It's a Maintenance Marathon!

Bob Womack

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This a re-post from yesterday morning on another forum where I'm not to sure there is much crossover.

I’ve let some of my guitar maintenance pile up, so I have a group of guitars that need to visit my friend and excellent luthier/tech, Kenny Marshall, who does all my work. I’m going to invite you to come along on my journey and see what happens. Here are the candidates:

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2021 Martin OM-28 Standard Reimagined. My lovely wife gave this guitar to me last fall and has suggested I take it to Kenny to be evaluated for optimizing. Though it was set up pretty well at the factory with a Plek machine, my feeling is that the nut is a tad high.

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2018 Gibson Les Paul Standard T (“Traditional”). Gibson set up this guitar with a Plek machine and did their premium Plek job but the nut seems a tad high for me and it still has the classic Gibson tuning problem, ie., after a good bend on the upper strings it tends to end up off pitch. I’m also going to get Kenny to install the toggle switch “poker chip.”

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2013 Fender American Standard Telecaster. The setup was pretty good from the factory, but it has come into high demand in the studio and I want it optimized. 25.5” scale isn’t native to me so I want it to be as comfortable as possible.

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2004 Taylor 710ce. This is a truly new-old-stock 2004 guitar without a scratch on it. The action is relatively high at both bridge and nut and feels a bit clumsy. I have no idea whether fret work will be required to bring it down.

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1999 Taylor K14c. This is the silver tuna. Purchased for me new by my lovely wife, set up by Kenny back then, and played by me for twenty years, its frets are getting pretty low. Refret? Probably. Kenny has referred me to the Jescar site to consider fret sizes and I’m trying to figure things out. Will it be stainless or nickel silver? He says Taylor’s ebony fingerboards tend to be pretty dry so it’ll want extra care as he works.

Kenny is popular with professional clients and has a constant stream of work coming in from clients in Nashville and other out-of-state locations. He’s got a professional resume’ a mile long with some really impressive names. As a result, he has a backlog of work all the time. When I called him his backlog was over twenty instruments. He serves a few large bands and orchestras that have a deal with him where they can save money by being willing to drop off a group of instruments for repairs and wait for months for him to return them. That allows him to insert them into any slack times. He said that if I waited a bit, we could set a date when he expected to catch up reasonably well and we could insert my bunch into the work stream. We arranged a time, so this morning my wife and I travel to the adjacent town where he has his bench. We’ll catch up on lives, have a consultation, and leave the instruments to be worked on.

So, it is a maintenance marathon. I've rounded up the usual suspects and put a set of new strings in each case. I love to watch Kenny work because he just exudes experience with a casual competence. I’ll be fascinated to see what he thinks of the guitars and what work will be needed. I’ll report after the consultation.

Bob
 

Bob Womack

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And this is from yesterday afternoon:

So, I am back from seeing Kenny. He is a playability specialist, and in fact calls himself "The Fret Doctor." We spent two and a half hours catching up and looking at the instruments. When examining a candidate for work, he looks at the action a little backwards from the rest of us. The first thing he does is set the proper relief for the guitar based upon his goals for it. From that he can tell how the nut and bridge are. Then he puts the straight edge on the fingerboard and starts to check for high and low frets and neck angle. Here are the results from the consultation:

Martin OM-28: My feeling that the first fret was high was because the neck relief wasn't right. There also turned out to be a little high point in the frets above the twelfth fret. He'll be working down the high frets there. By contrast, the second and third fret are set a little too low. Kenny will pull those two frets, reset them, and glue them, in to bring them even with the first and fourth frets.

Les Paul - The first fret on this guitar also felt high to me because the neck relief wasn't right. There are two little high points in the frets about the twelfth that he will be leveling. While looking at it he got a big smile on his face and said, "I'll be able to get this one to 100%!"

Telecaster - He was pretty impressed with how flat the fingerboard and the fretwork were. There was a single high point and the fret ends were sharp. He'll rounding the frets with his twelve cut method (yes, he take twelve cuts with a stone to create a rounded end) and the fingerboard shoulders will be rolled in the process.

710ce - This one was a little more complicated, and I'm not surprised. When he set the proper relief, the G string was right down almost on the first fret because the nut was cut too deep on the G. At first, he scratched his chin and said he could fill with nut material and superglue and recut the slot. I said that was fine with me. However, there turned out to be two high spots in the frets, one above the twelfth and another right at the highest fret on the board. He said he'd be dealing with those. Between the target relief change and relieving the high spots he thought the action would come down enough at the center that it would probably be best to cut a new nut and saddle because they will need to come up. He'll round the fret ends on this one as well.

K14c - Yep, the frets are down to around thirty-one thousandths after twenty-two years. We discussed fret wire sizes and settled on 43hx80w, not much different from vintage spec. There is a high spot in the fingerboard and he'll take care of it before re-fretting. With the higher frets he'll be cutting a new nut and bridge. While looking at it he played a bit and said, "I have NEVER heard a Taylor sound this good. I bet it didn't sound this good when you bought it." Uh, no, it didn't. I had begun to think it was a pretty extraordinary guitar and this was a bit of reinforcement to my impression. I'm taking a chance and going with stainless frets. Yes, I know that some consider them bright. Kenny said, "If you don't like the stainless I can always buy the guitar from you!" Hehehehe.

He said I could collect some of them in a few days if I desired. We said we were willing to wait and pick them all up at the same time. He said, "How about two weeks?" Fine. If all goes as we expect, we'll return on June 4th and pick them up.

Bob
 

Wallaby

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I am impressed with your wife both buying instruments for you *and* suggesting a fret job - those are signs of a truly fine human being!

A couple of words afterward with your impressions of the stainless frets would be welcome and interesting.

Thanks for the great write-up!
 

Bob Womack

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Where, please, is Mr. Marshall located?
He is located in Newport News, Virginia. One of the guitars I took to him was a Martin I bought last October at The Music Outlet in Sevierville, by the way, while returning to the mother country. I'm originally from Knoxville.

I can give you Kenny's particulars if you wish.

Bob
 

Bob Womack

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The results are mostly in. I ’m back from picking up most of the guitars from Kenny and have had a week to adjust to the them. As always, once a tech dives into a guitar there’s usually other stuff to contend with. The K14c still needs some work so I’ll be going back for it in a few weeks. Here are the results on the other four:

Kenny proudly brought out the NOS 2004 Taylor 710ce first. I didn’t want to say it, but before he started working the action was a bit of a basket case, way too tall to be comfortable to me and not at all consistent. There were lots of little issues with it. Firstly, Kenny had to work a hump out of the neck. As usual, the treble and bass sides didn’t respond to the truss rod at the same rate, so he had to work with it a bit. Secondly, frets two and three were low. He had to reset them to bring them UP to the level of the rest. Once that was accomplished, he had to dress frets eight through thirteen to bring them into line with the rest of the frets. And then he had to deal with the last fret, number twenty, where the fingerboard turned up a bit. The guitar had sported an extra tall nut, and further, a shim had been placed under the saddle to give clearance over the hump. Kenny cut a new nut and saddle and improved the intonation with a different saddle profile. He rounded the fret ends as well. Results: Dramatic! Wonderful. I picked it up and played and said, “Oh… YEAH!!!” Despite being a big dread, this guitar is now easy and comfortable to play. The “cheese slicer” high E is now low and comfortable, and the height of the G is now equalized with the rest of the strings. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are much more comfortable. I can play fingerstyle on it easily and lean into it with strumming as well. This guitar was easily the most improved of the lot and I can see why Kenny pulled it out first. The guitar went right into the studio the next week

Next came the 2021 Martin OM-28. The first issue was leveling a neck hump between frets eleven and fifteen. That was followed with a high-up fret that was a tad high and had to be reset lower. Finally, the fret ends needed to be dressed. Though the guitar came from the factory with a pretty good action, the result was an exceptional action. This guitar with its intimate tone is now even more intimate feeling.

Next he brought out the 2013 Fender Telecaster. He said that it mostly needed a bunch of fret dressing but he also adjusted the intonation and rounded the fret ends with his twelve-cut method. To top things off he used 0000 steel wool to restore the matte finish on the back of the neck where my playing had polished it smooth. A tiny bit of rounding to the fingerboard edges resulted from his work on the fret ends but nothing drastic. Voile’! It is much more pleasant to play. I don’t have to constantly use body English to drag the strings into tune within chords because of the improved intonation. Chimey chording sounds great. I also used this guitar in the studio the week after I picked it up.

And finally there was the 2018 Gibson Les Paul Standard. Even before I bought it, I knew it would need Kenny’s loving touch. However, COVID had prevented me from making the trip. Frets one and two were low and had to be brought up. Frets seven, fifteen, and eighteen were high and had to be lowered. Kenny re-cut the nut slots as was necessary for the guitar to keep tune without binding. He intonated the guitar and leveled the stop bar tailpiece to equalize the feel of the strings as contributed by bridge break angle as well. The result was a superb setup, much more secure in bends while being low, consistent, and level throughout. I’ve been playing it for several days and have found that it holds tuning extremely well. The guitar feels much more secure in bends throughout the neck. The change in the guitar is probably second only to the 710ce. This Les Paul ended up a “no-reservations” instrument - I can feel right at home on it and don’t have to think about how to approach it. I had Kenny put the “poker chip” pickup selector washer that was delivered in the case onto the guitar while he was working. There was also a pickguard in the case, but I’ve chosen to leave it off for now to reveal the lovely maple figure.

Well, there you go. I got great results across the board, thanks to Kenny. I guess the rest is up to me!

Bob
 

Duncan

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It's nice to get all your instruments serviced and back up to par. I did the exact same thing (but all amplifiers) while we were all on Covid lockdown. All in all, my tech repaired, serviced and/or re-biased about 4-5 amps, and he mostly rebuilt an early Fender tube reverb tank I have that was DOA.

It's nice to have it working properly again.
 

Bob Womack

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It's nice to get all your instruments serviced and back up to par. I did the exact same thing (but all amplifiers) while we were all on Covid lockdown. All in all, my tech repaired, serviced and/or re-biased about 4-5 amps, and he mostly rebuilt an early Fender tube reverb tank I have that was DOA.

It's nice to have it working properly again.
It is, isn't it? It makes them feel more like "home."

Bob
 

Boreas

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Next came the 2021 Martin OM-28. The first issue was leveling a neck hump between frets eleven and fifteen. That was followed with a high-up fret that was a tad high and had to be reset lower. Finally, the fret ends needed to be dressed. Though the guitar came from the factory with a pretty good action, the result was an exceptional action. This guitar with its intimate tone is now even more intimate feeling.
Was that hump covered under warranty??
 

chris m.

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Those slightly high/slightly low frets and neck humps do take some real experience and craftsmanship to properly diagnose and solve.

When people pick up a bunch of supposedly identical guitars in the shop and select the one that just feels right it
is usually these very subtle set-up issues that are driving the difference in playability.

Unfortunately, a lot of the guitar techs out there don't have this level of talent and so I find my own OK setup skills produce
the same or better results than they would accomplish. Having a guy for guitars or tube amps that is at this next level of
skill is gold when something is a little out of one's depth and isn't resolving with standard set-up procedures plus maybe a fret level and crown.

PRS and Ibanez are two companies whose factory QA/QC is unbelievable. In my experience their guitars are pretty
impeccable right out of the box-- even a lot of their cheaper stuff. I don't know how much hands-on TLC they put into the guitars
between when they come off the assembly line and go into the packing box, but it is quite impressive, especially when compared to what Fender and Gibson put out there. PLEK isn't magic-- the person running the PLEK needs to really know what they're doing for it to produce a flawless neck.
 

Gnometowner

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I just paid Guitar Tech Service in Tulsa $400 to rewire, new pots, switches and jack and action setup on my beater Epiphone 56 Goldtop RI Epiphone. He correctly remounted the set of Seymourized mini HB off Seymours bench given to me by a woman who is friends with Seymour and had long ago replaced the original P90s with. my crappy soldering job and incòrrect mounting wàs full of gremlins, he rediđit all.
So now I have a 70s Goldtop Deluxe clone. Sounds really killer and the new pots let me dial in some incredible tone with it. I paid way more for this service than its beatup gig relic finish would warrant, but this guitar is named Angel, for thè trainwreck buxom Amazon Blonde ex wife of one of my friends who originally got it in non functional condition for him at the KC Musician Friend crash n dent outlet store in their KC warehousè
She ruined his life, he gave me the Goldtop for helping him get his motorcycle licensêso he could have work transportation .
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