NEW GUITAR SETUP - FLOATING BRIDGE
I used to use the term "Pro Setup" to describe what I did to guitars, but as time goes by I see that term being thrown around at every turn, to where it has become near meaningless. When I coined the term I meant it to describe "Setup to the standards the pickiest working Pro would be satisfied with", setup *for* a Pro, not setup *by* a Pro. Currently it's being used by the masses to describe anytime an "adjustment" is made by a tech, and paid for. Setup is not the word for the work that is performed on every guitar but without an appropriate term I'll just have to describe it as the most intensive and comprehensive setup that could possibly be done. Outlined here you will find all the steps each guitar will go through. The easiest of necks to prep take 2 hours [3-4 hours would be average] and I have spent well over 6 hours turning a new guitar into a "instrument". Much of this is covered in the Tech section but much of it isn't, and some of it I would not recommend be done by anyone but a professional. It's a long and boring read but if I was spending my money I'd want to know exactly what I was getting in return. Make sure to check you favorite "warehouse" site for their list of performed work when you finish here ;o}
NEWS FLASH - The ball fret end finishing and exaggerated fretboard edge radiusing is no longer part of the pro setup. The better I got a it the more I realized what made them better was, more time. Once they started taking 2 1/2 hours just doing that part of the rebuild I knew I had to stop, that was one of the biggest reasons I'm in a perpetual deep backlog. This was the "J Customizing" part of the package and a very nice touch, but in no way was it ever needed. They will be an option from now on, $100 for 6105 frets, $125 for jumbos. Option or not, the fret ends will always be finished to Prestige spec, especially after a hard fret crowning or deep cut. I will put up a separate page at some point to illustrate the difference.
Every guitar must pass the initial inspection before I begin the actual work. If it can't pass inspection it is returned so there's no point in wasting another second on it. I used to return many guitars and the biggest reason was typical neck issues, but since I started making my suppliers eat the return shipping costs on failed guitars the percentage of failed guitars has decreased substantially ;o} The inspection also includes some work that needs to be finished to continue other areas of the inspection so it's kind of a work process.
The first part of inspection is to check the neck relief and bow profile. This is the most important aspect of the guitar and the number one reason for causing a guitar to fail. The guitar is brought up to rough tune [very close and only to get the appropriate tension on the neck] so the true character of the neck will show. The truss rod cover is removed and the truss rod is tightened until the neck is straight. The neck is then sighted to check for any tendency to back bow near the nut. Then the truss rod is fully loosened to check the maximum relief the neck will give with the typical .009 gauge strings [model dependent] Ibanez uses. Ibanez spec calls for .5mm of relief and I like allot of relief in my setups. Fretting the first and last fret the gap between the bottom of the low E string and the 9th fret is noted. If the neck is not producing ample relief it fails. If it is, then the treble side is checked. It should either have the same amount of relief or less and it's actually preferable to have less relief on the treble side as the unwound strings do not need the clearance that the wound strings need to minimize buzz. If it has more relief than the bass side it fails. Now the neck is sighted to observe the bow profile of the neck and to check for any twist. The neck can have most of it's relief concentrated from the 7th or 5th fret to the nut, it can have a smooth and even bow the length of the neck, but it can not have late breaking bow which means the bow is centered past the 12th fret. The neck cannot have any S curve tendencies either, these necks are all failed. I am responsible for providing instruments, and I also cover the warranties on these guitars, consequently I will not ship a guitar that has a neck I feel is less that adequate.
The next step in neck inspection is the fret end finishing. Over the last few years I've seen a definite decline in the quality of finishing on the Prestige and Signature guitars. Typical finishing now is a slight single file angle that is not exactly the most comfortable on the hand. Fret ends should be fully radiused so that all areas of the fret end are rounded and smooth to the touch. A full 80% of the guitars I touch get some form of fret end treatment from smoothing an "OK" factory job to fully radiusing poor factory work. I did a JS1200 the other day that had no finishing whatsoever, and unfortunately this is not atypical and will be seen once in every 40 or 50 guitars. Getting quality results takes time, patience, a steady hand, and a desire to do the job right, all reasons why the quality of factory work is and has been on the decline.
The rest of the inspection is visual and by feel, checking the finish for any blemishes and proceeding on to checking all of the mating parts for fit looking for problem areas. Neck pockets too tight with the strings not aligned properly means the neck pocket will have to be relieved to allow correct alignment, pick guard to trem interference, nut to fretboard gaps, the back of the neck is checked for paint pimples [and there have been allot lately] which will need to be shaved with a razor blade, make sure the pots and switch are not loose, etc. etc. etc.
After the guitar passes cursory inspection it is tweaked into very close to perfect setup with the neck relief and trem angle adjusted correctly so it can be further inspected and notes taken on the work that needs to be done [these guitars are actually setup twice]. When the setup is correct the strings are "force broken" where they exit the nut and the saddles to relieve their tendency to raise as they leave these areas. The nut height can now be checked at the first fret, it will be too high, they always are. I will break from inspection to take care of this as the rest of the inspection requires the nut height to be adjusted, and while I'm looking at the headstock I always grab my open end wrench and correctly torque the tuners which are typically loose after months of wood shrinkage.
First I'll remove all the shims from under the nut and hopefully I will get some first fret buzz across the nut. Unfortunately 50% of the time the nut will still be too high and the base of the nut will require grinding to get the nut as low as it should be. It can be too high on the bass side, the treble side, or both and it needs to be evaluated as to exactly how and how much it needs to be ground. I have ground well over 200 nuts and I absolutely would not recommend this procedure be undertaken by an amateur unless you have access to several spare nuts, I have a bag of "oooop's" to remind me that maximum care should be taken. I do not want to over grind the nut and have a good feel for the process but the whole idea is to get the nut low enough to get first fret buzz across the nut. A nut is never cut low enough until it buzzes, this way a minimum number of shims can be used to bring the nut up to a correct height. Correct height is a personal thing, I mainly deal in rock guitars and a minimum amount of first fret buzz is acceptable. I always include an extra .1mm nut shim in with your tools so that if the buzz is slightly more than you prefer it can easily be eliminated. Before mounting the nut I make sure there are both solid and the "boat propeller" locking washers between the mounting screw and the wood, something the factory just doesn't seem to be able to do lately as I use plenty of each type washers making up for their mistakes. A locking washer without a solid washer just digs into the wood, a solid washer without the locking washer doesn't provide the torque buffer needed between metal and wood. With the nut mounted the string tree is adjusted so that it makes the strings just contact the back side of the nut face, but still allow the truss rod cover to fit under it. With the nut height out of the way I can lock it down and finish the inspection.
Time to dial in the action height to what I typically set it at [model dependent] which is 2mm bass side and 1.8mm treble side, both measured at the last fret with the correct relief dialed into the neck. I want to set the bridge so that there is a minimum of a perfect fourth [five 1/2 steps] of pull up range, measured by hitting a 4th fret harmonic on the G string and raising it to at least an E. By checking this now I can determine if I will need to install a neck shim when I have the neck off the guitar. Some of the new CNC programs do not require a shim while some still do, while in the past nearly 100% of these guitars would require a neck shim to get a perfect fourth or more of pull up range. At the same time I'm checking for neck creak which is a sign the neck pocket is too tight and needs slight relieving. Nearly all floating bridge guitars will give a creak to release the stored energy the first time you pull up on the trem but continued creaking usually means the pocket is too tight or the neck is too tight against one side.
Since the guitar is in good setup I'll check the intonation as this is best adjusted when the bridge is out of the guitar since there is no, and probably never will be, an intonation tool for the Edge Pro bridge. The intonation is always set far too flat although the saddle pattern is very close to correct. I just want to confirm I need to move it where I already believe I do. All intonation is checked at the last fret and compared to the 12th on a 24 fretter, or the last and associated octave frets on anything less that 24 fret.
Last but not least the bridge radius is checked against the fret radius for accuracy. Believe it or not every Edge or Lo Pro trem should be checked for radius, you would be surprised at the results as there is typically one or two low or high saddles and the bridge baseplate typically does not match a 430mm radius fretboard. The Edge Pro trem has steel saddle inserts which have led to much more variance in saddle radius and I have used as many as a full pack of saddle shims getting the radius of an Edge Pro bridge correct. The most recent runs have solved much of the horrid early problems but typical is still 4 saddles that are not in correct radius because again, the baseplates do not match the 430mm radius present on most Ibanez guitars. Funny but the factory shimmed JS bridge matches nearly perfectly the 250mm radius JS board. The bridge is adjusted so that the bass and treble E string are both set at 2mm and then each string is measured and notes taken of what needs to be shimmed and how many shims are needed to correct the radius. This work will be done last with the trem out of the guitar.
Finally, I'm done the inspection. At least I got much of the critical work done at the same time ;o}
I have my list and my mental notes and it's time to get the real work done. I'll removed the factory strings and then pull the neck from the guitar to gain full access to the frets and fretboard [not applicable on neck thru and set neck models where other procedures have to be followed]. The first thing to do is cut down any paint pimples on the back of the neck by carefully shaving the tops off of them with a razor blade. Now it's time to address the fretwork. The fret end finishing gets attention first, and then the fretboard and back of neck will be masked in tape so that only the frets are exposed.
The Pro Setup Option was obviously an "option" when I started offering it in 2004. For 2005 this is no longer an option, it is standard and included in the work performed on every new guitar. This includes a full fret level with the neck stressed to simulate strings tension, fret crown, and machine polish, guaranteeing that you will have the most perfect playing surface possible. I have done fret levels on guitars that played perfectly clean with absolutely no choking at the target action on 2mm bass and 1.8 treble only to be stunned at how wavy the fretwork actually is. This is much more critical on a tighter radius fretboard such as the 250mm radius frets of a JS model as opposed to the 430mm radius of a JEM or RG, but every single guitar can benefit from perfect fretwork no matter what the radius is. The frets are leveled no more than is absolutely necessary to get a perfect playing surface insuring maximum fret life. Full fret levels are done using a precision ground 24 inch square steel bar ground true to .002" specifically made for leveling the full board at one time. This is the only way to positively insure perfection. The cost of this additional service when an option was $80 [$100 on fixed bridge set neck guitars] which is the typical cost of a fret level from any qualified shop. I have increased the cost in 2005 just because that was too cheap. The lever itself isn't the workload, it's the recrown [especially on jumbo frets] and getting the sides of the recrowned frets back into polish. After a little research I found that a really good job from a reputable shop typically costs as much as the shops charge to replace all the frets. Allot of shops may charge less, but you're still only getting what you pay for.
With the frets now perfectly true, crowned, and machine polished, all of the masking tape is removed, all the rouge buildup removed from the frets, and the setup continues. The fretboard wood will always be dry so I'll apply a nice coat of bore oil. This is oil specifically formulated for the bores of woodwind instruments to keep them moisturized and prevent cracking, my first choice for fretboards. It does not dry like a linseed based oil and does not contain any alcohol. Not only does this moisturize the wood but it looks much darker and richer in color when done. A last inspection and the neck is ready to be mounted back on the body.
If the guitar needed a neck shim I'll tape that into the rear of the neck pocket and if I need to relieve either side of the neck pocket to correct string alignment or neck creak I'll take as much off as my mental note says I need to. Typically I never take enough off the first time and will have to remove the neck again as I don't want to turn a nice snug pocket into a sloppy one. I only want to remove as much as in needed to correct the problem at hand. The body should now be fully prepared for reassembly. The neck is mounted and the guitar is restrung using D'Addario XL120's [9-42] unless otherwise directed by the customer. As soon as the guitar is tuned to pitch I'll tighten the nut pads so I can pull the bridge and take care of the work needed there.
The only way to work on the bridge is when it's out of the guitar [Not applicable on ZR equipped guitars]. First on the agenda is cleaning up the knife edges. Gotoh has been rough grinding the knife edges to an almost acceptable thickness but not always thin enough, sometimes too thin, and never smooth and rounded on the edge. Both the flat and curved sides are carefully worked until they are correct. A good blow with compressed air to remove the fillings from the finish so they won't scratch later when I remove the fingerprints and I can move on. I'll grab my channel lock pliers and check the arm holder to make sure it's tight. Unlike the previous Lo Pro's the Edge Pro's are nice and tight from the factory but it never hurts to check! With that out of the way it's time to address the saddles. While I'm moving them to adjust the intonation I'll remove the screws of the saddles that need to be shimmed, shim, and then tighten them into their correct intonation position. Even if a saddle doesn't need to be moved the intonation screw needs to be tightened and it is taken care of to prevent any saddle slippage. One check of the torque on the string lock blocks and it's time to get all my fingerprints off the finish.
Before everything goes back together I'll install the locking stud mod by removing the now standard non locking studs, screw in the set screw bases, and then a new set of matched locking studs. I order these studs from overseas where I know I'll get the best groove profile redesigned studs as the ones in stock at Hoshino USA are a mixed batch with best profile studs mixed with not so great profile studs cut from different batches. Everything should now be ready for the final setup.
Now we can turn these pieces back into a guitar again and then tweak it into an instrument. The bridge is laid back on the studs. If there is any pickguard to trem interference now is the time to use my round file to relieve the corner of the guard where the contact is made so it can be checked while the trem is still loose. Of course the curve of the guard is maintained and visually pleasing. Now the trem is installed, the springs attached. the spring lock block installed, and the locking nut unlocked. The string alignment on the neck is corrected for equal spacing from the edge of the E strings to the edge of the frets [and if there was a string alignment issue it was taken care of before final trem installation, i.e. relieving the side of the neck pocket preventing the neck from accurate alignment]
The stud height needs to be adjusted and the tuning and trem angle will be out because of the new studs that were installed. All of these are done to get the guitar into very close to target setup but not into perfect setup, the strings need to be stretched and when the strings are stretched the tension of that string changes as you are making the string thinner by stretching it. Only after all the strings have been fully stretched do I proceed with tweaking the setup into perfection and check that the intonation adjustments were correct, and adjust if needed. This is an ultimate pain considering there is no intonation tool for the Edge Pro trem.
When everything is perfect I'll again set the action to 2mm on the low and high E just to make sure that the radius changes were correct and the bridge is in perfect radius, then lower the treble side back to 1.8mm, lock down the locking studs, and lock the nut. Following proper lockdown procedure, whammy hard both down and up leaving the last motion to set the trem into low neutral, unlock the nut, retune, and relock. Now I can check the return performance of the trem from both dive and pull up. Specific results can point to issues like a walking nut or a nut that is walking on one side only in which case the rear of the nut mounting holes will need to be shimmed with rolled .1mm brass shims to prevent any rearward movement throwing trem return off [this does not work on the new top mounted nuts used on many models now]. If the return is excellent and predictable then I'll rotate the studs 90 degrees and lube the contact spots with a nice blob of Chapstick to help alleviate any minor binding in the contact area. Spin the studs back in and give the system some heavy whammy abuse and recheck it's performance.
This is the basic coverage every guitar gets. What is not covered here is a number of things you just wouldn't expect on a new guitar but do show up from time to time. For instance I've had a brand new JEM7VWH that came out of the box with a loose stud insert, which could only be detected under testing [basically, because that's not something you actually look for]. The proof is in the pudding, and guitars that are fully correct will fly through thorough testing with flying colors.
Now it's time for it to pass it's final test, playing. I'll plug it in and play the guitar to see how it plays in all areas of the neck, recheck each fret on each string, listen to the electrics making sure it's correctly wired, fiddle with the pots to make sure they're not making any noise, recheck the nut height and make a final adjustment if necessarily. Only when I'm satisfied that the guitar plays as well as possible am I finished. Then I'll very carefully wipe down the body, not just rub a rag over it, but very carefully remove every fingerprint left on it from handling and also the buff buildup which are dots of buildup left of the guitar from the factory arbor buffing. A guitar rarely survives this much work without picking up a few wiping scratches or some signs it was worked on extensively, but if your eye is as critical as mine then I recommend you seek professional help because you are just way too anal. But then again, if you weren't, why buy a guitar from me? I'm sure something out of the box untouched since it left the factory would suit you just fine, right? ;o}
Of course the guitar is carefully cased using a styro bag under the body to prevent movement during shipping which could lead to punctured case linings. Guitars are appropriately packed, guitars with mirror guards like a UV777BK and guitars with vulnerable old style neck joints like the JEM77FP need to be well padded to prevent shipping shock which can crack mirror guards and finish crack neck pockets. Guitars shipped in molded cases need to have everything in the case [non paper, ie. tools, case keys, etc.] wrapped up in a large bag or they will escape the well and end up [usually] on top of the guitar during shipping causing damage. They are then shipped to you by the method quoted, fully insured unless you have requested otherwise [international shipments with customs due] and are shipped signature required. The tracking number is sent to you email so you'll know exactly when to expect delivery [not applicable on most postal shipments] and with any luck it will be ready to rock right out of the box. Shipping guitars usually takes it through changes in climate and atmosphere and you should not be surprised if the guitar needs some adjustment after it settles into it's new atmosphere, but you can be assured that it has been fully sorted and is bug free so that some minor tweaking will have you smiling from ear to ear. There's a reason to pay a little extra and order your guitar from me, and I want to fully insure you get every pennies worth. It's your hard earned money, spend it wisely.
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