So many guitars. So many pedals. So many amps.
Before the great retirement purge, I had so much gear. I still have gear but significantly reduced from before. I have become more of a rightsized guitarist.
I’m travelling out of the country now with two guitars and a Fractal AX8. Seems to cover most of what I need in a guitar rig. But I do miss the big pedalboard pictured above.
Jim Lill just put out a great video — he always does great videos that guy — on all the parts of a pro guitar rig. With a Nashville slant. A few of my favourites get called out but he doesn’t have the most important delay pedal of all time on his board. The Strymon Timeline!
I don’t usually work on other guitars. After all, I am not a luthier or a guitar tech. But, with owning many guitars and interacting with some great techs over the years, I have a pretty good handle on the basics.
I’ll be setting up a Squier Jaguar Bass later today.
The instrument seems to be in fairly good shape. That said, there is a lot of oxidation on the frets. The fretboard is dried out. The action is high. And the strings are really old and worn.
Here is my approach.
- Scotch green masking tape in two sizes: half-inch and quarter-inch. The tape is used to mask the fretboard when polishing the frets.
- 1,000 grit sandpaper (or higher) for light sanding of the frets.
- 4-zero (#0000) steel wool for polishing the frets.
- Murphy’s Oil Soap to provide a bit of lubrication when using the steel wool.
- Dunlop Lemon Oil to treat the fretboard.
- Micro-fibre towels for cleaning and polishing the instrument.
- Capo to help with truss rod adjustment.
- A feeler kit or, at least, one .015 and one .022 feeler to test/make appropriate adjustments for truss rod adjustment and neck height adjustments.
- Precision steel ruler for measuring down to one-thirty second of an inch.
- Files for adjusting the nut height.
- Allen wrenches for adjusting the truss rod and bridge saddles.
- String winder for changing strings.
- Wire-cutters for clipping excess string length.
- Tuner for calibrating intonation.
- Extra cables, batteries and tools for the just-in-case.
With the appropriate tools at the ready, a basic setup includes 5 steps:
- Prepare the instrument
- Adjust the truss rod
- Adjust the bridge height
- Adjust the nut height
- Adjust the intonation
Prepare the instrument
I will remove the strings. I will then clean the body with a guitar polish from Dunlop. I will examine the instrument for any signs of excess wear or damage that might impact playability. I will tape the fretboard and begin by polishing the frets. A light sanding followed by fret polishing with the steel wool. I will clean off any excess material on the fretboard and then remove the tape. Then it is time to condition the fretboard and clean off the excess. Restring and tune.
Adjust the truss rod
On this instrument the truss rod adjustment is made from the top of the neck just at the headstock. I will insert the Allen wrench first without making any adjustments.
Capo just before the first fret. And then I will press the fret where the neck meets the body. Then I will check the neck by using the .015 feeler midway — usually at the 7th fret — to determine gap. If the string lifts up when the feeler is inserted on top of the fret, then the truss rod is too tight and needs to be loosened. A slight counter-clockwise turn, just a quarter-turn, and check again. If there is a gap then the truss rod is too loose and needs to be tightened. Again, very slight turns otherwise you may cause significant damage to the instrument. A little turn goes a long way.
Adjust the bridge height
For this instrument, the low E should have a gap of 4/32 of an inch at the fret where the neck meets the body. The other three strings should descend very slightly until the G string is at 3/32 of an inch. Each string has a saddle and there are two screws for each saddle on this particular instrument. Raise or lower both of them as required.
Adjust the neck height
You might want to get a tech involved if you are not comfortable filing down the nut of the instrument. Basically you want to use your .022 feeler at the first fret and the string should rest on that feeler. There should not be a gap. If the string is pushed up by the feeler then you may need a new nut.
For each string, tune the open note to pitch and then fret the octave (12th fret) and check tuning of the octave note. If the octave note is sharp then the string needs to be lengthened. If it is flat then the string needs to be shortened. This is accomplished by the screws at the bottom of the bridge assembly.
And that should do it.
Some interesting statistics on guitar sales. Last year, the Washington Post carried a story on the death of the electric guitar. The various retail reports that I have read show a steady decline in the sales of electric guitars down from about 1.5 million in 2008 to just over 1 million in 2017.
Acoustic guitars, on the other hand, have seen a rise in sales, about a 15 percent growth since 2008.
The market leaders, Fender, Gibson and Taylor, still dominate in terms of sales volume although Gibson has gone through some tough times. Gibson filed for bankruptcy protection in May of 2018.
There are over 260 manufacturers of guitars that are active right now. Guitar sales total roughly $1.3 billion per year. Here is a breakdown from Music Trades:
The folks at Fender told me about a new series that they are producing called the American Performer. They really covered the bases in terms of marketing on the web. There is coverage everywhere on this product launch.
From Fender’s news release:
Handcrafted in Corona, Calif., the American Performer Series elevates the standards of performance-grade instruments for artists, making delivery seamless on stage, so players can focus on their art and sharing that in its finest form. Featuring 98 SKUs, the American Performer Series brings the Jazzmaster, Mustang and Mustang Bass into the US-made line in the $1,099.99 – $1,199.99 price range. After listening to direct feedback from artists, product developments focused on creating solutions for performers. New features include: Yosemite™ pickups officially introduced for this line; patent-pending DoubleTap™ humbucking pickups; ClassicGear™ tuning machines; special circuitry and enhanced electronics; a 70s style logo in silver on all models; an oversized ‘70s headstock on Stratocaster models, as well as five brand-new gloss colors and two satin finishes.
Guitar Center put up a video covering the American Performer Tele.
The Strat, pictured above, is my favourite given the limited colour choices for that model. That said, I am not a particular fan of the 1970s style headstock. These are not custom shop instruments mind you. You buy them off the rack as is for a reasonable price. Nice to see them being made in California.
You can take a look at the series on the Fender storefront here.
One day I would like to play like Pete Thorn. Such a talented and tasteful guitarist.
My friends at Cosmo Music had sent me an invitation to come out to a workshop Pete is holding there today. As I am currently travelling in Florida, I wasn’t able to make it.
I’ve watched pretty much all of his videos over the years. Pete has the uncanny ability to make any pedal, amp, or guitar sound amazing proving that most of what sounds good comes from the player and not from the gear.
Check out his YouTube channel if you haven’t come across him before.
El Capitan is a landscape that I hope to shoot this winter.
I would never, ever try to climb it.
Having had a dual rectifier, I can relate to the challenge for an amp tech to troubleshoot and resolve issues as these are very complicated amps.
Although the video is long at roughly 45 minutes, I found it, well, really engaging, almost like a mystery novel. The Guitologist is quite the tech.
So much circuitry in this guitar amp.
Taking stock, thinking about where you might be over time, setting up goals and objectives, all of that really doesn’t mean anything without consistent actions.
One of Thomas Edison’s famous quotes: Vision without execution is hallucination.
I would add to his quote: small actions, applied consistently over time, yield amazing outcomes.
And so it is with this journey of mine to become a better jazz guitarist.
I am making it a point to go to the guitar gym at least five times a week if not more. I have a great program to follow and I am learning a ton about the jazz guitar.
Building extensions from shell chords has helped to demystify jazz comping.
Learning difficult chord melodies has improved my fingering and hand strength.
I’ll document my progress as I go.
At times, I am playing like an absolute beginner. At times, I am showing signs of being fluid and dynamic.
It is certainly a process not unlike what Benjamin Zander demonstrates here (the difference being my age as I am a wee bit older than 7):