The Inexpensive, Everyday Tools That Live on My Workbench
Our columnist shares the devices and materials needed to do some of his favorite guitar maintenance tricks.
The problem with giving advice is that there are many different approaches to everything, and usually more than one "right" answer. With my five decades of taking guitars apart, and sometimes putting them back together, I take a lot of stuff for granted, and I admit that I'm still learning. But ignoring all that, I'll just forge ahead and share the inexpensive tools and materials needed to do some of my favorite little tricks.
The solvent, not day-drinking. Pharmacy grade isopropyl is a pretty good at most cleaning chores, and is fairly benign. It's great for cutting through the gunk that accumulates on guitars, and it won't harm your finish. If you've bought an entry-level Jazzmaster slathered with stickers, this is just the thing to get you back to a clean slate. You can usually degrease hardware and de-schmutz fretboards without fear of harming your prized axe. Isopropyl works great on sticky fingers, too.
When cleaning with alcohol fails, naphtha is a DEFCON-level higher. You may know it as benzine or lighter fluid. It's way more caustic than alcohol, and it's also carcinogenic, so wear gloves and a NIOSH-approved respirator rated for organic vapors when you're using this stuff. It's highly flammable (lighter fluid, right?) and dangerous enough that a half-dozen states have banned its sale. Oddly, it's mild enough to use on nitro finishes. I used this stuff for wet-sanding nitro for years, until a sander exploded in our shop. I immediately switched to dry sanding with open coat paper. I caution you not to use this solvent unless it's your last resort.
This is as close to a miracle as you can get for $15. A Tri-Flow pen is a great way to lube whatever ails your gear. Got a sticky truss rod nut? One drop on the threads and washer and you're off to the races. Noisy fan? Squeaky bearings? Rusty pliers? You guessed it, Tri-Flow to the rescue. Loosen up those case hinges and hasps. In Chicago, I put a drop in my shop door lock to keep it working when it was 25 below zero.
This is some old-school spray-painter tomfoolery. Want to get that dull matte or flat finish effect when painting your guitar? Don't pay for matte lacquers, just add a little of this stuff to your gloss clear and you're good to go. Build up the clear coats with your regular gloss clear, and then do a final coat with some flattening paste mixed in. You won't see it working when you spray, but when it dries, the effect kicks in. Experiment with the formula on a scrap piece starting with a mix of about 5 percent at first, and increase until you get what you want. The crazy thing is that if you don't like the way it looks, you can just buff it out to gloss like normal.
Diamond Nail Files
Luthier supply shops get serious coin for diamond-coated files because they work great and last almost forever. My suggestion is to get a set of German-made diamond nail files from Amazon. You can get a set of five different sizesfor 10 bucks! I use them to deburr sharp edges on bridges, frets, and anything that needs a quick smoothing. Buy two sets and put some in your gig bag. You can also file your nails with them.
Notched Fret Cauls
Check out StewMac to pick up a set of notched fret-press cauls. These things won't get used that often, but if you have a lifted fret at a gig, or if you're just too lazy to take the strings off, this is the nazz. The cool thing is that, in a pinch, you can place the caul on the high fret (the strings go in the notches) and just hammer it lightly with a Shure 58 to reseat that buzzy fret.
Step up your fretboard prep to the pro level with Watco. Technically a penetrating varnish, it looks great and seals wood against moisture, which stabilizes your neck. Start with a cleaned fretboard, then apply natural Watco on your rosewood or ebony, being careful not to drip any on lacquer. If you're worried, mask off the sides of the neck. Follow the directions on the can. Apply with a soft rag or paper towel, and flood it with two or three liberal passes until it stops absorbing. Don't worry if you get a little on the frets, but generally try to avoid them. Wait 20-30 minutes—that's the secret, so go do something else for a while. Come back and add a light coat and buff to a shine with a cloth. Let it cure overnight.
There are a zillion little shortcuts and tricks you pick up with time and experience, and these are just some of the ones I use almost every day. Like I said, I'm still learning, so I'm passing these on to you. If even one of them helps you out, you've made my day.
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Guitar Center Presents: Holiday Gift Guide
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Les Paul Desert Burst Satin
Fender Classic Series 5 Guitar Case Stand Tweed
Fender Holiday Guitar Cable Keychain
Fender Limited Edition Holiday Sweater
Harbinger MLS1000 Personal Line Array Speaker System
Sterling Audio P10 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
Sterling Audio Harmony H224 USB Audio Interface
Apogee BOOM 2x2 Audio Interface
Breedlove Organic Artista Pro Demo
The Oregon-based company extends their line of sustainably sourced models with an inventive new bracing system and a wallet-friendly price tag.
Breedlove Organic Artista Pro Concert CE Acoustic-electric Guitar - Burnt Amber
Myrtlewood grows in Oregon along a 90 mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean coast. It is Breedlove’s favorite tonewood for backs and sides. In addition to its highly varied color patterns extenuated by the thin Burnt Amber Burst finish, myrtle delivers surprising energy and extraordinary tonal balance. To further boost the high-energy sound, we chose a European maple neck—which is denser than mahogany—and an Ovangkol fretboard and bridge. Of course, the top is European spruce for responsive, powerful projection. We spared no detail, including brass inlays, Fishman Flex Plus-T Electronics, and a travel-ready hardshell case.
Gibson Unveils New Digital Amp
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
Belltone Announces P-90 Foil-Tron Single-Coil Pickup
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.