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Thread: A request of builders

  1. #1
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default A request of builders

    Once again I find myself in this situation:
    Someone contacted me about bringing in a mandolin for a set up. It in a known brand, considered to be a good quality hand made instrument, but the frets are terrible!
    So many times I feel like I'm completing someone's fret work for them. It is as if the builder started the fret job and then abandoned it well before it was finished. In order to get this mandolin set up well I have to finish the fret job (as well as try to correct some geometry and other problems problems but that's another rant). Without good frets a good set up cannot be done.
    So here's my request:
    Learn good fret work and make it a priority. The information on what constitutes a good fret job and how to accomplish it is more available now than it ever has been.
    This mandolin, by the way, has a somewhat fancy, distinctive shape to the fingerboard extender with tidy miters in the binding, but the frets!
    I'd much rather see a plain, cut off extender with good frets than a fancy one with bad frets.

    PS
    I know that some of you don't need to read this because you regularly do good fret work, but apparently, from the examples I often see, The instruments of some builders would benefit from learning fret work, and hopefully some will read this and take it under consideration.

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  3. #2
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    I read a thread a few months back or so that stated clearly the individual believed that most builders could do great work but are terrible at fretwork because it is s different skill set. To me, that seemed utter nonsense. If an individual is skilled enough to build a beautiful instrument they sure as heck have the ability to do a good fret job.
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  4. #3
    Henry Lawton hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    John I think this is a good place for us to eat crow, tell of our fretting folly and share pitfalls to avoid. I learned that high humidity and tiny radiused frets will make you very humble in a short time. I had to walk away after the first two frets. Some heat lamps took care of the humidity and solved my earlier clumsiness and inability to start the press in straight without cocking to the side from the slots friction. John I’d also like to thank you personally for all the patience and adult supervision you’ve given me along the way in this bumpy rabbit hole of homemade mandolins..
    "A sudden clash of thunder, the mind doors burst open, and lo, there sits old man Buddha-nature in all his homeliness."
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  5. #4

    Default Re: A request of builders

    I think one of the first things you need to know before building an instrument is fretwork. I started leveling and crowning frets on my electric guitars. When I was contemplating building a mandolin, I bought a cheap one and leveled and crowned the frets. Then I bought a cheap archtop guitar and refretted that. Put binding on it too. I can make frets look pretty now, but wouldn't call myself good by and stretch. But level frets are the only path to optimum playability. I know one guy who won't do a setup without a fret level.
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  6. #5

    Default Re: A request of builders

    For any instrument that comes in, if it is a living builder who did substandard work, I ALWAYS refuse to work on it and tell the owner to send it back to the builder. By correcting it, all you do is validate their work, encourage them to keep doing it, and you actually create more of a demand for substandard man because now people think they do good work. Nobody ever looks at it and says, "Yeah, the builder did crap work but now thanks to James it kicks a$$...."
    Spruce dork

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  8. #6

    Default Re: A request of builders

    John is right, if somebody is paying $10K for an instrument, they are basically paying for perfection -- something the average builder cannot achieve. It should be beyond nice. Perfect as possible both in playing and appearance, IMHO.

    OTOH, I work on a lot of student guitars, pawn shop guitars, stuff customers buy at yard sales, etc........I'm AMAZED at what will actually play without buzzing. We live in a PLEK mentality world where customers think you need a $100k machine to do a fret level, when a $6 mill b*stard file will do the trick.....it isn't brain surgery (but don't tell my customers!) you just have to know that the strings have to follow the neck and if a fret is sticking up too high, you either tap it with a hammer, glue it down or file it til it plays without buzzing -- but, of course, easier said than done on some instruments. And, oh yeah, you want it to look nice, as well?.......son, that's extra!!!
    Last edited by Jeff Mando; Oct-13-2019 at 11:54am.

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  10. #7
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    Good fret work takes time, patience, practice, good tools, and a good understanding of geometry and the other forces that are involved.
    Some people don't like to take the time or expense to do it right.

    The knowledge and tools necessary to do a good fret job are now easily available. It wasn't always that way. When I got started, we had to make some of our own tools, and the current knowledge of how do to a really good levelling job without taking too much metal off the top had not yet been developed.

    It takes time to develop the skill to drive frets well without leaving loose spots. If any competent repairman has doubts about that, take on an apprentice and watch them struggle on their first few fret jobs.

    And no, I don't need a PLEK machine.

    But John, you can look at it this way: A new instrument that comes in with sub-standard fret work is job security.
    The problem is, that some customers get upset with the repairman when they should be upset with the builder instead.

    And yes, we find some builders who make mistakes, often because they haven't sufficient experience with repair work. They are two separate, but related disciplines.

    I just completed work on two recently built guitars made in a small shop. Both had loose bridges. One was cracked.

    Both had saddles that were fitted much too loosely. The necks were set back so far that the saddle height was much too high. Both had saddle slots that were cut almost all the way through the bridge. It's a wonder that only one of the bridges was cracked. The builder left nearly 1/8" perimeter of finish left under the bridges. I don't what kind of glue they used, but it wasn't Titebond or hide glue. Whatever it was, it couldn't stand the long term stress of reduced gluing surface or a high component of torque from a high saddle.

    I thought about contacting the builder and making some suggestions, but decided against it. I just did the work and sent the instruments home. The owner knew that he had the option of sending the instruments back to the builder, so I left the matter alone.

    If a builder has a few of his instruments returned for warranty work, hopefully they will learn from the experience and produce better instruments. I know of one who just got mad and quit instead.
    Last edited by rcc56; Oct-13-2019 at 1:17pm.

  11. #8

    Default Re: A request of builders

    I've come across this with a new mandolin also. As though the builder believed that since everyone wants their own specific tweaks that they didn't need to worry too much about getting the nut and bridge setup. But it also just seems like a time-saving corner that was cut and pushed onto the buyer. Many buyers might not even realize that they've been shortchanged a bit when they have to pay a bunch more for fretwork, nut and bridge work on a new mandolin.

  12. #9
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    I understand the instrument may not be set up as far as height goes to everyone's liking but that is completely different than sending one out with an unfinished or poor set up. Unfinished and poo is unacceptable and unless it is a commissioned build I would expect a well done average height setup.
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  13. #10

    Default Re: A request of builders

    On the other hand.... bad fretwork makes it really easy to make customers happy!
    I hope I'm not one of the builders being talked at here, I'd like to think not. I have a policy that any mandolin a customer brings me, if I can't genuinely make it play better, I will just change the strings for them and let them get on their way. So far, I've only seen one mandolin come in that was genuinely really well set up. Even on instruments with nice fret work (and high price tags), the nut slots are usually 1/4-1/2mm too high, which is verging on painful.

    It's so common, that's why I switched to a zero fret. I'm not sure anyone else will actually get the nut dialed in right if it ever needs work by another tech. So give 'em a zero fret, and ensure that my instrument has a chance of optimal setup, at least at the nut end.

    I did have one customer sell their instrument because they didn't like the way the "zero fret felt"... no idea what that means, but I think the benefits outweigh the cons.

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  15. #11

    Default Re: A request of builders

    I don't doubt you Marty, but for the record a 1/4 of a mm is less than 1/64 of an inch........closer to but not quite 1/128th of an inch.....

    but I guess we are on the subject of "fine tuning" a setup, so.....

  16. #12
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    I am with Marty on the string height at the nut. I like the space to be less than the space above the second fret when fretted at the first. There is very little movement of the string at the nut and height above the first fret can be very low. It must be done with a low action at the 12th fret to insure it doesn't get too low. A mandolin can play easy if setup right, even with 11-40 strings, or in my case 11-41. I rarely see an instrument with the string height above the first fret to my liking.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  17. #13

    Default Re: A request of builders

    John
    What specific problems have you had to correct in the fretwork? Uneven frets, poorly crowned, no polished, action too high or something else?

    thank you

  18. #14
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    John
    What specific problems have you had to correct in the fretwork? Uneven frets, poorly crowned, no polished, action too high or something else?

    thank you
    At one time or another I've had to correct all sorts of things (action height is not a fret problem but is an aspect of set up)
    I've found frets that were not fully seated, frets that were seated too deeply (mashed into the fingerboard wood), uneven fret height, flat fret tops not re-crowned, fret ends not finished, loose frets, etc.
    This one had frets that were never milled level, fret ends that were simply filed off and not finished, and some over-driven frets. I had to mill an inordinate amount off of some of the frets to get the over-driven ones level. (Geometry problems contributed significantly to the fret problems, but if the builder had bothered to learn good fret work he would have had to correct the geometry problems as well.)
    As of now, I have the mandolin in good playing condition but it needs considerable work to really be working correctly... perhaps more work than the mandolin is worth.

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  20. #15

    Default Re: A request of builders

    Thank you John

  21. #16

    Default Re: A request of builders

    "The problem is, that some customers get upset with the repairman when they should be upset with the builder instead....."

    +1000
    Spruce dork

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  23. #17
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    My feeling is that if a builder charges $2000 + for a new instrument, it should not be shipped with a lousy fret job and a poor set-up. But I've seen both on instruments that cost a lot more, many of them made by major manufacturers who have been in business for over a hundred years and should know better.

    Since you can now buy a better quality import with passable frets and at least a mediocre set-up, there is simply no excuse for it anymore. But I'm getting too peaceable to raise too much of a ruckus these days. The most I'm willing to do these days is furnish the owner with a note to send to the manufacturer, detailing the work; and admonishing the builder that Yamaha routinely ships $500 electric guitars and basses with good fret jobs.

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  25. #18

    Default Re: A request of builders

    Poor setup is a red flag that the builder doesn't really know how to play the instrument. They focus on fancy woods and inlay work but once you get to second position, the thing has major setup errors because they are not able to tell the difference beyond their basic G C D vocabulary.

    Whenever I have novice builders that come visit for help and instruction who are struggling with issues in their build quality and I see the same struggles in their playing, the number one thing I recommend is to take a year off from building and enroll in Mike Marshall's mandolin class video series & get a local teacher. Within a few months time of study and practice, your chops will improve enough that fault areas that you previously did not notice will become obvious and you as a builder will not accept them leaving the shop. I reached a plateau a number of years ago and did the exact thing; both my chops and my builds made an obvious improvement and life as a mandolin nerd became more fun......
    Spruce dork

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  27. #19

    Default Re: A request of builders

    I have to weigh in here,not as a builder or repairman,just a picker.

    Won't say the man's name here but a very highly regarded mandolin personality,repairperson at a traditional old manufacturer received two of my mandolins for basic set up work. The frets were leveled fine but left flat on top. Not recrowned nor polished in any way. High dollar charge for this work on a very nice mandos. Never again.

    Being a mandolin repairperson must be frustrating. I can understand that. But isn't it part and parcel of the job?

    What has always perturbed me is when a builder doesn't want to do any maintenance or set up work on an instrument he built himself.
    There's not enough profit in it I reckon. Like someone mentioned here, these are two different sets of skills.

    I cherish and admire quality repairpersons. Hope they are open and honest about what it is they do or do not want to tackle.

    MartyJ. I have only played a couple of mandos and guitars with zero frets. I wish I could tell you exactly why I do not prefer them. Hoping I can get to play one of your mandos. That may change my mind. I'm just old and set in my ways.

    If I pay to have my frets leveled,I also want them crowned and polished. Lots of hand work. I have done a few refrets myself. But I feel like crowning and polishing the frets is just part of a great setup. I don't mind paying for all that handwork.

    While I'm opining on this stuff,I see no reason for nut slots not to be perfect. Also,I understand the need for regular maintenance and checkups on a mandolin to have them sound and play at their very best.

    Hope I have not offended anyone. Thanks for letting me vent.

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  29. #20
    Formerly F5JOURNL Darryl Wolfe's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    I would like to add this. Outside of a very few high end builders, most builders are not fantastic at everything. Whether it be frets, finish, fit, creating a specific sonic quality, following a pattern or constantly improving upon those things.

    But, in the sprit of this thread, frets and setup should be really high on the list.

    I won't name names, but the worst fret work and fret spacing was a hallmark of one noted mandolin maker from the past. Yet his finish work and sound was exceptional, top shelf.

    Most high end builders usually started as repairmen and progressed into building. There is a new genre of builders who fall into "utter perfection from the start". These are your very OCD, slightly nerdy individuals who can essentially do anything they put their minds to. They invent ways and jigs and utilize latest technology to achieve their desired results.

    That's it. My opinion
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  31. #21

    Default Re: A request of builders

    I don’t hardly fret about anything anymore, but I do sometimes use the services of people who fall into the single-person craft/art profile. More often than not, someone winds up working alone because they can’t adapt to the more common work environment that involves interaction, compromise, taking direction from anybody. Great work can come from these folk, but also stagnation and fixed practices. I don’t think you can, as a customer, influence them, even if being helpful. In a production situation, everything fails unless there’s a verifiable, quantitative specification - anathema to an artist, and there we are.

  32. #22
    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    If you are not happy about the work done on an instrument, I suggest that you talk immediately, directly, and bluntly about your areas of concern -- with the person who did the work. This should always be the first step taken in resolving a problem . . . and usually helps move things towards the better and not the worse.

    Steve

    PS -- Coming from the perspective as guy who has been married 35 years, managed teams of hundreds, and is currently building for very talented players, one truth has been consistent . . . and I find that I have had to stress the same point in all three situations,
    "I am not a mind-reader, and if something is bothering you, I hope you will tell me so that we can fix it."

    It amazes me how often folks, wives, players, suffer with a problem which could be quickly fixed or improved-upon with only a brief discussion. Sure has helped me from persisting in being an irritant to my amazing wife, that is for sure!

    I look forward to hearing how these issues are resolved once each an every problem has been openly discussed by the folks mentioned in the previous comments!
    Last edited by Steve Sorensen; Oct-14-2019 at 1:43pm. Reason: Addition of PS

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  34. #23

    Default Re: A request of builders

    ".....It amazes me how often folks, wives, players, suffer with a problem which could be quickly fixed or improved-upon with only a brief discussion. Sure has helped me from persisting in being an irritant to my amazing wife, that is for sure!...."

    Mandolins are one thing; once the conversation shifts towards wives I'm out!
    Spruce dork

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  36. #24

    Default Re: A request of builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard500 View Post
    I don’t hardly fret about anything anymore, but I do sometimes use the services of people who fall into the single-person craft/art profile. More often than not, someone winds up working alone because they can’t adapt to the more common work environment that involves interaction, compromise, taking direction from anybody. Great work can come from these folk, but also stagnation and fixed practices. I don’t think you can, as a customer, influence them, even if being helpful. In a production situation, everything fails unless there’s a verifiable, quantitative specification - anathema to an artist, and there we are.

    Richard
    Most of the things John is describing can be found by simply playing each note at each fret on all the strings. There will be buzzes or notes that do not play. If the builder is too much of an artiste to care about that then they should be doing sculpture and not instruments. As James suggested, knowing how to play would bring most of these things to light. And it really does not take that much playing ability if you take the time to check each note all the way up the fretboard.

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  38. #25
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Sorensen View Post
    If you are not happy about the work done on an instrument, I suggest that you talk immediately, directly, and bluntly about your areas of concern -- with the person who did the work. This should always be the first step taken in resolving a problem . . . and usually helps move things towards the better and not the worse.

    Steve

    PS -- Coming from the perspective as guy who has been married 35 years, managed teams of hundreds, and is currently building for very talented players, one truth has been consistent . . . and I find that I have had to stress the same point in all three situations,
    "I am not a mind-reader, and if something is bothering you, I hope you will tell me so that we can fix it."

    It amazes me how often folks, wives, players, suffer with a problem which could be quickly fixed or improved-upon with only a brief discussion. Sure has helped me from persisting in being an irritant to my amazing wife, that is for sure!

    I look forward to hearing how these issues are resolved once each an every problem has been openly discussed by the folks mentioned in the previous comments!
    Agreed to all three of those plus one more, for the person listening be an active listener and try to understand what's being said. Way to many peoiple hear what they want to hear and not what's being said.
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

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