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Should I Get a Setup

Guitarists are always talking about setups. What is it and do I need one?

No two guitarists or Luthiers will ever agree on anything, let alone something that has to do with guitar gear. With that said, I think I have compiled a list that definitively explains to anyone when you should be considering a setup.

Note: As a luthier, I tend to do much more during a typical setup than other luthiers. I always do the following:

  • Polish the fret
  • Clean the fretboard
  • Adjust the truss rod
  • Set the action
  • Adjust the pickups (if applicable)
  • Check the electronics
  • Clean the pots, switches, and jacks if necessary
  • Check and tighten your hardware
  • Check nut height and adjust if necessary
  • Check for high frets to reduce buzzing
  • Spot level and recrown frets if necessary
  • Inspect the entire instrument for sharp edges that may impede playing, or spot problems that may get worse with time.

In general I seek to provide approximately 1 hour of work on your instrument to get it playing it’s absolute best (as if it was my own instrument). If something takes me less time than expected, then I will spend more time cleaning or optimizing electronics.

My guitar will not stay in tune!

Most tuning stability issues can be solved with some attention to the way the nut is cut, or the tuning machines are loose and could use some adjustment. Even the cheapest modern tuning machines can hold an accurate tune for days! Many guitarists spend good money replacing these to resolve tuning issues unsuccessfully. Properly slotted nut, tight hardware, and reasonable actions typically result in very stable tuning. All of these items will be checked and addressed in a setup.

My guitar is not playing as effortlessly as it used to!

High, or inconsistent action (height of the strings above the fretboard) on a guitar have a large impact on the playability of the instrument. Many guitarists know what they like when they feel it, but may not know how to articulate when it feels “wrong” or “stiff.” Action is also not consistent along the length of the fretboard since the strings need room to vibrate the most in the center of the string. The truss rod often allows the Luthier to dial in the perfect amount of curve (relief) in the fretboard to keep it playing smooth and allow for the strings to vibrate without buzzing. Nut height, next relief, fret height, and bridge height all have an impact on action. A setup will make sure that all these items are checked and adjusted to get a guitar playing it’s best.

My guitar has a buzz on a certain place in the fretboard!

As discussed above, buzz happens when the string is not allowed to vibrate as it wants. This can happen because the action is too low across the entire board, or a high fret is causing the string to buzz out. These 2 items will both be checked and addressed in a setup.

In addition to those 2 items, wide or irregular nut slots, bridge defects, or other sympathetic vibrations in the instrument may cause a buzz that can be diagnosed during a setup.

My fretboard and frets are filthy and I am scared to clean and polish them myself in danger of causing damage!

Let me do it! Along with that cleaning, you will get an entire list of other stuff done to make your guitar feel new again.

My guitar sounds “lifeless” or “dead” compared to how I remember it!

Muted or dull tones are often failures for the strings to move the way it wants. Getting a setup can identify the many possible causes for this and get you rocking with your favorite guitar again. How often have we set a guitar down only to get intrigued with a newer or different guitar. By the time you come back it is not quite as good as you remember it. It is very possible that the changing of the seasons have caused things to move and cause any number of the problems above.

In Summary:

Most luthiers will tell you to get a setup twice a year to adjust your instrument for the changes in temperature and humidity, I do not fully agree with that. While it is a good black and white answer, it honestly is more frequent than most people need a setup done. Some guitars are more stable than others, and require different maintenance schedules. If you notice something isn’t right, it is possible that a repair is not necessary, and the problems will be fixed with a detailed setup.

Thank you for your time.
SWK

Hard Maple, An Industry Standard in Guitars

One of the most popular woods (and for good reason), maple is an exceptional tonewood. It offers bright sounds, exceptional strength, and excellent visual appeal. The most common maple used in guitars is Hard Maple, which works well given it is one of the most common trees in the U.S. This creates an affordable option that will last for generations if cared for properly, while delivery quality sound and beauty to the instrument.

History of Maple Wood in Instruments

Maple wood’s history in the world of musical instruments is a story of enduring craftsmanship and the pursuit of exceptional tonal qualities. This dense and finely closed grained wood has found its place in instrument construction for centuries.

The use of Maple wood in musical instruments can be traced back to the 18th century and beyond. Early instrument makers recognized Maple’s remarkable properties, which included its excellent stability and resistance to warping. This made it an ideal choice for crafting instrument necks.

In particular, the use of Maple wood became prominent in the crafting of stringed instruments, such as violins and cellos. The wood’s density contributed to these instruments’ remarkable sustain and resonance, making it an ideal tonewood for classical and orchestral compositions.

As time progressed, the use of Maple wood expanded to other types of instruments, including guitars, mandolins, and pianos. Musicians and instrument makers appreciated Maple’s ability to add brightness and clarity to an instrument’s tone, making it a popular choice for genres like bluegrass and country.

The craftsmanship and artistry associated with Maple wood instruments have left an indelible mark on the world of music. Today, musicians and luthiers continue to value the rich history and timeless tonal qualities that Maple wood brings to musical instruments. This history of Maple wood in instruments is a testament to the enduring legacy of craftsmanship and the pursuit of exquisite sound.

The Acoustic Properties of Hard Maple

Hard Maple, known for its scientific name Acer Nigrum, is a tonewood that has been prized for its exceptional acoustic properties in musical instrument construction. This unique wood species is celebrated for its remarkable tonal qualities, making it a favored choice among luthiers and musicians.

One of the distinctive features of Hard Maple is its bright and focused tone. The wood’s fine, even grain pattern and medium/high density contribute to a clear and articulate sound with a pronounced treble response. This makes it an excellent choice for instruments where clarity and projection are highly valued, such as mandolins and other stringed instruments.

Hard Maple’s acoustic properties are also known for its quick response and impressive sustain. Musicians appreciate its ability to produce crisp and vibrant tones, which can cut through the mix in ensemble playing or solo performances. Its tonal characteristics make it an ideal choice for genres that demand precision and brilliance, including classical music and bluegrass.

When used as a topwood in acoustic instruments like violins, Maple contributes to the instrument’s dynamic range, allowing for expressive playing and a wide tonal palette. Its versatility and ability to adapt to different playing styles have cemented its status as a prized tonewood in the world of music.

Maple in Musical Instruments: Manufacturers and Guitarists

Maple wood has found favor among both instrument manufacturers and renowned guitarists for its unique tonal qualities and exceptional craftsmanship. Several well-known instrument manufacturers and artists have embraced Maple wood in their instrument designs.

Some notable manufacturers that have used Maple wood in their instruments include:

  • Gibson Guitars: Gibson, an iconic guitar manufacturer, has produced models featuring Maple wood components. The Gibson ES-335, known for its semi-hollow body design, incorporates Maple to enhance its bright and resonant tones. Renowned guitarists like B.B. King have played Gibson guitars with Maple elements in classics like “Lucille.”
  • Fender Guitars: Fender, renowned for its electric guitars, has created instruments with Maple necks and fretboards. Eric Clapton, a legendary guitarist, played Fender Stratocasters with Maple necks, prominently featured in songs like “Layla.”

Additional artists of note who have recognized the exceptional tonal properties of Maple wood include:

  • John Mayer: John Mayer, a contemporary guitar virtuoso and singer-songwriter, is renowned for his preference for Stratocaster style guitars with Maple necks. His collaboration with Fender and others on his signature models has made Maple necks even more popular among modern guitarists.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan: The legendary blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan often played Fender Stratocasters with Maple necks. His powerful and expressive playing style was accentuated by the bright and articulate tones of Maple wood.

These manufacturers and artists have celebrated Maple wood for its capacity to enhance the tonal character of instruments, making it an enduring choice for a wide range of musical genres and instrument types.

Sustainability and Sourcing of Maple

The sustainability of wood resources is a crucial consideration in the world of musical instrument construction, and Maple wood is no exception. Responsible sourcing and harvesting practices are essential to ensure the continued availability of this exceptional tonewood.

Maple trees, belonging to the Acer Nigrum, are native to North America, Europe, and Asia. To ensure the sustainability of Maple wood, several key practices are followed:

  • Responsible Harvesting: Sustainable sourcing involves selective harvesting to maintain the health of Maple tree populations and minimize the environmental impact.
  • Certifications: Some Maple wood is sourced from forests certified by organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). These certifications ensure that wood is harvested sustainably, meeting rigorous environmental and social standards.
  • Local Sourcing: Many instrument makers prefer to source Maple wood locally to reduce transportation impact and support regional economies.
  • Reforestation Efforts: Initiatives often include planting new Maple trees to replace harvested ones, contributing to the long-term sustainability of this valuable resource.

As musicians and instrument makers continue to appreciate Maple’s unique tonal qualities, the industry has embraced the need for sustainable practices. This commitment ensures that future generations of musicians can enjoy the beauty and versatility of Maple wood in their instruments.

Conclusion

The history and enduring popularity of Maple wood in musical instruments are a testament to its exceptional tonal qualities and craftsmanship. From its bright and focused sound to its sustainability efforts, Maple wood remains a cherished choice for instrument makers and musicians alike. As the industry moves toward more sustainable practices, the legacy of Maple wood in music is set to continue, ensuring that future generations can experience the timeless beauty and rich tonal qualities of this remarkable wood.

American Cherry Wood in Musical Instruments

When it comes to the world of musical instruments, the choice of wood for construction plays a pivotal role in shaping an instrument’s sound, appearance, and character. One wood that has stood the test of time in this regard is American Cherry wood. Renowned for its striking aesthetics and tonal properties, the wood has found a cherished place in the hearts of musicians and luthiers alike.

History of Cherry Wood in Instruments

The history of American Cherry wood in musical instruments is steeped in tradition and craftsmanship. Dating back to the 18th century, it became a staple in the world of instrument making. Early American luthiers and craftsmen recognized it’s unique qualities, such as its rich color and impressive acoustic properties, making it a prized choice for instrument construction.

During this period, Cherry wood found its way into a diverse range of musical instruments. Violins, known for their resonant and warm tones, often featured Cherry components. Guitar makers, inspired by the wood’s tonal characteristics, incorporated Cherry into their instrument designs, contributing to the rich sound of guitars from that era.

While specific renowned luthiers may not have been widely documented, it was the collective craftsmanship of skilled artisans that elevated Cherry wood’s status in instrument making. Their dedication to precision and the choice of quality materials helped create instruments celebrated for their aesthetics and musicality.

As musical trends evolved into the 19th and 20th centuries, Cherry remained a favored choice in instrument construction. Its popularity waxed and waned with changing musical preferences, but its enduring appeal persisted. From dulcimers to pianos, it continued to contribute to the distinctive character and sound of various musical instruments.

The Acoustic Properties of American Cherry

American Cherry wood stands out in the world of musical instruments due to its unique tonal characteristics. Its medium-density nature contributes to a warm, balanced, and resonant tone that musicians find particularly appealing. Comparisons can easily be drawn between the tonal properties of cherry and the tone wood powerhouse, mahogany.

One notable aspect of Cherry is its ability to produce sweet and mellow tones, making it a favored choice for certain musical genres. The wood’s tonal character is characterized by its capacity to emphasize midrange frequencies, creating a distinct tonal profile that puts it in a league similar to mahogany, but sets it apart from other north American tonewoods.

Musicians appreciate American Cherry, especially in acoustic instruments like guitars and violins, for its ability to enhance clarity and warmth in their sound. The wood’s acoustic properties make it well-suited for genres such as folk, blues, and jazz, where these tonal qualities are highly valued. Additionally, it’s resonance and sustain qualities contribute to its popularity among instrument makers and musicians alike. Its ability to project sound while maintaining a pleasing balance between brightness and warmth makes it a sought-after choice for those seeking a unique and rich tonal experience in their instruments.

In summary, American Cherry wood’s musical properties are distinguished by its warm, balanced tone with an emphasis on midrange frequencies. This unique tonal character, combined with its resonance and sustain qualities, makes it a standout choice for instrument construction, particularly in genres where clarity, warmth, and distinctiveness are prized.

Cherry Wood in Musical Instruments: Manufacturers and Musicians

In the world of instrument manufacturing, several notable manufacturers have embraced Cherry wood in their designs. Some of the renowned companies known for using it in their instruments include Gibson, Fender, and Martin.

  • Gibson Guitars: Gibson, a legendary guitar manufacturer, has produced Cherry wood models in its lineup. The ES-335, for example, is an iconic semi-hollow body guitar that has been crafted with Cherry wood. The tonal qualities of Cherry have contributed to the unique sound and character of these instruments.
  • Fender Guitars: Fender, another iconic name in the guitar industry, has also incorporated Cherry wood into some of its guitar models. The Fender Coronado, a semi-hollow electric guitar, features Cherry wood components that enhance its resonance and tonal warmth.
  • Martin Guitars: Martin, famous for its acoustic guitars, has occasionally used Cherry wood for back and sides in its instrument construction. This choice adds a distinct tonal dimension to their acoustic guitars.

Notable musicians have also appreciated the use of Cherry wood in their instruments. While it may not be as high-profile as other tonewoods, Cherry wood has its dedicated enthusiasts.

  • Chuck Berry: The legendary guitarist Chuck Berry, known for pioneering rock and roll, notably played a Gibson ES-335 with Cherry wood construction. His energetic and distinctive guitar sound was partly due to the tonal qualities of Cherry wood.
  • Blues Musicians: In the blues genre, Cherry wood instruments have found favor among musicians seeking warm and resonant tones. Artists like B.B. King and Freddie King have at times performed with guitars featuring Cherry wood components.

As for notable showcases, instruments using Cherry have made appearances in various musical performances and shows over the years. While they may not always take the spotlight, their unique tonal qualities have contributed to memorable musical moments in a range of genres.

Sustainability and Sourcing of Cherry Wood

The sustainability of wood resources is a growing concern in the world of musical instrument construction, and American Cherry wood is no exception. Responsible sourcing and harvesting practices are crucial to ensure the continued availability of this remarkable wood.

American Cherry (Prunus serotina), also known as black cherry, is native to North America. It has been traditionally harvested for various purposes, including furniture and musical instruments.

Today, many luthiers and instrument manufacturers are actively involved in sustainable wood initiatives. They recognize the importance of ethical and eco-friendly practices in the industry.

Several key aspects related to sustainability and sourcing of Cherry wood include:

  • Responsible Harvesting: Sustainable Cherry wood sourcing involves careful harvesting practices. This includes selective cutting to ensure the health of Cherry tree populations and the preservation of forest ecosystems.
  • Certifications: Some Cherry may be sourced from forests certified by organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). These certifications ensure that wood is harvested sustainably and meets stringent environmental and social standards.
  • Local Sourcing: Many instrument makers, including Scott, prefer to source Cherry wood locally to minimize the environmental impact of transportation and support regional economies.
  • Reforestation Efforts: Some initiatives involve planting new Cherry trees to replenish harvested ones, contributing to the long-term sustainability of the resource.

When choosing an instrument made from American Cherry, it’s worth considering the source and ensuring it aligns with sustainability standards. By supporting instruments crafted from responsibly sourced wood, musicians can play a part in preserving this cherished tonewood for future generations.

In conclusion, American Cherry wood’s journey through the world of musical instruments is a testament to its enduring allure. With its captivating aesthetics and distinctive tonal properties, it remains a prized choice for musicians and luthiers alike. As we embrace sustainable practices in instrument making, the legacy of Cherry wood in music is set to continue, ensuring that future generations of musicians can experience the timeless beauty and harmonious tones of this exceptional wood.

Customs from SWK

When requesting a custom electric instrument from SWK Electric Instruments, there are several key steps you should be aware of and prepared to engage in. While I, Scott, am here to assist with a multitude of questions and can offer recommendations to guide you, it’s important to note that the final decisions will ultimately rest with you.

Questions To Consider

Which woods would you like sourced for your instrument? I work closely with a trusted supplier of North American hardwoods. It’s important to keep in mind that if you desire an exotic wood, I may have limitations in acquiring it. Some commonly used North American hardwoods that are readily available include maple, cherry, and ash.

What About Tonewoods?

Tonewoods: When considering the tonewoods for your custom instrument, the choice can significantly impact the instrument’s sound and character. Common tonewoods include:

  • Maple: Known for its bright and articulate tones, maple is a popular choice for necks and the body tops, particularly in electric guitars.
  • Cherry: Cherry wood offers a warm, balanced tone and is often chosen for its visual appeal as well. Often regarded as sustainable and available alternative to mahogany.
  • Ash: Ash is renowned for its pronounced grain patterns and bright, resonant sound. It’s a favored wood for classic electric guitar bodies.
  • Walnut: Walnut is a strikingly beautiful North American wood that has yet to catch on as an instrument wood. Walnut is slightly harder and heaver than Cherry, making it an excellent option for necks and bodies alike.

Remember that your choice of tonewood can profoundly influence the instrument’s playability and the style of music it excels in. For instance, if you’re after a crisp, clear tone suitable for genres like rock or country, maple may be a solid pick. Conversely, if you seek a warmer, bluesy sound, cherry or ash could be the way to go.

Exploring Pickup Options

Pickups: The pickups you select play a pivotal role in shaping your instrument’s tone. There are various types to choose from, each with its unique sonic characteristics:

  • Single-Coil Pickups: Known for their bright and clear tones, single-coil pickups are favored in genres like blues and rock.
  • Humbucking Pickups: These pickups offer a thicker, warmer sound with reduced noise and are a popular choice for hard rock and metal styles.
  • P-90 Pickups: P-90s deliver a balance between the clarity of single-coils and the depth of humbuckers, making them versatile for various genres.

Your choice of pickups can significantly influence your instrument’s tonal versatility, so consider the sound you’re aiming for when making this decision. Whether you prefer vintage twang or modern power, I can guide you toward the pickups that align with your sonic vision.

Optimizing Tuning Stability

Tuners: Ensuring your instrument stays in tune is essential for an enjoyable playing experience. High-quality tuners are paramount for tuning stability. There are several tuner types, including:

  • Locking Tuners: These tuners enhance tuning stability by clamping the strings in place, making string changes quick and precise.
  • Standard Tuners: Traditional tuners are reliable and come in various designs, offering a wide range of tuning ratios.
  • Vintage-style Tuners: These tuners provide a classic look and feel, often chosen for instruments with a vintage aesthetic.

Your choice of tuners should align with your playing style and preferences. If you frequently use the tremolo system, locking tuners may be a wise choice. Conversely, vintage-style tuners can provide a classic touch to your instrument’s appearance.

Bridge Selection for Precision

Bridge: The bridge of your instrument affects both its playability and tone. There are various bridge types to consider:

  • Tremolo Bridge: Ideal for achieving pitch bends and vibrato effects, tremolo bridges are commonly used in rock and surf music.
  • Hardtail Bridge (Fixed Bridge): Known for their stability and sustain, hardtail bridges are popular in genres like blues and classic rock.

The choice of bridge can significantly impact your instrument’s playability, sustain, and tuning stability. It’s important to consider your playing style and the type of music you’ll be performing when selecting the right bridge for your custom instrument.

Crafting the Design of Your Instrument

Instrument Design: Beyond the selection of materials, tonewoods, pickups, tuners, and bridges, the overall design of your custom instrument is a crucial consideration. The design encompasses the body shape, finish, and any unique features that make the instrument uniquely yours.

The body shape you choose can have both aesthetic and ergonomic implications. Whether you prefer the classic contours of a Stratocaster or the bold lines of a custom design, I can work with you to create a body shape that suits your style and comfort.

Finish: The finish of your instrument not only protects it but also adds character and visual appeal. Choices range from high-gloss to satin, natural wood grain to vibrant solid colors. Your desired finish can significantly impact the instrument’s aesthetics and feel. All finishes in my shop are applied by hand and buffed to provide a touchable finish that will never be sticky.

Unique Features: Do you have any specific features or modifications in mind? Perhaps you want a custom inlay, a special neck profile, or a personalized control layout. I’m here to accommodate your unique requests and ensure your instrument reflects your individuality.

If you have any questions or are ready to discuss your custom instrument project, please feel free to contact me. Let’s embark on this musical journey together.

Scott W Klaasen

Scott W. Klaasen is a West Michigan based luthier dedicated to quality repairs, custom guitars, and custom basses.

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