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​Fretted Instrument Repair

​There are six factors that all great guitars have that make them play like we all dream guitars would.

  1. Neck Pitch Angle
    1. ​Different manufacturers or different designs of guitars require different pitch angles if any. Gibson vs Fender for example. Take a Les Paul with its set neck that is pitched away from the guitars body vs. a Stratocaster that has an almost straight pitched neck. Both great guitars and both have a certain pitch that meets their respective bridges properly.
  2. Flat fingerboard. By flat I don't mean classical style with zero radius, but relative to the sanded shape either cone for Compound or cylinder for Straight radius. A neck must be flat relative to its shape.
  3. Flat frets. If frets are installed incorrectly then a flat fingerboard does little to help. The fingerboard and the tops of all the frets must be parallel to each other. A straight neck does not mean straight frets. Both must be checked.
  4. Truss rod. I prefer a two-way truss rod or carbon fiber reinforced necks depending on the players style of music. Two-way truss rods give you more flexibility for different setups and playing styles, imagine Swiss army knife, more options. Carbon fiber reinforced necks are perma-straight necks. There is no adjustment available but that neck is straight for the life of the guitar. I like to start with a straight neck with my setups and depending on the neck pitch angle or any high and low frets I'll loosen the truss rod to add .003-.007 thousands of relief as necessary.
  5. Saddle height. Saddle height is very important for downward force applied by the strings. This is what gives you your power for your acoustic guitar especially if you're using a piezo style pickup under the saddle. Piezo's need sufficient pressure in order to translate your guitars vibrations into an electrical signal. The weaker the downward force the weaker your guitar will sound. I like to see between 5 and 7/64ths of the saddle above the bridge. Much higher than that and the guitars action will be too high, much lower than that and there may not be sufficient force being applied.
  6. Nut Height. Filing into the nut is the icing on the cake of a guitar playing well. Lets be honest, many guitar players play within the first 5 frets of their guitar and its here that we fight our guitars the most. There is no give at the first fret so the strings need to be set as low as they can without buzzing

Setting Up A Guitar

What is a setup? The guitar world considers a setup as what is needed in order for a guitar to play comfortably. I say "what is needed" because it is just that. Most guitars, especially new, need a setup at one time or another. What is involved in a setup? The 6 factors I outlined at the top of this page breakdown what determines a comfortable and easy to play guitar. A guitars neck must have proper pitch in order for the strings to be close to the frets. A guitar neck must have a flat fingerboard relative to its radius; no high and no low spots. A guitars frets much be flat, when inserted, matching the fingerboard radius. The guitars truss rod allows the player to adjust the necks straightness depending on the players choice of strings. Heavier strings like a set of 13's will pull the neck with greater force compared to a set of 10's. A guitars Saddle height should not be too high or too low. Too high, the string height will follow, too low and your guitars tone will diminish. Lastly the strings height filed into he nut determines the guitars comfort in the first position where many guitar plays tend to play. Why is this needed? Why don't guitar manufacturers setup their guitars before shipping them out? I cannot speak for any manufacturer but I would argue that guitar makers do setup their guitars; just higher than what players want. Look at it from a manufacturing point of view. Guitar makers are working with an imperfect material, wood, that moves based on moisture and temperature. In a climate controlled area, like a factory, wood can stabilize. Leave the factory however, and wood will begin to adjust to its environment. My example for customers is usually Florida, Arizona, and Nevada. Florida with its high temperatures and humidity, you can expect the guitar to swell with too much moisture. Arizona with its high temperatures and low humidity, you can expect a guitar to shrink and eventually crack. Nevada with high deserts like Reno with low humidity and temperatures, you can expect the guitar to shrink and eventually crack. Its the lesser of two evils for a guitar manufacturer to have higher string height compared to lower. With higher string height a guitar is far more likely to play without having any buzzing issues after the guitar adjusts to its new non-factory controlled climate. With lower string height the possibility of string buzz is greater after the guitar adjusts to its new climate. The issue is that a guitar that has string buzz will be less likely to sell and customers forget who the real customer of guitars are, Guitar Stores. You the customer may buy a guitar of a brand or mix of brands while the Guitar Store will buy many more guitars than any customer with the hopes of selling them all. If a guitar has a buzz then it is less likely to sell. Yes, Guitar Stores should be able to adjust string height but not all stores have qualified technicians and the guitar may have to be sent back to the manufacturer.

Partial Neck Reset and custom Bridge Shim Seagul S6
​I say partial neck reset because that seems the most appropriate for a bolt-on neck with a glued tongue. The neck was already loose when the customer brought in the guitar, the real issue was the torn off bridge and how much of the top had been ripped away. In order for a glue joint to hold there can't be weak spots with no wood or glue. So the job required getting below the lowest point in the top and gluing in a shim to fill the gap so I could glue the bridge to the guitars top properly. I cut a shim out of Redwood Cedar to match the guitars top. After gluing the shim and leveling its height to that of the guitars top I was ready to glue the bridge. Lastly after the bridge was secure I was able to attach the neck, check my pitch angle, and bolt/glue the neck in place.

Custom Rosewood Bridge for 1960's Gibson J45

This repair is one that is debated over. Some of the old J45's had height adjustable saddles, meaning there were nuts and bolts built into the guitars top. The customer that brought in the guitar had read on forums about other J45 owners replacing the bridge with a custom made traditional bridge, meaning no nuts and bolts. Here is the debate, will this repair add value or devalue the guitar? The original design will no longer be there and from a collector's perspective I can see this type of repair devaluing the guitar. From a players perspective however, there is no question that this repair added value. Why? Tone quality. Nuts and bolts going through the top of a guitar will only hinder the tops movements eliminating what the aged wood has to offer. The reason older guitars are sought after is the tone quality that they offer. Eliminating tone eliminates the value of the guitar in my mind. The whole point is for the guitar to be played, but if a guitar sounds lackluster and dead what value was there to begin with? Ultimately it was the customers choice and I'm all for making guitars play and sound as great as I can. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this piece of history.

Neck Reset of an 80's Guild D-35

Time catches up to all of us and the guitar is no different, particularly steel string guitars. Its battle of wood vs steel and steel wins eventually. A truss rod slows down the process but eventually a neck reset will be needed. Why? The strings of a guitar pull towards the bridge while the truss rod will usually pull away, making the position where the neck is coupled to the body a pivot point. Over time the wood at the neck and body pivot point will compress under tension and the neck will slowly bend inward toward the bridge. I recommend to customers who plan on not playing their guitars to de-tune them so there is no tension on the neck. Most guitars that I've seen or performed neck resets on are usually 10 plus years old. The more time goes by the more likely the neck will need resetting. As a guideline I look for a guitar neck to be no more or less than 1/32 above or below the bridge. What that means is if I were to place a straight edge on the frets of a guitar, under tension, and the straight edge continued to the bridge, the tip of that edge should meet right on top of the bridge. If its above then that is what we would call a neck being overset and if the edge is below, we would call the neck underset. This detail is important because it will determine whether you will be adding material to the necks heel or removing it. My 1/32 guideline is jut that, a guideline, ultimately it depends on the player and what they're comfortable with.

Contact Info
  • David's Broken Note
  • 530-661-2349
  • 10 N. East Street Suite 203
    Woodland, California 95776
  • Hours:
    Tue-Fri: 10 am - 6 pm
    Sat 10 am - 5 pm
    Closed Sunday and Monday
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