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Monday, December 3, 2012

Bite Size Tips 004A – Buzzing No More!

Buzzing is arguably one of most common guitar issues. It will happen in your lifetime of guitar playing regardless you’re into electric or acoustic guitars. This Bite Size article will discuss acoustic guitars buzzing. To avoid over-simplifying buzzing issues of acoustic guitars, I will highlight both the causes and solutions. Once again, this sharing comes from my personal experiences. Make sure you’re exercise good judgment and adaptability in dealing with your guitar buzzing issues.

These are few common causes for guitar buzzing issues.
  1. Low string action or height (nut & saddle)
  2. Bowed Neck which alters string relief
  3. Uneven crown heights of the fret wires
To keep the article compact, I will address a single cause in this article, i.e low string action. The other two will be addressed in subsequent postings.

Buzzing causes by low string action is commonly due to the set-up of the nut and saddle. String slots cut too deep or insufficient saddle crown height are two set up problems that contribute to buzzing. Typically, string relief for acoustic guitar ranges from 2mm to 4mm taken at the 12th fret.

Measuring string action at 12th fret

More pictures of actual guitars with low and sufficient string relief set up at 12th fret.

Low string action; the 20 cents coin contacts the string

Sufficient string action; slight clearance

Obviously replacing the wrongly set-up nut or saddle can stop the buzzing. However those who are not well practiced, it may be better to consult a qualified guitar tech. For those who DIY mostly, you could undertake the attempt. Alternatively, you can shim-up the nut or saddle to increase the string action thus reducing or eliminating the buzzing. The following pictures and descriptions will show how shim-up works for both nut and saddle. Please note that in most cases, it is not necessary to shim-up both the nut and saddle at the same time. It should be decided by whichever part that causes the buzzing.

Shim is thin strip of material that is used for aligning, fitting, etc. parts together. In this case, we will be using wood. Preferably woods that is associated with guitar making. While any wood should do the job, it is a good lutherie practice to use associated materials. Shims are commonly made from veneers. The picture below showed maple veneers. Well, veneers are thin layers of wood. Maple veneers are pretty common in the market.

This may raise the question about the resulting sonic properties of the guitar fitted with shims. By and large, maple is hardwood that possesses acoustic properties therefore it should not adversely affect the guitar tone. However if one uses stripes cut from name cards or plastics, I would not give the same amount of assurance.

Maple veneers

You can visit Art & Craft shops or wood shops to get larger piece of veneer. All you need to do is to cut out the required footprints.

Veneers cut into nut and saddle footprints

Pay attention to details; personally I will not leave the corners of the shims sharp. The corners are chamfered instead.

Maple veneer with corners chamfered

Last but not least, stick the shims to the nut and saddle. Use of super-glue for adhesion is preferred.

Maple Veneers made into shims, glued to the nut and saddle

The rest is just fitting the nut or saddle back where they belong.

Caveat; for those who are not familiar with removing guitar nuts, it will be best to view some video clips on YouTube regarding it. As for the drop-in saddle, it is much easier to deal with. In any case, make sure you have every step visualized in your mind to avoid making errors. A friend of mine uses this mantra to avoid making unforced errors in his work; Measure twice and cut once!

Have fun!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Synthetic Saddles Face-Off!

A Full Black Diamond Saddle

For guitar enthusiasts who emphasize on total tonal quality, this blog post may be the most wanted by them, i.e. the face-off between the synthetic guitar saddles. Much has been written about the deliverables of synthetic guitar saddles. Conversely there aren’t many literatures on comparing and contrasting of these materials. You can take this blog posting as the extension of “Saddle Materials For Guitars Part 2”. Importantly, the objective of this posting is not to subordinate one under another. Instead maximum efforts were made to reflect the full value of the saddles in question. The synthetic materials are in the limelight now. Here goes…

Synthetic is an adjective to Synthesis. It is the reaction and interaction of various chemicals concocted at the suitable and controlled quantity, coupled with the desired conditions to produce something that imitate the properties of organic materials, e.g. synthetic rubber. These are the selected materials to be featured.

1. Plastic
2. TUSQ®
3. Black Diamond™

Here is an overview of the above three materials

A Plastic Acoustic Guitar Saddle

Plastics – taken from:; A plastic material is any synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids that are moldable. Plastics are typically organic polymers of high molecular mass, but they often contain other substances. They are usually synthetic, most commonly derived from petrochemicals, but many are partially natural. In guitar saddle application, plastics satisfy mass production needs like no other materials. Hence it is most common used for producing guitar saddles for many entry to mid levels acoustic guitars.

An Off-White TUSQ® Saddle

TUSQ® - taken from:; TUSQ is a proprietary material which is precision engineered under high pressure and heat. It is specifically formulated to deliver the right frequencies with the optimum transfer rate to the top of your guitar every time. Because of the way TUSQ is made, it is a consistent material that is rich in tone and harmonic content.

By the above literature on TUSQ®, one could not conclude that TUSQ® is petrochemical based or it is a derivative of plastics. Users of TUSQ® have indeed reported enhancements in tonal properties of their acoustic guitars. However certain mechanical properties do exhibit commonalities to plastics.

A Black Diamond™ Hybrid Saddle

Black Diamond™ - taken from:; This material is a very specialized form of carbon. There are many forms of carbon ranging from graphite to diamond. Black Diamond carbon is not graphite, nor is it a carbon-fiber composite, versions of carbon typically used for musical instruments. It is a highly engineered form of carbon requiring specialized equipment to produce. While, unfortunately, expensive to produce, the random, fine grain structure of Black Diamond carbon provides a very efficient means to create or transmit desired string harmonics of a musical instrument.

According to its patent (, Black Diamond™ is the result of pyrolysis of pyrocarbon onto suitable substrates. The application is wider than just guitar saddles. In fact this process is used in manufacturing of human body parts. Pyrolysis is nothing like injection molding.

Since there are many ways to skin a cat, invariably the face-off can be as simple as just making audio clips of each material, allow everyone to listen and judge according to own personal preferences. It can be a full fledge scientific testing. To make it interesting for many people, the face-off should borrow certain scientific experimental principles, but not over-complicating it.

Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle for Martin Guitars 
Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle for Emerald Guitars

Here are the experiment norms,
  • In this experiment, the test subjects are the Black TUSQ® Saddle and Black Diamond™ Hybrid Saddle. The Black Diamond™ Saddle is made primarily from wood with acoustic properties. 6 insert cavities are cut to accommodate the Black Diamond inserts. The combination of Black Diamond and wood makes it a hybrid.
  • Two Emerald Guitars were used in the experiment. The model name is X5-OS, one which is of glossy amber finish and the other is matt black. The amber one is fitted with new strings whereas the matt black has dead strings on it.
  • A total of 5 audio tracks were recorded and uploaded to SoundCloud, which is sound file sharing website.
  • Reference recordings were done on two Emerald Guitars, X5-OS with original factory settings, i.e. with black TUSQ saddle. The file names are X5-OS Amber.mp3 and X5-OS Black.mp3 respectively.
  • The reference recording consists of the chords progression from the C major key instead of playing a tune. This chord progression is C | Dm | Em | F | G | Am | C. The chords are played at various position of the neck.
  • Another recording done with switching one of the Emerald Guitars’ TUSQ saddle to the Hybrid Black Diamond Saddle. The file name is X5-OS Black Dia.mp3.
  • Another two recordings done with playing the same original acoustic fingerstyle tune on both X5-OS for comparison. The file names are X5-OS Amber Hpy.mp3 and X5-OS Black Dia Hpy.mp3 respectively.
  • Direct recording using ZOOM Q3, high quality WAV file format, unplugged.
  • All WAV files are converted through MP3 Encoder, set at 192kbps conversion rate, thus keeping the file size manageable for uploading to SoundCloud
The Guitars and Saddle Set up,

Top Matt Black, Bottom Glossy Amber

Fitted with Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle

The sound files,

Reference Recording, Emerald X5-OS, TUSQ® Saddle, Glossy Amber Finished, New Strings

Reference Recording, Emerald X5-OS, TUSQ® Saddle, Matt Black Finished, Dead Strings

Emerald X5-OS, Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle, Matt Black Finished, Dead Strings

Emerald X5-OS, TUSQ® Saddle, Glossy Amber Finished, New Strings

Emerald X5-OS, Black Diamond™Hybrid Saddle, Matt Black Finished, Dead Strings
End of sound files section

My two cents,

Firstly I will discuss the comparison between both X5-OS guitars with original factory setting, fitted with black TUSQ Saddle, one with new strings and the other with dead ones. Listening to the audio clips, it was clear the one with new strings produce clearer treble notes, the ring is crisp and very audible. As the low ends, it gave rounded bass. The one with dead strings didn’t provide as clear and crisp treble notes. Not withstanding the reduction on clarity, the full range of tone was audible nevertheless. This is indicative of the capability of the TUSQ saddles. As for the bass characteristic, it wasn’t much different from the one with new strings. The conclusion was guitar strings’ conditions will affect the resulting tonal qualities. In this case, the differences were noticeable.

The Wave Patterns captured from Garage Band
I shall now discuss the comparison between X5-OS with dead strings, it audio recording with original TUSQ saddle and switching to the Black Diamond Hybrid Saddle. Listening to sound file X5-OS Black Dia.mp3, i.e. the saddle was switched from TUSQ to Black Diamond Hybrid, the immediate difference was the treble notes. They were clearer and crisper, closer to the X5-Os with new strings. The bass notes were tighter as well. By using the frequency analyzer from Garage Band Software, I noticed the wave patterns of produce by the Black Diamond Hybrid Saddle possessed evident stability whereas the wave patterns of the X5-OS with original factory settings were shifty.

The differences between X5-OS Amber Hpy.mp3 and X5-OS Black Dia Hpy.mp3; this is probably the acid test for the Black Diamond Hybrid because a full tune is being played and recorded for comparison. I find both guitars gave quality tone. Considering the amber gloss one was fitted with new strings, the Black Diamond Hybrid Saddle truly resurrected the dead strings from the grave. The crispness are comparable and I find the bass notes of the “dead strings” X5-OS became tighter with the switch of saddle. It was indeed a pleasant surprise.

Well, these are my two cents and it is your turn to be the judge!

Some tips for listening,
  • Focus on one spectrum at a time, e.g. concentrate on the bass notes, block out the rest mentally.
  • Repeat small parts of the audio track, do rapid comparisons between the intended audio tracks.
  • If possible, use quality heard sets instead of judging by listening through the onboard PC speakers.
  • A quiet environment helps.
  • There is no good or bad sound, they are all sound.
  • Judge base on known criteria like Bass, Mids and Trebles. Connecting the audio quality to abstract terms like majestic, shimmering, etc. will probably add more confusion. Use simple terms instead.
Thanks for reading! Any comment is welcome.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sound Messe Osaka 2012

Arrival at Kansai Airport
The Japan market for any product is renowned to be demanding, exclusive and lucrative. In guitar trading, only America is ahead of Japan. While China is catching up rapidly in trading volume, China remains behind of Japan in terms of quality and market maturity. Learning from some Japanese guitar makers, Osaka is a city where the craftsman gathers, in this case the guitar makers. The desires for sharing and gathering eventually transforms into the Sound Messe Osaka. In September 2012, the Sound Messe Osaka has gone into its third run. From many Japanese guitar makers' point of view, this show was arguably the biggest one ever held for acoustic guitars. They have even remarked that the Tokyo Sound Messe was smaller. It was certainly an honor for Guitaring Passionately to attend the show as the guest of Jeffrey Yong.

Jeffrey's showpieces, Tiger 2, Autumn Leaves, Monkeypod and Mango

Making sure…
The Sound Messe Osaka 2012 was held from 29 September to 30 September 2012. The show features acoustic guitars and its companying accessories that are trading in Japan. These are the genre of exhibitors that have participated.

1. Guitar Importers Sole Agents and Distributors
2. Individual Guitar Makers, a.k.a. Luthiers
3. Musical Instruments Retailers
4. Guitar making material suppliers
5. Music Retailers
6. Music Education Institutes

A total of 121 booths were set up and the range and quantity of guitars displayed were simply overwhelming. Almost any well-known guitars I can think of, I can find it in the show. My personal highlight was test driving many international hand-built guitars. This opportunity has enabled me to appreciate the fine quality of these high end hand-built guitars in both detail and tonal qualities. My test drive includes John Greven and Erwin Somogyi's guitars. The experience was indeed rare and rewarding to me.

Osaka Guitar Show Exhibition Hall
Taken from:

Through speaking to many exhibitors and visitors, many assumptions and preconceived opinions of the Japan acoustic guitar market were both confirmed and debunked. The retailers and consumers were very particular in built quality. After all, such extrinsic value can be readily discerned through thorough visual inspections. One thing I have learned was not to assume too quickly about their opinions because Japanese are mostly reserved in voicing their thoughts.  In the case of buying guitars, observing patience and sensitivity will go a long way in interacting with Japanese guitar players. Their behaviors have probably stemmed from the roots of heritage and culture of Japanese; vis-a-vis their great emphasis of respect for each other.

Japan Hand-Built

With a sense of great privilege, I emphasize that Jeffrey Yong was the only non-Japanese invited as an exhibitor and this speaks volume about his standing among the Japan guitar market. The team consists of Jeff's daughter Hanna, Shun and yours truly. Indeed we have such a great time together.

From left, me, Miwa Guitars, Hikaru Guitars, Shun, Jeffrey and Matsumoto Guitars

Hiroshi Masuda
Hiroshi Masuda, a YouTube artist who has numerous credits to his name in interpreting Beatles songs' in fingerstyle guitar playing. In fact Sungha Jung founding years in playing has much to credit to influences from Hiroshi's work. Sungha Jung has played many songs that are rendered by Hiroshi. In this show, Hiroshi has extended his invaluable assistance in many ways. Without going into details, I must say the the success attained by Jeffrey in this show has largely due to Hiroshi's interventions and assistance. He has been most gracious and generous in providing timely advice and help to facilitate so many things, regardless of trivial or critical matters. I am very honored to meet Hiroshi, and he is a friend now.

Hanna and Jeffrey
Hanna, the daughter to Jeffrey, speaks fluent Japanese and she has been very helpful in facilitating numerous conversations Jeffrey and I had with Japanese visitors. She wasn't keenly aware of his father's standing in guitar making field before. However the Osaka show has shown her the level of respect Jeffrey has garnered through his unparalleled contributions to art & craft of guitar making. Surely she was greatly impressed by the praises accorded to Jeffrey's guitars from many Japanese. I think she has seen and felt the Jeffrey guitar effects.
Jamin away! Shun, Okapi and Tanaka

Shun Ng needs no introduction. He has grown up in Singapore and his talent was beyond the Singapore music industry. He has obtained a scholarship to further his music study in Berkley Music College in Boston, USA in August 2012. He has since become a USA citizen. In this show, his unique playing style has stolen the show in many ways. He was like a guitar players' magnet. From Hiroshi's observations; he has never seen so many big names like Akida Tanaka, Okapi Kimura, Hikaru Tanimoto, etc. (Japanese guitarists) crowding at one booth before. Shun's out reach in YouTube channel has attracted these big names to visit the booth to jam with him. It was so much fun watching them "talk through playing guitars". Not only the generation X guitar players, the pioneers of fingerstyle guitar players were seen gathering at Jeffrey's table. Rynten Okazaki was one of them.

A public performance
There were two types of performances in this show, i.e. public and paid. Throughout the show, a series of performances were scheduled to take place in public areas within the show venue and also the paid performances in the designated auditorium. As it was Shun's first visit to Osaka, he wasn't known to the Japanese acoustic guitar field. Needless to say that he wasn't scheduled for any form of performances. By chance, one of the main organizer, Takeda-san met Jeffrey on day one. He is also the owner of Dolphin Guitar Shop, a pro shop that consigns and sells high end acoustic guitars in Esaka. Takeda-san was on a hectic schedule but Jeffrey managed to convince him to spend a few minutes at his table to watch Shun perform. It is well known that Michael Jackson was extremely popular among Japanese. Shun unleashed his rendition of Billie Jean before Takeda-san. Shun started with the signature riff of Billie Jean. Takeda-san was captivated immediately. When Shun started singing over his complicated playing style, Takeda-san was totally caught off guard. He was in awed from that moment. At the end of the performance, Jeffrey has requested for Shun to be scheduled for a public performance and Takeda-san has agreed immediately to slot him into the packed performance schedule. What a moment for Shun and Jeffrey! The following day, Shun brought the house down by his soulful playing and energetic performances. The other chief organizer Takimoto-san saw Shun's performance and he said such level deserved a placed in the paid performances category. I think it might happen in the near future.

On right, Takeda was in awed watching Shun

Shun performed at Osaka Guitar Show
Taken from:

Fine craftsmanship
Japanese guitar makers have great respect and fondness towards American made guitars. After all, the Westerners did invent steel string guitars. As a result, Japanese guitar makers have made close references in construction, styling and voicing approaches to that of American made guitars thus the tonal characteristics were comparable and also similar. Many Japanese guitar makers received their guitar making training from Western guitar makers and this also accounted for the close resemblance. It wasn't spoken but the number of spruce topped guitars I have seen in the show seems to imply that spruce is the Holy Grail choice for guitar top plate. Spruce may every well be the best choice because of its mechanical and acoustic properties and also its frequency in application. Well, we can see this from either the half filled glass or half empty glass perspectives. Is there nothing out there that can fit the bill? While I have seen some incremental innovations there wasn’t any breakthrough of quantum leap degrees. Nevertheless Japanese hand-built guitars do display very high level of craftsmanship.

A 1998 Somogyi
Yamaha LJ86

Jeffrey's table was among the luthiers' sector. Due to Jeffrey’s unique design, his guitars have generated abundance of curiosity and talking among luthiers and guitar players. Jeffrey and I initiated small talks with some Japanese guitar makers. Gradually we were able to share our ideas openly in day 2 of the show. Many ideas were traded and we become friends as well. Through these conversations, Jeffrey and I have discovered their staunch beliefs in traditional approaches in guitar making. However their curiosities and desires for improvement have also provided the impetus to push and the perceived boundaries. Indeed some guitar makers have exhibited their avant-garde designs.

Yasuhiro Takeshita, founder of Blue String Guitar and I

Prior to the show, Jeffrey has made contacts with Maasaki Kishibe, a renown Japanese fingerstyle guitarists, to meet at the guitar show. However it didn’t materialized. Just when we thought it was not going to happen, our dear friend Hiroshi received a call from Kishibe as we were on our way to Kyoto to visit Pooh-san. We quickly altered our plans to shorten our visit in Kyoto. Eventually Kishibe has agreed to meet us in Dolphin Guitars shop which located in Esaka. It was my honor to meet him in person. It was practically a private concert we had as we were watching Kishibe from arm’s length. Anyway we did visit Kyoto to have lunch with Pooh-san. His CD shop is filled with great stuff. As a guitar player, it was like a wonderland

Jeff, I and Pooh-san
Jeff, Kishibe and I

For Jeffrey, the show has been successful. His third Mango wood JJ was sold to a Japanese professional acoustic guitar player. Another Autumn Leaves Spruce Monkeypod JJ was consigned to a Japanese guitar music CD distributor. We brought 4 guitars and we returned with 2. Above all, the invaluable bridges we have built were the major indications of success. We left Osaka with a sense fulfillment and exciting anticipation of the Jeffrey Yong guitars’ effect coming from Japan in the near future. Thanks for reading.

Okapi and Jeffrey

Here are my favorite pictures

Jeff, Takimoto and I
Guitars Galore 
Blue String Guitar 
Shun and Okapi 
Shun and I
Jeff and Rynten 
Pooh-san, Jeffrey and Hiroshi 
At Dolphin Guitars 
Hana, Pooh-san, Jeff, Aki, I and Hiroshi 
Jeff and Tanaka 
Shun and Hikaru 
The infamous "Chicken Backside"
-end of article-

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bite Size Tips 003 - Polishing & Buffing

Buffed Surface

Nobody cleans a rental car… isn’t that universally true? However when it concerns our beloved acoustic guitars, we expect the best. This edition of Bite Size Tips discusses the look of our beloved acoustic guitars, vis-à-vis the purposes and meanings of polishing & buffing.

Most guitar owners like their guitar new. I mean to look new at least. For this cosmetic quality to sustain, one must maintains the guitars by cleaning them. In the case of cosmetic finishing, the specific tasks in discussion are polishing and buffing.

What is polishing and buffing?

In general, polishing is antecedent to buffing. Polishing and buffing involves the use of abrasives to smoothen surfaces except the abrasives used in buffing are less harsh. In any unfinished surfaces when magnified, you expect to see multiple ridges, peaks, trough and valleys. In a nutshell, it has massive amount of undulations. Such undulated surfaces made poor light reflectors thus we don’t see shine from such surfaces. However when a surface is polished, the ridges, peaks, trough and valleys are flattened but not totally flushed. Even it is not totally flat, the smoother surfaces made better light reflectors thus we can observe the shine. Therefore we considered these surfaces polished or buffed and they look good to us.

Buffing compound can carry petrol distillates or silicon carbides. For buffing guitars, we generally avoid any with silicon carbide because they may be too hard for lacquer finishing. Personally I have attained good results from using buffing compound with petrol distillates. In buffing, heat is generated by means of the rubbing motion between the buffing equipment and the surfaces. The heat melts away the substances within the buffing compound and it fills the valleys and trough of the surface thus smoothening the surface further. As expected, we can get better surface shine from buffing process than merely polishing alone.

Here’re two of such products you can get locally (in Singapore).

Taken from:
Taken from:

Before you begin, make sure you are equipped with,

1. Microfiber clothes
2. Buffing compound

Microfibre Cloth
Some people only recognize that buffing involves hand tools but that isn’t true. Before the invention of hand tools, buffing was purely manual. I will describe my experiences in buffing. Please don’t take it as biblical truth as you may discover other better ways. Presumably, some of you have already developed certain unique ways to do so.
  1. Place the guitar on a well cushion surface (table top) with minimum obstructions or items around it. You don’t want to reach the final part and get a ding from some sharp objects that are lying near your guitar.
  2. Make sure the guitar surfaces are clean and dry
  3. Apply buffing compound on the surfaces to be buff
  4. Fold the microfiber cloth to suitable size, manually rub the buffing compound over the surface
  5. Go in circular motions and straights as well
  6. Keep rubbing until you don’t see any residual of buffing compound
  7. Keep the motion going until you see the changes to the surfaces
  8. You should see higher shine on the buff surfaces. 

ATTENTION to all satin or matt finished guitar owners, if you buff your satin or matt finished guitars, they will turn into semi-gloss. You might want to consider before doing. If you just wish to keep it clean, simply wipe the satin or matt guitars with microfiber clothes that is slightly damped.

Some pictures for comparison between before buffing and after.

Half Buffed
As you can see from the pictures, the outcome can be pretty amazing. There is nothing like showing care and concern. Hope you can find joy doing it.

- End of article -