Quality comes at a price
Often I have customers bring me entry‑level guitars to be set up and have general repairs carried out: reincarnate dead pickups, replace dodgy volume pots or crackly jacks. In many cases these inexpensive guitars look nearly as impressive as their more expensive counterparts, and sometimes it makes me think – what is it that makes a custom-made/high‑end guitar worth so much more?
As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details”. Oftentimes I find myself spending hours on the small things that make a discernible difference to a guitar’s longevity, playability and the overall enjoyment factor that comes with playing a truly special instrument.
To exemplify this, on the latest custom build I had pondered how to solve the age‑old problem of strap pins constantly becoming loose when the instrument has been gigged for a while. Typically guitar bodies are not constructed from ultra‑dense timbers as this would substantially increase their weight, making long playing sessions uncomfortable and unbalancing the instrument. Hence the medium‑density body timbers that are often used – Ash, Mahogany or Alder – are not particularly good at resisting the strap pins from either loosening or pulling out altogether.
The solution that I came up with was to fashion Jarrah inserts and rout the Victorian Ash body so that they could be glued in prior to the guitar top being glued on. Sounds simple enough, but to do it required quite some time in planning, jig‑building, shaping, machining, sanding and gluing – around 5 hours in total. Cheap instruments are often built in not much more time than this!
So why is it worth the extra expense of buying a custom guitar? Well, as illustrated by the example above, not only does it mean spending less on repairs down the track, but also the playability and gig-ability are excellent right off the bat.
For those of you interested in some of the finer details of our work (if you’re reading this, then I figure you’re into detail) – here’s a few things that we’ve done on our latest custom to make it just that bit better:
- Brass threaded neck inserts and machine screws
- The previously‑mentioned Jarrah strap pin inserts
- A neck joint so snug you can lift the guitar by the neck without screws
- Brazilian Brown Ebony fretboard highly polished for maximum smoothness
- Stainless‑steel frets dressed level and polished to a mirror finish
- Customised hand‑wound, wax potted Jim Dyson underwound pickups
- Double‑action truss rod
- Bourns audio taper pots, Switchcraft pickup selector switch and jack
- Complete insulation from electronic noise using high‑quality insulated wire, copper sheeting, aluminium tape, conductive plate and a custom brass plate
- … and the amazingly beautiful and solid German‑made Schaller Hannes bridge!
Until our next instalment, thanks for reading and enjoy your stringed adventures!