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Eric Hamilton

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Technical Commentary

Much of my day is spent answering technical questions asked by my customers and doing general networking between the manufacturers, dealers, and consumers. I will be happy to try to answer any questions if you contact me Also, I can make available to you, a written description of various repair procedurers. Contact me at the above email address for 'written discription' fees (based on the difficulty of the procedure).


One of the more common problems I hear about is "my guitar won't play / stay in tune." Sometimes it's not the guitar set up that's the problem.

Read on...

Tall Frets / Intonation

In recent guitar making history it has become popular to install tall or "jumbo" frets on many models of electric guitars. This can facilitate a "faster" action as well as aiding in the use of vibrato and string bending. Players all too often come to my shop complaining of guitars that "wont stay in tune" citing a possible manufacturer flaw. Most often the problem stems from a number of factors which players can easily overlook.

If the guitar is properly set up and calibrated to factory specifications, and the strings are fresh, then most common tuning problems occur due to improper string installation (too many or un-tidy wraps around the tuning gear shaft), lack of sufficient string stretching before final tuning and playing, and loose hardware (tuning gears, neck bolts, etc.). Also, nut slots not cut wide enough can cause strings to bind up in the slot and wont pass or slide freely with bending, vibrato, etc. And nut slots not cut deep enough will cause first fret notes to play sharp. Too deep, and the open string will buzz on the 1st fret wire. Sometimes a nut will be loose in the slot. A drop of glue takes care of that.

If all these issues are addressed and trouble still occurs, then most likely the player is simply pressing too hard with the left hand fingers, or playing in the middle of the frets (just behind and slightly touching the fret wire is the correct LH technique), or both. When you combine tall frets, light gauge strings, and a "heavy" left hand technique (acoustic guitar players syndrome), the effect can be analogous to jumping on a trampoline. The string stretches when pressed and causes the note to play sharp. This is especially evident when playing chords that incorporate both open string notes and fretted notes.

As a simple experiment, tune an open string to an electronic tuner. Then play any fretted note. If the fretted note appears sharp on the tuner and the guitar is fully calibrated, then youre most likely pressing too hard. Re-tune the open string (new strings can be a little finicky), and try playing the same fretted note using only minimal LH pressure and snug the LH finger up to the fret wire (the one toward the body, not the nut). The note should now be in tune and you have just discovered how to add years onto your playing life by not causing undue pressure and wear and tear on the LH finger joints. There are of course many other technical factors that come into play depending on musical style, quality of instrument construction, etc. But most often, this technique will solve the greater degree of intonation problems (that, and having the instrument in tune to begin with J ).

Some players feel they simply cannot change their heavy LH technique. Then, the only solution is to play only guitars with low fret wire so the string stretching (trampoline effect) is minimized. You can have some of the tallness ground down and the frets re-leveled by a reliable technician to achieve the same result if you dont want to get rid of your current favorite guitar.

Good luck and happy playing!

-EH (c)2003



Regarding new guitar purchases

Students new to the guitar are often discouraged because they unknowingly have to "fight" with their beginner guitar. It is not your fault!

From my experience as a multi-manufacturer, certified guitar technician for nearly 20 years, and a player and teacher for 40+ years, I have found most brand new guitars are not very well set up. Many are even delivered from manufacturers with fret problems among other obvious flaws. The expensive ones too! The majority of guitars on the open market today are mass-produced all over the world, bought and sold in huge lots and shifted from place to place. One never knows the location and climate on this planet in which the instrument will eventually end up, with each one requiring specific adjustments for the local climate conditions and right down to the owner/player playing style and technique. There is also the issue of the depleting availability of properly prepared and dried woods coupled with the huge numbers of instruments in demand and the result, many green or wet guitars coming off the manufacturing line. As the woods dry, many changes will occur to the instrument requiring adjustments over the first several months or even years. So the set up (or fine-tuned adjustment) work at the manufacturing level is usually minimal at best. Of course there are many fine makers and wholesale manufacturers whose guitars are flawless all the way until the time they reach the owner’s hands and beyond, so this is not a hard and fast rule. And too, one can always hope for a conscientious dealer trained in guitar set up work or one who employs a skilled technician to properly adjust the instruments before selling them. Unfortunately, this seldom happens and we're left to choose from and buy instruments in poor working order and a set up, possibly a fret level bill following the purchase (assuming the consumer even knows of the probability of this fact). Buyer beware...! Whatever the case, one should always visit a reputable guitar technician immediately after or if possible, during the purchase process.

Good luck and happy playing!

- eh (2009)

EricHamiltonMusic (c) 2006