After religiously striving for excellence in 50 instruments, made pretty much from firewood, does one get to work on a Martin, Gibson or a Guild guitar.
The photograph above is the Guild logo, embroidered on the semi-hard case of the Guild guitar I worked on recently. But more on that later.
If you ask me, CF Martin and Co, Gibson Brands Inc (formerly Gibson Guitar Corporation) and Guild together form the Holy Trinity of Guitar Manufacturers. Owning a guitar of any of the three brands is like owning a Rolls Royce or a Bentley. And yes, instruments from any of the three brands don’t come cheap.
Compared to Martin (1833) and Gibson (1902), Guild is a youngster, founded as late as 1952-53, when Alfred Dronge, a Polish immigrant to America, set up shop along with George Mann, former Vice President of Epiphone Company. Epiphone had moved out of New York and had left stranded many, many craftsmen and workers.
The Guild Company was registered on October 24th, 1952 with the stranded Epiphone craftsmen forming the work force backbone. The name was drawn from the craft Guilds of the Middle Ages and implied tradition and quality. Six months later, the first guitars emerged.
The company has changed ownership thrice till date but the tradition of guitar-making has continued without compromising build quality.
This guitar which came to me
was indeed a beautiful instrument. The M-240E, a petite guitar, is ideal for finger-style playing and light strumming, and that is what the owner excelled at.
Solid spruce top in satin finish and open-pore mahogany back and sides also in satin finish, the guitar was a stunner. Wouldn’t you say so?
Additionally, it sported a bone nut and bone saddle, provided by the manufacturers.
Though, I could not try out the electronics on board, I am sure they do wonders to the sound.
These chrome butterbean tuning machines had a gear ratio of 1:16, which made tuning a breeze, and then there was the the company-provided gig bag.
I know in the photograph it looks like any other padded case, but believe me when I say that I have never felt thicker padding on a guitar case…and I have seen a few. This thing was built to stop a missile!
But if everything is so good, what did the guitar come in for (and here I might add that it was just five or six months old)?
Well, the owner, an accomplished player himself, was unhappy with how fretting ‘F’ and ‘Am’ was near impossible, and how the strings seemed ‘stiff’ on the first fret.
Immediately, I looked at the nut and even though it seemed fine from above, I knew the nut was the problem. As I turned the guitar to take a look at the nut sideways…
That gap should not have been there, and considering it was a Guild, it was almost shocking. That would have to be changed.
Another culprit could be the strings themselves. Three months is ample time for a set to be changed and the set on the instrument had lived there double that time. So, a string change was also in order.
As I took off the strings, I noticed the play-wear on the fretwires
while the fretboard looked a bit dry to me. Now that I had the strings off, I decided to give the fretboard some love potion and a buffing to the fretwires.
That is how the fretboard and bridge came out after I was done with it.
However, as I touched the saddle to pull it out of its slot, so that I could clean the bridge, it moved in its slot. Not a good sign. I touched it again and again it moved. For sound transfer to be perfect, saddles should sit as snug as a bug in a rug in its slot.
One should never have the need to force a saddle into its slot, or, for pliers to be used to unseat it. Yet, without strings, if you turn the guitar over, the saddle should stay in its slot, and not fall out.
I took my X-acto knife and tried to insert its blade in the slot with the saddle still in there. Sure enough, not only was the saddle thinner, it was a shade smaller than the saddle slot.
While the photographs above show the space around the saddle, they are proof to the owner too. I just called him and told him about the problem and that ideally, the saddle should be changed to get the best sound. He took my word for it and asked me to change the saddle too.
As I took the nut out, I noticed an odd shine in its slot. It seemed like someone had put some super glue, let it dry and then put the nut in, as if to raise it up in its slot.
The darker portions in the slot are not shadows but what appeared to be super glue. Frowning, I went to work on the slot with my special miniature chisels. As I scraped the slot clean, whatever was in the slot, flaked off just like super glue would.
A lot of measuring and some marking followed, and I got ready to sand the nut to my markings.
Likewise the saddle
Once done, everything was near perfect and the guitar was ready to be strung up. The owner chose these.
Tuned to pitch, the guitar sounded fine to me, its intonation was slightly off, which a little bit of tweaking brought near perfect. The relief in the neck and its action was also brought down very slightly.
And this is why I keep repeating that an initial set-up by someone who knows what he/she is doing, is imperative for the instrument to play well. After that it is advisable to bring in the instrument once a year to have it checked that everything is where everything should be.
Provided that the instrument is built properly, a set-up will ensure that it plays easy and gives the player as much joy as it should.
For those of you who feel that their guitar plays well, wait till I have worked on it, and then you can decide when it played best: then or now!
As such, the set-up includes adjusting neck relief, giving the best action possible (given the instrument’s neck angle), working on the nut slots (if they are too shallow, or if they are not cut right), checking the hardware on the headstock (for any loose screws, etc), oiling the fretboard and the bridge, and burnishing the fretwires.
For a small fee, you will be amazed at how good your guitar can play. Of course, you can get all of this done at any time of the instrument’s life but ideally, you should get it done as soon as you buy the instrument. Why? So that you don’t get put off by high action, fret buzz (which is not always strings hitting against the fretwires), or a badly cut saddle which does not sit very well in its slot.
The owner was pleased with the results and conceded – rather grudgingly – that the guitar was playing “much better”. He promised to contact me after a few days with a complete report, when the guitar settled down a bit.
This is how this baby looks now