Set up and fret jobs

Discussion in 'Guitar Building' started by evolved_insanity, Dec 31, 2015.

  1. evolved_insanity

    evolved_insanity Active Member

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    In recent months I have been backlogged tremendously with starting a new business and renovating the building we are in, getting the shop up and running, and have had zero time to build guitars. I have been selling off my collection of guitar woods and was trying to decide whether or not to keep building. All of the people who have purchased or been gifted guitars by me insisted I keep building but all had the same things to say about the guitars I have built. Everyone needed to go to a pro to set up the guitar properly but after being set up, were all extremely happy with their instruments. The way they look, feel, and play. After a chat yesterday with a couple people who brought my spirits up about building, I have decided to keep it going as a hobby and look into furthering my development with building.

    Proper set up and fret jobs are the hardest thing about guitar building to me. The woodworking, wood choices and design to use these choices in nice sequences comes easily to me. I know in time, doing more and more of this will help just as it does with anything but at some point we need to admit our weaknesses and try to build on the skills I have and get better at the ones I have yet to grasp.

    I was wondering if anyone has some direction on books, videos, etc, that are/were helpful to you when learning to do these. I must admit that I am at a disadvantage because I do not play guitar at a level that even a 5 year old would envy. There are so many books and videos out there but I am sure there are some that are better than others.

    Any help would be appreciated and sorry about the novel. I just felt that some background was necessary.

    Jon
     
  2. jkes01

    jkes01 Active Member

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    I highly recommend any book or video by Dan Erlewine.
     
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  3. Dave Locher

    Dave Locher Member

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    I have a copy of Erlewine's book on doing set up jobs. it does not say anything about leveling or crowning frets, but I would be happy to send it to you if you email me your address. I'm done with it.
    I will say though, there's nothing in it that you can't find on the Internet pretty easily. But he does do a very good job of explaining what you're doing and why you're doing it. It's a good starting point. His videos on stewmac's website are also very helpful.

    Atomickustom at hotmail dot com
     
  4. fumblefinger

    fumblefinger Member

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    Ditto on Dan's book(s).
     
  5. evolved_insanity

    evolved_insanity Active Member

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    Thanks guy for your replies so far. Dave Locher, wow, thank you for your generous offer. That is great! Where are you located?
     
  6. Dave Locher

    Dave Locher Member

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    I'm in Joplin, Missouri. Got your email today. It's packed & ready to send next time I make it to the post office.
    I got my use out of it, and now someone else can as well.
     
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  7. Duplex Dave

    Duplex Dave Active Member

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    Can you see the difference(s) that were made between your set-up and after the "pros" set up your guitars? I would try to analyze as best as possible these set-ups, or go to a music store and take some notes on the best playing guitars hanging on the wall.
    This is not a unique problem to yourself. I have seen dozens of boutique acoustic guitars built by guys who only make 10 or so a year and fetch good money for their builds. Most have very mediocre set-ups. These guitars are nearly perfect in every way, the joints, miters, binding/perflings and inlays, even down to the finish work, yet the set-ups and fret jobs can be lacking in the same perfection.
    I can look down the neck of a guitar and tell if it will play good or not. Things I'm looking for are the correct neck angle, the correct relief, level frets (of course), and correct saddle height (not a high saddle with too much break or vice versa, this goes with correct neck angle) I'm looking at the relationship of the string to the rest of the instrument, it should not be parallel to the fret board but rising ever so slightly.
    You'll get it, it just takes looking at many, many guitars that play good and try to replicate their characteristics.
    The Erlewine book should be very useful, he's great at explaining this stuff and knows what he's talking about.
    Also, there is not a generic set-up that works for everyone. Some guys can play a dead nuts flat neck with no relief and super low action with no issues, others will hate a set-up like that. Some guy's will have fret buzz no matter how high you raise the action and loosen the rod because their technique is horrible. Every guitar has it's limitations just as every player does.
    If someone asks for action "as low as possible without buzzing" then you need to sit down with them and see how they actually play the guitar and discuss the limitations of their request.
    Sounds like you need to give yourself a little more credit where credit is due, and, keep building!
     
  8. fumblefinger

    fumblefinger Member

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    That's the key. You have to do the set up with the player in mind. What style of music are they going to use your guitar for? In Dan's book he strongly urges the reader to know the difference between a Gibson acoustic set up vs. a Martin set up. If possible, ask them to bring their favorite git and play their favorite song on it. Then measure the guitar and use this to adjust your set up on the new one. They may tell you that they want it just like that one. Or they may want it different, but at least you have a starting point. Some guy who's playing easy jazz in a small a venue will be able to stand a much lower action than the guy pounding metal through a 300W amp doing Pete Townsend flails. That's why Gibson and many other manufacturers have the nut cut a little high. This way the customer can have a reputable dealer adjust the action to them.

    Not that there aren't cases where the set up on new guitar is perfect right out of the box, but I think it's rare. If you search the different forums you will almost universally find that the real players will take a brand new guitar to their favorite luthier and pay for a set up as soon as they take posession. Don't beat your self up. Learn what questions to ask your customers to make it right for them and they will come back again. Best of all, they will tell all their friends what a great job you did to make it just like they like it.
     
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  9. evolved_insanity

    evolved_insanity Active Member

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    Great points Duplex Dave and Fumblefinger. Thank you for your advice.
     
  10. VanDewart Guitars

    VanDewart Guitars New Member

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    Fretwork and setups are a completely different skill set within building guitars, sort of like finishing and electronics wiring. I would suggest not only anything Erlewine, but also get a few cheap guitars off of craigslist or pawn shops and try your hand at them. I did that when I was first starting, as well as setting up my friends guitars for them, and it was a great learning experience. Since you can re-sell them after you're done, it's not very cost-prohibitive either (and if you're lucky, you can actually make a few bucks!)
     
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  11. fumblefinger

    fumblefinger Member

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    I've bought several Epi Tribute + and Bonamassa gits with headstock breaks. Theory being that I could teach myself to do the repair, the fret work and the set up. If I botched it beyond repair I could sell the components for roughly what I had in them. I've also seen an ad on CL asking for cheap or free guitars to work on. You could try that route also.
     
  12. SimonB15

    SimonB15 Active Member

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    This is a good question, and it's nice to know I'm not the only one who struggles a little at this point. I don't think my fret jobs are terrible, but there's definite room for improvement.

    I find it challenging to stay patient during the fret job/set up stage, because the guitar is so close to being done and I just want to play it. I find myself cutting corners, which is not a good thing because you end up sacrificing playability for the sake of a few minutes on something that took months to build.
     

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