My first real guitar – This was in 1978, a choice between flying lessons and a guitar. I never regretted my choice, but maybe I could have had a better guitar? The small music shop only had two guitars in the relevant price range, this one, and a black Ibanez. Strat was almost double the price. This one won, because it felt “softer”. I did not know anything about guitars or playing, in retrospect, the Ibanez might well have been the better choice, and it was much cheaper too. But it was heavy and hard. Well, after all these years, I now know it felt like, well, an Ibanez. Knowing what I know now, I would have bought all the Ibanez’z (Ibani?) that came my way. I missed out on a good one with a practice amp, because I already had two electrics, I did not need another. It was going for a good price. Yes, I needed a good whack on the head. It probably was black, in Gibson SG shape, and made in Japan. Sigh.
My guitar played well, I even practiced my classical guitar songs on it, many, many hours of playing (well, I thought so at the time) in my grubby hands, and it was lusted after by someone who could play guitar. After twelve years of playing it, I read that one can (should?) adjust the action, dip and intonation. So started this story. The action was about what one would expect from a nylon string… The truss rod adjuster is at the back of the neck, the salesman said back then. Off with the neck. Oh? The truss rod adjusting slot is under the serial number plate. OK. The truss rod was totally loose. Easy to fix, dip set within “spec”. Action too high. Lower bridges as far as possible. Action too high. Over the years it progressed to filing the bottom of the string bridge seats to lower them, the next problem was caused by the hinge being in front of the “bridge” point: The strings now bridged out on the front of the bridge blocks. So, I filed the front a bit. Sanded off as much material as I could from underneath the Bridge holder, even cut a slot in the No 1 string bridge to clear the string. The photo of the bridge shows the result of my misguided efforts. Action still too high. Looking at the geometry, and the funny neck curvature, it was clear that altering the neck angle would result in more problems than the one I try to solve.
Reading about neck shims on the web, I realised my solution was not in altering the neck angle, but in lifting the entire neck a bit. Off with the neck, scraped off the varnish ridges, ran a sanding block over the heel. Scraped the neck pocket in the body, but going down to bare wood is not going to happen.
Seeing as I have many diverse hobbies, I do have on hand 0.4 mm ply. And 0.8 mm, and 1.0 mm… I figured, bridges are bottommed out lower than what they really could go, need at least 0.4 mm reduction in string height at fret 15, try the 0.8 mm ply. Which measured 0.7 mm. The shim came out OK, I tapered it a bit to alter the neck angle (pushing down the head, the neck does have a bent-up angle to the body) as well as to have more shim on No 1 side than on No 6.
The infernal neck-screw-plate fits only one way, front is front, but not indicated thus, it looks symetrical, but is not by 0.5 mm. Punched a dot on the front side, and removed the hard chrome from the rear to clear the serial number plate. All this explained why the truss adjuster slot was angled rear to front. They could have found a better solution, surely?
Oh, yes, when bolting on the neck for the ?? time, please see that the strings are all parallel, not twisted. Oh well, too much string on the tuners anyway, so, loossen, snip off a bit, re-string. They are sure to snap now, there were some inexplicable kinks and overlaps. Almost as if somebody else than me did the last restring.
This whole session was turning into an exploration of choice words and phrases not to be used in public.
With the shim in place, and everything else about where it should be, I could lift the bridge blocks again. I also took the liberty of screwing out the pole-pieces to “radius” the pickups. So? Well, honemoon phase now, but the action is now set closer to what it should have been, for the first time in almost 40 years of ownership. It does play better. Unplugged, it now has more, well, presence? In fact, it sounds like a, well, Black Ibanez unplugged. Solid, hard. Probably a better neck-body contact. Or could the subtle alteration in geometry cause that? Just looking at it lying on the bed, it looks, well, straighter. It looks like it should be fun to play. Imagination, surely, I do not smoke at all.
If I was serious about setting up this guitar for real use, I would junk the bridge setup, drill new string-through-body holes, fit a bridge much like the Strats have. Or make a suitable one. Huh, hinge in front. Come on. All about sting break angle over the bridge I guess. The guitar has a sound that begs for a tremolo system. Which I cannot use. If I was serious about etc., the neck would have to go in for a re-build. The fingerboard needs a plane and re-profile, which implies a re-fret, and re-finish. Since frets are still very good, and the varnish on the fingerboard is not even marked, with neat fillets all along the frets, no cracks, no.
The photo shows fret 2 – 4. Yes, they are flat-topped. No, I cannot hear the bad intonation it is supposed to cause. Yes, they show wear. No, they are still very good. Almost 40 years on them. More than 10 minutes’ playing, all in all.
The zero fret does have wear slots in it by now. No, I shall fit a hard shim cap over it if it comes to that. Funny how a neck can take on all the wrong shapes – the dip is more to the body end of the neck than the middle, not at fret 8 at all, the last few frets do not angle down, and the first three frets do not follow the general “dip” line – sort of straight, dip, up. Which means, setting up the guitar as well as possible is not going to happen without a lot of filework on the frets. Which will end in a neck re-do, which is not on the cards.
But still, it is better than ever in it’s life. And I still enjoy it. More now, after the shim job. Lesson? Well, it would have helped if I knew something about guitars back then, if the internet existed, if I had guidance. The salesman just wanted to sell a guitar. Take note of symptoms, think about it. Look at problems, make informed choices to solve them. Gather as much information as you can, sift through it. Or, just go to someone who knows, throw money at the problem, and solve it. And play some really, really good guitars to get a feel for what is “right”. Have a good player show you the ropes and options. Sure. Being a long way from anywhere, I am on my own. The bridge do not look too well anymore, but that is what ignorance does for you. But, I am slowly crawling along the path to Guitar Heaven. Now, I just need to learn to play a simple tune or two before I am too old to do so (I see Keith rolling stone still plays a Telecaster in public, so when exactly would be too old?). Let’s see: Strings are called EADGCE. No, EBDGBE. No, ??