guitars

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING A GUITAR!

Generally speaking if you buy a brand new guitar then your choice and the quality of the instrument SHOULD be looked after by the retailer you choose to buy it from. If you are buying a new guitar then you are really looking for a reputable dealer to help you buy the guitar.

So here I’m primarily concerned with the assessment of used guitars, although much of the information contained may apply to shopping for new toys too!

When I first pickup a guitar for assessment, whether it be to purchase, to help someone else purchase or as an insurance appraisal I will first run through the assessment ABC that I developed when I first started working in the guitar industry. It’s a systematic approach to evaluating the worth and condition of a guitar, methodical and simple:

  • A for Authenticity. Can you determine beyond all doubt if the guitar being assessed is genuinely what it is advertised to be? Can you be certain that all parts are genuine and were added by the manufacturer at time of construction? If the guitar itself is genuine but some or all parts are replacement are they suitable for the guitar and of a similar quality and has this been reflected in the price of the instrument? If you believe the guitar may not be genuine then, unless you are mental, the next parts of the ABC does not apply and you should walk away.
  • B is for Build quality. Is the guitar’s quality of construction what you would expect from the company who built it. By that I mean you can’t judge the build quality of a Squire Stratocaster by the build standards of the Fender Custom Shop, you have to remain realistic when appraising the build quality of a guitar. When assessing build quality you will be checking for solid glue joints, tight screw fixtures, neat and parallel neck to body joints, fret work including well polished and well seated frets with no sharp ends and bevels cut and dressed at the correct angle, finish quality including colour coat and clear coat, placement and fit of hardware including tail and bridge assemblies and machine heads, fit and finish of string nut and string slots. If the guitar has build quality issues then you need to work out if these problems are just cosmetic or if they will have an effect on the guitar’s tone or playability. Are the build quality issues reflected in the advertised price of the instrument? If any build quality issues render the guitar useless then the next part of the ABC does not apply and you should walk away!
  • C is for Condition. It may sound bizarre to some but for me this is the last thing to consider unless it is obviously beyond the condition you would want to buy a guitar in. The reason this assessment comes last is that so often I have seen people so caught up in the guitars condition or lack there of that they completely forget about the other two things I have mentioned that are, arguably, way more critical. By condition we mean how the guitar has aged either by its natural environment and/or its previous owner(s).

Once you have been through the initial ABC style appraisal of the instrument and you are happy that it might be of interest it’s then, and only then that you can check the guitar for functionality, playability and tone.When assessing the guitar further we are looking for the condition of the serviceable parts of the guitar, probably the most critical thing to check on a guitar is if the truss rod works or not.

Now I understand that not everyone is going to be confident enough to get involved in such things but trust me it’s worth learning, if a guitars trust rod does not work, is stuck fast or even sheared then in all but very rare situations the guitar can be considered fire wood!

hendrix

When I check truss rods I will remove the truss rod nut and check, where possible, the threads of both mating surfaces and also check that by removing the nut that the neck has pulled into a forward bow as expected under string tension. I will then put the nut back on and gently tighten it and check that this action is gently pulling the neck towards a back bow with no concerning pops, clicks or cracks. We also need to check if the neck is “true” ie without twist, warp, hump or dip. To do this you can sight down the neck from the headstock end of the guitar using the strings as a straight edge. You are looking for any disparity between the two fret board edges of the neck and also looking for any dips or humps in the neck. Also check  the condition of the fret surfaces to make sure they are not too pitted or worn down flat and if they are then can the flat spots or pits be removed with a fret dress or will the guitar require a re-fret. Have the nut slots been worn down by the “sawing” action of the strings so that the strings have dropped too low to the first fret. Are all metal hardware parts still functioning and serviceable or are they worn and rusted solid.

There will be a guide for checking all these things added to the main menu of the blog soon and it will go a little deeper into the topics raised here. People selling guitars are finding sneaky ways to hide faults with them but trust your instinct….if it looks wrong, tastes wrong and smells wrong…it’s probably wrong!

If anyone has any worries or questions regarding a guitar they are looking to buy or a guitar they already own then shoot me a comment or message and I’ll see if i can shed any light!

TFM

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MOTIVATION AND INSPIRATION: EDDIE COCHRAN 1938-1960 “SUMMERTIME BLUES” 1959

Those of you who know me will also know how big of a fan i am of the late, and truly great, Eddie Cochran.

There are many reasons why i am such a huge fan and, to outline them, here are some well known and, perhaps, some not all that well known facts about this great man:

  • Eddie Cochran began working as a professional session musician at the tender age of 16 drawing the admiration of many of his peers, the large majority of his recorded work is as an unnamed session guitarist.
  • After a very successful stint as a session guitarist Eddie performed as one half of the duo “The Cochran Brothers” with Hank Cochran. For many years people believed the two to be brothers….they were not!
  • Eddie was one of, if not THE, first guitarists to use a plain third string instead of a wound string by moving his treble strings up and replacing his top E with a banjo string. Since this time it has become common practice to fit plain third strings to almost all electric guitars.
  • Cochran wrote, arranged and produced almost every song he recorded as a solo artist, this was almost unheard of at the time. Being  such an able songwriter, technician and performer meant he could only trust his skill and his alone.
  • He only ever used the one electric guitar throughout his whole solo career, his beloved 1955 Gretsch G6120 Nashville which he later modified by adding a Gibson P90 pickup in place of the factory DeArmond neck pickup.
  • It is said that the only performer that Elvis Presley was fearful of was Eddie Cochran, many Cochran fans even believed the king to have been complicit in his demise….i think we can safely say this was not the case!
  • Eddie Cochran died tragically and way before his time at the shocking age of 21 in a high speed car crash during a tour of England in 1960 with Gene Vincent. Gene was also in the car but survived. It is widely believed that Gene never recovered from the incident physically or emotionally. Imagine what Eddie would have achieved if he had been given longer on this earth.

The world lost a great, great man on 17th of April 1960….RIP Eddie!

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!!!……

One question that is thrown at me probably more than any other, about guitars anyway, is:

“Why are guitars so expensive these days?”

Well the answer is….they’re not!

The trouble with economics is that it’s all relative. Today’s economy is driven by choice….lot’s of choice. Huge scale, cheap,  far eastern manufacturing has flooded the instrument market with countless options catering for every fancy, need and preference within several different price ranges. I’m not saying that is a really evil thing…not exactly anyway. I think it is great that someone on low-income can afford to own a working instrument, this certainly wasn’t the case many years ago!

The knock on effect that this does have is to lower our understanding of quality whilst simultaneously seeming to inflate the price of quality instruments.

Let’s look at some maths just for fun:

  • Average pre-tax income in the USA in 1959 was $5000.
  • The street price of a Gibson Les Paul Standard in 1959 was $289.
  • This represents 5.78% of an American households yearly pre-tax income.

Like i said economics is relative….

  • Average pre-tax income in the USA in 2013 was $51000.
  • The street price of a Gibson Les Paul Standard in 2013 was $3000
  • This represents 6% of an Americans households yearly pre-tax income.

Now, i know these sort of statistics can be bent in all sorts of ways so people  see what we wish them to see and that average incomes are very difficult to calculate and they were different times and blah blah blah but i just wanted to outline a simple point….good guitars were never super affordable but neither were they unrealistically expensive.

We live in a society that has little or no concept of the worth of anything. Look around your house at a lot of the stuff you own…how much of it is of real worth and quality? We all own a lot of stuff we don’t need and didn’t pay much for.  It’s a sad sign of the times, as the price of everything goes down and down the quality is never far behind. I am not saying that I’m any different….i own a lot of shit that i don’t need and was cheap and invariably made in a far off country with a questionable human rights record….i really wish i didn’t and i try where i can to buy quality or do without.

You can see from the comparisons between era that you still get what you pay for in terms of quality. Manufacturers are still making money…like they always have, and we still get an instrument that will last a lifetime and that you can be proud of.

I used Gibson as an example here purely because there was almost poetic symmetry when comparing relative prices, when using Fender as an example you get a lot more for yer buck these days than then!

So what does this all mean?

I’m under no illusion that the huge, mostly American, guitar manufacturers are whittling one-off, artisan pieces of musical magic from responsibly sourced fair-trade timber…… this clearly isn’t the case and never was, as much as this isn’t a lecture on economics it also isn’t a lecture on ethics!

What I’m saying is don’t let the comparative economy of cheap, poorly made guitars influence your feelings about the pricing of quality guitars.

Fender and Gibson (just as examples) are, in general, mass manufactured instruments but they are of superb quality and for that, surely, they are worth the money?

As a side note if you were to have purchased a Gibson Les Paul in 1959 for $289 you would see a pretty healthy return for your investment as they are now valued, on average, at over $100000

SYNCHROCASTER GUITAR BUILD UPDATE!

Now it’s time to get serious on the fret board of the Synchrocaster!

The ebony fingerboard has been leveled and planed to thickness,now it’s time to put some fret slots in. As this is going to be a pretty classic guitar it will have traditional Fender 25.5″ scale, Dunlop 6105 frets but a more modern 9.5″ fret board radius…….more to come!

TFM

Fret positions marked using scale caliper.

Fret positions marked using scale caliper.

Nut slot being cut into ebony board.

Nut slot being cut into ebony board.

Fret slots being cut into ebony board.

Fret slots being cut into ebony board.