Monday, May 9, 2011

It's in the Intonation

this is just an observation...

Most of the woodworkers I meet know how to play a musical instrument.
From string to wind and wind to wood, what ever.
Point is most woodworkers seem to naturally have or gain through repetition, a sense of rhythm while we work with hand tools, we’re musical even if we don’t actually play instruments.
Nestled in the saw dust lies the rhythm and the rhyme.
And with all that in mind…
'The Recording Model' by Brown Guitars. Photo from Soundpark Studio website.
This past winter I traveled to the East Coast of Canada on two occasions, once in February and again in March to play some live music and promote my new album. ( shameless I know )
On both adventures one of my closest and oldest friends, Scott Brown joined me for the shows playing bass guitar. Scott also gave me some insight into guitar set ups and I finally got around to setting up one of my own guitars on my return back to Toronto.
I bought a OOO1R, USA made Martin in 1996 but it was actually made three years prior to that making about 19 years old..? This is a sweet little guitar and has been my faithful  ‘road warrior’ over the last couple of decades give or take.
Funny enough though it didn’t make either trip this winter because Scott is a wonderful luthier on Cape Breton Island and he offered me to leave ‘my axes’ here at home ( no stress flying you know ) and invited me to use some of his custom built guitars during the performances. Needless to say I jumped at the opportunity.
Scott is the man behind Brown Guitars in Bras D”Or, Nova Scotia. He builds custom electric and acoustic guitars in his home work shop about 20 minutes from down town Sydney and will ship his work ( as stressful as that may be ; ) internationally. Another close friend of mine, Jamie Foulds owns a studio in Cape Breton and recently posted some sounds clips of Scott’s latest and finest. Follow this link…
Now back in the wood shop we wood workers are all well aware of wood movement. ( say that 5 times fast )
Take all of those elements and multiply them by 10 and you have ‘luthier wood movement stress‘ !
I’m exaggerating a little but you get the idea.
Wood movement in guitars = bad intonation, a neck that may need to be set up seasonally or at the very least annually. Even a brand new guitar shipped from a music store on the West Coast to a musician on the East Coast will need to be set up to perform as it should.
With humidity changes, the neck on a guitar can move and cup and the differences between CB Island and Southern Ontario are pretty drastic. I realized that not one of my guitars had been set up since moving back from the East Coast 3 years ago and it was time to do something about it. Yikes!
Brown Guitars
Returning home after playing Scott’s guitars all perfectly set up and tuned, I could feel and see how high the action on my little Martin was getting. Every guitar player should know how to go through the steps of checking to see if an instrument needs an adjustment and then decide whether to carry out those adjustments or have a professional like Brown Guitars make them for you.
After my crash course lesson in guitar set up and light maintenance by Mr. Brown himself, I decided to take up the challenge and can happily say my guitar feels and plays like it did when it was new.
It was in bad shape although I ignored it for three years and learned to live with the high action on the strings.  I knew it was getting harder and harder to play with each winter passing and I suspected the intonation was starting to get out of whack as well.
Three years can really make a difference.
It’s a wonderful feeling setting up your own guitar to suite your own tastes and I encourage you to take a close look at your own instruments at home.
I’ll walk you through the steps Scott taught me in another post.
It only involves a hand full of tools that most of you already own. This is what you’ll need:
  1. guitar tuner
  2. new set of strings
  3. capo
  4. feeler gauges
  5. small metal rule in 1/16″ increments
  6. reliable straight edge
  7. Allen or Hex keys
  8. wire cutters
For now, follow the links and check out Brown Guitars.