We didn’t do an update last month because of Christmas and a short shut down. But here’s some of what we’ve been up to over the last couple of months at String King.
Aria Bass: New saddles, Neck Shim and Set Up
We’ve had quite a few basses in recently. This one was another which hadn’t been used for a while but the owner remembered he loved the feel of the neck and wanted to get it set up properly. One of the bridge saddles had missing grub screws and they were worn away, so they were replaced by new Wilkinson brass saddles. The action was not right on this bass so we put a shim in the neck which sorted out the problem. Finally we did a set up and the bass was ready to go.
Takamine Acoustic: Fret Level, Neck Repair
Paul brought in a lovely Japanese Takamine for us to repair. Someone had previously replaced a broken truss rod by removing the fretboard rather savagely and re-gluing it poorly. On top of that a fret levelling had been attempted and not completed, which left the guitar just about unplayable. The first thing we did was take out the nut and re-level the frets. This was the first chance we had to use the new neck jig and it worked a treat. Then the back of the neck was cleaned up and smoothed out – the owner did not want a full cosmetic repair, just to get it feeling right. We set the neck relief and the nut action and put on some new strings. The owner was delighted with the job and it was definitely satisfying to get such a great instrument back in good order.
Squier Strat: Re-Wire and Copper Shielding
Another guitar from Mark. This time he brought in his lovely Japanese Squier Stratocaster. This one has been sitting around unplayed for a few years and the electrics needed an overhaul. Everything was replaced – pots, switches and wiring. We use quality full-size potentiometers which will last several years of hard playing. We also fully copper shielded this Strat. The result is an ultra-quiet, sweet sounding instrument.
Kit Guitar: Fret level and set up
Alberto came back with a kit guitar he’d put together. It needed a fret level and a full set up. We got the work done for him quickly and he was pleased with the much lower string action. I liked the finish he got on this one.
Ibanez Silver Cadet
This is a nice vintage Ibanez, from a much under-appreciated manufacturer. I am usually impressed with these guitars and pound for pound they are great value. It’s not an opinion the purists would agree with but I don’t think you can beat Japanese instruments for general build, although sometimes they skimp on hardware quality. This one was generally fine but the electrics needed an overhaul . The tuners were not very good so they were replaced with a new Wilkinson Deluxe set.
Westone Concord I Bass: Full overhaul
We like to get old classics and overhaul them. This is an ongoing project which we are doing as time permits. The guitar was a bit of a wreck but the Concorde series were good guitars in their day. Well. it's Japanese, isn't it. So far we have stripped the horrible paint work off and begun to respray. All the parts have been removed and cleaned ready to be put back in. We can’t wait to see what this plays like.
And finally… A Workshop Re-Organisation
It’s really important when working on an instrument to have everything within easy reach and there’s nothing more frustrating than losing a tool when you need it. We’ve had a bit of a tidy up and created new storage, which will help us be more efficient.
This month we’ve been sorting out a lot of different problems for guitarists. Some of them were straightforward and some were a bit more complex. Here’s a few of them.
Ibabez Joe Satriani Series Neck Re-Finish
Now this is a lovely guitar. I’m not a big fan of the Floyd Rose style guitars but their JS Series instruments are really very well made. The owner needed the neck re-finished, and the guitar generally cleaned up, so we re-sprayed it with lacquer and polished it to a high finish.
Gibson SG Faded 3 Truss Rod Adjustment
It always surprises me when I see a guitar from a big name that has not been set up from the factory properly, but really you would expect better from Gibson. This guitar came in with a neck with three times as much relief as there should be. The owner wasn’t able to fix this because for some reason Gibson had fitted the guitar with a non-standard adjustment nut.
We sorted out the relief problem, but I also noticed that Gibson hadn’t set the nut up properly. Still, it’s a lovely guitar despite these easily remedied issues.
Luna Acoustic Headstock Break
Probably the most dramatic thing that can go wrong with your guitar is the headstock snapping off or developing a severe crack after it gets dropped.
Most people would think that it’s bin time, but a broken headstock is usually one of the more straightforward jobs. This acoustic guitar came in with a clean break and it was relatively unproblematic to clamp and glue it back on again. A good wood glue, properly applied, can result in a stronger joint than the wood itself.
Fender Telecaster Re-fret
Eventually, every guitar is going to get to the point where the frets have worn down, making the guitar unplayable. Sometimes this can be sorted out with a fret level, which is not an easy job but it is quite quick to do. But there are times where so much material is missing that the only option is a full fret replacement. Changing the frets is a long job and not inexpensive, so it’s got to be an instrument that you really value to make it worthwhile.
This Fender Telecaster is ten years old and we replaced the frets as there really was nothing left to work with. Luckily we had the correct fret size in stock so there was no hanging about. The rosewood was quite soft, which gave us some issues, but the end result is the restoration of a lovely guitar.
If you've got a guitar problem you'd like us to have a look at, contact us for a free assessment.
In 1992 the flat on the North Peckham Estate I was living in was burgled and my Westone Thunder Jet was stolen along with a Session 90 amplifier. Of course, I’ve regretted their loss but the theft of the guitar and the fact that I was insured allowed me to seek out a replacement. The new instrument I found in a guitar shop in Brixton, London was a Vox Custom 24. It is, quite simply, a bit special. When I was lucky enough recently to spend some time learning with Crimson Guitars, I based my new build on the shape of the Custom 24.
I knew next to nothing about this guitar for the first decade I had it. It was a Vox, but where was it made, what was it made of, who designed it? A partial answer was supplied by a friend of a friend who had an original Bell catalogue advert for the 1982 Vox production series.
Although it does contain an error regarding the electronics of the Custom 24, the advert filled in a lot of the gaps. The Custom 24 is part of a set of six guitars that Vox brought out that year which were in the catalogue until 1985: four electric tenor guitars and two basses. Of the four tenor guitars, the Custom 24 is the top of the range. It has a through neck construction, which, allied with a brass nut, provides long sustain. The guitars were well-received by the press but didn’t sell as many as they should have because their release coincided with the boom of electronic music and the commonly held misconception at the time that ‘rock was dead’.
The Custom 24 has an comfortable ebony fretboard on a 24 3/4″ neck. According to the advert the body/neck is made entirely of hard rock maple. I am not so sure – to me it looks like there is some mahogany involved because there are woods of different shades laminated in the construction and some thin slices of walnut or something similar between the large slabs. On the other hand it is seriously heavy, so it could well that the slabs are entirely hard rock maple of varying shades. On the subject of weight, I was proudly showing it to a friend recently who remarked on how heavy it was. He couldn’t believe that I had rehearsed and gigged it for years. Well, it was the only guitar I at at the time and I just loved playing it. It’s also a tough old axe. When it was my workhorse guitar it got some abuse and it emerged with very little to show for it.
The shape of the Custom 24 is somewhere between a Gibson SG and a Yamaha SG, although it has more of an offset at the neck. The body has a beautifully swept belly carving and the through neck carving allows very comfortable access at the high end. The control cavity covers on the back of the neck are brass – no expense spared with this guitar, which was clearly intended as what was called in those days a ‘Les Paul killer’. To be honest, I’ve played a few Gibson Les Pauls and nearly all of them are no better (and sometimes not so good).
In recent years, I found out that this guitar and its colleagues were designed and built by Matsumoku in Japan (which explains some of the high quality detail). It’s never been properly confirmed but the body design is thought to be one of Nobuaki Hayashi‘s creations. Nobuaki (who worked under the name H. Noble) was responsible for many innovative designs coming out of the Matsumoku factory in the 80s, especially under the Aria brand. Nobuaki is still producing some very strange designs under his own Atlansia brand.
The pickups in this guitar are beasts. Vox fitted twin blade Di Marzio X2N Power Plus humbuckers and even Di Marzio rate these as their loudest pickups. That said, you can dial in a nice warm clean sound if that’s your cup of tea. In the 90s I wanted loud (what’s changed?) and these suited me fine. One thing I did do with the guitar more recently, which is the only modification I have had to make, is change the tone capacitors for paper-in-oils, which seem to really suit the X2Ns. Like most factory guitars (even the high end ones) not much attention is paid to the quality of the tone capacitors and this had the usual green film caps in it, which is the only area where I can see any skimping on quality. I don’t know why manufacturers pay so little attention to this as they are saving, literally, pennies and compromising the final sound of the guitar.
While the guitar boasts the usual two tones, two volumes control arrangement, this guitar also has unusually delivered electronic extras, designed by renowned master luthier Adrian Legg, who was working for Rose Morris (who owned Vox at the time). Along with the three-way selector switch, there is a series parallel switch for each pickup and also a phase in/out switch. Most people are unable to make head or tail of the unusual layout of the electronics in the Custom 24 and I have yet to see a schematic. Out of the range of guitars produced that year, this is the only one with this sort of arrangement and it gives the guitar a wide variety of tonal possibility.
I have also owned a Standard 25 from this Vox range and it wasn’t anywhere near the Custom 24 in terms of quality. I have never seen a Standard 24 in the flesh but it looks like a lower end Custom with its set neck, plastic nut and simpler electronics as well as a strat-style tremolo bridge.
I was glad to see recently that Vox themselves have finally got around to acknowledging their early 80s guitars and there is now a page on them on their website. In their official history book, the otherwise excellent The Vox Story, their lack of knowledge about their company history was such that they said the Custom 25 was the higher end guitar (it isn’t, it is the 24).
If you see a Vox Custom 24 for sale and you have the cash, don’t hesitate – buy it (before I do). It’s a great example of the best of Japanese luthiery in the 80s.
If you've got a guitar problem you'd like us to have a look at, contact us for a free assessment.