Adventures in fretting and other odds and ends

Before going any further, don’t let me forget to ask you politely to check us out at

O.k, now we can proceed.

Hey, who put this half eaten pickup ring on my good china?  Alright, it goes like this. We were installing a new set of Dimarzio’s into a 7-string with factory EMG’s and came accross a couple of issues. First, the squared-off EMG-sized routes didn’t have any space for the Dimarzio’s conventional height adjustment screws.  This is simple enough, a little dremmel-ing, a little touch up stain to conceal the bare wood and you’re golden. Right? No. The factory neck pickup rout was 1.5mm longer on the treble side than the bass side, so when you try to center the pole pieces under the strings, you’re off-center in the rout.  We weighed the option of keeping the cuts symetrical compared to the tightest possible fit (uneven rout) and went with the former.

The cuts are nice and clean and it looks right, but our customer asked us to make some pickup rings that would fit the guitar. He wasn’t comfortable with the extra visible space since the EMG’s were larger. We offered to stain some custom sized maple rings to blend in with the existing dark cherry satin finish.  So 4 rings were cut and glued into 2 and we started some painting.  A blend of Dark Mahogany and Cherry Mahogany tinted lacquer fit the bill.

These are shown in their pre-sanded incarnation. Next is the finished product…

You’ll also notice that we had to trim the neck ring to go around the fingerboard.  Another note for anyone converting from active to passive pickups is that you’ll have to switch your pot values to 500k instead of the 25k mini pots. Not a deal breaker, but you’ll have an additional charge for parts and labor. All in all,  we thought it looked nice and made our customer happy, which should always be the goal.  Alright. NEXT

This is what happens when you find out that there are no $29 tortoise shell pickguards any more. The price of anything tortoise shell skyrocketed in the last few months. And yes, we’re still talking about the fake stuff.  Something about new regulations and the hollow earth theory. I stopped listening after hearing that it would be upwards of $65.  Luckily we still had some old blank sheets in stock for such an emergency (emergency because I already quoted our buddy Ed and didn’t want to have to tell him that his simple pickguard replacement was going to be $70. I don’t care about market values, that seemed a little nuts.) Under that gorgeous blue painter’s tape is the roughed-out tortoise shell P-bass guard. Hand beveled and boned so it won’t chip. No wait, that was Robert Redford’s bat in The Natural.  Just hand beveled. As per usual, no finished picture. This is a disturbing trend in our blogging.  Very amateur. NEXT.

This guitar is property of one A.J. Slick, a killer guitarist and heck of a nice guy. AJ plays with a VERY low action and wanted a setup that would allow him to bend without dragging his fingertips against the fretboard too much.  Then we figured that perhaps a partial scallop that left the bass side alone would be a best of both worlds setup. Nice feel for bluesy double stops on the lower strings AND happy bending. Sounded good.  So here’s what we did…

A nice tapered scallop that transitioned to a regular board around the d string. Awesome, right? But you know what? When you bend the b or g string up a full step, you slam uphill into the fingerboard. Ugh. I guess that’s why we don’t hear of too many tapered scalloped boards.  So we scalloped the rest of it, leveled the frets to a compound 9.5″ to 14″ and now it’s happy again. If  you’ve never played a scalloped fingerboard, picture it like having super tall fret wire so you don’t feel the fingerboard. It’s great for bending and vibrato, giving you a tremendous amount of control. Takes some getting used to, but feels great. The downside is that if you have a heavy fretting hand, you risk squeezing the notes sharp. Surprised it’s not more popular. I should have typed “I’m” before that last sentence. Don’t forget to check out AJ’s playing. He shreds.

What else…

Oh yeah. Where to put a battery in a Les Paul w/ EMG’s when you don’t want to keep removing the plate but don’t want to rout a hole in the body?  This was the idea of our good buddy Walt.  This only works with the small dime-sized  pots due to the spacing with the battery box.  Looks clean, no permanent mod to the guitar and works like a charm.  I’m sure you can buy one of these pre-fab from somebody, but it’s an easy install with a roto-zip and some super glue. Just remember to measure the depth and choose the right box. And it won’t work on Gibsons with the little hub tab for the lead and ground in the middle of the cavity without a little rewiring.

Frets! Lots of refretting done this week. Two particular guitars of interest were an old Guild Madera with what looks like a finished fingerboard (with lots of aged goodness and finish build-up around the frets) and a Taylor 714. In both cases we had to pre-cut the frets to length and nip the tang edge to fit inside the bindings. You have to be very careful to pre-radius the fret wire otherwise you risk the ends sprouting up when you press or hammer them in. Since you don’t have the barb to grap the wood on the ends, they want to spring up leaving an unsightly gap if not done properly.

 Don’t adjust the color of your monitor, there is a little green around those fret slots. There’s lots of bunched up material around those slots.  This board must have been stained and lacquered at some point, as you can see the base color or the wood in the worn spots. We REALLY wanted to scrape and level, but the goal is always to leave a fingerboard like you were never there on an older guitar unless instructed by the customer to the contrary.

Here’s one of the original frets juxtaposed against the backdrop of  an amazingly similar and completely untouched fingerboard. Gotcha! It’s the same guitar. Genius!  (That was my inner Jon Lovitz coming out. Sorry.)

This Taylor has rosewood binding, so you need to shape the fret ends prior to pressing them in and shave the tangs so that there’s a little extra fret to hang over the binding at the end of the fret slot.  We like to bevel the edges too before popping them in.  It’s  a little extra work, but nothing’s worse than a bad fret job. With delicate bindings (or in this case, lightly finished bindings), the less time they’re touching a file, the better. Just take your time and test fit a few times before final pressing or hammering.

Here’s an “in progress” shot of our Custom Neck Carve on a Danelectro. After the shaping and re-radiusing of the fingerboard, we refinished the neck in gloss black to look factory original. And yes, no final pics. Sorry. This guitar also got a modern top-loading WD hardtail strat bridge.  Those pencil marks are the guide lines that we use to carve the back of the neck into an offset V. We call it the Transitional Taper.  See more details here…

A few cases of Peter Green-itis this week, but on opposite ends of the spectrum. One came in to do, one to un-do. This involves taking apart a PAF-style bucker and flipping the magnet to reverse the polarity, thus making the two pickups out-of-phase with both on. Gives you a nice thinner, lower output tone without switches or push-pull pots. Close to a single coil in response without the  noise. Slightly more nasal, but still a very cool tone. Made popular by the legendary Peter Green of The Blues Breakers and Fleetwood Mac fame.  Only effects the pickups with both on at the same time, so it’s a great way to add versatility to a Les Paul (or a Reverse Flying V, as we did this week) with traditional braided leads.

Here’s a side view of another guitar getting our new neck carve. That’s a steep 6.5″ radius off the edge of the fingerboard.  Like falling off a cliff into thumb-over-the-neck heaven. The radius transitions to a flat 14″ so you can bend all the way up with no fretting-out even with a low action.

Thanks for watching.


One Response to “Adventures in fretting and other odds and ends”

  1. Wow! That routing job for the Steinberger trem mod looked like an ‘ulp!’job to me. 🙂 Glad there are people who are good at this kind of thing. Thanks for sharing all these pics. Very cool….

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