Many of us have a favourite story about how a certain guitar maker used a certain type of wood, or glue, or fantasmagorical doo-hickey in the tone circuit that just made that guitar better than any other before or since. Much of this is plain BS, unfortunately; and I really do mean unfortunately, because for years I have used my influence as a luthier to steer clients towards whatever idea I had had or had read that week. In fact I still find myself doing this now!
Last week while in a design session with a new client I went on, at length, about the virtues of low profile frets over jumbo’s.. ‘the action with low frets can be practically non-existent and the guitar (an eight string beast!) will play like a naughty lover under your soft administrations’ ..I will admit to getting a little carried away here but the point is this,.. I was in mid flow and trying to illustrate my point with, well, an illustration when I realised that absolutely everything I had just said was entirely wrong and I had to apologise and start again.
The fact of the matter is that fret size is entirely personal and action doesn’t actually come into the equation at all! Picture this, you have a shred-tastic 7 stringer with super-jumbo frets next to a 70’s gibson ‘fretless wonder’, they both have necks that are 21mm deep at the nut and 23 at the 12th, I can set both of these guitars up with an action of, say, one and a half millimeters when measured at the 12th fret. The gibson with the disappearing frets may well feel all slinky and fast in comparison but this is because the jumbo frets have added an extra 2mm to the thickness of the shred-machines neck, and 2mm is a lot when you’re this close to an instrument.
The Gibson also has to have a very well looked after fretboard in order to play well, after all the pads of your fingers will be touching the board and there absolutely will be friction! Now, the other guitar has really high frets and you can have any fretboard you like under them because you’ll never actually touch the thing! In the end I had to change my tune completely and have a look at how fat my clients fingers were to see what the friction would be like and then have a look at what he was used to playing. In the end the rule is, and should always be, look at the person you’re building the guitar for and go from there, or if you are the client make damn certain you know what you like and don’t let no jumped bandsaw jockey tell you any different!
The problem with the world we now live in is often that we have too much information, too many opinions from different people that feel strongly enough about that opinion to put it down in writing. I don’t often trust the advice of random strangers in the street, why is the web any different? A lot of the time we find that a strongly held opinion is just that, an opinion, and can be safely ignored. In this column I am going to try and dispel a few myths and distill the truth, what makes a great guitar, what makes a bad guitar and, most importantly, what makes a good luthier. We’ll be looking at all of your favourite things from both sides of the fence, wood selection and pickups, string tension and scale length, the finish.. hell, email me your questions through CrimsonGuitars.com and I will try and publish an answer here!
All my best,
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