Guitar Tech Corner - Repair ◊ Modification ◊ Setup

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Tips & Tricks

Question: What is scalloping a neck?

Answer: The process of scalloping a neck involves removing the wood between the frets to eliminate the friction from the fret board when stretching or bending notes. This is taken from the Indian sitar style of fingerboard. one of the first to use this was John Mclaughlin and later Ritchie Blackmore then Malmsteen. It is a labor intensive process and there is no turning back once it is done. i have done this to almost all the guitars I own (including acoustics) and find it really helps my playing. The notes you use for vibrato are easier to achieve and you won't lose a string when going for huge stretches. the drawbacks are the fact that when you play a chord, you can totally pull it out of tune by pressing too hard. It is similar to high frets but still different. Tracy

Question: How do strings affect my tone?

Answer: Great question! First let's look at some of the types of strings that an electric guitar uses. Roundwound, this is the most popular, it is a solid core with round windings. Flatwound (or ribbon wound) this is a solid core with flat wire around it (sounds dull, great for jazz). Groundwound, this is a cross of both of the previous strings, it is a solid core with a round wire wrap that is ground slightly flat after being wound (not as dull as flatwounds). The early strings were wound with nickel over a steel core, this gave a soft bluesy tone that is much back in style right now. The rock strings are a steel core with nickel plate wrap wire, this will give the pickup magnets more information due to the steel, and will be brighter, and more powerful than nickel wound. Most rock players are buying nickel plated steel strings. Tracy

Question: When or why should I have my guitar refreted?

Answer: Two reasons. One is if there isn't enough fret material or "meat" left on the fret for another fret level and dressing, then you should consider a partial, or complete refret. Second, if you think your frets are too tiny, or the curve(radius) of your fret board is too much, then you can have the frets pulled and the fretboard re-raduised, and then a larger fret wire installed. keep in mind that if you are dealing with a vintage instrument, that you should stick as close as possible to the same specs for the fretwire and radius. Fret wire comes in many different widths and heights, so ask your tech about what is best for your style. Tracy

Question: I own a Strat and Les Paul and I use 9's on both of them. The Strat seems stiffer than the Les Paul, almost like the strings are 10 gauge, why?

Answer: Scale length. Without getting too specific, the distance between the nut at the headstock, and the saddles at the bridge is called your scale length. On Gibson electrics this distance is shorter than on Fender Strats. It takes more tension to achieve the same note on Strats, and it will feel stiffer. Paul Reed Smith guitars have a scale length right in between Gibsons and Fenders at 25 inches. Many players in your situation will put a gauge lighter on their fenders to even the feel of the guitar to the Les Paul. Tracy

Question: How can I keep my strings and hardware from rusting and getting tarnished so fast? I put new strings on weekly but they still tarnish.

Answer: You probably have a high acidic content to your sweat on your hands. I have seen this in many of my clients, who after minutes of playing their guitar, the strings start tarnishing and getting dirty. This is very evident around the bridge and saddles too. Some things that seem to help are W.D. 40 (the W.D. stands for water displacement, orig. designed for the military to keep their cannons on the navy ships working good.) I make a secret sauce (not secret anymore) out of this that works great for these problems. Squirt into a baby food jar about an inch of W.D. 40 and add to that equal amounts of rubbing alcohol put the lid on and shake this up real good. Now take a terry cloth (washcloth) rag and put a little amount on it (tablespoon). Now wrap this around your new or slightly new strings, and rub it down the length of each string (being careful to not get it all over your finish) the string should be a little wet when done. Now let this dry and your strings will last twice as long, due the fact that the alcohol cleans oils and the W.D. 40 dries on the metal to prevent future tarnish. Another tip I have is to squirt a little W.D. 40 on a Q-tip and dab it on your saddles and hardware too (careful with gold, it has a plating on it). do this every few string changes and you will be in good shape! Tracy

Question: My guitar seems to feedback all the time, and I cant play it very loud. What's up with that?

Answer: There are two kinds of feedback, resonance and microphonic. Microphonic is the high pitched style of feedback caused by loose pickup covers or non-potted (waxed dipped) coils or just shitty imported low budget pickups. If its the latter, just buy new ones, and give the old ones to someone you hate. Microphonic pickups are not something the do-it-yourselfer should touch ,so take those to your friendly guitar tech to get fixed : ). Resonant feedback....this we can try to fix ourselves. First off realize that a guitar pickup is dumb, it is able to pick up sound from top and bottom of itself, and has to be told where to focus its energy. A couple of ways to do this is to install some closed cell foam (carpet padding is cool) under the pickup in the cavity it rests in. This tells it to listen to the string more than the body. another thing you can do is cut off the bottom of the screws that stick out on a humbucker pickup.(O.K. do I need to tell you to only try this on non-vintage pickups?)

Since the pickup screws are the pole pieces they should be cut flush with the bottom of the pickup. (you should remove them after marking them where to cut, and then put them carefully back in after cutting them to size). Also some foam in other cavities of the guitar will help keep it from going into feedback. I'm going to be incorporating some of these same ideas in John Jorgenson's custom shop Tele he plays with the Hellcasters.(he gets a lot of resonant feedback through his signature matchless amp at high volumes) So I'll keep you posted on the outcome. Tracy

Question: How high should I set my pickup height?

Answer: Since the last column dealt with pickups output and resistance, and the fact that I have been flooded with pickup questions lately, I will devote a few more columns exclusively to tips and tricks for pickups.

How high to adjust your pickups? Well, first off if you have a Strat you want the bridge pickup as close to the strings as possible, try sliding a dime between the strings and the pickup pole pieces (fret the highest fret with your hand and adjust them with the strings flush to the fret board) the neck and middle have to be a little further, with the bass side angled lower than the treble side to avoid the oscillating effect that happens when the pole pieces are too close and makes the string vibrate out of tune. (This is a very common problem and most people think their intonation is out. if you have lace sensors or non magnetic poles on your pickups, you can bring them as close as the bridge pickup without worry). With humbuckers, I like them both real close, same as the Strat bridge pickup height. This gives you what is termed as the "proximity effect", very sharp attack and percussive and higher output to the amp. If you ever speak into a microphone from a distance and then get real close to the mic, the same effect will happen with your voice. Now to get a different sound, try lowering your pickups a far as you can (without making them pop off the screws and springs!) and give a good listen. You will hear a much weaker sound and a sweeter tone (this works great for all you closet blues players with hot pickups). Experiment on your own and see what fits your tastes. Tracy

Question: I hear a lot about a pickups resistance. What does that do?

Answer: The resistance is considered the output of the pickup, by hooking up the two leads of an ohmmeter to the hot and minus of the pickup, you can get the reading. When shopping for new pickups, keep this in mind. For example, A Gibson style PAF humbucker is usually in the 8.00-9.00 resistance output and typical Strat style are in the 5.5-6.5 range. The more windings of wire on a pickups coil the higher the resistance. Now here is the tricky part, some manufacturers glue magnets to the bottom of inexpensive pickups to increase the output without doing the extra winding, so the reading might show 9.00 but could really be much hotter than that! If looking for distortion or hot pickups, try getting one that is in the 13-16.00 resistance output for a humbucker and 10.00-12.00 for a Strat style. Sometimes you can find them with higher readings but you lose high-end frequency response when too many windings are wrapped. The general rule is the higher the number of windings, the less high end and more midrange will come out. (That is a big reason players search for those old pickups. the magnets get weaker with time and the resistance is somewhat lower hence they get that "sweet tone" ) many manufacturers have good descriptive catalogs, for example, Seymour Duncan has a very good catalog of his pickups and also offers compact disk recordings that let you hear all the varieties of pickups that he offers. Try going to his web site to order a catalog, or your local music store should have extras. Tracy

Question: Why does Fender use 250k pots and Gibson use 500k potentiometers on their volume controls?

Answer: The ohm value of a volume pot is defined by the pickup that is running through it. 250 k pots bleeds off (attenuates) more of the high frequencies to ground than a 500k pot, and the result is a slightly warmer sound than with the 500k. This is important to know when installing single coil or humbucking pickups. The 250 k pot will knock off some of the highs and match up better to a single coil (bright) pickup. There are some neat things that you can try with different value pots. If you have a "distortion" or high output humbucker (that sounds a little muddy) , you can try hooking up a 1 meg pot to it to see if the clarity improves. It is interesting to note, that some early Gibson Les Pauls used 300 k pots and some early Fender Telecasters had 1 meg pots in them! The tone changes are subtle, but worth the try if your soldering skills are good. Tracy

Question: The repair tech at my local music store says I need a fret dressing. What is that?

Answer: Well its not a secret salad sauce for your frets (sorry) but it does fix certain problems that cannot be adjusted out by any other means. it means to level the frets so they are even. (Some bolt-on necks have an annoying hump at the 12 fret area). This is best done by a qualified tech, because the process is involved. Ask them if they are going to put the guitar in a neck jig to simulated string tension when the strings are off, and that allows the neck to get very straight or flat so the long file can level the frets evenly. after the fret relevel they need to be "crowned". Crowning is rounding the tops of each fret to remove the "squareness" that the file has done to it. Then sanding and polishing all the frets. This is a very basic description of the procedure, (I could write a whole chapter on it alone). But this should help it make sense to you. Tracy

Question: John F. Writes: I put a new pickup in my Les Paul style guitar, and now the middle position on my switch sounds very thin. Did I do something wrong?

Answer: Not really wrong (unless that sound sucks...) what you did was wire the pickup out of phase with the other one. This is easily fixable if you have what is called "four conductor wiring" on your new or other pickup. This will allow you to reverse the electrical phasing. You will probably have to look at your schematic with your pickup, or contact the manufacturer to get the wiring scheme (most companies have their own color code and don't follow each other) In essence, you will have to reverse the hot lead to your pot, or switch, and run that to ground. Now take the ground wire (not the bare wire) and run that to the place where the other one was. This should fix ya up, if you don't have four wires, then you really need to live with it or take it to a good tech who can carefully take the pickup apart and flip the magnets and put it back together. Good luck! Tracy

Question: Julie G. writes: When I tune my acoustic guitar I hear clicking noises and my tuning will slip or jump around, do I need new gears, or is something else wrong?

Answer: Julie, the noises you are hearing are actually the strings sticking at the nut at the headstock. The fix is to either widen the slots and lube them or just lube them alone. You can try this yourself by taking a piece of 400 grit sandpaper (size of a business card) and fold it back on itself, and then run it lightly through the slots, then follow it with a #2 pencil and draw the lead into each slot to lube it (the lead is graphite). That should really fix the problem. Tracy

7 Things that make a guitar sound and play better.....

Lower Action
Neck Adjustments
Clean & Condition Fretboard
Adjust Nut
Lower High Frets (additional charge)
New Strings

Action.... how far a string is from the frets or fretboard is crucial to the playability of a guitar. String height can be lowered at two areas...the bridge and the nut (up by the gears). Let's say you bring both areas down so the string is closer to the fretboard, if all is correct you will have a great playing instrument! But as things mostly go in life, mostly mine, this does not seem as easy as just that, frets that are uneven, worn badly or loose will cause the string to buzz or even fret-out, and if the bow of the neck is too severe, that will make things worse! And if you don't follow the radius of the neck (the curve of the fretboard), some strings will buzz or when stretched will "fret-out". A fret dressing will solve most fret buzz problems. Truss rod adjustments are always important 2-3 times a year. This long threaded bar inside the neck controls the flex and bow of the fingerboard and is very important to the feel of the string action.

Intonation or strobe tuning is the adjustment of the string length to make chords sound in tune up and down the fretboard. This is achieved by adjusting the small bridge saddles forward and back. All these can really make a guitar feel and sound better. Other things can be done and we will address those in upcoming newsletters.

Thank you,



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