The Ultimate Guitar Set-Up Guide

Follow along and learn how to set-up your guitar from start to finish beginning with: Adjusting The String Height, followed by: Adjusting The Truss Rod, and finishing up with: Setting The Intonation.

Your strings should be in good condition and the neck free of defects which might limit adjustments of the action such as neck warp or excessively worn and uneven fretwork.

Adjusting String Height

String height is an easy adjustments to make. Measure the height of the string over the highest pair of frets and adjust the saddle up or down as needed. Slacken the strings before making string height adjustments, this will save on wear and tear on adjustment screws and make turning them easier.

Bridges with individual string saddles typically use small hex wrenches. Fixed bridges are adjustable on the treble and bass sides of the bridge by screws or thumb wheels.

Setting String Height

Personal preference comes into play as well as the quality of the fret work in determining how low or high to set the string height. The illustration above shows a measurement of 1/16″ (1.5mm) which is fairly low.

String Height and Playing Style

When considering how high to set the strings, consider the playing style in addition to the type of instrument.

  • Traditional acoustic instruments, and playing styles that favor strumming, open chords and a desire for clean, loud notes work well with a medium-high string height, 3mm or more, as suites the player.
  • Vintage style electrics, and those going for a combination of comfortable chording and soloing with room to “dig-in” and play heavier styles do well with a medium string height, 2-3mm.
  • Players preferring a very light action and for those wanting to “shred” may favor a low action, 1.5-2mm.

The player and their instrument play a large part in determining a string height that is comfortable and accommodating for the player’s chosen style.

String Height Adjustment Tips: Make sure your tools are the correct size. Screwdriver tips should match screw heads to avoid slipping. Hex wrench or Allen key tools should be the correct size to avoid stripping small adjustment screws. Consult the manufacturer of your instrument if you are not sure what size tool you need. Sizes vary between imported and domestic instruments.

Reading A Ruler

A guide to reading a ruler.

ModGuitar Ultimate Set-Up Guide continues…>

Buying A Guitar: Budget & Recommendations

So, you’re looking to buy your first guitar? There are so many models, options, and features to compare, I thought it would be beneficial to outline some of the features to look for, some of my personal picks, and market trends.

Depending on your goals; wether you intend to dive in and learn yourself, take classes, or just dabble around a bit and see how you like playing, Adult player, or youngster there’s a guitar that’s just right for you.

Your budget is your first consideration. Have a price you’re willing to pay in mind before you go shopping. It’s real easy to get up-sold on features or looks when comparing instruments side-by-side. Even online shopping can be a kid in a candy shop experience with your credit card burning a hole in your pocket and thoughts of that shiny new guitar arriving at your doorstep.

With that in mind, here’s a chart outlining typical price points and features you can expect to find in your price range. As the chart shows, beyond a certain point you are mostly paying for cosmetics and/or other professional features. Those top of the line instruments are suitable for collectors, pros, and that retiree that always wanted a custom instrument. But realize this, in the hands of a beginning player they all sound about the same. There’s no magic wood or pick-up that will make you a better player quicker than practice, and lots of it. In fact, I’d wager that very few players are masters of their instrument to a degree that they can squeeze those mystical notes out of them. So, head out of the clouds, budget in mind, let’s find you a guitar.

This is how the market for instruments is trending as of Fall 2011.

$99 – $179 Beginners instruments, suitable for children, and those who really just want to give playing a try but don’t want to invest much in a instrument. There’s a lot of this sort of guitar around, you friends and neighbors probably have one collecting dust in a closet or attic.

Pros: Cheap enough to be pretty careless with them, no concern of collect ability. Generally good enough to learn the basics on. Good instruments for modders, a whole instrument for the price of custom parts.

Cons: Quality concerns. They may look the same to the untrained eye, and to a beginner might even seem to play as well as any. But very quickly the quality of really cheap instruments tends to overshadow their usefulness. Often the components are unique sizes unrelated to industry standard specs, making upgrades not worth the expense. One of my biggest concerns with starting a player off with a very low cost instrument is that the playability is not going to be as good as the mid line models out of the box. While they can be adjusted, fret work done, all the things a luthier (guitar maker/repair person) can do to improve the playability, by the time these things have been done the cost becomes equivalent to a better instrument.

How many new players have set the guitar down for good disappointed at their progress in learning to play never realizing that a lot of the cause was a cheap instrument with a bad factory set-up? I can only imagine.

To their credit there are some good bargain models out there. Today’s $99 big box store impulse buy is a much better instrument than those of just 5 years ago.

Conclusions: If you must and budget dictates shop around for a bargain instrument. Have a player with some experience go with you. Online purchases – as with other instrument purchases online, read the posted reviews, and get your ear to the ground to find out what others have found out about your prospective new instrument – before you spend a dime.

Also, at this level a good used instrument can be a real upgrade in quality though you don’t get to tear open the box.

Recommended:
Rondo music SX series:
Fender Squire series:
Epiphone:
Ibanez:

Note: often you can find entry level instruments sold as a kit, complete with a small amplifier a few picks and a starter booklet. Not a bad deal, generally, for the absolute beginner or a child.

TASCAM 2X2 USB Audio Interface.

Tascam-2x2

First Impressions

Manual in box, no discs, Ableton Live Light 9 code card (requires Ableton account to add serial number to account before activation can go through), Sonar brochure (not used, I’m on Mac). It’s a strudy medium sized desktop unit, doesn’t seem prone to sliding around and has some heft to it. The knobs feel solid with smooth rotation that facilitates fine adjustment. The range of adjustment feels right and seems tuned to musical production. The Line out and Phones knobs are a bit close together for my fingers, but I didn’t find it to bother me once I got used to making tweaks to the level settings as I worked.

I was able to plug the 2X2 in and start using it imediately, requiring no software or drivers on MAC OSX Mavericks to use the 2X2 out of the box. True plug and play. I did get around the installign the settings panel and updating the fromware, which were quick and easy installs that didn’t require a restart. The 2X2 is bus powered, which is conveneint for on the go use with a laptop and also prevents some groun loop issues I’ve encountered with other interfaces when used with amps or other effects hardware. The AC adapter (not included) is required for using the 2X2 with IOS devices, which seems to defat the purpose for a portable recording solution, the required cable (lightening?) or USB adapter is also not included for IOS use, hence that functionality isn’t reviewd here.

Once I installed the settings control panel, there was a way to change this behavior and have the line out directly control the computer sound output.I did install the drive, which went without a hitch. I then downloaded and used the firmware updater to get the unti up to the latest – which corected an issue I found where the phantom power (48+) switch when turned on would cause the unti’s USB light to flash. I thought that might indicate that it needed a power adapter to operate with phantom [power on, but it turned out to be a Firmqware issue and was solved once updated.

Tascam-2x2-2

A little confusion at first over how to monitor. The computer/monitor knbo needing ot be turned toward computer to hear the computer sound, then the line out knob also turned up. I was a little concerned at what this arrangement suggested about gain staging, but that worry was addressed via the software control panel which lets you switch to using the line outs directly as computer line out. Direct wardware monitoring is a handy feature though I’ve not often felt the need for it.

The sound is excellent for a unit in this price range, seeming pretty flat and transparent, with a musical and pleasent overall feeling while mixing.

When compared to the older Tapco Link USB which this unti replaces on my desktop, the sound feels bit squased but more refined and accurate. At 96k I was hearing details in recent recordings I’d missed and making different mix choices as a result. The 2X2 uses NE5532 op-amps which have been used in countless recording consoles and recording gear. My listening tests, though not scientific, confrimed for me that they have a great musical character.

The 2X2 held up to my full range listening tests with a variety of material. Driving monitors through balanced inputs well – though I did want to add subwoofer to get that extra umpf in the mix on bass heavy tracks, not the 2×2’s fault, but I think it did expose this missing link in my monitoring a bit more than the Tapco ever had. Good to keep in mind for mixing. I found myself revisitng my recent mixes able to hear detials I’d been missing.

True to claims noise is noticlbe on the input channels, thohg the transparency of the gain channels made me more aware of background noise that my guitar pickups pick-up. Something that had been masked by my prevois interface and thus making it’s way into my recordings.

The ease of use when compared to the Digi 003 rack, which has been my mainstay high-res input source is dramatic, plug an play, vrs a clunky driver settings panel and AVID’s general reluctance to make thier gear cross-compatible. The Digi still rules for inputs, boasting 18 with the included ADAT optical port, so it will stay in the stable for bigger recording tasks. But for day to day use, The price of the Tascam and even it’s bigger sibling interfaces hands down beats Avid’s upgrade costs to stay in the ProTools universe on a modern OS. I can always boot into an older OS for PT trackng and mixing.

The first thing I did was Launch Logic ProX and dig into a project I’ve been working on, making some review examples for Peavey’s Revolver amp sim plug-in. I wanted to put the 2X2 to at least half of the real test – how does it handle direct guitar signals? I’m glad to say it worked really well. I was able to quikly set the input level on the 2X2 by watching the green signal light as I strummed hard on the guitar, and then back it off a bit when the light went red. A set and forget operation. The 2X2 has a good modern chipset, so latency is really low. I was using it at 32 samples, where I’d often had to use 64 or 128 with older gear. This translates into a more natural playing and recording expereince.
I found that I didn’t really feel the need to turn the input/computer dial on the 2X2 toward input at all, though it still might come in handy.
I was recording tacks on the fly through direct input with the amp sim running and enjoying the process, able to forget the settings and try and focus on the performance more. So for guitar and presimably Bass, the Tascam 2×2 get’s a thumb-up.

When comparing specs I noticed that headphone level for the 2X2 is roughly half of that of it’s bigger sibling the 4X4. But that turned out to be a non issue in my tests. The headphone output was able to easily drive even my ATK 240m headphones which have a high impedance to full range volume and more. Presumably the higher rating of the 4X4 facilitates driving two headphone outputs over the 2×2’s one.

Tascam-2x2-3

The inclusion of MIDI in and out sealed the deal for me when shopping for a low cost 24bit/96Khz cabaple interface since in my little studio I still have keyboards and controlers from before USB was the standard. I hope to be able to use my Line6 pedal board as a footwitch controller once I figure out how to do that, and also to hook up my older Alesis keyboard.

Overall I’m realy impressed with the TASCAM 2X2, the sound quality raises the bar for my home studio, and the ease of use has gotten me focused on performance and mixing vrs trying to find the right combo of input settings and configurations. The 2×2 has great gear appeal, looks nice on my deask, and has immediately been incorporated into my audio prodcution workflow. It also serves as a excellent high res audio output box for games and regular music listening, the driver (on Mac for this review) plays well with everything and I was able to have Ableton and Logic both up and running along with iTunes and listen to all three at once, a really versitile interface. If you’re shopping for an audio interface that’s affordable and has class leading features the TASCAM 2X2 should be on list.

What’s Included: The 2X2 interface itself, printed manual, Ableton Lite (Mac & PC) and Sonar LE (PC) software download links and registration/serial numbers.

Things I’d like to see: A mute button (software seletable for line out, Phones or both).
Individual phantom power switches for each channel.
Detented input gain pots.
A real wish list item – include the AC adapter with the 2×2. Hard to justify at this price point, but hey just a wish.

TASCAM TC-S1 Solar Tuner Quick Review

TASCAM Tuner

Here’s a YouTube video review, TASCAM TC-S1 Solar Tuner. A great, lightweight yet sturdy, and compact tuner that charges an internal battery by solar power. Small enough to fit anywhere. Features 4 tuning modes: Animated Strobe, Meter, Needle, and a Fine Tuning mode as well as calibration from A437-A445. A fast internal processor coupled with a responsive onboard mic or 1/4″ phono jack for input. A mini USB connection for charging and an included silicone sleeve for protection.

Check out the video for operating instructions and a demo if the features.

Logic ProX New Guitar Tones.

20131112-141047.jpg

LogocProX has several updated and new guitar effects and amp simulations. The best part of the latest version of Apple’s proffesional caliber recording software – the learning curve has been eased. Enhancements to the user interface have given a fresh look and feel to legacy visual style, which had origins in the Emagic version of the software. Now that’s going back!

Logic Pro X and Reason – How to Rewire

Logic Pro x, a 64 bit app requiring OSX 10.8.4 introduces new routing options for rewire apps.

Reason 6.0 is required for 64bit computability.

1. Launch Logic Pro X.
2. Launch Reason
2a. Reason should launch into 64 bit (rewire 1.8.1) mode – as indicated in the master routing section.
*graphic*
3. Set-up your Reason interments or channels.
3a. Give each instrument a unique name distinct from it’s mixer channel.
3b. Route your instruments to individual “hardware” channels (1-64 in stereo pairs) in Reason.
4. In Logic X, create an External Midi, and a Summing “Folder Stack” set of channels for each instrument or mix group to be routed FROM Reason.
4a. The option to route audio internally FROM Reasons “hardware bus” is only available to Logic’s Summing -Sub tracks.

With this set-up you can play and record Midi data in Logic, while the datas triggers a software synth in Reason, then route the audio back to Logic to a summed track for recording or bouncing the audio output.

A bit of a workaround, but workable.

Used Guitar Buying Guide

Prices of new guitars keep going up. A used guitar can be a great value. Use this ten point guide to evaluate your used guitar or bass purchase before buying.

You can find used instruments online on Ebay, Craigslist, or the used section of your favorite internet music store. Private sales by individuals, second hand stores, or your local music shops. Before you buy familiarize yourself with this handy guide.

  • Is the neck straight? This is a key factor to evaluate when looking at a used guitar or bass. In person you can check this yourself, by eye. Sight down the neck from the peg head toward the body. The frets should be even with the top aligned without individual frets appearing higher or lower than the rest. A smooth sweep is what you are looking for with the slightest bow, without humps, waviness or twisting. Additionally you can hold a string down at the 1st fret and also a fret close to where the neck meets the body to evaluate the relief, the bow should be very slight. Also find out of the neck’s truss-rod is adjustable. Sometimes the truss-rod nut can be stripped or the neck bowed or twisted so much that it cannot be adjusted properly.
  • Are the frets worn? A well played instrument will show some signs of fret wear, particularly closer to the nut. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Very deep pits or groves in the frets can indicate a neck that may have a limited time before it will require at the least a fret level, dress and polish job, and at the most a total refret. Deeply worn frets my also cause the strings to buzz when played.
  • Are there deep scratches or dents in the finish? Minor surface scratches in the finish can usually be rubbed out, as long as they are not so deep that they have gone through the top coat of finish. Normal wear and tear and surface scratches are expected in used instruments and can even lend character to older instruments. Acoustics and instruments with lacquer finishes are typically thinner and may have less finish to buff out to remove scratches.
  • 4. Is the hardware clean and rust/tarnish free? Normal playing can put a film on metal and plastic parts. This can be cleaned up with a combination of denatured alcohol and a modern wax to make them seem like new. However, blue/green tarnish, pitting or rust is permanent damage, so make sure you can live with the appearance.
  • Are all the parts included? You may find used instruments with missing screws, knobs, strap buttons tremolo arms, etc. Consider if you will be able to find replacement parts if needed.
  • For Electric

  • Do all the knobs and switches work? If you are able, be sure to try an electric guitar plugged into an amplifier to make sure all the switch positions work, and the volume and/or tone controls function. These things can always be fixed or replaced, but that will be an additional cost to you.
  • Check the condition of the pick-ups. Are they clean? If they are uncovered, is the wrapping tape intact? Are there any visible loose strands of copper coil winding wire visible? This may indicate a pick-up replacement will be necessary. Also while plugged into an amp, make sure all the pickups are working. If the instrument is lacking strings a coin or other metal object tapped on the selected pick-up will be picked up and amplified.
  • 8. Are all the tuning pegs installed, and do they all match? They should turn easily, and be securely fastened to the peg head with metal nuts and/or the back of the headstock with small metal screws. Missing tuners can sometimes be bought individually.
  • Is the nut in good shape without cracks or chips? A nut can be replaced if needed.
  • Is the bridge in good condition and adjustable? This is important for maintaining the intonation of the guitar or bass. There shouldn’t be missing nuts bolts or string saddles.

Wrapping it up

We hope this guide helps you select a used instrument. Most of the key points are simply things to be aware of when evaluating a used instrument, to help you determine if the price is right. In the case of missing screws or other parts most American and modern imports there are parts available as replacements.

The only real deal breaker is a twisted or overly bowed neck. Everything else can be repaired, replaced, or polished to bring your latest used guitar find to an almost new state.

Fender Standard Telecaster

The Fender Standard telecaster is a key guitar designs that has inspired generations of guitarists to pick up thine axe and play! Designed by Leo Fender, introduced in 1949 as the single pick-up Broadcaster and later the dual single coil pick-up Telecaster or “Tele”, as it is often called, was put into full production in 1950. Favored by country pickers and indie rockers alike, even ‘The Boss’ Bruce Springsteen plays a Telecaster – incidentally his is one of the very first off the production line.

Our review model is from around 2002 and was made in Mexico. This one has that classic mix of an Alder body, a one piece Maple neck, vintage style frets, a modern bridge assembly, sealed Fender tuners and standard controls and pick-ups. The color is Agave blue, which was used on Made in Mexico instruments by Fender for several years. It’s a light shade of blue with just a hint of metal flake. As you can see from the pictures below the Fender logo is the outlined and filled type found on MIM instruments from this period.*

*As opposed to Squire instruments of this period which had solid logos, earlier American made Fender logos and the current import standard line logos.

The serial number tells us a bit about the age of this instrument, as well as dates stamped on the neck heel, under the pick guard and in the neck pocket. These dates represent when individual components where manufactured or inspected and usually range a few weeks or months.

As musical styles shift and change from hard rock and heavy hum-bucker fueled tones to twangier single coil tones, the Telecaster finds a frequent resurgence in popularity. Make no mistake, the stock single standard Tele style pick-ups can bring the heat, but the end result is a bit less meaty than the Gibson Les Paul’s dual hum-bucker tone.

At the same time the Tele stands on its own when compared to the three single-coil equipped Fender Stratocaster. The Stratocaster has a little more tonal variation due to its three pickups being controlled with a five-way switch compared to a standard Tele three way switch. A lot of the telecaster’s charm is in its simplicity and the variety of tones that a good player can irk out of what is considered by many to be a bullet-proof guitar.

Our model lives up to Tele expectations. The Mexico manufactured Standard Telecaster does vary a bit from the American model, and some of the traditional Tele design ideals. When compared to more expensive American made Telecasters you’ll find that visually the quality of the wood may be better cosmetically and beyond that the selection of the wood for it’s tonal characteristics varies widely – what you get is still that tried and true recipe for success.

Fender Standar Telecaster Review Continues…

Apple Garageband Virtual Guitar

Jamming on Apple’s Garageband App for iPad

Take a few minutes to check out the virtual guitar instrument in Garageband on the iPad. Lots of fun with guitar-like bending and playing techniques. It’s like GuitarHero on steroids! The recording and editing functions aren’t the same as the desktop app, but worthy of having fun and sketching out ideas on the road or on the couch. If you ever wanted a guitar set-up perfectly for tapping ala Eddie VanHalen – this app is for you!

iTunes Playlists, Export and Import.

Watch the video, it’s easy!

ModGuitar iTunes Playlist Import & Export How to Article

Share your playlists or save them. It’s easy to do, and fun to share with friends and family. *note the playlists do not copy music, they are just a text file that describes what songs are in your playlist.

Please note: Whatchamagoo.com or ModGuitar.com are not sponsored by or affiliated with Apple, Inc. in any way. This video is just for informational purposes.

Fender Strat Plus Bi-flex Truss Rod Fix and Pick-up Swap.

I’ve had this Strat Plus Deluxe for ages. Unfortunately the previous owner must have used the wrong hex wrench (I’m not ruling out the design of the Bi-Flex truss rod itself) which has led to the truss rod socket being stripped completely, leaving the neck unadjustable. This is a somewhat common problem for this model and others equipped with Fender’s Bi-Flex truss-rod design.
The 93′ Strat Plus Deluxe with pop-in trem bar, two point floating tremolo, locking tuners, roller nut, Bi-flex truss rod, in crimson burst finish.

1993 Fender Strat Plus Deluxe
The truss rod being unadjustable isn’t necessarily the end of the world. However, if you live in a climate zone that has big changes in the weather seasonaly, you could be stuck with a guitar with less than optimal playability. In may case, a guitar that has too much relief (back bow) in the neck, requiring a higher action to play notes cleanly.
Having given up on adjusting the truss rod, I had previously done a fret dress and level procedure on it, focusing on taking off some of the height off the frets at the nut and high end of the neck. This was a good intermediate fix which brought back much of the playability. I wanted this guitar to play as well as I know it can, so I ventured to dig deeper and find a way to adjust the truss rod – without resorting to costly factory authorized repairs, or attempting to replace the truss rod entirly which is a very tricky venture on this type of Fender neck – if that repair was even feasible. The cost of repairs alone makes replacing the neck the next best option, but I wanted to keep the guitar stock. It’s an American made Fender Stratocaster, a design no longer in production. After some consideration on what needed to happen for this fix to work, and an assessment of my tools, I came up with a plan.

Tools Used For The Truss-Rod Fix

  • Torx Bit – sized to just fit in the stripped socket
  • Hex Wrench – whatever size your guitar needs
  • Rotary tool + various bits
  • Hammer

This pic shows the roller nut with the set screws removed. I didn’t even remove the strings at first. If I was able, I’d make the adjustment with the strings just slackened, and the roller nut slid down out of the way.
Roller Nut

First I try to get the correct 1/8″ hex wrench to seat in the truss rod adjustment socket. No luck, the socket was truly stripped, almost totally rounded off inside.
Attempting to make an adjustment to the stripped truss rod socket with a 1/8

Before using a very small milling bit to cut a few ridges in the inside surface of the truss rod socket, I first used an abrasive bit to sand away some of the mahogany plug so that I can get in there with the other tools.
A sanding bit used to open up the work area.

This photo shows the truss rod end with a couple of ridge milled into it (it’s not real easy to see) so the Torx bit can get a grip. I ended up using a metric Torx bit that was slightly oversize, and with a hammer, tapping it into place. This was a very touch and go operation, and I might not be able to make another adjustment.
The truss rod socket end with ridges milled so a Torx bit can make the adjustment.

Finally, I was able to make the 1/4 turn adjustment needed to reduce the back bow and get the relief within a useable range. With this guitar on its way to playable status I went ahead and replaced the Blue Lace Sensor pickup that had stopped working as well as switching the positions of the three Lace Sensors that are stock to this model into their factory spots: Neck – Gold Lace Sensor, Middle – Silver Lace Sensor, and Blue Lace Sensor in the bridge position. At some point along the way the pick-ups had been switched around, and I thought it would be cool to check them out in the stock configuration. Lace Sensors are suitable for any pick-up position, though each one has a distinct tone as indicated by the color designation.

Locking Tuner Upgrades: Pros and Cons

Mod Guitar How to Locking Tuner Upgrade Pro & Con

Locking tuners eliminate the slack at the peg head end of the guitar string by clamping the string to the tuning post which stabilizes the guitar’s tuning. Are locking tuner upgrades always the best option? Read this article and find out!

Fender Strat Plus Sperzel brand Locking Tuners and LSR roller Nut

Locking tuners first made their appearance with the Fender Strat Plus in 1987, which featured Sperzel locking tuners and included a LSR roller nut [above]. Combined with a 2 point floating tremolo, tuning stability is greatly improved over a standard 6 point tremolo. Locking tuners really provide the greatest benefit to guitars with tremolos. Locking tuners are available for every style of guitar including Fender and Gibson models, imports, and even Bass instruments.

Pros and Cons of Locking Tuners:

Pros:

  • Better tuning stability for tremolo equipped guitars.
  • Cleaner headstock look and feel (no excess string windings).
  • Quicker string changes.

Cons:

  • Harder to fine tune at times as the string goes from slack to full tension very quickly.
  • A loss of some of the flex in the feel of the instrument as played.
  • Locking tuners can add weight to the headstock Vrs. stock tuners.
  • Locking tuners tend to be more expensive than standard tuners.
  • Non-stock upgrades that require drilling.

Gotoh brand locking tuners for Stratocaster style Guitar

I’m a fan of locking tuners for modern guitars where more extreme playing styles are expected during performance. Big whammy dips and dives and heavy tremolo use comes back to tune better with a combination of locking tuners, a graphite/lubricated nut material, and well installed strings. For players looking for live playing solutions, locking tuners are a good idea because stage lights, trucking gear around, and a variety of environments reap havoc on instruments.

HowTo – Projects, Tutorials, And More

EBO Bass To Guitar Conversion

Follow along as we convert a beat up non-collectable Gibson EBO bass from the late ’70s and convert it to a SG guitar. It was a big project that went really well as the clips and photos show.


Midi Guitar Custom Build

We wanted to get the best of both worlds Midi and Regular electric – only a custom build would do. Follow along as we pick the parts, build the body and trick out a custom midi guitar.


Next Project: Mary Kay Strat® Clone. Watch as we build a hard-tail strat with modern parts while retaining a vintage look.


Tutorials

Quick Nut Fix Buzzing or pinging nut problems fixed in just a few steps in this step-by-step tutorial.

Tuning The Guitar This walk-through tutorial shows you how to tune your guitar or bass and cover different tuning methods.

String Winding: Tension Counts Learn the right way to install and wind a fresh set of strings. Get the best tuning stability using a few simple steps.

Floyd Rose® Style Locking Tremolo Set-Up Locking trems offer tuning stability and dive bomb ability, but take a little extra work to set-up for best performance. This guide explains the technique in detail.

The Ultimate Guitar Set-Up Guide Here it is, the definitive guide to guitar set-up on the web. We show you how to set-up a Strat® or Les Paul® style guitar. Basic concepts explained, with detailed instructions for adjusting the action, intonation, and truss rod.


See the Mods section for more specific pick-up and electronics modifications

Mandolin Fret Dress and New Nut

Fullerton A Style Mandolin

I acquired this Fullerton “A” style mandolin a few years ago when one of the big retailers was closing out the brand. It’s a nice instrument overall, well constructed and for the price was a great way to learn some mandolin. What I’ve found lacking was the fret-work. So here we go, getting down to brass-tacks and doing a pretty thorough fret dress. What got me going on this was the nut developing a crack which made it necessary to craft a replacement.

Broken Mandolin Nut

Here you can see the nut, like a broken tooth, removed from the mandolin neck. Removing the nut makes an ideal situation for doing fret work, as the leveling files can go over the full length of the neck.

By sighting down the neck with the strings slackened and pulled aside, and the nut removed it’s pretty clear that there are some high frets which directly affect how low the action can be set. This becomes a major issue with a mandolin, as the frets are the smallest available, so that great care must be taken to only level them as much as necessary.

Leveling Mandolin Frets With A Leveling File

After an initial brush over with my leveling plane (an industrial diamond coated steel plate), it became clear that these frets had some very uneven tops. This was no quick fret dress.

Rocking A File Over High Frets

Using my rocker file up and down and across the neck confirms this with the clear clacking sound as the file rocks back and forth when balanced over a high fret.

A Sharpie used to ink the tops of all frets.

Using a sharpie I mark the tops of each fret, allowing the ink to dry before proceeding. Careful not to stain the binding or fret board with the ink. Another sweep across the whole fretting surface with a fine leveling plane reveals the high and low frets and the ink is worn off. This is work, observe and continue sort of process. Observing how the plane is removing material from the top of the frets guides me where to apply firmer pressure.

High frets after Going over sharpie marks

Unfortunately, a few frets were very high, and I had to move to a medium leveling file to get the frets leveled down evenly. This instrument is made in China and typically with this level of quality the frets are not made of the hardest form nickel-silver.

Using a soft paint brush to sweep away filing debri.

A soft paint brush is excellent for brushing the fret dust off. With a high quality instrument, (or a customer’s for that matter), greater care would be taken to mask off the instrument body to prevent the chance of scratches.

A triangle file with a rounded edge for fret side profiling.

A triangle file with a rounded edge for fret side profiling.

A triangular file with a single rounded edge is used to put a taper on the fret edges. These frets are pretty soft, so the final rounding is done with graduated grades of sandpaper.

An issue that came up as I worked through my various leveling files working down to the finest grade was that the frets are so small that none of my crowning files will work to give the frets the necessary angled side profiling after the tops are leveled. Ideally, the tops will be leveled, slightly rounded over, and the side tapered to create a finer point of contact for the strings. These keeps the notes accurate, and the tone clean without buzzes.

I put some extra pressure on the highest frets from the point where neck meets the body. This keeps the action low for the final set-up. There’s usually some slight rise in the fret board where the neck is glued in verses the part of the neck that is clear of the body. This mandolin doesn’t have an adjustable truss rod. Most likely there’s a plain steel rod set into the neck under the fingerboard to provide the rigidity to offset the pressure of the string tension.

Using sand paper to round over and polish frets.

Filing done, I move onto using sandpaper (grades 400, 800, and 1200) to put a bit of roundness on the top of the frets and polish them up to a bright gloss. Using finer and finer grades removes the scratches left by the former grade of paper. It’s important to work the frets over evenly, avoiding upsetting the delicate leveled state made during filing.

The Fretboard cleaned after filing and sanding.

Fretboard grime cleaned up with Denatured Alcohol.

Once the sanding is done I use denatured alcohol to clean the fret board. You can see the kind of grime that comes off on the rag in the photo. I keep going back over it using the solvent until the rag comes away clean.

Denatured Alcohol is pretty safe to use, and not nearly as harmful (potentially) as harsher solvents, like naptha or benzine. Still, care should be taken to avoid using any solvents near open flames, smoking, pilot lights, etc. I follow the manufacture’s warnings on the solvent packaging, including working in a well ventilated area.

A light coat of Mineral Oil rubbed in to seal and condition the fretboard.

The denatured alcohol dries the fretboard surface, a well as removing any traces of waxes or other conditioners. To offset this I use either lemon oil or simply mineral oil to condition the board. This gives it a nice luster and protects the fret board from drying out too much.

A new mandolin nut partially shaped.

Next the nut is cut from a scrap piece. And formed and fitted using files and sandpaper. It’s a back and forth process getting the shape just right.
Once the basic shape is formed, I use a feeler gauge with a grooved edge to very carefully cut the start of the new nut slots. While luthiers with busy shops might have a pattern for this, I do not, so the process takes some care to get it just right.

Cutting nut slots for the 4 courses of double strings.

Using a small diamond file to deepen the new nut slots

After cutting the nut slots using fine files to make them deeper the nut is then reshaped a bit and polished up before being fitted to the end of the neck permanently.

New Mandolin nut slots cut.

This mandolin is starting to shape up, the frets leveled, new nut, and now the bridge leveled and cutting fresh slots to space the strings evenly.

Tapping grooves in the leveled bridge.

I use a soft faced hammer to tap the string grooves into the bridge. A few turns of the bridge adjustment nuts and the bridge height is set.

The bridge set between the F-Holes.

The bridge is set so that the feet are at the mid-points of the two cut-out F-holes. That’s it, ready to tune it up and try my hand at playing some mandolin.

This is the kind of work you can do yourself if you’re handy. This article glosses over the key steps in performing a fret-dress.

Tune Your Mandolin

Simple play this video and match your mandolins pitch, string-by-string and you’ll be tuned up in just a few minutes. The videos can be played full screen, so you can follow along from across the room. Turn it up and get it tune!

Mandolin 4 sets of dual strings tuned in unison. The strings are tuned from the 4th (thickest) string to the 1st G, D, A, E.

Please note the actual pitch of the note in this video sound 1 octave higher than the tuned string pitch on your mandolin. Be careful not to over-tighten the strings. Match the notes by using the 12th fret harmonic.

Tune Your Guitar

Here we have created several YouTube videos that you can use to tune your guitar by playing along. They are quick and easy to use, and can be accessed anywhere. No need to buy a tuner, a great resource for beginners and pros alike.

Play the video, match your string’s pitch, and you’ll be tuned up in just a few minutes. The videos can be played full screen, so you can follow along from across the room. Turn it up and get it tune!

Standard Six String Guitar Tuning.

The strings are tuned from the 6th (thickest) string to the 1st E, A, D, G, B, E.

Eb half step low tuning > next page)

The Silver Lining "Cloud" Music Services

Comparing Cloud based music streaming and download services.

Cloud Music Services Comparrison Chart

All of these services offer viable access to your music on the cloud. Amazon and Apple’s services are the only ones that will allow you to back up your highest resolution audio files – albeit at a relatively step cost compared to local storage. Having the peace of mind knowing all your creations are safely stored off-site, as well as music on the go and at all your internet connected computers puts Music in the Cloud on our radar as a service we think you’ll find yourself using today and in the future.

Individual services at a glance

Spotify

The popular Euro based Spotify has just launched its music streaming service in the U.S. Spotify free is an ad based music streaming service, with Unlimited ($4.99 monthly), and Premium ($9.99 monthly) plans which cut the ads and give you wider flexibility in where and how you can use the service. The Spotify player lets you play your local music files, but does not allow uploading of your music.
Spotify Player

iCloud

Apple found great success with it’s iTunes music store. On the horizon looms Apple’s latest service iCloud a cloud based storage service comparable to Amazon’s cloud drive. iCloud is geared toward Mac OSX users though Windows users will also b able to use iCloud via iTunes and Apple i-devices they may use. Much of iCloud’s services tie directly to the latest Lion Mac OSX version which will be released very soon. The $24.99 (yearly) iTunes Match part of iCloud will scan and match your music to the vast iTunes music catalog, find matches and add them to your iCloud library in the iTunes+ 256kbs AAC format. iCloud has a entry level free 5gb plan on sign-up, with additional storage options starting at $20/10gb (which seems quite steep). Since iCloud is hasn’t launched yet we can’t test it, but we trust Apple’s description of the service is spot on, and knowing Apple’s quality standards will likely work very well. If you’re a mac user or want your iTunes set-up matched on your iphone or via other computers you use with iTunes; iCloud might be a good option. The price is slightly higher than the competition, and the inability to simply stream your music from the internet on the fly (playback requires a download to your local device) limit some of the usefulness of iCloud. The 256kbs quality level is good enough to back up your own music, but not a lossless format. However none of the streaming services played nice with true native quality (aiff/Wave/lossless) file formats.

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