Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Electric guitar set up

I thought I'd show you exactly what's involved in a typical electric guitar set up at my workshop.
There are plenty of places that advertise set ups but all that they really do is adjust the bridge and maybe the truss rod. A lot of those customers end up coming to me after all.

 For me, the very first part of a set up is talking to the player, I need to find out what they want to change, what they want to keep, their approach to playing, string gauge and tuning. A set up is a personal thing.

 Each guitar requires a different approach, this is just a typical example.
 So what do you get for your money?
 Take a look at this:


Thanks so much to The Bull Kelp Surfers for the cool soundtrack www.bullkelpsurfers.co.nz and to Mal at Oracle for putting it all together.



I am no longer repairing guitars - since covid 19 I now work full time making pickups

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Treble bleed capacitors

You may have noticed that when you turn the volume control down on an electric guitar it not only gets quieter but also more muddy. As the volume goes down so does the clarity. This can, of course, be useful. Quite often you'll want to be able to take some sparkle off the sound of single coil pickups. But with humbuckers I think they just get too wooly and undefined as the volume goes down.
So here's the solution, it's cheap and simple, easy to fit and makes humbuckers so much more versatile without taking anything away from the full volume sound. I'm talking about treble bleed capacitors.
 For our purposes all you need to know about capacitors (caps for short) is they allow treble frequencies to pass through them but block bass. The frequencies involved depend on the value of the cap.
 The volume control (potentiometer or pot) on an electric guitar looks like this:

It's a fairly simple device, As you turn the volume down the resistance between the 'in' and 'out' leg increases. This makes it increasingly harder for the signal from your pickups to get through. Less signal means quieter.
 Here's the same thing with our cunning treble bleed:

This one has the 'Orange Drop' treble bleed which has a resistor added to it. This resistor softens the treble as you turn down making the effect more subtle. My preference is for the cap on its own.
So as you turn down and the the resistance increases there's an alternative path for the signal  - through the cap. But the cap will only let treble through. As you turn the volume down you're also turning the bass down. As a result you have a usable single coil (ish) sound when the volume is low. If you're overdriving an amp the result is cleaning your sound up. So with a high gain amp and your volume at about 1/4 you get a bluesy breaking up sound , crank the volume on the guitar and you're rocking.
Here's a picture of me rocking.

 As you can see, it's very effective.
On my guitars I prefer a simple treble bleed (0.001uf), no coil taps or series parallel. Just the volume control.


I am no longer repairing guitars - since covid 19 I now work full time making pickups

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Stratocaster Pickup re-wind

A customer brought me a 'dead' Strat style pickup the other day. It's out of an 80's Yamaha but its identical to a Fender in design.

I see quite a few old Fender pickups that have suddenly started to sound thin and quiet. It's a common problem, the insulation breaks down over time shorting out the pickup. 

The fate of this pickup was sealed when it's owner decided to adjust the pole piece height. It has the vintage style staggered poles, they are not adjustable, if you push them in it will sheer of a load of wires and kill the pickup. 

I like pickups, I like rewinding them. It's such simple high school physics but so fundamental to electric guitars.
 A pickup is simply a magnet with a coil of very thin wire wrapped around it. If you pass something ferrous through the magnetic field (a vibrating string) it disturbs the field causing electrons in the coil to move - that' electricity. It's not much electricity but amplify it a couple of times and you've got stadium ROCK. Cool eh.
To make a pickup sound good is rather more complicated, in fact, rather surprisingly so considering the basic principle is straight forward.

I tested the pickup and the meter showed it was dead. Before snipping all the windings off I just re-solder the wire terminals just in case of dry joints, this does sometimes fix it , worth a go.

In order to re-wind it I need to cut off the old windings. The wire is as fine as hair (I'm judging by my own) and there are thousands of turns of it. I'm careful not to damage the bobbin while doing this. Any little nicks can catch on the new windings and ruin an otherwise good rewind.

The old windings are off now and you can see what happened.
The two highest pole pieces that were pushed down have torn the protective tape and sneered off some of the turns.

You can see what a simple structure a Fender pickup is. Each of the 6 lugs is an alnico magnet press fitted into vulcanised fibre board. I use a blade to scrape off any excess wax and smooth out any high points.

 I seep very thin superglue into the magnet/fibreboard joints just to be sure it's all still strong.

I replace the tape with some thinner stuff. The tape increases the life of a pickup by preventing the inner windings from shorting out on the pole piece. I use really thin tape to keep the inner windings as close as possible to the magnet. There's a lot of high end clarity that comes from these inner windings. This pickup is ready for the winding machine.

I mount the pickup to the machine with an extra little block to keep the underside straight. Some vintage pickups can get a bit bendy without this support when winding.

I anchor the wire by wrapping it through the lug 4 or 5 times.

 I prefer to wind with a combination of scatter winding by hand and machine winding. I've tried so many different ways over the last 20 years, this works best for me.
Here's the finished coil. You can see it looks slightly uneven, that's intentional. If you wind a pickup too neatly it sounds a bit dull. An element of randomness creates a loose, open clarity. 

I've wound this one with 8500 turns of 42AWG wire. It's come out at 6.2 KOhms which was about what I wanted. This is a bridge pickup and the other two are 5.6KOhms wound with the same gauge wire. So it should match in well.

I wax pot it to prevent micro phonic feedback

 And we're done - this Strat pickup lives to ROCK another day


Feel free to contact me, text is best - 021912678.
If I don't answer don't be shy to leave a message, it's not easy for me to pick up the phone sometimes.
I very rarely check emails these days, I never seem to find time.

 Drop off/pick ups by appointment only

Monday, 7 March 2016

10 String Lap Steel

Towards the end of last year I got a call asking if I could make a 10 string lap steel guitar. Why not I thought.

 In their simplest form lap steels are very simple.


 I wanted to be a tad more sophisticated with mine. This might be a simple instrument but the components and construction still make a difference to the sound. It's a fretless electric guitar with a high action - the wood, bridge, nut and electronics are just as important as for a LesPaul or Stratocaster. Well that's how I look at it anyway.
 I decided to design it with a cool old traditional vibe - Empire State meets LeMans which sounds like I'm mixing my decades but there's a boldness of line in common that I like.

 I combined 2 woods, Paulownia and Australian Blackwood.
 I wanted a hard wood (Blackwood) to both emphasize the high frequencies and help transmit vibrations along the instrument and help it sustain. It gives it structural strength too.
 The soft Paulownia is great for lower frequencies, warms up the bass and mids and adds an almost reverb like quality to the note.
 Blackwood on its own would make a harsh sounding heavy instrument with too much treble, Paulownia on its own, wooly and undefined without enough structural strength. But together, they really work.
 They give a nice colour contrast too with the darker stripes running right through the instrument.
 For the fingerboard I chose a piece of Swamp Kauri (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swamp_kauri). This is one of the oldest workable timbers in the world. I don't know how old this piece is, I'd need to get it carbon dated, lets just say a few thousand years. It's frequencies lie between the other two woods and it's a beautiful colour. It gives the player something pretty to look at. We're lucky here in NZ to have some fantastic timbers. I inlayed fret markers and some chequered stripes into it.

I chose aluminium for bridge and nut, it has a lively, quick response. Steel feels like it reacts slower. I think that extra mass just takes more string energy to get it moving. I used long screws to mount the bridge deep into the wood - that coupling is important.
 I made the P90 style pickup from scratch using alnicoII magnets and fibre board. I wound it as I would a conventional P90, ties the ends off and then wound a couple of thousand extra turns of thin wire on top.
Using a switch the extra turns can be added. So it can go from a traditional chiming pure sound to a grunty, dirty powerful blues tone at the flick of a switch - two pickups in one.
 I got the pickup cover 3D printed, remember this is a 10 string, parts just aren't available.

  I had the decals made up in a groovy font - I usually inlay my guitars but the decal suited this one better.

 I finished it in shellac so as not to stifle any of the sound I'd worked hard to achieve.There's no point in making a light, resonant instrument and then stifling it with thick polyurethane just for the sake of ease.

 By now I'd gone way over the usual spec for a lap steel (I just can't help myself) but I do think it's an instrument that needs to be taken more seriously.
 I'd come in exactly on budget but a week over time.

He seemed pretty happy with the end result.


I am no longer repairing guitars - since covid 19 I now work full time making pickups