Archive for the ‘Repair Articles’ Category

Choosing a pickup

Posted on: August 22nd, 2013 by chris 6 Comments


Nothing can improve the sound of your existing guitar like an upgraded pick up. Whether you are playing, blues, rock, country or metal, installing new pick ups can be like removing a wet blanket from your amp. Mostly, you need to decide what sound you are looking for: vintage or modern, active or passive, crushing distortion or sweet overtone.

The first question is active vs. passive. There are a few active pickups on the market from companies like EMG, Seymour Duncan and Bartolini. These pickups are the ultimate in output and clarity. They produce little to no hum, and they give greater overall frequency response, which provides clarity that can be useful at high gain settings. Active pick ups do require a battery to operate and are usually more complex to install because most of the volume and tone potentiometers need to be replaced. Some people would consider a drawback of active  pickups to be that they tend to even out string dynamics and pick attack. Some people think they have less “character” than passive pick ups. I would tend to agree. There is always a give and take!

Passive pick ups do not require a battery to operate. They would be considered the original style of pick up. They send the raw signal from the pick up to the amp, which can be altered by the volume and tone controls. They do not require a battery and there are lots of variations that can effect what sound you get. Basically, a pick up consists of magnet and winding. The magnet is typically Alnico magnet, or ceramic magnet. Alnico tends to be lower output, but with smoother frequency response. Think vintage tone with Alnico. Ceramic puts out a higher output and is more pushed that Alnico. Think hard rock with ceramic. Also, the number of copper winds can affect the sound. The higher the wind count, the hotter the output, but the overall tone is more midrangy and has less top end clarity. Hot pick ups don’t necessarily mean a better sound, just louder and more compressed. Different combinations of wire, magnet and shape can affect the tone of the pick up. There is no better or right way for a pickup to sound. It is all personal preference.

Choosing an Acoustic pickup

Acoustic PickupsThe trouble with finding an acoustic pick up is trying to accurately reproduce the acoustic sound of your guitar without incurring too much feedback. First, look to your application. Are you recording, playing in coffee houses as a solo acoustic act, or playing in a full on rock band? Usually, the louder your sound volume, the more prone the guitar will be to feedback. There are several different types of pickups available for acoustic. First, decide if you want to spend the money on active electronics. They are more expensive, but produce a much richer and louder tone in an acoustic pick up. Then decide if you want a sound hole or internal mount. The cheapest and most popular is the sound hole mounted style. These use traditional magnetic flux to sense string movement over the pick up. It works exactly like an electric guitar pick up. The problem is, you are only getting the sound of the strings, not the resonance of the body, and they are mostly passive. Some of the more expensive sound hole pick ups, such as the Fishman Rare Earth or the LR Baggs M1 do an excellent job of using active technology and cutting edge magnets to help produce a warm acoustic tone. You can still tell they are sound hole pick ups, but just barely! Interior mounted discreet pick ups such as the Fishman Matrix Infinity or the LR Baggs element use an under saddle pick up to sense the vibration of the string underneath the saddle. This produces a much more acoustic sound, but many people complain of the “quack” of the under saddle pick up. The feedback issue can also be a problem unless you use a sound hole cover. That being said, the under saddle piezo transducer is the work horse of the acoustic guitar pick up community. They have a good response, are loud and EQ very well in a sound mix and come at a pretty reasonable price. The other type of pick up to consider is the sound board transducer. These come in the form of the K and K Western, the Fishman SBT and the LR Baggs I-beam. They use a sensor to pickup the movement of the top. You get a good acoustic sound, closer to a microphone. Unless you use a microphone, these pickups will most accurately reproduce the sound of your guitar. They come in either active or passive. Make your choice between active and passive based on the level of flexibility you desire. We always recommend either an outboard or onboard preamp with these.

Other combinations include on-board condenser mics and new technologies like digital microphone modeling. These are best left discussed with a professional guitar technician, as the options become dizzying.

Let us guide you through the process of amping up the tone of the electronics in your guitar. Pickups are expensive and delicate. Having a professional’s know-how to guide you through the process from choosing a pick up to professionally installing it can save huge amounts of time, money and aggravation.. Third Coast Guitar Service techs are expert in all aspects of guitar electronics. From changing the pots and caps in your Strat, to installing on-board acoustic preamps, we have the knowledge and experience to make your guitar stand out.

Martin O-17 Back Repair

Posted on: June 28th, 2013 by chris No Comments

A great example of bringing your totaled guitar back to life. A customer brought his Martin O-17 into the shop to have the back salvaged. Below are pics showing the process of rebuilding the back.

Tuning Woes – 5 Ways to Keep Your Guitar in Tune

Posted on: April 19th, 2009 by Guitar Repair 11 Comments

Keep Guitar in Tune1.) Do you have more than 2 wraps?
The improperly wound string is the biggest offender when it comes to guitar tuning. I see people come in all the time with the entire string wrapped around the post, often times with the winding being tied in some elaborate knot. This is the best way to insure that you guitar will never play in tune. The strings on your guitar are made of metal, which is not elastic. If you have too many wraps on the tuner and excess gaps in the windings, the slack is taken out of all that extra winding when you stretch out the string (either bending notes or just simply strumming). When the strings go slack, the string pitch will go flat. We like to see one or two good full wraps, with no gaps between the string wrap and the tuning post. We do cinch the unwound strings with a “string tie”. It’s double secret, and I can’t divulge company secrets. However, I do recommend cinching the unwound strings in as simple a way as possible.

2.) How’s your nut?
The second most frequent tuning problem is a poorly made nut. The nut is the bone or plastic piece at the top of the fingerboard where the strings rest before they hit the tuning keys. If the nut slots are not cut at a proper angle or depth, the string will have a tendency to catch at a point in the slot. You can hear the “ting” when you’re trying to tune up. We use special nut slot files to correctly cut slots when we do a set up or if we’re making a new nut. Often, this just happens as the years go on and the string wears burrs into the soft nut material, but sometimes people have bigger strings than the factory installed on the guitar originally, or it has been miss cut or was never cut right from the start. All are easily remedied in the course of a good pro tech set up.

3.) Back in the saddle.
The saddle on either an electric or an acoustic can have the same problem with burrs as you have in the nut slots. This can cause string breakage as well as tuning problems. Once again, we just use the nut files on metal saddles or some sanding paper on acoustic saddles to elevate this common problem. I also like using liquid Teflon on all string contact points (keeps ‘em lubed up). If you have continuous problems, I would recommend replacement saddles. The String Saver saddles from Graphtech are wonderful and I highly recommend them (you can get those at most local guitar stores, or you can order a set from us). But if you want to stay original, most major manufacturers make replacements.

4.) Your tail.
If you have a Strat with a tremolo, and the bridge does not rest against the body when you’re not playing it, this may cause great tuning hassles. The bridge will never come back to rest in the same spot if you bend a string or use the trem. It’s been happening since 1954. Tack the bridge down to the body using the springs located in the back. This will let the bridge always return to the same position when you bend or wang on the trem. Or you can have the Hipshot Trem-setter installed. The Trem-setter allows the bridge to float and come back to rest at one spot, stabilizing the tuning. This should be professionally installed. Expect to pay about $45-50 for the piece and $30-$45 for install (not including a set up). If you have a Les Paul, the tailpiece should be no tighter than what allows the string to pass freely over the back of the bridge. If you have the tailpiece cranked down, the string will tend to bind up on the back of the bridge, and that won’t help with string breakage either. Just make sure the sting clears over the back of the bridge.

5.) It could be the Key.
Some times all of the afore mentioned elements are peachy, but your guitar won’t stay in tune. This means that your first hunch was right and it’s time to replace your crappy old tuners. Tuners come in a vast array of shapes, design and price. Many people prefer the locking tuners from Schaller or Spirtzel. These are great because they eliminate the need to wrap the string around the post (see #1). They don’t lock the string down like a double locking Floyd Rose trem system does, the just pinch the string so it has no winds. Very ingenious. Others just prefer the old fashion Grover Rotos (my favorite) or plane old Schallers or Gotoh. Tuners can be very expensive, so choose wisely. Also, if you don’t have much experience with drills and woodworking, I’d advise you see a qualified repair tech to install, as you can really maul your headstock, and the keys might not function properly. Be prepared to spend $15-$40 on this operation depending on the type of key and where you live!

How to Make a Guitar Look Like New Again

Posted on: April 18th, 2009 by Guitar Repair 80 Comments

The Touchup

At least once a week a client comes in with a guitar that has a scratch, dent, small ding or giant gouge in the body of his guitar. Inevitably, he asks the question…

“Can you guys make this look new again?”

I shuffle my feet, trying to explain how difficult and time consuming it is. “How long would it take?”

I exhale loudly and ask, “Do you have a back up guitar?”

“How much will this cost?”

My answer, as always is, “How much is it worth to you?” These questions are not always easy to answer. Guitar finish and touch up are two of the hardest repairs that any tech can do. Even if that tech is a master, it can be time consuming, costly and may not always turn out perfectly. Most people are shocked to hear how much a finish touch up can cost. “It’s only a little chip in the finish!” they say. If you take your car into a body shop to get finish damage taken out, they will mask off the rest of the car and totally refinish the panel that has the damage done to it. We don’t often have the luxury of refinishing an entire guitar to remove dings and dents from a small portion, so touching up the damage is in order.

There are traditionally two different kinds of guitar finish, nitro-cellulose lacquer (AKA: nitro) and polyurethane (AKA: poly). Both have their pluses and minuses and there are several variations on the two finishes. Nitro is the softer of the two finishes but tends to let the wood “breathe” more, while poly is harder and more durable, but many players feel it “shells” the sound, dampening resonance and sustain. Martin and Gibson have used nitro since the 1930s and Fender guitars had lacquer finishes up until the late 1960’s. Most modern instruments, with the exception of the affor mentioned Martin and Gibson, (as well as some high-end boutique guitars), use poly or some variation of a urethane finish. Modern technologies have allowed companies like Taylor, Larrivee and Paul Reed Smith to use very thin coats of polyurethane to help alleviate some of the tonal problems associated with poly, while giving the hard protection that lacquer cannot. One strum on any of these guitars will tell you how far finishing has come.

Every repairman prefers touch up and refinishing with lacquer. It will chemically “redissolve” with old finishes, making touch up easier and sometimes flat out perfect. If there are scratches or dents, often they can be touched up by “drop filling” with lacquer. The drop fill must sit for 24 hours to let it dry before a second fill is done. The lacquer will have a tendency to “sink” into the existing blemish or surrounding finish, so several drop fills are generally required. This can be a long process. When the dent is successfully filled, we spray a thin layer of lacquer over the area, and let it dry. Then the area is wet sanded with fine grit sand paper and buffed out on our stationary arbor buffer. Often, we can make a blemish or crack virtually disappear. We don’t generally recommend touch up on vintage pieces, as it will affect the value of the instrument. Only in extreme or unusual circumstances, or if the “Vintage Value” of the instrument has already been affected, will we recommend any touch up on these instruments. Of course, we always do what the customer wants; it’s not our guitar after all!

POLYURETHANE: Poly presents another beast. Poly doesn’t let other finishes “melt” into it. We can tackle touch ups with poly in a few ways. How well a repair goes is often determined by color, texture and location. It’s easier to touch up an inconspicuous spot than a ding right on the top of a poly sunburst Strat! Generally, the area is stained with a color match aniline dye or simply drop filled with Crazy Glue (yes simple Crazy Glue). The area is then wet sanded and buffed out. This is the simplest form of touch up for poly. If a customer wants to pay more, we can drop fill, then spray a coat of color-matched poly or acrylic lacquer over the area. This presents the problem of creating a “ghost line” where new and old paints meet. We have been experimenting with different ways of blending these lines and have had very promising results using a process that we have to keep under wraps. The poly color touchups we’ve done lately have been coming out tremendously well and I think it’s just another way we can keep a hand up on the competition.Whether poly or lacquer, deciding whether or not to have your instrument restored is a personal choice. Only you can place a value on your guitar. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and after all, as one of my customers once said, “Chris, it’s not you up there in the spotlight”.

Acoustic Guitar Humidity Issues

Posted on: April 18th, 2009 by Guitar Repair 1 Comment

Humidity Issues
The #1 enemy of acoustic guitars is lack of humidity. Dry weather, especially in winter months, can often times be devastating to the wood fibers of your acoustic guitar. Dry weather can leech out moisture, leaving the wood dry and brittle. We see tons of top, side and back cracks here at our shop from November through to May. Sometimes (though it is rare), we’ll fix one in August from some ones air conditioner drying a top out.

Preventing this is very simple. Leave the guitar in its case when you are not playing it, and include a guitar humidifier, properly filled, in the guitar while in its case.

“But, I have a humidifier installed on my furnace”, you say. That will just keep you from shocking your roommate when you shuffle your feet along the carpet. Guitars need to have a relative humidity of between 40-50% at 72 degrees. That is pretty humid, and very hard to maintain in a home. Even the best of humidifiers and most diligent owners may still find their guitars dried out in a particularly bad season, so practice on keeping them wet!

Most common problems associated with lack of humidity…
Top Cracks
Side and Back Cracks
Top sinking
Frets popping out of fingerboard
Fretboard warpage
Neck twisting

Most of these problems can be corrected and repaired, but sometimes we see stuff so hammered from dryness, that we can’t do anything short of replacing the top or neck.It’s simple, it’s avoidable, so keep you guitar wet.

Taylor guitars has an awesome section on guitar humidity at

How to Setup a Guitar – Low, Without Any Buzz

Posted on: April 18th, 2009 by Guitar Repair 19 Comments

The Setup
The number one request we hear at the shop is “low without any buzz”. We do more set-ups than any other service; they are what keep our customers coming back. Most people do not know the joy of a professional set up. You don’t know what type of player you are until you’ve had one! The most common complaints are:

  • Action is too high
  • It won’t play in tune
  • It won’t stay in tune

Everything else is just icing on the cake if you can get these 3 things down. Most people want the action (the height of the string off the fingerboard) low. We do this using a combination of the truss rod (which bows the neck either away from or towards the strings) and setting the height of the bridge saddle pieces or piece (acoustics). There is always a give and take to the action. If you want it super low, it will buzz on some notes. The string has to have room to move in order to produce a good, clean note. If you’re using any amount of distortion on an electric, you probably won’t even hear the buzz. Electrics were made to have lighter strings and a slinkier action, because once the amp gets hold of the note, any fret buzz usually disappears. We only worry about fret buzz when it hampers the sound of the string so badly that it can’t be ignored. Our set-up is full service. You can have someone do a tweak here and there, but we prefer a full A-Z treatment. We only stop short of leveling the frets on our set-up. Our full set up includes…

  • Redress and gloss buffing of frets
  • Tightening of all hardware
  • Full restring and stretch-in (price of string, not included)
  • Adjusting truss rod
  • Adjusting tremolo or tailpiece
  • Balancing output (on Acoustic/Electric)
  • Adjusting action
  • Adjusting intonation
  • Full electronics evaluation
  • Adjusting pickup heights
  • Full detail polish and cleaning

These adjustments done in proper relationship to one another will produce remarkable results. Sometimes the adjustments aren’t enough. Most often, in this case, the guitar needs fretwork.

Guitar Refinishing

Posted on: April 18th, 2009 by Guitar Repair 130 Comments

Guitar Refinishing

Guitar refinishing is one of the most exciting things we do at our shop. It is also the most frustrating and time consuming work that we do. Many a day RD has been heard crying out for mercy trying to remove the finish from some vintage piece that an old Hippy repairman has re-finished with some kind of THC resin. Sometime we have to start all over because the gold flake from the last ’59 Gold-top reissue Les Paul touch up just looks too good, and we have to match the factory’s so-so work. All in all though, when you restore or refinish an old or misused guitar back to it’s original look (or the aged equivalent), it gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment, as well as the gratitude of a client who can truly appreciate it.

There are two basic types of guitar finish, nitrocellulose lacquer (AKA: nitro or lacquer), and Polyurethane or one if its equivalents (AKA: poly). Lacquer offers a softer layer of protection, but allows the wood to “breathe” more, while poly has a harder glossier finish, but many players feel it “shells” the sound of the wood, dampening tone and sustain. Nitro was and continues to be used on Martin and Gibson guitars since about the 1930s and on Fenders up until the late 1960s (Custom Shop and Reissues excepted). Many vintage guitars (Guild and Gretsch among them) have lacquer finishes, but have since moved to poly. Most modern instruments have poly or one of its variations as a finish.

Technological advances have made poly cheaper, quicker and more environmentally friendly than lacquer. Also, new techniques and advancements have allowed guitar makers to spray very thin coats of poly, overcoming the “sound dampening” effect while offering the protection of a urethane. Taylor, Larrivee and Paul Reed Smith guitars all offer non-nitro finishes and one strum can tell you that big leaps have been made in respect to poly’s tonal response over the last decade. Poly remains the most difficult finish to touch up. Short of refinishing parts of or all of an instrument, polyurethane damage is next to impossible to get to look “as good as new”. Which finish is right for you is your own personal choice.

When we begin the refinishing process, the first stage is the sanding stage. Poly or nitro requires the removal of the old finish, and the sanding of the existing surface. Often on opaque finishes, we remove the finish down to the old sanding sealer coat and re-sand the sealer coat. On translucent finishes, we remove all the finish, sealer coat included, and sand the wood. Any flaws in the sanding process will stick out like a soar thumb, so this is the most important step. Next, the sealer coat is applied to the wood and allowed to dry. If we’re doing a candy or metallic finish, the undercoat of metallic paint is applied. This stuff gets everywhere!!! We have a separate spray room for spraying metallic. Then the color coat is applied and allowed to dry. We wet sand the color coat and apply the next layers of color if it’s a sunburst. The clear coat is then applied and the instrument is wet sanded and buffed out to high gloss.

What takes a few sentences on paper can take many weeks in the spray booth.

Drying time is essential, especially with lacquer. Wet sanding is done between every dried coat and is very time consuming. The guitar still hasn’t even been reassembled and set up! Getting factory finish is very difficult for even an experienced tech. If you want a pro look, get it done by a pro. Many people have come in with guitars that “Cousin Wade” was going to refinish for them, only to get their axe back looking like a Junior High wood shop project. Refinishing is time consuming and expensive because of the high degree of experience that is required of the technician. Very few of the techs in our shop are allowed to do these repairs. It requires years of learning and experience to pull it off, but once it’s done, you will see and understand what all the fuss is about.