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ASK THE GUITAR REPAIRMAN

   This space is devoted to answering repair related questions. The information is offered in good faith for the information of the readers. The editor of GuitarRepairShop.com endevors to personally answer all questions. Some questions and their answers may be reproduced in this feature, but will be edited at the discretion of GuitarRepairShop.com
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WHY DOES MY NEW GUITAR NEED A "SET UP"?

   A customer brought a guitar in the other day. The guitar was uncomfortable to play. High action near the nut, buzzing in the center of the fretboard. "Why?" wondered the customer, "This guitar is brand new." Every guitar should start it's life with a proper set-up, but not every guitar coming off the production line is set to tolerances that the average player would be happy with. Why is this? There are a number of reasons....continued...

FENDER JAGUAR RE-ISSUE - SLIPPING BRIDGE SCREWS

I bought a Fender Jaguar re-issue and the quality of the bridge and saddles concerns me. It slips down over time ( the height of the screws unscrews) and the sixth string moves on the saddle if I play hard with the pick. Is it possible to replace the bridge with another style?

   A Fender Mustang bridge is a direct replacement with slotted saddles. If you have a Japanese Jag get the Japanese Mustang re-issue bridge.


STRATOCASTER TREMELO - "HARDTAIL" CONVERSION

   I have a 1987 American Standard Stratocaster, I never use the whammy bar, Is there a tailpiece available to bolt directly to the body, effectively transforming the guitar to a "hardtail"?

   I don't know of a replacement that would retrofit without modification. I would recommend "defeating" the tremolo by placing a well fitted piece of wood between the tremolo block ( the stem of the tremolo bridge which goes through the body, to which the tremolo springs are attached) and the body of the guitar to keep it from moving. This will give you all the stability of a "hardtail" without irreversible modification. Most repairman can do this for you.


REPLACEMENT "KLUSON" STYLE TUNERS

   I have an older Les Paul Studio and one of the"Kluson" style tuning keys has separated. I would like to replace them with an upgrade which uses the same shaft and mounting holes. The local repair guy suggested two types, both of which require reaming the shaft opening. Any better ideas?

   Replacement "Kluson" style tuners, with better machining than those on your Les Paul Studio, are now being produced. They have a 1/4" peg shaft. The bushings ,though, are for a larger peghead hole so use your original bushings. These reproductions seem to be well made and will retrofit to instruments with vintage style tuners.


BUZZING E STRING

   My high E string sounds like a sitar. Any idea what the problem is?

   It could be a low bridge saddle, it could be a flat or backbowed neck. It could be a low nut, or a high fret. It could be a pitted fret or series of frets, it could even be a dirty or bent string. You really have to take it to a repairperson who can give it a thorough evaluation.


ELECTRIC GUITAR OUTPUT JACK - REPAIR OR REPLACE?

   I have an "80's model Westone Spectrum IX electric guitar which I have recently bought. The problem is that the guitar jack won't hold the cord plug. Is there anything I can do to adjust the jack or do I just have to get a new one to install?

   In some cases you can remove the jack and bend the contact back slightly and it will hold. But often when it reaches the point that it won't hold the metal is fatigued and the jack needs to be replaced.


GUILD BRIDGE SEPARATING FROM TOP

   The back of the bridge on my early 80's Guild D-35 is separating from the top. I can see a gap across most of the back side of the bridge. Should it be glued back down?

    Eventually, yes, but maybe not right away. Particularly with Guild bridges I have noticed a separating from the top, only to find that it does not extend very far under the bridge. Having removed a few of these bridges I have noticed that the area of the top which is mated to the underside of the bridges on many Guild guitars of the 70's and 80's leaves a small amount of lacquered wood under the bridge (i.e. the area of the bridge is bigger than the area of the top that is free of finish.) Since wood and lacquer don't adhere with wood glue, this area can separate over time (as the top flexes up under tension) while the rest of the underside of the bridge is well connected. So you have to figure out how far under the bridge the gap goes. To check a gap under any bridge, slide a piece of paper into the gap , and if it goes less than 1/16th of an inch (1mm) the bridge won't come flying off immediately but it should be monitored ( if you have the bucks , it never hurts to get your repairmans opinion). If it goes in more than that, you may want to seek out your local repair guy sometime soon.


ELECTRIC GUITAR BRIDGE WITH TREMELO LIFTING UP

   I Bought an Ibanez guitar about a year and a half ago and the bridge , which is connected to the guitar by three springs, has begun to rise up. I thought the cause might be the strings so I changed them, but the bridge only raised up more. What can I do about the problem?

   Tremolo springs flex out over time and need to be replaced. Many tremolo springs, though, are attached to a "claw" ( most Strats ,and many others, have this ) and the claw can be tightened to increase tension on the springs. The "claw" has two screws that are seated into the body of the guitar. Here is the professional way to set the tension on the tremolo springs : Loosen the strings till the bridge sits parallel to the top of the body. Place a block of wood which just wedges in between the back of the tremolo block ( inside the routed-out cavity in the back of the guitar) and the inside wall of the tremolo block cavity. This will hold the bridge in place as you bring the strings up to concert pitch ( or whatever tuning you use) . Always have the gauge of strings you intend to use on the guitar when you make this adjustment Tighten the screws that hold the "claw" evenly a couple of turns ( don't force them if they don't want to go in ) each until the wooden wedge just slides out. This is the correct setting for the tension of the springs. If you can't get enough tension after tightening the screws, you must replace the springs. Changing string gauge will , because of the change in tension, affect the setting of the springs. This adjustment must be made again if you change string gauge.


STATIC IN VOLUME AND TONE CONTROLS

   When I turn the volume and tone controls on my Strat there is a static noise, what can I do to stop it, should I replace the controls?

    Static in the volume and tone "pots" (short for potentiometers) can often be remedied by cleaning with a special electronic component cleaner. While you can get this cleaner at your local electronic parts supply store and, if you are careful ,do the job yourself, you may want to have a guitar tech do the job for you. Besides, he can replace the "pots" if cleaning doesn't help.


SHIMMING ACOUSTIC GUITAR SADDLES

   I just bought a new guitar and the action is incredible, however, it is so low that on the high E at the second octave, I am getting the same note for three frets. Obviously the action is too low for the fret setup.

   My question is, don't they make little plastic spacers to place in the bridge at the bottom of the white plastic string saddle? And do they usually glue that white saddle in or does it float?

   Where I bought the guitar they have offered to set it up, but I can only imagine they will find some way to scratch the beautiful Koa wood the guitar is made of, so I thought I might try it myself, if that saddle is floating. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

   Shims to elevate bridge saddles are not a part you can purchase. A repairperson will variously use wood veneers, thin plastic, or sometimes, various grades of sandpaper to boost up the height of the saddle. Of course a correct height saddle is the ideal, particularly if you have an under the saddle pickup. On some guitars you may find that the string height fluctuates, depending on the relative humidity of the air. Some players like to have a "summer" saddle and a "winter" saddle. The saddle should never be glued in, but it has been done, though not by a manufacturer.

   A free setup of your instrument is not a bad idea, besides they will have the materials around to do the job and if they damage your guitar they are liable. Most shops want you to have a guitar that is playable and will do their best to do a good job if they want to keep you as a customer (and everyone you talk to). I'd give them a chance.


REPLACING TOGGLE SWITCHES ON A GUITAR With "F" Holes

   I am a guitar player from Croatia and I have one question. I bought last year a guitar - Gibson ES- 135. and eve~thing was great but before a few days I noticed problems with that part that use when you want to change the pickups (toggle switch). It seems that the contact has loosened up and now when I am changing positions I always must search for the place where the sound can be heard. So I'm interested if you could tell me if that part can be changed because the guitar only has F holes, and how complicated that process is. Is it possible to do without removing the side?

   Never fear. The work can be done through the F holes, (or on a guitar with inset pickups by removing the pickup and working through that hole). The trick is to tie a heavy duty thread around the stem of the switch that protrudes through the guitar top after you loosen the nut. Once the nut is loose and the switch falls into the guitar carefully pull it out ( a bent coat hanger will reach if nothing else will). Solder the new switch correctly and draw the switch back into the hole with the thread. Once the nut has been started on the stem ~ the switch you can cut the thread with a razor blade. (contact Gibson to order the part www.gibson.com or else the Stewart Macdonald company at www.stewmac.com.


BULGING ACOUSTIC GUITAR TOP

   In the case of an acoustic guitar top that is bubbling up or raising up : how do you repair this? I have seen many cheap acoustics where the tops are bubbling up. Would you heat the top? And then clamp it flat? Is there any other method that know of or have tried

   Bulging of the top behind the bridge can be an inevitable and natural process of the top flexing up over the years While some "flattop" guitars are built with some arch in the top ( Gibsons for example), others, including Martins are built relatively flat Those that are built flat can tend to flex up over time, and this bulging occurs directly behind the bridge. An inspection of the interior bracing shows that everything is intact,no loose braces. In this case, if the string height is able to be set a a comfortable height, there is no need for concern. However, if the bulging is more to one side than the other it is often the case that a brace has come loose and it must be re glued This will usually bring the bulge back down. To summarize, a guitar with a bulge in the top must be inspected for loose top braces. Loose braces must be re glued. If the braces are intact and the guitar is playable, do nothing. If the string height cannot be lowered to a comfortable height, a neck re-set may be indicated if the guitar is worth the expense ( See neck reset article). It is not recommended that a top be heated to counteract a bulge, although it has been done.

ELECTRIC GUITAR SET UP

   I have a recent Fender Strat that just doesn't play right ! I get excessive buzzing when picking, but when i measure the strings at the 14th fret with the capo on, it meets the Fender specs of 4/64. My other Fenders don't have this problem. Do you think some frets need dressing or is this a warped neck?

   Without holding the instrument in my hands it is impossible to say for certain what the problem is, It could be a warped neck , it could be high frets, but in any case like this you have to backtrack a little and , essentially , go through all the steps of "setting up" a guitar, to make sure everything that can be adjusted has been. If after this has been done there is still a problem then the warped neck or fret dressing possibilities must be considered.

    Step one - While under full string tension with trem in locked position, check the neck curvature. Generally, a gap of 1/64 - 1/32 " between the bottom of any string and the tops of the 7-9th frets ( when fretting the string at the 1st and 20th or so) is considered correct. You could go a hair flatter, or even a bit more curved in a given situation, but start here.

   Step two - Check string height at nut.( Fender suggests using a capo at to eliminate the affect of an improperly set nut, but better to get it right). When fretting a given string at the third fret, look back to the nut. The string should neither be sitting on the first fret nor far enough above that you can see a gap thicker than a hair ( I'm not kidding, a hair). This is a very subtle point to reach and you need proper nut files to set it. This setting is crucial for achieving proper playing height up the neck. If it is too high here, you are going to end up setting the action lower at the 12th fret than it really out to be , resulting in buzzing ( the string will measure out correct at the 12th fret yet actually be inclining down as it progresses towards the bridge saddles).

   Step three- Approximate the positions of the string saddles for correct intonation. Low E and G string will set back about 3-4 32nds of an inch longer than the exact scale length. The A and B strings will set back 2-3 32nds , The D and high E about 1 32nd. Scale length equals the distance from the edge of the nut where the strings ride off to the middle of the twelfth fret times 2. Final setting is done once saddle height is determined, but you need to be close when setting saddle height.

    Step four - Set string height at saddles. Measure at the twelfth fret and set saddles so the height between the bottom of the low E string and the top of the twelfth fret is a bit over 2/32". The High should set just at 2/32", the other strings should gradually flow between these measurements. This is where I would start, but playing style and individual neck nuances may warrant deviation from these numbers. In the ideal scenario, once set, your saddles should neither be flush down on the body of the guitar, nor extended so high they could go no further. This saddle height relative to the top of the body is a reflection of the neck angle. If the saddles sit flush, the neck angle is not set back very far and vice-versa.

    Step five - Put on a fresh set of strings ( of the same gauge you had on the guitar up to this point) . Many buzzing, intonation, and sustain problems are resolved by simply changing strings. The more you play the more often you need to change strings.

    Step six - Fine tune the intonation setting with a tuner. If you are already close, your saddle height should not have to be changed. This is where you decide if your neck angle is in need of adjustment ( if you have a bolt-on neck). Check the measurement at the 12th fret then progress up the neck, measuring every couple of frets . The string height should continue to gradually rise, if it doesn't the neck is set back too far and has to be tilted up just a little. This is a very sensitive adjustment and the thickness of a couple sheets of paper can make a big difference. Some Fenders have a neck tilt adjustment screw that is accessed with an Allen wrench through a hole in the neck screw plate. The strings must be loosened, then the neck screws, then the tilt adjustment screw is tightened or loosened. Never do this when the neck screws are tight ! If you don't have a tilt adjustment, thin shims of wood veneer are fitted in the neck pocket to adjust neck angle. Uneven frets are also a possibility. If , after having followed all the above steps, you are still getting fret buzz, you must establish that the frets are all even. But this leads us to fret dressing, which is another story altogether. I hope this helps ! Remember - most of the above work really ought to be done by a qualified repairperson.


Should I Restore, or Sell As-Is?

   I have a 1977 Les Paul Custom that I need to sell. Do you think it would be worth more as-is, with everything original but normal cosmetic wear, or restored to it's original condition?

    Unless you have a very rare guitar, repairs that are necessary to keep the guitar functional: set-up work(including professional fret dressing, cleaning and gentle polishing), are generally a good idea. If you can't play it, it won't be much fun! Resolving electrical issues, and, when necessary, mechanical issues, such as replacing bridge saddles,(sometimes the bridge itself), and, (only if absolutely necessary), the tuning machines, maintain , but do not increase the instrument's value. Replacing pickup covers, or any hardware, just to make it look nice, does not increase it's value and can detract from its value. In many cases, buyers would prefer to deal with marginal issues as they see fit, and "honest" playing wear is often a plus. But if you do replace original parts, keep them and offer them with the instrument when you sell it.