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Ever get a setup from a master luthier? MW & Bill K cont

Discussion in 'Telecaster Discussion Forum' started by JessRobinson, Nov 7, 2004.

  1. JessRobinson

    JessRobinson TDPRI Member

    Jul 21, 2004
    What started out as a minor warranty issue on my new Muddy Waters Telecaster has turned into an opportunity to transform my Muddy into a much better guitar.

    I got my MW about three weeks ago. It was set up nicely and was rockin’ mightily through my Delta Blues 210. Over the past week I was starting to hear a crackling noise (think static) when I rested my hand on the pickguard near the pup switch. When I plugged in my Reverend Slingshot (two single-coil P90s) under the same conditions, no crackling. Clearly a warranty issue with the Muddy.

    I check on Mr. Gearhead for the nearest Fender authorized service center, and found one less than 10 miles away. I call the place up and it’s a guy who works out of his basement and garage. Hmmmm… Turns out he’s been a Fender authorized service center for 17 years. Okay, gotta go with this guy.

    I drive up to his house yesterday and see him spraying the neck on an Ovation acoustic. Turns out someone cracked the headstock in half, and the tech set it back together with no noticeable lines, and was finishing it up. Looked good.

    We walk into his workshop and first thing that hits me is a line of Custom Teles hanging in a row off a wall. All the Teles had Bardens; he only works with Bardens. Nice.

    Then I noticed a full machine shop - wood saws, lathes, sanders, milling tools, lord knows what. As it turns out this guy, who in my mind is no longer a tech but is now a luthier, fabricates all of the parts for his guitars in the shop by hand. He shows me a hand-milled stainless steel vintage Tele bridge. Unbelievable work.

    He shows me the first guitar he ever made, an ornate Les Paul model with engravings and mother of pearl everywhere, immaculate craftsmanship. My heart rate accelerates.

    We start talking about doing a full set-up on my Muddy and the conversation drifts a bit. This luthier apparently does top-notch work, as he runs down a list of guitarists whose axes he works with. Among them is Bill Kirchen – this gent works with Bill and his coal-burner!!!! He’s disassembled, reassembled, and set up Bill’s guitars numerous times. Bill is one of my personal guitar Gods.

    So I think here’s probably one of the best guitar craftsmen in the country and he’s just going to fix a ground wire on my guitar (turned out to be a static electricity issue). I can’t pass up this opportunity to let the hands of greatness change my Muddy forever.

    We talk about him doing some simple mods to improve the axe. We agree on compensated brass saddles (hand-milled, better than Callahams in his opinion) and some neck work – countersinking and rebolting the neck, and doing an overall setup. Also he’ll be replacing the stock white pickguard with a vintage-looking parchment colored piece from Callaham, just for more vibe.

    The luthier’s name is Larry Smoak, and he is a Fender "gold-level" service center (not sure what this means). When Larry’s done with the Muddy, it’s going to be a totally amazing guitar. And I already loved my Muddy pre-Larry. I can’t wait to see, feel, and hear the results.

    Have any of you had an experience like this – go in for a minor repair and come out with an instrument transformed forever?


  2. lenny

    lenny Banned

    there is a guy right near here who is a really talented luthier, his name is george youngblood. his shop is in his house, and he doesnt put a sign out front ( he says he wants to work for pro player/advanced amateurs, not average joe's off the street). even so he is fully booked for the next year in advance unless you can convince him to "sneak you in". well i went there for my first time when i was 14, and am a local guy who is in there a lot, and hes a really nice guy, so i got him to set up my gibson j-180 for me...
    WOW is all i have to say.
    when he took it in he didnt just say ok ill do it. we had a discussion about it, while he looked at the guitar. he looked over the craftsmanship, mentioning how the grain on the neck was "textbook perfect", he took it with his arm in a sort of huggin pose while he strummed the strings to feel how it resonated. we discussed string guage, and he mentioned how mine had a paritcualrly tight grained spruce top and would work well with medium guage strings, unlike the usual light guage he recomends. i wanted him to put a bone nut and saddle on it, and he eyed it up and told me it looked like it already had bone. ok then thanks for not rippin me off! it was clear he was not in it for the money, but really wanted my guitar to sound and play at its best. he cut the nut right, and turned my saddle into an intonated one.. lowered the action. then... he polished the frets and oiled the fingerboard (which he didnt charge for he said he did it just because he wanted to), tighted the tuners, adjusted the strap button/fishman jack, which i never even mentioned- he noticed it wasn't installed just right (gibson custom shop, so it couldnt have been too far off, but he didnt like it lol)also free of charge.
    ended up costin me 60 bucks to turn it into the most perfectly intonated, nicest playing acoustic i have ever played. the work looks great, and i couldn't be happier with him and the guitar
    yep, nuthin like a good guitar guy that's for sure :)

  3. Mickey

    Mickey Tele-Holic

    Mar 26, 2003
    L.A., CA
    really good luthiers are perfectionists. You go in for a little buzz on the low E and when you pick it up they've tightened the pots, optimized the pickup level, and a dozen other things you never noticed. They can't help themselves. You offer to pay more and often they're like, no, it was nothing, they were just tinkering, looking for the optimum setup like it's a game they play on each guitar. Hey, they get my return business for it, that's for sure. Especially just after I've attempted my own setup. :rolleyes:

  4. kp8

    kp8 Friend of Leo's

    Aug 22, 2004
    Seoul, Korea
    as i just posted on another thread. i have had Roger Sadowsky do a guitar for me when he was still in Manhattan. It was like getting a whole new instrument. Not only that, but he didn't set it all up as 'he' wanted it, he set it up as i asked and when i came back he requested that i go sit in the back room play it for a while, take my time, look it over and then he would give it one more go over if there was anything i thought should be changed. It was awesome. I had much the same experience with Music one workshop. I just got a tele from them and the 'gold level' set up is mindboggling. Again, he talked to me a good long time to find out how i played and what kind of feel/action i was comfortable with, made some gentle recommendations (all of which were right on the money) and when i got my guitar i just couldn't believe it. Frets were perfect and the nut was cut and polished to perfection. It looked great, played great (never have i had a guitar play this sweet in the first position!) and lordy does this thing play and stay in tune.

    The guitar itself? Same price as GC and Musician's Friend. Just as timely in delivery too.

    I am playing *a lot* at home these days, not just because the guitar is a beauty (and it is a cheap production line guitar) but because it plays so sweet. I had a les paul that sounded great, played like poop and was heavy and uncomportable to play. I dreaded picking that pig up. Best thing i ever did was sell that hog.

    Ain't nothing in the world better than a quality instrument set up to play and sound just right. At least nothing that doesn't require you to take your clothes off.

    A perfectly set up and in tune tele, plugged right into a small tube amp on a pretty Autumn day, with a nice cup of coffee and the cell phone turned off! Woo! That's what i am talk about!


    Congrats on your find. Finding a good set up man is as often as important as finding a good instrument. Unless you can do it all yourself. I can't yet.

  5. PeterUK

    PeterUK Friend of Leo's

    Mar 4, 2003
    Nottingham, UK
    Re: Ever get a setup from a master luthier? MW & Bill K


    Will you get a quote from him regarding the stainless steel bridges.

    When Bill Kirchen visited the UK recently, I had the opportunity to inspect Bill's guitar and it had a stainless steel bridge of unknown make which looked good.


    From the great information you've supplied, I suspect it may be a Larry Smoak. 8)

    More info. please.

    Great thread. Thanks for sharing!

    :D Peter

  6. JessRobinson

    JessRobinson TDPRI Member

    Jul 21, 2004
    kp8 - I absolutely agree, except that in the evening I would substitute a tumbler of Wild Turkey for the coffee. Hey, I'll be down in Charlottesville this weekend - any recommendations on a good guitar shop?

    PeterUK - I'm almost certain that the stainless steel bridge that Bill Kirchen uses comes from Larry's shop. Larry quoted me $240 USD for the bridge. No doubt the higher price is for his time spent hand milling the piece.

  7. Twang

    Twang Tele-Holic

    Dec 2, 2003
    Arlington, VA
    Hey Jess,

    Tell me where I can find Larry. I need a complete setup on my '52 and with a recommendation like that how can I pass on him?

    Glad you're loving the MW and DB210. Awesome rig.


  8. JessRobinson

    JessRobinson TDPRI Member

    Jul 21, 2004
    PM with contact info sent. Good luck.....

  9. Paul in Colorado

    Paul in Colorado Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Fort Collins, CO
    There's a guy up in Cheyenne named Bob Westbrook. He has MS so he doesn't do a lot of work anymore. He says he only wants to work on vintage Martins and guitars owned by attractive young women. He's done two jobs for me. The first was repairing the headstock on a Gibson mandolin that broke clean off. The other was restoring a Gurian that had a crack down the center of the top. He did amazing work. On the mando, he put two maple splints in and then shaded the finish on the back of the neck to cover his tracks. Unless you held it to the light just right there was no trace of a repair. Same whith the Gurion. The repair just blends into the grain of the wood.
    His other hobby is building hot rods to run at Bonneville.

  10. JessRobinson

    JessRobinson TDPRI Member

    Jul 21, 2004
    Out of respect for Larry and his privacy I think I'd prefer to simply send PMs to those who want his contact info.

    Another method for those in the DC area is to go to Mr. Gearhead -> Fender Service Centers -> enter zip code. He's in Fairfax Station.

    Chris S - PM is on the way.

  11. jjw43

    jjw43 Tele-Meister

    Jun 15, 2004
    really good luthiers are perfectionists. You go in for a little buzz on the low E and when you pick it up they've tightened the pots, optimized the pickup level, and a dozen other things you never noticed.

    So true.

    I have a friend that is very good at setting up and so obsessive that when ever I visit to jam he will play my guitar and say "Hey lets take a break and tweak this a little" He can't help it and my Tele, Strat and Dot all play and sound great.

  12. Stan Martin

    Stan Martin Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 22, 2003
    BK bridge is a Vintique

    or at least it was the last time I saw it.

  13. PeterUK

    PeterUK Friend of Leo's

    Mar 4, 2003
    Nottingham, UK
    Re: BK bridge is a Vintique


    I agree. The one on his trusty late 50s is definitely a Vintique bridge. Here it is:

    But the one he was playing in the UK recently didn't appear to be. I know my Vintique parts well and I handled his guitar the night I went to see him and it wasn't stamped Vintique.

    That's why I'm guessing it was a Larry Smoak.


    :D Peter

  14. JessRobinson

    JessRobinson TDPRI Member

    Jul 21, 2004
    I'll Ask Larry...

    I've sent an email to Larry posing the question about the bridge on Bill's coal-burner. I'll post Larry's response...

  15. kp8

    kp8 Friend of Leo's

    Aug 22, 2004
    Seoul, Korea

    Unfortunately, no. Most folks here go up to DC or down to Richmond it seems. I have yet to find anything other than some little place out on 29 that doesn't have much beyond entry level no-name stuff. I wish i could tell you differently, but i don't know of anything. I am pretty new to C'ville though so there could be places i haven't yet heard of, but i did ask around when i got here and all said the same thing: D.C., Richmond, or mail order.

    Enjoy C'ville though. UVa is lovely and the downtown mall is nice. 15 minutes here and you will know more about Thomas Jefferson than you ever wanted to know! <wink>

    Just a quick warning, Virginia, currently sitting on top the ACC, plays Miami this weekend in C'ville. Very big game, so expect traffic before and after the game. Last week we had 64,000 in town for the Maryland game.

  16. mikfer

    mikfer Tele-Meister

    Jan 5, 2004
    Charlottesville, Virginia USA
    And another C'ville "native" replies . . .

    There are four guitar stores in town. Off of Ivy road, Heinz Musictronics....good place for acoustic guitars and they do a great job of setting up electrics ('tis my favorite place when I get the urge to have a pro do the work). Good friendly folks there that run the place.

    Music and Arts in a little strip mall directly across from the Fashion Square Mall. They have a few Fenders (not alot, but their prices are really good when they have one) mostly Strats but the occasional Tele. They really tend to cater to the beginner crowd (that's me, bye the way) but the do have a repair shop there.

    Charlottesville Music on Route 29 by the Pizza Hut. "Major" Tele shop (and Strats). The have a decent (c'mon, for a small town!!) selection of Teles, both new and used. I go there regularly as me music teacher works out of there. Really good folks, a great place to hang out and talk music.

    Stacy's Music in the Rio Hill shopping center. Major acoustic seller (Martins and Seagulls...I really want a Seagull). Don't know the folks there as well as I just pop in when in that shopping center. They've recently gotten in more electrics, and they have had some used guitars now and again that where a deal, but nothing I've wanted.

    There are also a couple of pawn shops that get a decent guitar now and again, but both places seem to know the value of the merchandise, in other words, not places to find a steal :)

    Hope that helps y'all out. Have fun, as kp8 said, this is a pretty town but busy busy busy on football weekends.

  17. Paul in Colorado

    Paul in Colorado Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Fort Collins, CO
    I used to work at Heinz Musitronics on Saturdays back in the late '80's. I hung out there so much that they put me to work! I bought my '52 RI there. Say hello to them for me.

    Mike Lewis owned Charlottesville Music Center when I lived there. He's a big honcho at Fender now. I saw him one night playing rockablly with a '52 RI through an AC-30. He was smokin' on all of that Gene Vincent stuff.

    I really need to get back there and say hello to my old friends.

  18. JessRobinson

    JessRobinson TDPRI Member

    Jul 21, 2004
    Bill Kirchen's Coalburner - The Bridge is a Vintique

    I spoke with Larry Smoak today and he confirmed that the bridge on Bill Kirchen's coalburner is a Vintique. PeterUK - Sorry to make the wrong call on the bridge, but I imagine that Larry's piece would be a great addition to your tele.

    To the C-ville contingent - thanks for the tips on the guitar shops. I'll try to avoid going to any of them on game day.


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