Problems with expensive foreign guitars....
I occasionally get asked to have look at cigarbox guitars made by other people, usually to sort out problems with the neck or electrics. I'm always intrigued to get the opportunity to have a look at other maker's instruments, so that I can see how they do it compared with my approach, and maybe learn a few tips and ways that I can improve my work. It never seems to work out that way, I usually end up reflecting on how these guys charge top-dollar prices for less than top-notch work. I don't want to do "knocking copy", but sometimes I feel I have to say something, and I just speak as I find.
Well, I've just had another one in my workshop...with the customer reporting high string action. I know the maker simply by the fact that I've spotted him on the internet - he seems to be a prolific maker, and his prices are high...(the guitar in question is a 5 string and cost $500).
It came in a custom moulded ABS hardcase, and on opening the case, the guitar looked pretty much like what I'd seen on the website. The first point to note was that the pickup had fallen out...it looked like it had just been hot glued into a cut-out on the neck...but that wasn't the problem I'd been asked to look at.
Here's the hole for the pickup...looks like it was bedded on a sliver of wood with a dab of glue..and you can see the very skinny neckstick that it was glued onto.
The string action was around 5mm at the 12th fret, so I sighted down the neck (just like taking aim with a rifle) and it was obvious that the neck was badly bent. It's made from a single piece of maple with a rosewood fretboard, all properly glued-up, nicely shaped and finished, good frets..but it was bent. I put a straightedge and it was showing a 1.5mm bend in the centre of the neck..not good, especially as this instrument has no adjustable trussrod (I don't think it's got any sort of neck reinforcement).
In this shot, the ruler is lined up on the joint between the maple neck and the rosewood fretboard..you can see how much it's bent in the middle.
This is built with a through neck...and worse was to come..where the neck goes through the box, the already skinny neck had been notched to fit under the top of the box. The part that goes thought the box was only about 9mm thick...and was also bent. The neck had been glued to the underside of the box lid, and so had distorted the top out of true. The full extent of how bad this was was revealed when I laid a steel rule along the top of the box...and it was apparent that the head-end of the neck had pulled forward a lot....
The steel rule was set straight on top of the box, and the joint between the dark fretboard and the lighter coloured neck should line up with the rule...it's quite clear to see that the neck has pulled forward by about 8mm.
I've tried to take the photo so that it was in line with the top of the box, and you can see how far out of line the neck has pulled.
So..how to repair it? Well I could reinforce the bit that went through the body, maybe plane off the fretboard, install a trussrod and put on a new fretboard, and this would mean taking out the neck. But the neck is glued to the top of the box, and the box is glued shut...it would need some fairly destructive work to open the box and free the neck. This really is frustrating, as I can see how to put right the structural defects, but because of the way way it has been glued together, a repair would be very difficult if not impossible, and certainly totally uneconomic. Even a simple job like replacing a faulty volume control would be impossible because of the way the thing has been glued together.
It's got a nice set of Grover Sta-Tite tuners on it, but looking at the headstock, you can see that the nut has been cut about 3mm narrower than the neck...really sloppy work....remember, that's $500 plus case, shipping, import duty and VAT for this guitar.
I don't begrudge people charging top dollar for their guitars, and being successful at it, but this sort of thing really bugs me...sloppy work, a bent neck and a pickup fixed in with a dab of glue: for $500 that simply isn't right. I'm frustrated at not being able to economically repair this for my client...he bought this 2nd hand, so presumably he's got no recourse to the overseas maker. I feel he's fallen for the big-name reputation, and the product just doesn't live up to the hype. The workmanship in terms of fit and finish is fine, but it is badly designed and wrongly made in terms of that most basic of requirements, being able to resist the pull of the strings. Ah well... this is probably this nicest looking and most expensive "wall hanger" I've ever seen....no names no pack drill, you'll have to work that out for yourselves...and I've got to repeat ... $500 plus case, plus shipping, plus duty, plus VAT...think on, and buy British!
- John Wormald