Wednesday, 23 November 2011

HofnerArchtop - neck problems

I see quite a few old Hofners, it's amazing how many are still around.
 It is, however, unusual to see one that had not had a neck break at some time in its life.

This one has not only had the typical break but it's been repaired badly. These pics show the typical Hofner break.

There are two large screws straight through the fretboard in an attempt to fix it. I've seen this before, it never works. I take then out and the neck falls off. But they leave rather ugly holes.

The underside of the neck shows a history of failed repairs.

There are two sets of bolt holes as well as the factory locating lugs.
 The heel looks even worse with two old screws snapped off in it.

Someone's put a lot of work put into this one.
This blog is about the repair to the fretboard - I'll deal with re-attaching the neck another time.
  First I remove the couple of frets either side of the damaged area.

Then with a sharp chisel remove the area between the frets.

I take it down about 3mm being extremely careful tp leave the binding. The binding is delicate, it's an old guitar and the plastic dries out and gets brittle.

I select a piece of rosewood with a similar colour and do my best to match the grain. It's not possible to get it exact but this one's pretty close.

It's important to cut it to the right size. It can't be so big that it pushes that old binding out and I must leave just the right gaps to seat the frets.
This grain looks good to me.

I use a couple of fret guards to ensure a fret slot gap either side of the fill and clamp it in using alaphatic resin to glue it in.

Here's the finished article. I just need to put the frets back. With oil and when the strings are on it should almost invisible.

It always seems a shame to have to fix someone elses blunders - right first time works for me.



Saturday, 1 October 2011

Spotting a Fake Les Paul

One of my regular customers recently brought me a 'Les Paul Custom' to set up. It wasn't cheap (going rate) and I saw immediately it was a fake.
The hard part was breaking the news to him.
 So here are a few things to look out for, there are many more but these are the obvious, easy ones.

 On the fake the frets are placed over the top of the binding on the edge of the neck. Here are a couple more views.

 I've borrowed a real Les Paul Custom from Bungalow Bill's guitar shop (cheers bill) to show you how it should be

The fret end butts up to  the binding and the binding has been shaped to cap the fret end.

The 'Gibson" logo is slightly too 'puffed up', a bit fatter than the real one. Look at the "i, b" and "o". The serial number ties in with a real one so don't be fooled by that.
 Here's the real logo.


I removed the truss rod cover to check the truss rod adjuster.

The adjuster is an allan key instead of a brass nut and the cavity is way too large. Here's the real one:

Finally I took the back cover off to take a look at the electrics. The cavity is the wrong shape, the pots are small Chinese ones, the wire coming from the pickups have coloured insulation, the capacitors are the cheap green ones and are wired up differently from the Gibson.

Here's the real one:

These are just some of the differences. If you're buying second hand ask to see these areas of the guitar. 
There are a lot of fakes around, someone's making a lot of money. 
There's a happy ending to this story - my customer contacted the seller who didn't know it was a fake and
gave him his money back. It doesn't always end this well.

UPDATE 27th Jan 2012

Just received a fake Les Paul for set up and they've changed the binding to look like the real thing.

This one was bought new as a Chinese fake. They haven't done as neat a job of the binding as Gibson but it's still convincing.
The truss rod, logo, electrics etc. were still obviously fake.

It's getting harder to spot them!



Friday, 12 August 2011

Fender Stratocaster Relic - Trem problems

I'm a big fan of the Fender Relics. When they first came out I really wasn't keen but they are so much more than 'stonewashed jeans'.
To get the lacquer to crack and check it has to be thin nitro-cellulose which does wonders for the sound.

Guitars that are worn in all the right places feel wonderfully comfortable and of course there's no fear of scratching them.
Fender also put a lot of effort into ageing the hardware.

This trem looks cool but Fender don't lubricate the parts after the relicing process which makes them very susceptible to seizing.
 This Strat is about a year old and came in for a set up. When I undid the 6 pivot screws at the front of the trem 5 out of 6 of them snapped off.

This is the only survivor. The others all snapped at the top of the thread leaving the remaining part stuck below the surface. They had rusted to the wood. If Fender has used some wax on them this would not have happened.

So the problem was - how do I get the snapped screws out with minimal damage to this rather expensive guitar?

I used an old paper punch as a kind of 'apple corer'. This tool has an outer diameter of 5mm and inner diameter of 4mm. I sharpened the end and cut a saw toothed edge into it to help it cut into the wood. I name it 'The Extractomatic 2000'.
 The next little hurdle was how to line it up over the hole accurately without it skating across the guitar. I don't want to relic it any more.

 I opened the holes out to 4mm with a drill bit.

I placed the drill bit into the hole upsidedown.


The Extractomatic fits over the drill bit - this ensures it is centred and doesn't skate across the finish. 

I use a chordless drill. It cuts a very neat hole, perfectly centred.

I use masking take to judge the depth ( I don't want to drill right through). And hey presto the screw is removed.

The new holes are a touch bigger than the original ones but not by much.

I plugged them with hardwood.

Then re-drill pilot holes and using new screws fit the trem. It is very important to wax all the screws thoroughly.
With a Relic it's worth while waxing all the screws that go into wood - pickguard screws, tuner screws... Don't use oil, it will expand the wood and grip the screw, candle wax is best.
Fender should do it but they don't. If you don't feel happy taking your Fender apart I can do it for you.

So here's the finished article - you'd never know.



Friday, 22 July 2011

Stainless Steel Fretwire

I get often asked 'what's the difference between normal frets and stainless steel?'.
I first used stainless steel fretwire in '08 when a customer requested it and now offer it as an option when re-fretting.
 For most players new frets will last decades but some can get through them in a couple of years.
The subject came up again recently when asked to re-fret a couple of Maton guitars by Sydney based guitarist Gavin Locke
Gavin wears frets out at an alarming rate - he plays for hours every day and it certainly takes its toll on his instruments.

This is his main guitar, the one pictured on his website. It's been re-fretted before at least once and there's a lot of wear again.
 He'd heard about stainless steel frets and wanted my opinion on them.

Most quality fretwire is called 18% nickel silver (it consists of 62% copper, 18% nickel and 20% zinc). This is standard in most guitars except for the cheapest. It comes in a variety of sizes and profiles to suit every player and playing style.

  Stainless steel is harder, a lot harder. It doesn't come in such a large choice of sizes but enough to please most players.
The advantage of stainless is it lasts longer. How long exactly I can't say - I haven't seen any worn out yet. But going by how hard it is to cut I'd say it will out last 'normal' fret wire a few times over. I'm hoping Gavin with his playing regimen will destruction test it for me.
The disadvantages are mainly for the luthier. It is harder to work with. Difficult to cut, time consuming to file, harder to seat, very wearing on both tools and hands.
A lot of luthiers don't like it and I can understand why. I charge more for a stainless steel re-fret to make up for the extra time and tool wear.

The big controversy is with the sound. Intuitively you would expect a harder material to sound harsh and metalic and there is plenty written on forums to back this up. I haven't found this to be the case. I ask every player to report back their feelings on it (it's their opinion that counts) and everyone has liked it. Gavin was delighted and somewhat disbelieving that his guitar sounder the same.
So for me it's a big thumbs up for stainless steel frets.



Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A Look at a Pro's Guitar

This time I'm looking over a Pro guitarist's highly modified Stratocaster and his set up preferences.
Warren Mendonsa (
is known as a Strat player though he is certainly not a traditionalist.
 He 's brought his Strat in primarily for a re-fret but I've taken the opportunity to to take a few pics and have a good look over her too.

 She has an alder body and a maple neck - a great combination for a warm, loose strat sound.
From the serial number you can see she's a 1997 Strat. Fender started this dating system in '76. The N7 represents '97, if it was an '86 it would say E6 etc.

With the neck off you can see the guitar's exact 'birthday' and the stickers and stamps from when it was put together. The large round metal thing is the truss rod anchor. This guitar has the neck micro-tilt system and the anchor doubles up as a plate for this to push against.

 Warren favours a bone nut lubricated with graphite.

He's had some string buzz on the open D string at some point and has put a small piece of guitar string in the slot to raise it up. I'm going to make him a new bone nut. All the slots in this one will be too low when the new frets are in.

The bridge saddles have been changed for Graphtech Stringsavers so I can assume he's had string breaking problems in the past. The front of the trem plate is butted up against the pickguard so I'm going to remove a little bit of the plastic to relieve this. Everything needs a good clean and lube - it gets a lot of use.

 He doesn't use the trem so has 5 springs in the back. You can clearly see here that this strat has been re-finished at some point. He's a big fan of fat steel trem blocks (me too). A fat, heavy block can add quite a bit of life to a Strat.

The jack socket is dirty and needs a clean or I may even replace it.

The strap hooks are a disgrace - he's filled the holes with matchsticks but that is only ever a temporary solution. It can be pretty unpleasant if these fall out on stage.
I drill both strap hook holes out to 10mm, plug them with maple and screw the hooks into the them - that should last him.

 The body has what is known as the 'swimming pool' route as a pickup cavity. This is frowned upon by purists but this Strat sounds great...

The back of the neck has seen some action but he's happy with the feel so there's no need to do anything about that.

You can see where he's worn the lacquer away on the edge of the fretboard. When I re-fret it Warren wants me to leave the finish as it is - he's earned that wear.

On the subject of wear - this is why the guitar is on my bench. It really does need a re-fret. He favours jumbo frets (Dunlop 6100). Again, not traditional. The board is the stock 9 inch radius.
These frets give a modern feel. With frets this high his finger tip will barely touch the wood which gives more controlled vibrato and string bending. There is barely any wear to the lacquer on the face of the fretboard. Check him out on youtube or buy the album - such a controled left hand.

He's using Seymour Duncan pickups - a SH-AH1 Allan Holdsworth Humbucker in the bridge and STK classic stacks neck and middle (both neck pickups). These are wired into cts pots with Orange drop tone caps.n The pickguard is an aftermarket and by Allparts.

On removing the frets there was a fair amount of muck but the slots have fared well (this is not her first re-fret).
I'm not going to go into any detail about the re-fret, I've done that before (

 He uses D'Addario 11's (to "slow him down"!) in standard A 440hz. His truss rod is set almost flat (barely any relief), the nut low and an action at 12th fret of 1mm on the treble to 1.2mm on the bass side - extremely low.

  I've enjoyed working on Warren's Strat and having a chat with him. You can check him out at