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Thread: A request of builders

  1. #26

    Default Re: A request of builders

    Yo, Sunburst, I can seriously understand your request. But not every builder is up to the task. Fretwork is like everything else - if it was easy, everybody would be doing it. The reality is that you and I are employed for the very same reason. Some of the stuff I do used to make me feel guilty because to me it was so easy I felt I could just instruct someone over the telephone and save them the time and money coming to my shop. The truth is more like tools feel alien in the hands of some people. They can't see or understand the way things work like we both probably do. And then there is specialization. For nearly twenty years I have studied fretwork and exercised my skills through routine processes and experimenting on my own. I've read everything I could possibly get my hands on and tried everything mentioned. From my perspective, fretwork and well made neck is where the rubber meets the road -- but, this was at the cost of failure to practice and be a student of other skills. I feel ####### perky about my fretwork skills but I totally suck at finish repairs and acoustic instrument structural repairs.

    It is rare that I don't find a fretwork flaw on any new instrument. PRS and Taylor are the exception. A Plek isn't worth a damn if the lumber was second quality or improperly seasoned or if the Plek operator doesn't fully understand what they are doing and earning minimum wage with no incentive to develop their mojo.

    I can soooo... relate to your post. Like... speaking to the parents of a kid taking lessons, "I know you just spent $2,200 on this instrument for your son but it has defects that will require me to spend a bit over 2 hours to correct, maybe more... ...and then try to address it as a warranty issue??? There's a feeling of sympathy that can remanifest into feeling guilty but the bottom line is that you didn't build the instrument. You have invested in developing the skills to address the work and this investment is worth every penny.

    Buying an instrument over the internet is something that really rubs me wrong. Unfortunately it is our reality and I need to get over it. If it were just people with no choice because they lived in Alaska or some island in the Pacific, the internet wouldn't yield so much junk. For less than $1000 someone can open a website and make it appear that they've been making extraordinary instruments since Noah's flood. I have a client who is a local legend as a player and dammit if he ain't a sucker for a shiny new guitar from China with lots of chrome using the purchased name Supro. List price of $899 on sale for $399... There is no mention of the likelihood that it'll spend 3 or four hours on my bench.

    Rant rant rant

    Not everybody has the chops for fretwork and if you do, its worth every penny.

  2. #27
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    As Wrenchbndr indicates, whether new or repair, fret work is slow and tedious work. Translation - expensive. There are so many factors that can leave a new build not quite right or that can develop in a short time. Taking the time to see that the neck wood is perfectly seasoned and stable is a long process that adds to the price of the mandolin. After a few months, some mandolins will begin to develop the infamous 15th fret hump. A lot of theories, but nobody really knows why. For this and other reasons, a "perfect" professional fret job and setup can suddenly appear to be not professional. Also, the chosen fret materials may not hold up well for long. The PacRim manufacturers choose to save costs and reach a price point that the mandolin buyer market demands by passing some of the work and cost on to dealers and buyers. A local builder has to reach a similar balance of cost to make his/her mandolin affordable at a price point that is acceptable to a much smaller set of buyers.

    Fret work and the related setup work are are both a unique skill and an art. There are other unique skills and arts in mandolin building. Folks excel at different ones of these. Someone who excels at the fret work and setup obviously has a high standard as the benchmark. The majority of manufacturers and builders appear to not agree with that standard.

    The real frustration is on the repair end. A customer brings in a fairly new mandolin that is buzzing or not ringing like it should. They've done their research and figure they can get the first 3 or 5 frets replaced for around $100 and that will fix it. Their budget is a maximum $300 if it winds up being a full fret job. That's unreasonable with today's overhead costs. Whatever it costs, it just adds to the price they paid for their new mandolin. Fret work prices are all over the place because of the varying time and overhead costs. I had a slightly older mandolin in the shop not long ago from a Cafe member. Turned out, in addition to major dents in frets 1 through 5, there were hard to see issues through the 11th fret that were affecting the sound. Rather than doing a full fret job, it was possible to do a heavy fret dressing, leveling and setup. The mandolin was made by a west coast manufacturer. The design, construction and woods were as "perfect" as I've seen anywhere, and it was a true pleasure to work on those frets. I really can't say that about any other mandolin I've seen.

    To me, beveled fret ends are a shortcut that is now standard, and everybody is looking for a way to do them faster. Edges are rough and not well shaped. The new fret board shrinks during the winter and leaves what appears to be an amateurish bevel job. The wood naturally expands and contracts. The owner didn't reduce this action by properly humidifying the instrument. Often, a month long humidifying job solves the problem - no special skill required. I do bullet end frets on most of my builds to avoid these problems. It takes me about 8 hours to make those frets and install them - four to eight times longer than doing beveled frets. That adds a substantial cost to my mandolins, and it is something that a lot of people are certain they don't want. It is just one of those higher standards that I refuse to compromise.
    Tom
    Haywood Music Instruments
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  3. #28
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: A request of builders

    This is a good thread on an important topic. If I commissioned a build and it came through with a bad fret job, it would go right back to the builder. I am aware that fretting requires a skill set that some builders lack, but if need be (and they don't want to work at these skills), they should partner with a good setup tech to go over the instruments before sending them out. Might add a few bucks to the build, but would be worth it for all concerned. Let's all try to be aware of our limitations (hard to do sometimes) and mitigate them as best we can.

    Over the years, I have bought a number of instruments from different mid-range Luthiers. There have been only two who I thought could use a bit of help in their fretwork/setup efforts. Nothing too bad, but not in keeping with the overall build quality. I would buy from them again (except one has passed on), but would have that one slight reservation.

    There are also two, on the other hand, that in my estimation, did extraordinarily good setup and fretwork. It is a joy to see the attention they paid to their fretting. Just examining the fret ends tells the whole story of how these two view their craft. In one case, a very experienced mandolinist I showed the instrument to actually commented 'Wow, look at these frets'. Unfortunately, the builder of that instrument has retired, but mine was one of his very late builds and I am fortunate to have it. The other builder is still relatively young so I expect he has many good years before him (lucky for all of us). I hope to commission another build from him one day.

    As much as I'd like to name these two great builders (especially the one still working), I appreciate that contributors to this thread have not generally been naming names. I'd hate to see us go down that route for I fear that naming the good will lead to naming the bad. This has been a most instructive thread. Thanks very much.
    Purr more, hiss less.

  4. #29

    Default Re: A request of builders

    I can understand why the OP refrained from contacting the builder, IMO that responsibility should fall on the owner that paid for it (take the instrument back to the builder and show them what good fretwork looks like). The builder obviously either lacks the skill to do quality fretwork, or doesn't care about what goes out his door. In either case, confronting him on his shortcomings is unlikely to make a difference.

    Those of us who've done fretwork/setups for awhile know there's a learning curve. I spent a year working in an Epiphone service center doing warranty work on cheap epi's that came in unplayable. We file frets, planed fingerboards, shaved bridges, etc day in and day out and got efficient at it. Long before Plek was even thought about, I learned to approximate string tension by flexing the neck as I sighted down it. After you do a couple dozen of them, it becomes second nature. There's no substitute for experience.

    In the dressing department, I fall in that group that really attends to the fret ends. I spend quite a bit of time with safe edge files forming bullet ends on my frets. I also sand out to 1200 before buffing with jewel's rouge (you wouldn't believe what passes for acceptable in the electric world) . Musicians who handle my instruments are appreciative of how they feel and play. Their facial expression usually changes when I tell them how much I charge. Related to pricing, I think EVO gold has been a real game-changer, at least for me. When you can put three years of hard play on an instrument with very little noticeable wear, it's easier to justify investing more money in quality fretwork.

    Thanks to Sunburst for starting this thread addressing issues that so many of us wrestle with.

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