Sunday, 9 March 2014

Bouzouki/Gouzouki – an unusual modification

It was a lovely summers day when Jon Sanders brought this interesting job to me.
It’s an Irish Bouzouki with a guitar body – he calls it a Gouzouki.
It’s a great instrument made by fantastic luthier Davy Stuart in Christchurch, now located near Nelson
The instrument has an undersaddle pickup  so it can be amplified. Jon wanted me to make another pickup for just the bass strings so the signal could be completely separate from the existing one. The plan was to run this through an octave pedal to lower it an octave (or two). I’ve done a very similar job for a friend of Jon’s a few years back – Mark Mazengarb.
That job was for a guitar and Mark wanted both E and A strings amplified seperately.
For that one I took a Strat pickup, cut it down to a third of the size and re-wound it.
You can see (and hear) that pickup on the promo clip on Mark’s site:
So, the two problems I need to solve with Jon’s Gouzouki are how to pick up the sound of just one pair of strings and how to attach that pickup to the instrument.
I decide to go for a magnetic pickup. This can be kept completely separate from the existing piezo undersaddle system and it directional enough to only “hear” what I want it to.
I have a pickup winding machine (I repair a lot of vintage Fender and Gibson electric guitar pickups) so I’m happy I can make one that will sound how I want it to.
Just to spice things up there’s a time limit on this one. Jon doesn’t live in Auckland and I only have a few days to do the job. This means I need to find an old pickup former from my box of bits rather than order a new one.
The most suitable candidate is a Fender noiseless Jazz Bass pickup. I know this will have good quality magnets with the added bonus of being able to make it a hum cancelling stacked humbucker.
You can see in this picture I’ve stripped off the original wire (this was a dud pickup) and cut the fibreboard former down to the size I wanted. I’ve wound the bottom coil and am about to do the other.
I’ve decided to wind 1500 turns of 42AWG wire for each coil. The 1500 turns was a bit of a guess – I’ve wound a lot of pickups and you do get a “feel” for it. If I made it too powerful there’s a danger of it overdriving the amp and distorting, too weak and it would simply be too quiet. On reflection, I’d try 1700 next time but there just wasn’t time to experiment.
An action shot of winding in progress – exciting stuff!
Here’s the second coil half wound.
They’ll be wired together in series, the outer winding of one coil attached to the outer of the other. So the continuation of wire will be from the start of one coil to its end, the end of the other coil to its start. This puts them out of phase with eachother (180degrees) and so cancelling the hum. They are also magnetically out of phase (180degrees) which brings them back to being in phase. It’s not easy to explain.
Once wound I dip the pickup in melted wax to hold the windings together and prevent microphonic feedback.
I need to find a way of mounting the pickup so it “hears” the strings, is height adjustable, not in the player’s way, looks elegant and easily removed if necessary.
I decide to make a bracket that can be screwed to the cross brace under the end of the fretboard. The main purpose of this brace is structural strength (resisting the compression force of the strings) so it will be quite happy holding the pickup on.
I make a hardwood bracket. The 3 holes are for mounting the pickup to the bracket. I can put different thicknessed shims under the pickup to adjust the height.
I mounted the second jack socket just below the existing one. We measured up first to make sure his strap would still fit, an important consideration – he’s very attached to his strap.
After the job was completed Jon came in to test it out with his octave pedal. I had to replace the height adjusting shim – but that’s what it was there for.
Overall. I was very pleased with the result.
The following day he was testing it out at The Oratia Jungle Festival
Have a good gig mate.
Feel free to contact me about repair work (if you are in NZ). I only check emails weekly so the workshop phone is always the best 09 307 6501.

Workshop Hours

Mon……. 8-6
Tues……. 8-6
Wed…….. Closed
Thurs …..8-6
Fri ……….8-6
Sat/Sun ..Closed

Mr Glyn’s Guitars

19 Khyber Pass Road
New Zealand
09 307 6501, 021 912678

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Mention in "The Herald"

Thanks to Peter Calder from the New Zealand Herald for this article:

Calder At Large

Peter Calder on life in New Zealand

Peter Calder: All for the sound and the story

Guitar maker and repairer Glyn Evans says a good luthier should respect an instrument's story. Photo / Dean Purcell
Guitar maker and repairer Glyn Evans says a good luthier should respect an instrument's story. Photo / Dean Purcell
I see Glyn Evans before I meet him. His head is bobbing slightly in the single window of his Khyber Pass Rd workshop as he methodically hand-sands a thin piece of swamp kauri.
It's destined to become what I learn is called a rosette, the ornamented circle of material around a guitar's sound hole. The customer, an American who has settled here, wants "a bit of Kiwi" in the guitar that immigrated with her.
A native of Swansea in Wales, Evans is a luthier, which is a noble old word for someone who makes and repairs guitars. On a chilly mid-week morning, when the door is closed to customers so he can get some work done, he welcomes me into the warm, roughly carpeted space that he shares with Sammy, his big, black and very placid dog.
Stringed instruments are everywhere. A couple of pot-belly mandolins and a balalaika on high shelves await his attention, but they're his and he's too busy looking after other people's instruments to have time to work on his own.
Evans' sanding is revealing a crack in the kauri, which he repairs even as he exposes it, by adding superglue mixed with the fine sand-dust.
"Superglue is useful stuff, all right," he says, which makes me wonder what luthiers did before it was invented. Evans smiles and opens a jar of what looks like nothing so much as raw sugar, though a bit shinier and more golden.
Made from the hooves and connective tissue of various creatures, this is the stuff that gave rise to the expression about sending a broken down horse "to the glue factory". It's truly ancient technology: records of animal glue go back 4000 years. And Evans says luthiers love the stuff because it sounds so good.
"It's more resonant because it goes brittle-hard," he says. "It's ridiculously strong and you can manipulate it - a bit of heat reverses it so I can warm it up and it will release."
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it smells nice too (Sammy loves the smell). And older readers would remember the taste from when they licked postage stamps: "A little bit of warmth, a little bit of moisture and it goes soft."
It occurs to me that, with the exception of an electric polishing machine, most of the technology in the room would seem familiar to Evans' renaissance predecessors. Shellac, made from a resin secreted by bugs in India and Thailand, is his finish of choice as it was for them. People call it French polish, he explains, but actually French polishing is the act of applying it.
"A lot of modern guitars are sprayed with polyurethane, which is what you paint cars with. It's really hard. It doesn't fade with UV light, but it doesn't sound very good either. You're stifling the vibrations with a thick coating of goo, whereas something thin and hard will enhance the sound."
A Baroque-era luthier would recognise most things in the workshop, Evans says, except the plastic handles on the chisels.
"He could start work tomorrow - and I wouldn't have to pay him much either."
A lifelong passion for tinkering - "Meccano is a wonderful thing," he says - was what got Evans into the craft. "I was always playing about with things when I was a kid and then I started to play a guitar and it seemed like a good idea to stick the things together."
Needless to say, he plays too, quite well, I imagine. When I ask him if he's any good, he hesitates before saying he can "get around a guitar" - the kind of modest comment that only good players make.
"I play in a covers band," he says, "but most luthiers are failed musicians."
Before I go, he shows me a 19th-century instrument that he's in the middle of restoring. He describes it as "fairly well rogered", which is something of an understatement. But a striking feature is a deep crater above the sound hole, made by the propped thumbnail of a finger-picking player.
"That will stay," he says. "Damage is fine as long as there's a story attached. You have to show respect for the instrument.
"The guitars I like are the ones with stories, the ones that granddad used to play and they have been in the cupboard for 50 years. Or the Les Paul that arrived in New Zealand having been sold to fund a Russian bride. They're the ones that have a connection."
- NZ Herald

Feel free to contact me about repair work (if you are in NZ). I only check emails weekly so the workshop phone is always the best 09 307 6501.

Workshop Hours

Mon....... 8-6
Tues....... 8-6
Wed........ Closed
Thurs .....8-6
Fri ..........8-6
Sat/Sun ..Closed

Mr Glyn's Guitars

19 Khyber Pass Road
New Zealand
09 307 6501, 021 912678

Friday, 29 March 2013

Les Paul '79 - refret with a difference

 A customer recently brought me a Les Paul Custom from 1979. He's owned the guitar a long time but in the last few years it's been relegated to the case. He wanted to be playing it again so brought it to me to get it back into playing condition.
 Its in desperate need of some care, love and a new set of frets.
 While doing the job I'm going to take the opportunity to show you around her. We don't all have the chance to see inside lovely old guitars every day like I do.


The serial number tells us she's from 1979 - It's the first and fifth digit we're looking for - 7,9. Why the secret code? I've no idea. It would be a lot easier to just write the date there.

The back of the neck shows a lot of playing wear. And the 3 piece maple neck with the volute that Gibson were using at this time.
 A maple neck is very hard to break especially when its made of 3 pieces. It does sound different though. Maple is very hard and heavy compared to the usual Mahogany. Maple has a toppier more biting sound than the more mellow chiming Mahogany. I rather like the Maple necked Les Pauls, I'm not really a Gibson purist.

Taking the back cover off I find the Faraday Cage typical of this period. It adds some extra electromagnetic shielding though Les Pauls really don't need it and Gibson didn't fit them for long.

Taking that cover off I find a couple of the pots have been changed (it is an old guitar). And treble bleed capacitors have been added to the volume controls (those large brown discs) to prevent treble "roll off" when the volumes are turned down. They're not original but the customer will be really used to the way they work so I leave them in.

The jack socket is encased in a metal box which is again typical of the era and a bit of overkill on Gibson's part.

The 3 way switch is Gibson and surrounded by a metal sleeve. You can see the back plate has been fitted in a couple of ways - odd considering it's round.

Both bridge and tailpiece have been changed to very solid brass ones. The customer tells me he was sick of fitting new Gibson bridges only to have them sag in the middle. He's had no problems with this one.
 A lot of brass hardware was fitted during the '80's - we all thought it would give better harmonics.
 I'm a big fan of some of the lighter alloy bridges and tailpieces these days.

The general condition is a bit scruffy but nothing that some "Mr Glyn's Luthier's Finest " guitar polish ( can't sort out.

The only real problem with this lovely old Les Paul is the frets. They are simply worn out.
A re-fret is a routine job for me but Gibsons with bound necks pose an extra problem.

Gibson binding goes over the fret ends.
 Those small pieces of plastic are very important for the instrument's value and authenticity. I've seen too many re-frets done where the binding has been completely ignored with those little pieces of binding filed off and the frets laid on top of them like an Epiphone.
It takes a bit of extra care to keep them but it is worth it.
 It could be another 35 years before she's up for another re-fret. I'd like to think of a luthier in the future wondering if these are the original frets rather than cursing me for taking a shortcut.

I've covered re-fretting before ( so I'm not going to repeat myself.
 This blog entry is all about saving the little wee pieces of binding.

I start by removing the frets taking care not to hurt the binding.

Then I clean the bottom of the fret slots using a Japanese saw. As you can see I've ground the end of the saw so I can get right into the corners. These saws differ from western saws in that they cut on the pull stroke, not the push. It makes them very accurate and controllable. And what a cool looking tool :-)

The tricky part of the job is cutting the frets to the exact size to fit inside the binding. Any gaps, especially on the treble side will mean the string will fall into the slot.
Gibson bind their guitars after the frets are in but I'm not keen on changing the binding and then touching up the lacquer  - I only want to change the frets.

I use the principle of Occam's Razor - the simplest solution is the best.
I have made a "dummy" Les Paul Custom fretboard. It is exactly the same width all the way along and the frets are placed in the exact same places. The fret slots are just a tiny bit wider than normal.

I fret this dummy board as usual, clamp the frets in place so they don't move and file the fret ends flush.

I've now got a full set of exact sized frets - simple.

I pull the frets out easily - the slots are wider so they just slip out. The channel I've routed down the face of the dummy board helps.

I file a slight angle at the end of the fret tang just in case there's some debris is the fret slot that the saw missed.

 Then it's just a straightforward re-fret.

Here's some info on the fret stoning method I use -

And I always oil rosewood or ebony fretboards with "Mr Glyn's Luthier's Finest" fretboard oil:  
It gives it great protection and looks nice too.

I give all the hardware a good polish as part of the set up.

The difference in tone was huge. The strings vibrating off a well crowned, polished frets rather than flattened, dull frets.
 I think of a re-fret as re-newing the playing surface, she's still the same lovely old guitar but now plays and sounds better than ever.

Life in the old girl yet


Feel free to contact me about repair work (if you are in NZ). The workshop phone is always the best 09 307 6501.

Workshop Hours

Mon....... 8-6
Tues....... 8-6
Wed........ Closed
Thurs .....8-6
Fri ..........8-6
Sat/Sun ..Closed

Mr Glyn's Guitars

19 Khyber Pass Road
New Zealand
09 307 6501, 021 912678