I have been so busy during the Autumn with instrument repairs and improvements to the workshop, that I have intentionally been neglecting regular social media updates, in favour of just concentrating on the important work at hand. Then with the November lockdown, I decided it was the perfect time to withdraw and really get my head into some major projects.
It resulted in such a productive end of the year, with countless guitar repairs and the building of lots of guitar making tools and jigs. I have also managed to squeeze in some new instrument builds too, which I am very happy about!
Being a full time Luthier and Guitar repairer is lots of fun, and as 2020 comes to a close, I thought it might be nice to now spend a little bit of time just sharing some of the highlights from the last couple of months with you all.
I know this year has been one of the weirdest and worst years ever, so I just wanted to create a post that may interest, entertain and distract you for a little bit.
I also want to give you more of an insight into my musical instrument workshop and the types of projects that I am completing for everyone here in beautiful East Sussex.
I hope you enjoy the latest updates as much as I enjoyed all the work, and please do drop me a line HERE if you have any further questions or have an idea for a project that you would like to enquire about.
I am now looking forward to a much needed break over Christmas and wishing you all the best for a happy, healthy and productive new year.
Here’s to 2021 and life as a professional Guitar Tech ☺️
Early 1900’s Dallas Banjo Restoration
This little banjo was bought for my customer in the 1950’s, when he was just a small boy.
After many years of wear and tear, and then eventually damage, it was time for a full restoration.
This included repairs to the ebony fret board veneers, levelling the fretboard, re-fretting, re-skinning the head with vellum, repairs to the headstock, a full deep clean and polish of the hardware and then eventually a final set up with new strings.
My customer was very happy to be reunited with an old friend after making music together for nearly 70 years!
I can’t help but get sentimental over jobs like this, and I really hope that it shows and permeates the whole project.
This stunning Epiphone Sheraton is over 20 years old and the electronics had seen better days. So a quick upgrade to the wiring loom, plus a deep clean and pro set up, and we were back in business.
The most difficult part of this job is feeding all the electronic components through the F- Hole in the guitar’s top. I would prefer to use mini pots for this as it makes things easier, but we went for the classic full size CTS 500K pots.
Included in the wiring we had Orange Drop capacitors, a Switch Craft 3 way toggle switch (with vintage barrel nut), plus a Switch Craft jack.
It is a really great guitar and very usable for the price range, and now with the electronics upgrade it’s in a whole new class of instrument.
Glow in the dark side dot fret marker install
I have always been a little sceptical of luminous inlays. I don’t really like the look of the material in daylight when it isn’t glowing, and when they do glow I’m often underwhelmed. That was until a customer asked me to install these fantastic side dot markers into their “parts caster” Strat build.
The inlays look great!
Whether in the daylight or glowing in the dark, they are so clear and bright. I think it’s because of the high quality glow pigment and the black border that surrounds the glow of the dots. It makes things really pop and is a nice detail that sets off the glow perfectly.
I am so impressed that I am thinking of using them in my production build guitars.
If you are interested in finding out more, the product is called LUMINLAY SGW -23 VERDE BORDO NERO 3MM and you will also need an Ultra Violet pen light if you want them to be as bright as possible.
Definitely one of the better options on the market!
WHAT A GUITAR !!!
Seriously, this thing is so well built and has lots of innovative tech on board.
I especially like the hinged truss rod cover, which allows access to the guitar’s truss rod nut, without taking the whole plate off. This access is crucial because it is an essential task for adjusting the relief of the neck, when setting the guitar up for a perfect action and playability.
Also, the ZR tremolo is like something off of a racing bike! It is so sleek and so well designed.
A definite thumbs up from me. 👍
All that was needed for this job was a deep clean, fret polish, new strings and overall adjustments to complete the set up.
A quick and straightforward job, with a quick turnaround time.
Ibanez GIO and Epiphone Acoustic
Many guitar players have more than one guitar that need attention. TBH it’s most of us isn’t it? 😉
If you are like the rest of us and have a few that you love and cherish, I am more than happy to book them in on a rolling basis for you. That was the arrangement we had with this pair.
The Ibanez needed fret levelling and dressing plus a set up, and the Epiphone Acoustic just needed cleaning and setting up.
These are very essential jobs to get your instruments playing to their full potential.
And the customer wasn’t left without both guitars at the same time.
Here is what they said after the work was complete and both guitars had been played.
Gretsch Bridge Making
With guitar repairs, sometimes you just can’t find the right part, so often you have to make it. Either the original guitar builder doesn’t make the same model of instrument anymore, or they simply do not supply aftermarket items. Where possible, it is sometimes easier and quicker to fabricate a replacement. Not always possible, but very rewarding when it is!
This Gretsch bridge saddle was split and damaged bad, but was still intact enough to make a more robust copy.
Here’s a quick summary of the basic process
Even new guitars need setting up and fine adjustments to match them to your needs and style of playing. The factories and music shops can only go so far, and this is where True Notes step in. I run a guitar workshop that is fully dedicated to instrument building, set ups and repairs.
This gorgeous Guild Starfire just needed some extra fine set up work to help bed it in and make it a fantastic instrument to play.
I am really into hollow body electrics, but I often find them a bit big and bulky. The Starfire is just a little smaller than a 335 and so they are really comfy and fun to play. I don’t often see them in circulation either, which means I would consider this a more unique choice of guitar, if you were looking for a hollow body Electric.
This hand made Octave Mandolin was built several years ago by English maker Paul Hathway. Paul is famous for building great instruments, and here you can tell, because this one had been played so much!
It’s actually a good sign when the frets get so worn out that things start to buzz, as it means the instrument has seen lots of use. This normally shows that people have enjoyed playing it, which is every Luthier’s goal.
A fret level and set up was much needed, plus a pretty vigorous deep clean. I also made quite a few adjustments to the saddle and nut to help with string resonance and intonation.
The Mandolin turned out great and now has many more years of playing left in it.
Aria Pro II Bass
A high quality build with through neck joinery, these Aria Pro II Basses are rapidly becoming collectable items. People love them and for good reason too. They are affordable and very decent instruments.
This one came into the workshop as it was being prepped for sale by the owner. There had been some previous modifications that didn’t look original, so we converted things back to be as close to spec as possible. Then a full service, deep clean and set up with new strings and it was ready for sale.
I really like the colours of this one and it was very responsive to the set up.
That for me, is the sign of a quality instrument.
Early 70’s Fender Strat Overhaul
What a great looking guitar, with a huge history of gigs under its belt.
This 1973 Fender Stratocaster hadn’t seen a service in a very long time, and so all the bridge grub screws were completed seized up and stuck in the saddles. I did eventually manage to safely free things up and rescue all the original saddles, but we had to replace the screws with new ones to make the bridge usable.
The other interesting part of this job, was that previously the electronic controls were replaced with the Rothwell Audio products “hot little knob” circuit mod.
This is a really interesting circuit that changes the configuration of a Strat’s 3 single coil output controls and switching.
Unfortunately, it had initially been installed wrong and the wiring wasn’t that great at all. So after a proper tidy up and some fresh new wires and clean solder joints, things worked perfectly.
This mod gives a great array of choice for your Strat and could be something to consider for all you funk lovers out there.
Luthier’s Wooden Cam Clamps
As some of you know, I am steadily making my way into acoustic guitar construction. This journey has taken many years and countless hours of research and training to get to this point, and I’m still not where I need to be with it all.
One of the barriers, is that the tools needed are very specialist and expensive to buy. Which means things are often just out of reach for me and my budget.
So if I can find a way to make the tools I need, then I will.
There is also something very satisfying about using tools that you have built yourself, and knowing that if you build them right, then they should last you for many years of your career. Possibly, even becoming heirloom items themselves, like hopefully my hand made instruments will.
The other good thing about building tools, it that you can make them to suit your needs. Like these extra deep cam clamps, made from locally sourced English Hornbeam, Beech and Ash.
They are just right for the job and were a fraction of the cost of commercially available clamps (plus mine are bigger than what is actually available on the market 😉)
I am really happy with the results of these clamps and need to thank my friends at David Dyke’s Luthier Supplies for providing me with a high quality supply of local timber.
Custom Westside 0-15M
Another brand new instrument that needed some TLC. This cute little Martin packs a punch though, and is one of the loudest small bodied acoustics I’ve ever heard.
However, brand new guitars have often been sitting around for a while, either in shipping containers or even just on the shop floor itself.
After some care and attention, some fret board conditioning, truss rod adjustment, nut and saddle tweaking and new strings, this little beast of a guitar is ready to get acquainted with its new owner.
May it be a long and fruitful friendship.
Gibson SG Tuner Replacement
A common issue with some guitars is how they are balanced with regards to their weight distribution. The notorious “headstock dive” is a common issue and there is little that can be done to stop it. It’s all down to the instruments centre of gravity and what position it is played in by the owner.
However, one way to alleviate the imbalance, is by changing out heavy hardware for something lighter, Like on this Gibson SG.
The original Grover machine head tuners were weighing in at 296g, so we decided to swap them out for replacement Deluxe Klusons which only weigh 169g.
That’s a difference of 127g and in the guitar world, that is a huge difference!
The upgrade was a great improvement, and not only to the overall weight of the instrument, but also helps the headstock from sinking as much.
This is something to consider if you have a similar issue. But please do bare in mind that you may need tuner conversion bushings, which allow for vintage spec Klusons to be used in place of more modern tuners, and it will likely mean drilling new mounting screws into your original guitar finish.
Jimmy Edmond’s – Hand Built Dreadnought
Instruments have this amazing ability to travel all over the world, and probably none more so than this stunning, hand made acoustic guitar. Built by the very talented Jimmy Edmonds in Galax Virginia USA.
It would have already been on its travels just to get here to the UK, and I now know of two great musicians who have owned this guitar and travelled far with it as well.
After developing some inevitable wear and tear, the bone nut needed replacing and frets needed levelling and dressing.
I often wonder where lovely guitars like this will visit on their next travels.
Pro Mod – San Dimas style
This Charvel was bought with an unfinished maple fret board, and after only a few years of playing, the board was completely full of grime. Maple is such a light coloured wood that it needs a finish to protect it.
Firstly, I had to clean and prep the tarnished wood to get it back and as close to its original colour as possible. Then I applied sealer coats and few shots of lacquer to make the finish more durable.
Once the fret board re-spray was complete, the guitar was serviced, cleaned fully and set up with new strings.
Squire Strat – Truss Rod Replacement
Sometimes truss rods break, or they were never working right to begin with 🤦♂️ This pretty much renders a guitar unusable, and unfortunately for this Squire Strat, it was time for a truss rod replacement.
The neck was bowed so much from many years of string tension and because there was no working truss rod to counter act the pull of the strings. It meant the relief of the neck was un-adjustable and a set up was impossible.
So I popped the fretboard off, swapped the truss rod out for a new one, glued the fret board back down and sealed with lacquer.
“Wow! it sounds so easy when you say it like that.”
Believe me, it is not and this job is definitely one of the more complex surgeries going.
Still, I am very happy with the results and that I managed to rescue what is a really nice neck from a vintage Squire Strat.
Acoustic Guitar Back Replacement
This acoustic had sadly received some major damage to the back.
Hope was not lost though, because after quite an in-depth inspection, it was decided that a new back plate and bracing would be the best course of action.
The back was carefully removed and new radiused braces were made. These were then installed onto the fresh back plate and the box was closed. After this, the binding channels were cut and binding was fitted.
Once cleaned up and sanded, the pores were filled and we were onto the finishing schedule.
A major guitar repair with successful results!
Epiphone Les Paul
Hole plugging and finish repairs.
This is a pretty self explanatory repair, but the hardest part was making a hybrid lacquer mix of just the right amount of Olympic White and Arctic White. Plus the necessary aging to match the original finish’s years of UV degradation.
Blending lacquer is fun! (not) but the results were good.
Baby Taylor – A Taylor Swift Signature Model
This little steel string came in with over 5mm of action height, which made the guitar completely unplayable.
Belonging to a young guitar student, who is also the biggest Taylor Swift fan around, it was important that we put things right for her.
After some glue and a neck reset, a polish up of the frets and a set up with new strings, the guitar was as good as new.
Another happy customer, and another talented musician in the making.
Appalachian Dulcimer Build and Luthier Apprenticeship
I am very fortunate in that my fiancé Jen is a brilliant musician and also has a very strong interest in all the work that I do with musical instrument building and repairs. So much so that she is now getting more involved with the workshop each and every day.
Also this year, Jen has actually started creating her own amazing artwork and jewellery from broken skateboards and my leftover guitar wood scraps. If you are interested in what Jen has been up to with reclaimed wood, please follow this link to find out more. Jenyfa Designs Instagram
Below we have a few examples for you.
Back at True Notes, we decided to build an Appalachian Dulcimer together and used the project to help improve Jen’s wood working skills. She is steadily becoming a valuable apprentice for me and is a great help around the workshop and the business as a whole.
Our Dulcimer turned out swell and was a brilliant learning curve for us, both as teacher and student.
We are really looking forward to building some more of these soon and getting creative with interesting woodworking projects.
Watch this space!
As you can probably tell from the previous posts, I have really been pushing my ability and skills in the finishing department this year. I have always been fascinated with how finishes work and how they react with each other and the surfaces that they are being applied to. I think it is probably the mad scientist in me and my love of weird chemistry where, only by having this job can I encourage! (Funny that isn’t it? 😁).
Anyway, I also romanticise old world crafts/artisans and have an affinity for anything hand made. These old school creatives were the innovators of their day and I can’t help but admire any work that was completed without electricity. Plus, it just amazes me how anyone achieved anything before the industrial revolution, so to delve into this world is always a delight for me.
That being said, my interest in traditional finishing techniques has been sparked, and I have steadily been teaching myself how to French Polish. Working with shellac is great and I look forward to incorporating more traditional techniques into my repertoire.
Exciting things to come in 2021
There are some very exciting things in store for 2021, and here are just a few pics to ignite your interest. If you would like to know more please do send a message here and I will get back to you.
I hope you enjoyed the read, and thanks for stopping by 😊