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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Featured Restoration (An Instructor’s Guitar)

Yet another challenge presented to me, to restore a guitar instructor’s guitar. It is a Taylor 314CE and the owner is a very talented and passionate local guitar instructor. To find out his identity, go to this blog @:

Instead of the usual in-person meeting, we met through our blogs. Soon we realized that we are in agreement in many perspectives about guitars. And with these commonalities, naturally we became friends too. In a warp sense of humor, fixing a guitar instructor’s guitar has proven to be challenging because of certain stereotypical reasons… what can you think of?

Perhaps, some possible stereotypes …fussy, unreal expectations, good in playing but clueless about repairs, excessively directive,” ai pi ai ci” a.k.a. optimize the restorer to the max, the know-it-all, etc.

There are many of such stereotypes created for different category of people in this society, e.g. an owner of many expensive guitars usually can’t play. Have you come across that before? I am sure you have encountered exceptions to this stereotype. So we can say that stereotypes aren’t true, can we? One thing you can be sure about stereotyping is its autonomous nature. Such thoughts appear in your mind without your consciousness and much less with your permission. Is it all bad to stereotype? Since we have no holding on stereotypes, can we be held guilty of it? I am sure if this topic is left in a forum, it should invite immense amount of views. Feel free to comment in my blog’s comment if you wish to.

For those who have certain knowledge in psychology or life skills, you may agree that stereotyping helps us in managing the huge amount of information that bombards our minds. It gives you the ability to make judgments or draw conclusions quickly, without the need to deeply analyze situations or events. Imagine if our minds are required to consciously process and analyze every bit of information we receive. Our minds will literally explode. However the accuracy and quality of the judgments and conclusions are totally not connected to the ability. While stereotypes protect us it creates problems for us too. In another words, there is no running away from stereotyping but it does speak volume of one’s character if someone has the courage to acknowledgment the ripple effects generated by one’s stereotypes. Use it wisely, won’t you?

So are guitar instructors like the description earlier? It was all a joke and it wasn’t even half serious. Actually they can be exactly opposite of the mentioned reasons, i.e. an absolute unassuming and thoughtful customer. Something unique about this guitar instructor; very meticulous and detail in the way the restoration jobs were requested. Every requested job that can be labeled on the guitar was done. The rest of the required jobs were listed clearly on a note. There was no running away from the list and the labels. See below pictures for illustrations.

Talyor 314CE
A crack on the fingerboard
Crack line down the mid binding stripe
Binding is not level
Slight bridge lift
Tarnished tuning machines
Uneven gloss finishing at the cutaway apex area
No guitar restorer can possibly miss out those requirements, right? As mentioned earlier, guitar instructors can be customers who are absolutely unassuming and thoughtful and it is true herein. Summoning my courage, I advised against certain listed and labeled restoration jobs as they were not necessary because to engage those jobs, it will propagate into a larger extends which may incur high cost even they appeared to be small and easy repairs at the onset. The advices were accepted with understanding. Such acceptance and understanding was very assuring to any guitar restorer because it signals a vote of confidence in one’s judgment and evaluation. Of course it doesn’t imply by the complying with a guitar restorer’s advices makes an ideal customer. The essence here was the willingness to listen and appreciate different views.

The owner produced a note with all the required jobs itemized. See picture below.

The list of requested jobs
For clarity, the list is re-produced in verbatim as below.

1. Replace with bone nut and saddle

2. Refretting

3. Full Setup

4. Seal HOLE in fretboard

5. Seal Crack line at pickup area

6. Seal protruding edge at neck joint area

7. Seal gap at bridge reglue area

8. Cleaning and polish tuning machines

9. Matt finish at cutaway section (if possible)

Is that a mouthful or what? While the list was pretty long, I think the effort was relevant and useful as the guitar restorer will have little doubts of what to execute. The effort made in presenting things clearly was greatly appreciated.

Item 6 & 7 were placed on hold. Item 6 requires leveling the binding with the adjacent two surfaces that inherently has accessibility issues. After weighing the amount of work involved, it was better off to remain status quo. Item 7 is the typical bridge lift due to dislodged glue. The amount of lift is very minor that makes applying glue difficult and much less effective. As such, it stays until the state changes. The first job (Item 2 & 4) to tackle was replacing the first three frets because they are functional components of a guitar. The rule of thumb is to eradicate all structural issue as priority. In this case, there was no structural repair. Many guitar restorers should agree that changing all the fret wires is easier to do. There was much detail to observe when replacing only three. Nevertheless, it was done. A picture to show that it was in progress.

In progress, replace new fret wires
There after, a set of unbleached bone and saddle (Item 1) was hand crafted for the 314CE. See picture below.

Handcrafted Bone Nut and Saddle
The rest of the jobs that follow are cosmetic related. Item 6 received my attention first. When see the picture below, you will notice the unusual position of the guitar. There was a crack line near the jack area, which is located at the end block of the guitar. You will intuitively understand from the pictures.

In an unusual position
Leveling the crack line
I then moved on to Item 9. There was a crack repair job done on the apex of the cutaway some time ago. The repair job has left a layer of semi-gloss coating that differs slightly from the satin/matt finished of the guitar side. The owner has requested to have the semi-glossed area to be transformed to satin/matt finish, as like the rest of the guitar side. Some times I was there was a 10-year series solution to such jobs. By following a formula mindlessly, I will arrive to the desired outcome. However it was all but the 10-year series solution I can rely on. After thinking through, I went ahead with my intuited plans. By God’s grace, it was decently done.

There are many customers who expect their guitars to be cleaned but this owner has emphasized the polishing of the tuning machines on top of that. Cleaning jobs are not exactly a glamorous job in this society as many people have stereotyped it this way. However, the positive effect it can provide is tremendous even it is always underrated. The request to polish the tuning machine was respected and adhered to my best ability.

After a few days of work on the 314CE, the main work bulk was accomplished. Finally, the guitar was set up and dehumidified. The outcome was satisfying I reckon. Here are the pictures of the completed work for your viewing pleasure.

Before and after looks of the tuning machines
Hole on the fingerboard was sealed
Crack filled and leveled
Before and After looks of the re-finished job
New fret wires, the first three
New bone nut - View 1
New bone nut - View 2
New bone saddle
It is finished!
I am glad to have undertaken this restore job. I got paid, I got to play, and I know one more nice person and I have one more friend.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Where greatness lies in the smalls …

The guitar nut and saddle are often regarded as two functional parts that hold all the strings in their place. In the acoustic field, the nut and saddle also perform the role of a transmitter of acoustic energy from the strings vibration to the top wood of the guitar. The other widely discussed topic regarding guitar nut and saddle are the materials of their make. In fact, this topic is saturated with comments, views, opinions, claims, scientific theories, etc. It seems usual to leave the guitar nut and saddle as they are when no anomaly is detected, i.e. if they look fine and don’t move, they can be left alone to perform their role in silence and with faith.

Some adventurous guitar lovers often make modifications on their guitars, all in the name of enhancement. Of course the outcomes are varied. By paying attention to small areas, it is possible to achieve great outcomes. In this article, I would like to illuminate the “smalls” within the guitar nut where greatness lurks.

Recently, I received a request to reset a parlor guitar. The owner found that pressing the guitar strings within the first three frets required more effort than usual.. After a quick evaluation, one of the identified areas to be modified was the nut. It was evident that string relief created by the guitar nut can be altered to improve the playability. This functional aspect was not too tough to rectify. My observations are, I noticed that the nut slots are unusually deep. It was indicative of excessive crown height of the nut. The slots’ width were also wider than the string gauge which indicated the tools used during its making may not be suitable. See pictures below.

While these observations may seem to suggest a lesser quality of this guitar, it is not entirely true. For guitars that are targeted at the entry level tier's market, putting extra attentions to those mentioned attributes are usually not the priority. Speed and quantity are probably on the top of the list. Therefore when put into context, this guitar is what it should be and the owner simply wished to enhance it further. That is why the guitar restoration market is alive thus keeping me alive too. Paradoxically, I may be indirectly blessed by the existence of such manufacturing processes.

Original Bone Nut View 1
Original Bone Nut View 2
Original Bone Nut View 3

Rectifications needed; reduce the crown height so that each string is seated partially into each nut slot, round the corners of the nut, re-cut deeper slots with suitable files, sand the nut to buffing finish, buff the nut to hi-shine. These suggested jobs are not going to take away big chunks of materials from this guitar nut. After all, it was considered a finished guitar nut; therefore big take away was not possible. Instead, attention to detail must be given to perform those mentioned jobs in order to achieve noticeable enhancements on the original guitar nut. With some delicate touches and strokes, the guitar nut was transformed. See pictures below.

Transformed Bone Nut View 1
Transformed Bone Nut View 2

These aren’t difficult jobs to execute but they do require certain hours of practices to get them right. The adventurous ones would have tried it before. Well I hope the enhancements are noticeable to you as they are to me. This is where greatness lies in the smalls …

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Who chooses who? Guitars or buyers?

It has been an enduring belief that when we are given time to plan and consider, we will be able to make better choices that are most logical, suitable and conscious. Many pragmatists have been surprised by the reality and actuality of choices making in relation to time availability and planning. They don't correlate ...

A gorgeous indian rosewood back

A Jeff Yong Build, with tropical wood, Angsana Back/Side

Both guitars shown in the above pictures are classed under the rosewood family. Would you be able to differentiate their tonal qualities by greater clarity than their aesthetic values?

Sidetrack from the art of appreciation for guitars in both the aesthetic and audio (a.k.a. tonal qualities) aspects. Committing adultery is a taboo and we surely don’t want it to happen but life has a life on its own. Sometimes we encountered events that resulted in certain unplanned decisions. There were good decisions and there were also bad ones. As we learn about the world, things aren’t black and white. What about decisions that were neither good nor bad? I will simply call them the unexplained decisions.

Amygdala hijack, a clinical psychology condition that hits some people. Extracted from: - The term amygdala hijack describes any situation in which a person responds inappropriately based on emotional rather than intellectual factors. The amygdala is the emotional center of the human brain and can create split-second responses when a person is threatened. An inappropriate emotional response to a perceived threat is thus called an amygdala hijack. The term was invented by psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman in his 1996 science bestseller, Emotional Intelligence.

It is not necessary a bad thing. It is like pain that acts as a form of protection, a warning, and an impetus to drive us into taking certain actions to avoid being harmed physically or emotionally. Amygdala hijack offers a unique protection mean for the affected people. Try to picture this; you’re away on a back-to-back business trips, stress levels were considerable high at work, as these trips can become determinant factors to your career progression. The work demands have taken its toll on your relationships with your spouse. It was at all time low, not about quantity of time but it was simply the substandard interactions that widen the relationship gap. For a few weeks, it was noticeable that your spouse has been partying regularly which was out of the norm. Responding to text messages were frequently apparent, the excitement in attending to those text messages was nothing short of elation. It was not the same when responding to your text messages, at least from the words used in the responses.

You have returned from one of the back-to-back trips and your spouse wasn’t home. It wasn’t a bad thing as you took these quiet moments to ponder, and you left the house to catch a breather at a local pub. Alone and downing a few short glasses, your peripheral views caught a familiar image. You saw a couple seated at the corner of the pub, their backs facing you. The silhouette was uncannily familiar, the outfit was positively recognizable, they were intimate, their body languages were telling, they drew closer to each other.

Amygdala Hijack

That was your tipping point. You grabbed your filled shot glass and stormed towards the couple. Forcefully, you pulled the other party by the shoulder and towards you. Without a word, the content in your shot glass was emptied onto the person’s face. A few seconds after, you began to see clearer and realized that they are strangers to you. What just happened? Was it one of those unexplained decisions?

Picture this now; you have saved up for months, and you’re all primed and poised to purchase your dream guitar. You are inclined to meaty and compressed tone, disliked shrill and thin sounds. All the months of research and testing have led you to understand your preferences for guitar tone. With your preferences sorted out, you have shortlisted a few guitars, mostly were rosewood guitars. When you walked into your local store, immediately a gorgeous looking guitar hung within the custom guitars section has caught your attention. Resisted the urge to try it, you tried to focus on your guitar list. You strolled along the isle within the store. The image of that gorgeous guitar kept appearing in your head … succumbed to your desires, you picked the gorgeous guitar for a test drive and the rest was history … it was maple guitar. What just happened? Was it explainable?

Who chooses who?

In many cases, we assume that we own our consciousness, we control our thoughts and thus the actions resulted by them. Nothing can be further than the truth. Certain actions we have taken have little or nothing to do with our consciousness. While we don’t have full control over our thoughts and actions, we are certainly responsible for all of them.

There are people who were absolutely adamant about differentiating the tone of different tonewoods. However this belief was repeatedly put through blind tests and it was debunked beyond any shadows of doubts. I would propose; sight by mind and faith by heart. When we are dealing with preferences that are derived from passion, our sight has little value in the deal. Did we select guitars base on appearances or tone? We could hardly determine the weightage of each factor but my many encounters with guitar seekers at my local guitar stores have shown me that these people have been amygdala hijacked when in the presence of the wood beauties. They were not really conscious of their thoughts, much less any sense of control over their actions. This topic is potentially controversial and you are free to disagree with me. As long as you’re happy with your guitar, this is all that counts. Happy shopping consciously!