The Musings of Freddie Fatfingers, the Amateur Luthier

Well that’s Freddie, my alter ego, the fidgety guy doing amateur guitar fussing.

I must say my return to playing guitars and subsequent desire to treat guitars like Pokemon (gotta catchem all) has been made a lot easier because of Freddie.

I think it’s in my nature to want to do simple repair and maintenance if I wanted to be serious with getting better at guitar. I think it’s important to have some level of upkeep in whatever my hobbies are.

I can, and have, opened up laptops and computers as a result of necessity – when all of my office is locked inside that little laptop, I need to have some ability to maintain it. I’ve bought an entire desktop computer in parts and assembled it myself.

I’ve realized only lately that having some ability to mess with guitars has helped my actual playing directly or indirectly.

Just like golf, playing guitars requires self-confidence, and knowing that the guitar is properly set up can only help playing.

And just like golf, guitars can be expensive, so the workaround to paying a premium on quality is to know how to raise budget guitars to a higher level of quality and performance.

Freddie has YouTube to thank for in developing his luthier skills, the information one needs to build a guitar from scratch and the basic and specialized activities in maintaining and upgrading guitars is readily available on the net.

Before we go any further, let’s qualify Freddie’s abilities.

His luthier skills are by no means near professional level. He’s not going to offer any guitar work to anyone else save for my guitars and that of my children.

Since he works for free, Freddie can get cranky when his degree of workmanship is questioned, he usually admonishes me to stop behaving like a diva, to stop whining and to just play guitar.

So how good or incompetent is Freddie so far?

Well, he gets the job done, but usually just barely. Freddie doesn’t like being watched and would rather work in private. When asked if he could solder the connections instead of taping them, he shoots back – it’s a frickin guitar, not the space station.

He’s equal parts patience and impatience. He tests the pickups for a signal after every step, but can’t be bothered with trying to improve cosmetics.

It’s a good thing I’m not OCD with the looks of my guitars, Freddie will drive me nuts if I am.

So what have Freddie and I learned thus far?

Price equals value, but not all of the time. So it’s important to be able to try the guitar out. Even pricey ones may need some adjustments.

If possible, have the guitar action set up before purchasing. Many things happen when the action is set really low, like dead notes and high frets. These will not be apparent if the action still high.

The expensive pickups are what they are, but some cheaper ones are also good, and if possible, try them out.

If possible, avoid the really cheap guitars. They’ll be loaded with issues and unless you have Freddie like me, they won’t be easy to make better.

The best bet are good second hand guitars. Somewhere out there someone needs cash, you just need to make sure he’s selling a good guitar. Usually they have been set up properly by the previous owner, so you may have to do only minimal setup, if at all.

Why setup at all? Because a good setup will improve the guitar’s playability. You need to dig into strings to do bends, which will need the strings to be a bit higher. But low action will allow you to do fast runs, which won’t be easy to do if the string is so high from the fingerboard.

And properly set up guitars are just so much sweeter to play.

And if you intend to have more than a couple of guitars, learn some basic setup like fiddling with the truss rod and action. Otherwise, you’ll be needing someone like Freddie very often. And other luthiers, unlike Freddie, are not free.


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