or what? I love guitars that are different. I do NOT want to see another guy walking down the street playing the same guitar as me. There is a world of cool guitars out there and yet some guys have no imagination, they just play the same blankity blank guitars that everyone has had for the last 50 years!

Custom Longhorn Guitar by Bill Wagoner (Plymouth, IN)

Custom Longhorn Guitar by Bill Wagoner (Plymouth, IN)

Here is one of my solutions to the problem. I bought a 1968 Coral Longhorn Body off of EBAY for 65 bucks. It had never been used, no neck, not even a neck pocket, no routing for pickups, no wiring, no pickguard, nothing but a body. Enclose is a pic of the body as I got it and the guitar I made out of it. I did all the wiring, inlays, designed and made the pickguards by hand, assembly, set up, everything.

My inspiration for this project was the old BIGSBY guitars made by Paul Bigsby back in the late 40’s and early 50’s and also the gaudy Cool Italian guitars of the 1960’s. Also I was thinking of the original handmade Mosrite stuff where Semie Mosley would include a fancy pickguard, arm rest and so forth.

My first step was to decide on pickguard material. I went with the white pearloid, or what I call Mother of Toilet Seat, in other words, fake pearl. My pickguard material came from ALL PARTS. I sell their stuff in my store and it is great quality. I knew that I wanted to cover the entire headstock with it but that presented a problem. The neck is basicaly a generic strat type neck but since you cannot bend the thick pearloid I had to make it two pieces. I decided to make the second piece double as my truss rod cover. The neck came from a low priced strat style guitar called a Palmer. Great neck for almost no cost and it plays like a dream.

Next was attaching the neck and body. Since this body had never had a neck, there was no neck pocket. After observing what I call the First rule of guitar repair, I routed out an area to attach the neck about an inch of so deep and also removed part of the material under the fingerboard to get the proper slant to the neck in relation to the body. Due to the fact that I was going to use a rosewood archtop bridge I did not need to worry about where I placed the neck since I could position the bridge anywhere I wanted after the guitar was together.

What is “The First rule of guitar repair?” For every minute you DO something to your guitar, you THINK ABOUT IT for 20 minutes FIRST. If you take your time and approach guitar repairs this way you will make a lot less mistakes in the long run! After attaching the neck, I started on my Inlays. All it had when I started was the boring and traditional plastic dots. I drilled those out of the neck and replace them with real abalone dots. Next I used diamond shaped abalone pieces that I bought from RESCUE PEARL Company and cut them into triangles. Then I routed the fingerboard and added them to make the pattern you see now. You can do a search and find Rescue Pearl on the net, nice folks and very helpful and reasonable prices too. I then started to design the pickguard. I wanted it to follow the lines of the F-hole rather than hide the F-hole as they do on so many hollow body guitars. I used old file folders and cut the patterns from them with scissors after drawing them free hand and then copied them in pearloid. The arm rests and the control plate were done the same way. I used an old Seymor Rail pickup I had laying around and kept the electronics simple since there is a limited amount of space on the body anyway. I also made sure to position all the electronics where they can be worked on easily from the F-holes in the future.

Finally I strung her up and added the ALLPARTS Rosewood bridge. Incredibly, the intonation on this guitar is perfect, no need for tune-o-matic bridge saddles at all. It has a wonderful warm woody tone that is different than any of my other guitars and I just love it. Add to that the fun of making it myself and I have a guitar that will never leave my collection.

Post by: Bill Wagoner (Plymouth, IN)

Guitar Rescue: A True Story

OK, so we’d played the night before at the Bluegrass Barn Jam in Rosine and we were on our way to check in at the “Big E” (that’s the Executive Inn in Owensboro, KY). The Pests were squawking about being hungry, per usual, so I dropped them of at the Dairy Queen. While the Pests downed a quick lunch, I grabbed a few instrumental odds & ends from the van and walked across the parking lot to the building with the huge sign, “Consumers Mall”. It’s one of those former discount stores, now indoor flea market which are popping up across the land in abandoned K-Marts, grocery stores and so on. One of the missions of our little band was the rescue of abused and/or neglected guitars, which we found on our journeys and there was a candidate for rescue inside.

The Pizza Guitar Rescue Mission

The Pizza Guitar Rescue Mission

I guess I should explain who we are first. We are Buddha and the Pests, a group of itinerant musicians who play together whenever the mood or money moves us. Lately we hadn’t seen a lot of movement so the gig at the “Big E” was a blessing. I’m Buddha, the lead singer, songwriter, rhythm guitar and quasi-leader of the clan. You’ll meet the other guys later as they join the stories, but yes, one of our hobbies or “missions”, as Reverend Right calls it, is the rescue of abused instruments. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ’59 semi-acoustic, electric Kay that someone spray painted flat black and decorated with skull and bullet hole decals. Or the ’66 Fender Mustang that someone covered with Elmer’s glue and then sprinkled with a generous dose of silver and gold glitter. Yeah we like to save these orphans and try to rehabilitate them when ever possible.

I’d seen an old beater in the mall the week before, but hadn’t had the time to check it out. Hopefully it would still be there. I worked my way back past the piles of odds & ends, old lamps, tube radios, junk, store fixtures, etc back to Frank’s booth in the very rear of the building. And there it was, lying on top of a stack of old speakers. I’d noticed it there before, but had never really looked at it closely. It appeared to be an old American or Japanese electric guitar from the early 60’s, one of the thousands cranked out in some factory and sold at Sears or Western Auto stores back then. It may have been a mail-order birthday present from “the World’s Largest Store” that made a young West Kentucky boy jump for joy when he ripped open the package for which his parents had scrimped and saved for so long.

It had been a shiny brown sunburst, the color guitar folks call ‘tobacco brown’, but now it was a little worse for wear. It was covered in a layer of dust, but that was the least of its problems. The white pick guard had been broken to pieces and part of it was missing. The electronics-(the pick-up, jack, tone and volume control)-were lying in the hollowed out cavity of the body. They were faded and slightly rusty, but they might still work. One major problem was the piece of bright yellow adhesive tape with the scrawl of $25. There was no way that was gonna happen, at least not from me. If it was all in one piece and not too banged up I might give the ‘list’ price, but not in its sorry state. I’d determined that I would work out a deal for the guitar provided I didn’t have to fork out any actual, physical cash. I could then clean her up and bring her back to the land of the living or at least hang her on the wall.

Frank, the proprietor of this particular stall, preferred cash money but as this piece had been sitting for over a year he might just deal. Amazingly he agreed to swap even for a ¾ size children’s guitar which I’d picked up at a yard sale for $4. What a deal-and no actual cash changed hands! I was quite pleased with my trading prowess. However, on reflection this may have been Frank’s version of what they call in the retail industry a loss leader. You know the 24 rolls of Wal-Mart toilet paper for $3, which is a great deal, but then you wind up spending $37 on junk you never planned on buying in the first place. I left Frank’s booth with the beater and with an early 60’s Teisco bass, but that’s another story. Oh, I also left a trombone and a small chunk of change. Grrrrrrr.

The Pests were standing around in the parking lot at the Dairy Queen:  smoking, farting and discussing the set list for tonight’s show. They looked at my finds, shook their heads in dismay and piled back into the van. I dropped the Pests off at the Executive Inn and then headed for home planning out how to rehabilitate my new patient. I had a couple of hours before I had to get ready to play so I thought I’d jump in to the rehab. The first step was to try to clean off some of the accumulated years of grit and grime. I found an old pizza box to sit the guitar on, (so as not to scratch it), though at this point no one would probably notice any new blemishes. Then I tracked down my special spray bottle of guitar cleaner which was on top of the armoire next to the little xylophone-playing girl wind-up toy. I’d learned early on to use an actual guitar cleaner after accidentally dissolving the decals off of another pawnshop treasure. Who was to know that what I thought was a high school shop project which I’d picked up for $12 in a Galveston pawn shop, was actually a short lived American creation from St. Louis. It looked like a double necked, 6-string/12-string Frankenstein guitar. The “Stratosphere Twin” logo had disappeared in seconds along with about $300 in collector’s value. It still brought $200 from Guitar Emporium so it wasn’t a total bust. But anyway, I started cleaning up the guitar peeling away the layers like an archaeologist on a dig. Most of the major gunk was coming off, but I noticed that the top layer of veneer or more likely plywood was bubbling up in a few places. Elmer’s Carpenters glue and a few clamps would straighten that out. After taking care of the glue job, I set the body aside to dry and took the electronics inside for testing. I plugged the cord into the jack only to be greeted by a loud buzzing roar. Note to self: One should always turn off the volume before plugging in any electronic equipment, especially if you’ve been playing Hendrix the night before. I turned the volume down and tapped on the pickup. It worked. Further tapping and knob turning determined that the volume and tone controls also worked. Wow, this one might not end up as “just a wall hanger” after all.

Let’s see. The electrics work, the body’s somewhat clean; the next task was the pick guard. Pick guards are designed to protect the surface finish of a guitar, but they also often serve as the support for the pick-up and controls. As this guitar’s finish was pretty much finished already, I needed a pick-guard to mount the gear on. The original pick-guard was definitely smashed into pieces. It was missing several good sized chunks so it would have to be replaced. You can buy pre-made pick-guards for some popular models of guitars like Strats or Les Pauls, but this guy was not of the popular school.

Also, as I was trying to prevent having any $ outlay on this project, I began searching for alternative options. Looking up I noticed the fluorescent light above me. The fixture was covered with a sort of crystallized sheet of plastic which served to diffuse the light. Hmmm. My wife probably wouldn’t notice that it was missing, so I stood on a chair and worked the sheet out of the light frame. I placed the sheet on the pizza box, (so as not to scratch it) and traced the shape of the original pick guard with a black magic marker. The guitar was going to look so cool with this sort of shiny crystal like pick guard! However, my exuberance waned when I tried to cut the sheet. Scissors, tin snips even a razor blade-box cutter led to jagged fractures that spread like cracking lake ice during a spring thaw. I then noticed one of my daughter’s old “In Sync” posters hanging on the wall. The glass was actually a thick mylar sheet. Eureka! I put the mylar on the pizza box, (so as not to scratch it) and proceeded to trace the pick-guard again. This would look so cool. You’d be able to see the controls and wires through the clear cover sort of like those Ampex Dan Armstrong guitars from the 60’s. However, once again the material would not cooperate. It would not cut smoothly. I laid the “new” clear pick-guard, with its jagged little edges down on the pizza box. It looked like I was going to have to fork out some boot and buy some real pick-guard material after all, and probably even have to pay someone to cut it out. I stared down at the failed experiment in frustration.

But then, wonderment of all, that little light bulb went off again. The rough, clear, cut-out was sitting on top of the pizza box. The Box was from Homerun Pizza and had the image of a baseball player batting in the center. The way the cut out was laying, the words “Home Run” and the batting figure fit perfectly into the pick-guard shape. With trepidation I traced the shape and then used the razor blade to cut out the guard. It fit.

I screwed the new pick-guard into place and plugged her up. A flip of the switch, a few plunks and the sound of the 60’s beamed out into the ether. Aaah, another successful guitar rescue.

Help BUDDHA and the PESTS! We’re broke! We’ve got CD’s, songs, film treatments, amps and guitars for sale. Contact us today!!! [BUDDHAnthePESTS[-at-]aol.com]

Post by: Buddha and the Pests