Sometimes, the most innocuous of tasks can be a real pain in the butt, making you really sweat and hyperventilate. Take this 12-string guitar for example. It came to me for a bone nut and saddle, new strings and a set-up. Nothing more than a couple of hours’ job. But…
Though a laminate, it wasn’t all too badly constructed and the little touches – the tuning machines used, the bound fretboard, the soundhole rosette, the contrast, triple-laminate centre seam on the back – showed that care had been taken to make the instrument look and perform good.
For a company, formed as recent as in 1997, which designs its instruments in Alexandria, NSW, Australia and gets them made in China, it’s not doing too badly. However, it has to collar its Chinese manufacturer(s) and tell him/her/them that cutting corners in production and using incorrect material(s) will not do.
On this instrument, there were a couple of minor irritants. If I would have otherwise given it 8.5/10, these ensured that the instrument went home with just an above-average 6/10.
One of these irritants was the placement of the tail block strap button.
While reputed brands will take the care to ensure that the hole for the strap button is drilled ‘EXACTLY’ in the centre (along the top-to-bottom axis) of the end plate (where the two sides come together at the tail block of the guitar), it was more than evident that in this case, that hole had been drilled carelessly.
Here are a few examples from Google images:
I might clarify that it is not a structural issue, and neither does it affect the functionality of the strap button, but don’t aesthetics count for anything? And these, small little things, differentiate great guitars from good guitars.
Even the placement of the neck strap button was incorrect.
But this I am willing to let pass because it is the ‘done thing’ among many manufacturers. Second-hand knowledge about ‘how it is usually done’ and not bothering to read, understand and change ‘traditional’ methods is to be blamed for almost all ‘wrong’ practices in almost every sphere of life.
But, it was nothing short of a wonder that the instrument had two strap buttons instead of just the one at the bottom end of the guitar!
However, the biggest irritant was the nut! That it was plastic is not even worth commenting but that it had been super-glued in place, raised my hackles.
Changing nuts and saddles is my bread and butter, and all it takes is a firm hammer tap to knock a nut out of its slot. After usual methods failed, I knew that super glue had been used to hold the nut in place, drawing from me a string of abuses!
There is actually nothing wrong in using super glue to hold a nut in place, till the time comes to replace it. How do you get it out then? I had to chisel this one out!
And even after I managed to dislodge its firm grip, some part of it refused to leave the slot.
Welcome chisel! My predicament was to take off all the plastic without touching any of the wood. You take away even a bit of wood and the slot will never be a clean, smooth surface on which the nut can sit, affecting sound transfer. For the best sound transfer, you need a perfectly straight and smooth base of the nut and a perfectly straight and smooth slot floor on which it would sit. With the two surfaces completely in contact, there is no loss of sound anywhere. And the same logic applies to saddles and saddle slots.
So, why do manufacturers use super glue for nuts? Because it is cheaper, quicker and easier! Who cares about the guitar tech who has to deal with it down the line? And thus, what would have been a 5-minute job, ended up taking a couple of hours!
Thankfully, the saddle had not been glued in!
A few mandatory measurements, some sanding, some test-fitting, some more sanding, and the new bone nut and saddle were ready to be installed.
Here is the new bone nut and saddle with the old strings.
You may notice something odd about the bridgepins. These are (chrome-coloured) brass bridgepins, installed after the owner okayed them. While they raise the aesthetic quotient of the instrument (considering all the chrome hardware on it), they also magnify its treble response.
Before I put on a fresh set of strings on it, all the small but important stuff had to be taken care of.
The headstock was cleaned and the hardware on it was tightened and polished
The fretboard was cleaned, the fretwires burnished and the fretboard and bridge oiled.
Then it was the turn of the neck-heel strap button to be shifted to its ‘rightful’ place. While I was doing that, it seemed like a good idea to me to put in swanky new mushroom-head strap buttons instead of the cheap thingys that the manufacturer had saddled the owner with – both on the heel and at the tail end of the guitar. The hole that remained on the heel cap was filled and I tried my best to camouflage it too (forgot to take a pic of that).
Putting on fresh strings was all that remained to be done, and with a 12-string, its double the time and effort. But it was all well worth it for the owner was more than satisfied!