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Pickup the tone!

Posted on August 18, 2014

One thing I get asked a lot about is pickups, and how much they contribute to the tone of an electric guitar.

My immediate response is always a nice little soundbite from Paul Reed Smith, who said the pickups are the microphone for the guitar, and I think that's a very neat little metaphor that outlines the relationship between the guitar and the pickups when it comes to tone. Paul often quips "Put a different mic in front of Frank Sinatra, and he won't sound like Dean Martin."  What he means is while the pickups will affect the tone, it can only pick up the vibrations that the guitar is allowing the strings to create - they don't, in themselves, influence that.

All that said, there's no doubt pickups contribute significantly to the sound that ends up coming out of the amplifier.  Here's a quick guide to the basics.

Active vs. passive

The majority of pickups are passive, i.e. they require no power source or pre-amp before the signal enters the amp. Companies such as Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio do a vast range of such pickups to cover all tonal eventualities.  Active pickups, most famously made by EMG, have a pre-amp built in, and require a 9v battery to power it.  The output tends to be higher and slightly compressed and scooped, making them very popular with players seeking high-gain metal tones.  Beware, however, when buying active pickups, that some guitars will need extra space routed in the pickup cavity to accommodate the battery.

Voicing

Most commonly, pickups are classified by output, vintage, medium and high output.  This helps to narrow down the search a little, but beware! Just because a pickup is classified as 'vintage' absolutely doesn't mean it won't be suitable for higher gain sounds - some of the best high-gain sounds are from pushing vintage-voiced equipment to breaking point! The major manufacturers will cover all of these bases with often more than one option.

Fitting

If you're confident with a soldering iron and can read a wiring diagram, there really isn't much to be frightened of to fit pickups yourself. Often, it's a case of just replicating what is currently in your guitar.  If you'd rather not attempt it though, we offer free installation on pickups bought from us, so feel free to pop into store and ask our technician!

Until next time, TECH care of yourselves, and your guitars. Ed.

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Workshop 1933

Posted on July 21, 2014

In this photograph from 1933 we see how things were done at Rose Morris's first workshop.

Equipped with a lathe, a saw-bench and a drill, these hard working chaps fashioned and refined ukes, banjos and a Jumbo acoustic called the 'Kruna' in reference to Bing Crosby's inimitable style. Necessity, being the mother of invention, led these lads to use a tyre-pump as a paint sprayer for the guitar's finish!

We still hand-build some of our instruments in our shop at No.8 Denmark St. and though we might not wear a tie to work anymore, we are still a portrait of professionalism. Come in and talk to our tech about your individual needs.

 

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Strings - the CHOICES!

Posted on July 21, 2014

Those new to playing guitar are often, quite rightly, overwhelmed by the sheer selection of guitar strings when it comes time to re-stringing their instrument. This confusion isn't restricted to new guitar players - even experienced players are confronted by dozens of new models reporting to be the 'next big thing'.

The reality is, there are only really three things to seriously consider when choosing your new set of strings. Hopefully, the following will de-mystify the process, once and for all.

The first consideration, which may seem very obvious to some, but it really isn't if you're new to guitar, is what type of guitar you have. Electric steel strings on electric guitars, steel acoustic strings on acoustic guitars, and nylon strings on classical guitars. Rule of thumb, strings are not interchangeable between different types of guitar, by which I mean, you shouldn't really put electric strings on an acoustic guitar, and certainly not put steel strings of any type on a classical guitar. All guitars are built with certain strings in mind, both for tone and structural integrity of the instrument. At best (say, putting electric strings on an acoustic) the guitar will sound weak and lacking in volume. At worst (say, putting steel strings on a classical guitar) will cause major structural problems. Stick to the right TYPE of string, and you won't go far wrong.

The second consideration is gauge (as in 'page'). Gauge is the thickness of the string in millimeters. Gauges will most commonly be expressed by the thickness of the thinnest string (so you might hear someone say "Can I have a pack of 10s please?", meaning strings where the top string is 0.010mm thick). Sometimes people might say "10 to 46s", which just means 0.010mm on the thinnest string, and 0.046mm on the thickest string. In general, gauges are standardised, so all packs of '10s' will have a 46 on the bottom (thickest) string, but there are some hybrid or custom sets available for those wanting a different combination of thicknesses. The thicker the gauge, the 'stiffer' it will feel, but the more 'full' a tone you will get, so choosing the right gauge for you is a trade-off between the two. Classical strings come in different tensions, but in essence, the tensions come from the different thicknesses, so the principle is the same.

The third and final consideration is the materials used. With acoustic strings, the two most common are 80/20 bronze and phosphor bronze. The latter is usually more expensive, but has a 'fuller', louder tone. Electric strings can be a minefield, but the majority are steel core, nickel coated. Some, such as Elixir, will have a nanoweb coating which extends string life - useful for those who play every day, gig a lot, or have excessively sweaty hands. There are several others, such as Ernie Ball Cobalt strings, which use the more magnetic cobalt to produce a higher pre-amplified output.

The bottom line to all of this is two-fold. First, never be afraid to ask for advice. Second, try as many as you can to begin with, find the ones you like the best, and stick to those.

Until next time, TECH care of yourselves, and your guitars. Ed.

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Humidity - Is it me or is it hot in here?

Posted on May 30, 2014

Humidity is a factor acoustic guitar manufacturers take very seriously, and for good reason. A poorly humidified guitar can develop such problems as bad string action, fret buzzing, cracking in the wood or binding, protruding fret ends and so on. The correct conditions in which to store a guitar is between 45% and 55%, and this is best monitored using a hydrometer. The case offers the best protection against overly dry or damp air, but even then, it is recommended to store the guitar with a product such as a Humidipak to help maintain correct levels of water vapour in the guitar and the case.

A quick check over the guitar by a qualified tech will identify if there are any humidity problems. On a dry guitar, symptoms include; low/buzzing action, hump on the fretboard where it meets the body, sunken top, possibly with a crack running vertically down the centre, back of the guitar looks unusually flat and sharp fret ends. Symptoms of a wet or damp guitar will be; high action, unusually swollen top/back, unusual warping and recessed fret ends.

These symptoms are usually completely reversible with no lasting damage to the guitar, but regular checking can prevent something more serious.

Until next time, TECH care of yourselves and your guitars.

Ed

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Don't be afraid of the big bad Truss Rod!

Posted on May 30, 2014

We get a lot of customers in the store asking about truss rod adjustments, and they all seem to have the same preconception - DO NOT TOUCH! Hopefully, the following will demystify what the truss rod does, and that you really don't need to be as scared of it as you think!

The strings of a steel string guitar is putting around 70lbs of pressure on the neck of a guitar.  This would snap a guitar neck unless it was supported in some way.  This is the job of the truss rod - it provides counter-force against the string tension, effectively keeping the neck straight (near enough).  A guitar with a loose truss rod with exhibit a bowed neck, with the action very high at the higher frets, and possibly buzzing around the 12th fret.  A guitar with a very tight truss rod might exhibit a straight or even a back-bowed neck (convex with the guitar lying on it's back). This will likely cause fret buzz around the lower frets.

If your guitar is suffering from either of the above symptoms, a small adjustment might be all that is required. Truss rod screws are located either at the headstock or at the body end of the neck.  To tighten a truss rod (make the neck straighter), the screw should be turned clockwise, and anti-clockwise to loosen (make the neck more bowed) - LEFTY LOOSEY, RIGHTY TIGHTY.

Here is where caution is required.  Firstly, only use the correct tool for the job, usually provided with the guitar on purchase.  Stripping a screw renders the truss rod useless, and will be a very expensive repair!  Secondly, don't adjust any more than a 1/4 turn at a time.  With every 1/4 turn, check neck bow by holding the low E string at the 1st fret and simultaneously at the fret where the neck meets the body.  Gently touch the string at around the 9th fret and see how much room there is between the string and the 9th fret.  It should JUST bounce, with about 0.3mm gap.  If the string is touching the 9th fret, the neck is back-bowed and the truss rod needs loosening.  If the string travels a fair distance down to the 9th fret, the neck will need to be straightened. If you go slowly and with 1/4 increments, checking your work as you go, there is little chance of damaging the guitar.

One final point - if at any point, you feel the truss rod needs to be forced, STOP!  It should feel tight, but shouldn't need excessive torque to turn it.

Of course if you have any difficulties please feel free to come see me in store.

Until next time, TECH care of yourselves and your guitars.

Ed

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