What Happens to your acoustic guitar post purchase and pre collection/dispatch (the "setup")...

You SHOULD know by now that every guitar sold at Richards Guitars undergoes a meticulous quality control and hand finishing procedure.  However, over the years I seem to have lost the evidence that shows you what goes on!!  So, my New Years resolution is to try and keep bringing you this information when I am able.

Todays photographic tour shows only aspects of what actually goes on as each guitar is different and brings its own "variables" but this should certainly demonstrate the time and effort that goes into each and every guitar sold at Richards Guitars.

The guitar shown is a Stonebridge DS40CM - In other words - one of my babies!

I will do my best to explain the images for you as we go along.

Inital Checks

Our techs would initially check the current geometry and playability by looking at the height and depth of string slots cut in the nut, amount of relief in the truss rod and height at the saddle.  All of these factors play a crucial role in a well set up (beautifully playable) guitar.

[caption id="attachment_562" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="One of the key indicators of how well a guitar will play is to check the height at the 12th Fret"][/caption]

Here you can see a device which can be quite handy for checking the string height at the first fret - another indicator of how well the nut has been cut but also a clear indicator of how well the guitar will feel right across the board.  Get it wrong here and you will never get a comfortable action.

[caption id="attachment_563" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="A device for helping the technician find the action at the first fret which gives a strong indicator of nut height and whether height adjustment is required"][/caption]

The feeler guage combined with a straight edge enables the tech to calculate how much relief (space) there is between the string and top of the frets.  I am not a tech of course so probably cannot word this so well but once again the relief in the board is crucial to how low you can bring the action without strings buzzing!  The relief is generated by a metal bar inside the neck of the guitar called a truss rod which can be bent or straightened accordingly.  Depending on the overall geometry of an instrument you may require more or less relief to get the best out of the guitar.  If we find the geometry at any stage is too far out - the guitar goes back to the supplier as a reject.

[caption id="attachment_564" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The use of a straight edge and feeler guages help calculate the relief (bend) in the neck which is vital to a well set up instrument that can play to its very best."][/caption]

The truss rod can be adjusted (bent/straightened) by the smallest of turns of the allen key which locks into the end of the truss rod.  Knowing how much to turn the truss rod and how much relief to give a fretboard is all part of the skill of being a guitar tech and another secret behind the best playing guitars.

[caption id="attachment_565" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="If the relief in the neck requires adjustment, the truss rod (metal bar that runs along the inside length of the neck) can be adjusted with the allen key. "][/caption]

Sometimes its the things you cannot see which are SO important.  Have you ever even considered whether the underside of the saddle is flat?  Or even cared?  Well if you have spent all that time deciding on what guitar to buy you SHOULD care as its all part of what will give your guitar its overall tone and resonance.  If you have gaps in the underside of the saddle, engergy is lost which effects the overal tone and sustain of your guitar.  On an electro acoustic guitar it becomes of paramount importance as this energy is required to power your electro sound!  If you have a gap above the piezo strip (pickup) you will literally get no sound.  Go and play your electro now and see whether the ouptut is consistent.  If its not, it may well be the under side of your saddle which is to blame.

[caption id="attachment_576" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Checking to ensure the underside of the saddle is totally flat. Imperative for energy transfer (acoustic tone/resonance/performance of under saddle pickups)"][/caption]

The nut is an incredibly crucial part of an acoustic guitars tone.  A cheap nut will wear very quickly through use and result in the string getting lower and lower until it begins to buzz.  If the nut slot is not cut at the correct angle the string will buzz in the nut slot when it resonates.  If the nut slot is cut too high it will impair the overall setup IE height of strings across the whole fretboard and if cut too low can obviously cause buzzing but also end up with the "ski slope" setup where it feels great at the nut but dreadful at the 12 fret.  If the nut is cut too thin for the string guage being played the string will snag and keep clicking in and out of tune.  If the nut slot is cut too wide for the string guage this also causes buzzing!!  SO much to take into account but ultimately a well cut nut is at the heart of a wonderful playing and sounding guitar.

[caption id="attachment_577" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Every nut slot must A) Be cut to the right depth B) Cut to the correct width as per string guage required C) Cut at an angle that will ensure no buzz when the string resonates. The nut cutting alone is a time consuming process when done correctly"][/caption]

Every guitar which is setup must be protected from the possibility of a file slipping.  Using ultra low tack tape and protective card (we have used rubber shields but actually card cut to the right size is more practical, can be disposed of very easily and does the job perfectly - its something that my tech prefers even though it may look a bit ugly!)  The tape you can see across the strings and along the length is simply keeping the slackened off strings out of the way of the filing that is being under taken.  It also ensures they don't just fly off everywhere!

[caption id="attachment_578" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Doesn't look pretty does it? But crucial for protecting the finish from scuffs/file marks when working on the fretboard. We find string packets a perfect "recyclable/disposable" solution "][/caption]

Here you can see the value of some protective covering over the body of the guitar.  Files can cause some nasty marks if you are not very careful.  Covering the body of the guitar may take more time but imperative!   You can also see how the tape acts as a protective barrier along the fretboard too while the tech takes the sharp burs off the frets.

In the manufacturing process, more often than not you will find the frets fairly sharp to the touch if you run your hand along the edge of the fretboard.  This is due to the way in which fret ends are cut by machinary.  A hand finished fret end gives you a much smoother played in feel - the sign of a truly hand finished fretboard.

[caption id="attachment_579" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Every fret end is checked. We remove the sharp burs created though machine cuttting by hand finishing every fret providing a smoother played in feel. Note the protective shield on the body to ensure there is no chance of any contact with the guitar body"][/caption]

Oh the good old lemon oil!  Not only does lemon oil help protect the board from drying out - it can smell lovely but also provides a much deaper shean to the rosewood board.  I love the look of a lemon oiled fretboard.  A dry board makes the guitar look cheap but of course the important bit was the first point - not the last.... (the guitarist in me coming out again - you have to love looking at them too though right?!)

[caption id="attachment_580" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The fretoard is treated with lemon oil. This treatment stops the wood from drying which can lead to loose/raised frets. It also looks lush (as you can see from the pic - left hand side untreated - right hand side treated)."][/caption]

Well thats all for now!  The nice thing about the pictures I have taken is that all of this is carried out when we set up an acoustic guitar whether when done privately for customer who bring guitars in or whether you are buying the guitar from us as new.  Its all part of the service.

Now tell me you get this service for free from your local guitar shop when you buy a guitar?  Hmmm.... Most shops will either A) not even mention a set up or B) Tweek the truss rod (for effect) behind the counter if you ask!  Sorry to sound cynical but I have been around the block a bit and am more than aware of what goes on in my industry!

PLEASE feel free to contact me if you would like further advice on guitar setups or the guitars I recommend.

Live Help is available via my site http://www.richardsguitars.co.uk which is open most hours, or call me on 01789 26 33 33.

My email is richard@richardsguitars.co.uk

and of course you will find me at 5 Tiddington Road, Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire if you want to bring a guitar in!