Did technology break or make Gibson?

2014 Gibson

I recently had the great fortune to take a closer look at a 2014 Gibson 120 year anniversary CE custom. This sorcery that Gibson did to create such an unparalleled universe in tradition/modern technology is of another worldly specimen.

My personal view reflect the struggles I find in Gibson’s workforce in the 2013-2016. To me at least there seem to be a lot of new workers at the Gibson Factory, My reasoning for this bolt statement is captured in the lack of detailing, care that was associated with Gibson for so many years. The other question might be, whether Gibson just made too many guitars per day, and whether the employees felt proud to be working for such a giant in the industry.

These statements are quite big and may be seen as negative, when in fact, we have to remember that we have gone through an enormous change in precision from 2005. Most factories started to streamline process. Gibson did the same. Gibson got one of their game changers (the Plek Machine) in  2006.This machine help any guitar building company to fine-tune the nut saddles and fretwork, by making the distance equal to a mathematical optimization, that induce a great playing guitar. Before this era the nut was cut by hand, the fret leveling and crowning and relief was all done by hand. This 120 anniversary has been made with the same tools and process before the plek, and before electronic boards. They mixed it up by using a new material for the fret board, called Richlight.

It seems to me, and this again is just my humble opinion, that maybe because of Gibson’s success, they were running out of old stock that was piled up for many years. Why use richlight instead of ebony. Could it be that the ebony at that time was not as stable as what they used to have?

Going through this anniversary Gibson, made me sad and happy all at once. The attention to detail is not there. But the feel and sound just blew me away.

Here are some problems

Nut work:

The nut Spacing is cut right on the edge, its borderline perfect, With E A and B 0,001mm too low. By adjusting the neck relieve, that buzz disappear just enough to not be noticed by a great player.


The frets are flat on top and the plastic cut outs of the binding is square instead of rounded with the crowning that might have been skipped. There are uneven frets, and lots of tool marks in the frets and on the fretboard.


It looks like the finish wasn’t sanded between buffing. There are dust problems on the neck, that needed to be flattened (Wet sand). On the bottom part of the back, there are some air bubbles on the finish that are associated with silicone contaminants.

Hardware Placement and fitting:

The parts that needed to be fitted like the jack plate are not lining up. The back plate is not in the right place. The gap is bigger on the one side. All of these things suggests speed of work and/or lack of care/ability?

In conclusion think this guitar is one of the best Gibson’s I have ever played, it sounds amazing. Nit picking about things that are only visual is perhaps more to do with us as a society that are obsessed with perfection, rather than a reflection on the greatest guitar design in the world.

Choosing wood suitable for Guitar building

When choosing guitar wood that is suitable for building, we look at certain qualities, instead of species. The wood we want to use needs to be very strong. With strength comes 2 things, one is added weight and the other resin.

We also would like exotic-looking woods, which give the instrument a beautiful visual appearance. Things like flame maple are great for certain parts of the guitar. But plain quarter-sawn rock maple is the most stable.

There is much more to choosing the wood that is suitable for guitar building than look or sound. It should age well and retain the qualities sought in the first place.

Wood qualities to look for

Looking at where the wood comes off the tree, from the bottom or higher up, will affect the price and the width of the year rings. Year rings create both strength and flexibility. We want the wood to vibrate in its optimal vibration. The thicker the wood the higher the tone, and thinner makes it lower and more wobbly.

There is also the cut, which can be quarter-sawn, rift sawn or flat-sawn. The one with the most strength is quarter-sawn. The tension seems to be vertical and horizontal. Rift sawn has a 70 percent vertical grain. Whereas flat sawn has horizontal grain, this makes upward flexing and twisting more problematic.

The effect of elements on wood

The amount of moisture inside the wood plays a very big role in creating extra tension between cells. If the moisture is released to quickly then you will see cracks or deformation.

Drying the wood or seasoning the wood takes the excess moisture out via osmoses. This process reverses when the amount of moisture is more on the outside. At some stage when the concentrate of moisture is very low, the cell will harden and take allot less moisture on.

This causes the wood to release a lot of tension and relax witch create better vibration. This moisture is also heavy and keeps the cells from using all their energy when stimulated with vibration.

Heat is one that can draw the moisture to the surface and make the axis of the wood change. This makes the wood bendable and pliable. When cooling down the axis go back to their stiffness, but the form might have changed if tension was applied to the wood when warm.

Wood storage

This is one of the big problems with guitar necks. When storing wood for seasoning one should look at a constant heat source that can make the wood lose moisture and be even so expansion and contraction are limited.

Nature does the opposite. When wood is lying in the forest as a fallen tree, nature starts the process of breaking down the wood cells. This is called spalting. Spalting takes the hardwood and makes it softer for beetles and other creatures to consume as a food source.


In conclusion, we can use any wood that has the right attributes to what we want out of vibrating it to create an audible sound wave both strong and pleasant on our ears. The fact is over the years certain wood has gain popularity for these attributes and is used on a global scale for consistently giving great results

Have a great day and look out for another one.

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What is Tone?

Music moves us with a sound that vibrates through our souls. The guitar string vibrates us in the same way. This is tone, the moving of our bones.

The conundrum of tone is elusive to most, yet some have it naturally and some can create it. Some get it through practice and some fall short. This quest for perfect tone can become very expensive. There are so many variables that have an influence on the creation of tone.

When we think of tone, we can say it’s the night and day of sound, the brightness and darkness or bass of the high frequencies and low ones. Somewhere in-between is the perfect tone. What most people don’t realize is that low and high frequencies have both in them. You get bass notes that sound bright, and or muddy.  The difficult part is that we are all different in our perception of great tone.

Tone is also created by the way we play, and how we move our hands, what kind of plectrum  we use and strings to just mention a few. String height can also help you in getting a better tone. Most guitarists want the strings very low over the fretboard. This keeps the string from fully vibrating and affects the tone.

Electronics like pick-ups, pots, caps, pedals and amps also have a big influence on the way the tone is created. Change one element and it all changes. I think a big part of how we experience tone have a lot to do with how we feel. If you are in the zone of a great Jam, then your tone seems better. Is tone based on memory, just like chocolate to our taste buds? Science says we only taste the first bite after that it’s all memory. Maybe we had a moment at a concert or radio, and heard a guitar with the perfect tone. Do we then go on memory and search for that sound our whole life?

Don’t miss the next one, see you soon.

To finish or not to finish your guitar, that’s the question?

To finish your guitar, or not to

The word re-finish has two meanings in the romantic sense of the word. You have the re-finish. This part is rebirth, making new, giving new life to something old. The re-finish part means done, to part with the old. This takes the scars and nicks and dents away that we have imparted so diligently in our journey together as master and instrument.

If a client has an old guitar and asks you to refinish his guitar, what do you say? This question has come up a lot. The problem is value versus appearance.

re-finish an instrument
Beatle bass sanded to start re-finish process


It is not an easy answer. There are many things to consider. Look at condition then age, colour, finish, year, make and value, these are some of the considerations. Many times someone already started to sand or chemically take the old finish off. If that’s the case I would consider a refinish.

Finish changes colour with exposure to the UV in the sun. This can be difficult to control. Modern finishes are much more protected against UV rays.

How light impacts on colour

Blue becomes green, red becomes orange. To predict how the colour will change is extremely difficult. When the paint dries, it will also turn a few shades darker.  You can finish an old Guitar in amber, just like it would look now after 40 years. Only to see it again in a few years looking terrible.

1k finish is usually a resin that dries with evaporation. 2k finish has a resin and a catalyst that forms a chemical reaction that hardens in 24 hours. UV curable finish has a resin and chemical hardener that reacts with the suns rays. It’s normally light in the spectrum from 490 to about 640. These are the basis of most finishes.

The process 

To start off, first you have to remove the old finish. It can be done in two ways. The first is chemical and the other is sanding from coarse to fine until all the old Lacquer is gone.

Chemical stripper is often used and the ammonia inside the stripper dries the wood out. This will change the cells and can cause cracks later. Sanding has its own drawbacks. If you sand the old finish of, you will remove some wood as well. This will change the stiffness of the top.

If the top has a fine grain, this is called season rings or year rings. The distance between winter and summer growth will be very close to each other. The wider apart they are the less stiff the top will be. The thickness also affects the stiffness and this can change the sound that drew you to the guitar in the first place.

When you re-finish a guitar, it changes many attributes

It is important to take all of this into consideration. To start the finishing of the guitar, you will have to lay down a good foundation. We call this the base coat; this can be a sealer coat, made up of thinned finish. The second stage will be a colour coat which should be even and thin. After that you will seal the colour coat with one or more clear coats.

Sanding the surface with soft wet and dry sandpaper from 320 up to 1500, and then buffing the finish to a full gloss. It is hard to get all the steps right, but with practice it can be very satisfying.

re-finished instrument
Beatle bass restored


See you next time… but feel free to learn more about us till then http://www.facebook.com/guitarsnz

Or get in touch to see how we can help you https://guitarrepairs.co.nz/contact/

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