Tobias Music and Third Coast Guitars have teamed up to offer the Western Suburbs the best in high end guitars and high end guitar service. Third Coast has recently ended its relationship with Guitar Center and has taken up residency at Tobias Music in Downers Grove. Tobias is a top 10 store for Taylor Guitar Sales and they have a fabulous selection of Martin, Santa Cruz, Eastman and Walden guitars to name a few. Tobias is a family owned store that has been in business for 36 years. Ken and Paul Tobias own and run the store. It has a living room vibe (if your living room was filled with super cool acoustic guitars). Come visit one of our techs at Tobias Wednesdays fro 3-6 and Saturdays from 12-4. You can drop off and pick up any repair when the store is open and we can look at it the next time we are there.
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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)
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.
Frets – there is no other part of the guitar that can create more inspiration – a guitar that is properly fretted will play effortlessly, in tune, without buzzing and produce greater resonance. Unfortunately, there is no other part of the guitar that can create more frustration – a guitar with fret problems will be your worst nightmare – high action, buzzing and poor intonation
The purpose of this article is to explain some of the most common fret problems and their solutions. While we can’t cover everything, we hope by explaining some of the mysteries of fretwork, your frustration will be eased when you experience fret issues.
Most fret problems can be attributed to two sources:
1). the actual fret wearing or
2). the neck or fretboard moving
Lets look at fret wear first.
It is important to understand that as a person plays guitar, they are actually pressing metal against metal (the string against the fret). Over time, this causes the fret to
The Solution: If the grooves are not too deep, the frets can be leveled (sanded down) to the point where the grooves disappear, then re-crowned (reshaped to have the top of the fret rounded) and then dressed and buffed. If the frets are too deeply grooved (usually less than about 50% of the original fret height), the solution is a partial re-fret. That is, the worn frets are removed and replaced with new frets. The new frets are then leveled and recrowned to blend in with the old frets on the guitar.
The Second Problem: The natural peaks or crowns of the frets are worn flat. Looking at the top of the frets, you can see that they are flat – like plateaus instead of peaks. This condition is frequently seen in the middle and upper frets when the guitarist uses a lot of barre chords and string bends. Problems associated with this type of wear include intonation, buzzing and overall poor “feel.”
The Solution: Flat frets can be corrected by recrowning the frets. That is using a specially made diamond file that reshapes the top of the fret. A fine grit sandpaper, micro mesh and a buffing arbor is then used to dress out the fret. This is only a solution if the frets are still level with each other. If there is too much wear, we often time have to level out the frets first before recrowning. If there is too much wear for leveling, the guitar must be re-fretted. In re-fretting, all frets are carefully removed, the fretboard sanded to the proper radius (or curvature) and new frets are then installed, dressed and set up.
NECK or FINGERBOARD MOVEMENT
The second major source of fret problems occurs when the neck or fingerboard “moves” or changes shape. It is important to realize that a neck is a piece of wood and it will move over time and change shape because of such variables as temperature, humidity, string tension and age. When the neck moves “normally”, a set-up and truss rod adjustment will usually take care of any problems. However, when a neck changes shape due to poor maintenance or extremes in temperature or humidity, fretwork is usually required. There are three general fret problems that occur when a neck changes shape in a “non-normal” way.
The First Problem: There is a “hump” where the neck meets the body. This condition is frequently seen in guitars where the neck is set into the body (as opposed to being bolted on). It is usually caused by the guitar drying our – this is very common with acoustic guitars, especially in cold States in the winter months. The hump causes the string to “fret out’ where the neck meets the body around the 12-14th frets. It can also occur in bolt-ons, it’s just not as common.
The Solution: This condition needs what is called “Humidify and Level”. Step one is to re-humidify the guitar. This usually takes 7-10 days of intense humidifying to smooth our some of the hump in the fretboard and to let the top of acoustic guitars raise back up (they shrink and belly down when dried out). Step two is to level the frets in the humped up area and blend them in with the other frets. The result is that the guitar will play through all the frets without buzzing.
The Second Problem: Fret ends protrude from the side of the fingerboard. This also occurs in guitars that have dried out. The neck, because it is wood, will shrink from side to side while the frets, because they are metal, will not shrink and therefore extend beyond the fretboard. We frequently see this condition in necks without binding or necks that have no finish. Exposed fret ends can greatly inhibit a player’s performance and can even cut your hand if they are very sharp.
The Solution: A fret-end-file will remedy this problem. The actual fret ends are filed level to the side of the fretboard with a sharp bastard file and a series of diamond files. Next, the side of the frets are redressed with a specially made file and a series of sand paper grits and micro mesh to remove any file and sanding marks.
The Third Problem: Fret height is uneven throughout the fretboard. That is, the fretboard dips, raises and twists in more that one place (the “rollercoaster” effect). This condition is usually caused by improper maintenance, age and sometime when new necks are “settling in.” The result is fret buzz in random spots up and down the neck.
The Solution: Depending on the severity of the problem, the frets will have to be either leveled or replaced. To level the frets, the guitar is mounted into a special fret bench that helps support the entire length of the neck and duplicate string tension on the neck while leveling the frets. The tech then locates the high and low frets, marks them off and then uses a specially machined straight edge with a special sandpaper to sand the frets level. The frets are then crowned, redressed and buffed out to a high gloss.
If the peaks and valleys are too severe, the guitar must be re-fretted. In a case like this, it is essential that the fretboard is planed level once the frets are removed. By doing this, the new frets will seat correctly and just need a light dressing once they are installed in the guitar.
Fret problems are one of the most common (and frustrating) problems that occur in guitars. The solutions, however are not that common – quality fretwork requires a great deal of skill and experience. When you experience fret problems, we recommend you visit a qualified, certified repair technician.
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
The 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.
Table of Contents
2009 Guitar Repair Pricing – The Setup
2009 Guitar Repair Pricing – Addons & Customizations
2009 Guitar Repair Pricing – Bridges
2009 Guitar Repair Pricing – Electronics
2009 Guitar Repair Pricing – Frets & Fingerboards
2009 Guitar Repair Pricing – Necks & Structural
2009 Guitar Repair Pricing – Paint & Touch-Up