Picky, Picky... Custom Shop Set-Up for Guitars... Part 2

Over the years we've built up a highly regarded reputation for our Custom Shop Set-up for guitars to the point where guitarists far and wide are travelling to Rainbow Music to get their favorite guitars shop adjusted / customized to play Better Than Factory Specified. Many years of experience have yielded a process & methodology for getting the most out of an instrument, optimizing it to the point where it surprises even seasoned players who have assumed they already had a properly adjusted guitar.

Many stores pull a guitar out of a box, tune it, and stick it on the rack, claiming that “yep-it’s set-up”. Not even close-no cigar. When we set-up your guitar we first do a visual inspection check to see what we’re dealing with. We then set the truss rod to set the neck as straight as possible. We can then identify any high/low spots in the frets themselves as well as any uneveness in the fingerboard using the string itself as a reference point. We then remove the strings & tape up the fingerboard to protect it during the fret levelling process (this step is sometimes called fret dressing or fret milling or grinding (ouch!)). The frets are “blacked off”, allowing easier identification of fret innacuracies during the levelling process. The frets are levelled using a combination of filing blocks, abrasives and good old-fashioned experience. After the frets are assured to be level, their remaining flat tops are re-profiled (also called crowning or countouring) using “horse-shoe” and three-point files specifically modified for this step giving them a rounded over look (what we call school-bus profile). The next step involves removing the coarse scratches left from levelling by using several grades of abrasives, each one finer than the one before it. As a final step, each fret is hand polished with finer grade metal cleaner & polish to leave frets shining like slick mirrors. After the protective tape is removed, the fingerboard is oil-cleaned and buffed to give the neck a fast, sleek, feel. But wait-we’re not done yet!

Tone Controls.
We prefer to call 'em non-tone controls. Ask a hundred guitarists if they use their tone controls, and 99% of them will tell you things like: "nope, never use it, I lose too much of my tone.", "no, it turns my tone to mud", "never use it, it buries my sound", "it's pretty much useless" Yeah, we agree. That's why every guitar we sell, as a regular part of our custom shop setup, get's it's tone control "tweaked" giving each guitar a much more usable tone control (UTC), with a more subtle voicing, that you'll actually want to use. Our tone control tweaking smooths out the "icepick" highs from single coil pickups, mellowing out humbuckers (great for moody, blues solos) as well as giving bass guitars a more "round" tone. Why the majority of guitar manufacturers (especially imports) use the same tone controls as they did 40 years ago baffles us. On "stock" guitars, the tone controls work at either full on or full off. On our guitars, our tone controls have a more usable range you can easily verify by slowly strumming a chord and gradually rotating the tone control. Volume Controls: On our shop customized guitars, we also install loudness compensation into the volume controls. On "stock" guitars, when you turn the volume control down, the highs (treble frequencies) vanish and the tone gets muddy. With loudness compensation installed, when you turn the control down, the guitar retains it's clarity, making low-level strumming and fingerpicking more defined without blurring the overall tone.

When you buy a guitar from us , you're getting the higher value, higher quality features of a shop customized guitar. We don't sell a "stock" (straight-out-of-the-box) guitar like you'd find at other area stores. Our guitars playability

will easily surpass the "same" looking ones you'd find at ANY of the so-called discount chain stores as well as ALL of

the online sources.


On our shop customized electric guitars, we use a Lo-Z metallic foil, chosen for it's extremely low resistance (less than 1ohm!), making it ideal for shielding the guitar's electronics (pots, switches, wiring) from noise & interference produced by light dimmers, CB's, etc. Some manufacturers will sometimes add a flimsy splash of carbon paint. Unfortunately, this paint has such a high resistance (acting like it own resistor to ground!) it's not really worth relying on (it might look convincing, though) to do a proper job of shielding. On a very few guitars, you might be lucky enough to see an "impressive" piece of copper foil, applied for shielding. Our experience has shown that after a while, the copper foil reacts with the air (ever see the copper roof on the parliament buildings?) actually corroding, raising it's own resistance (and capacitance) in the process, degrading it's shielding properties. On many "stock" guitars, you might see a control cover plate or pickguard with a "section" of shielding foil. However, if you check closely, you'll notice that section isn't in any kind of continuous contact with the rest of the guitar's control cavity.The ideal is to (as much as possible) enclose all the electronics inside the equivalent of a shielded, foil (not bare wood) "cage". We extensively, install shielding in all our shop customized guitars, to keep those noisy "gremlins" at bay.

Upgraded output jack:
One of the most consistent complaints on "stock" guitars is the "sloppy feel" of the guitar's output jack. Ironically, the last thing (in the chain) that affects your sound, can be the most embarrasing when it decides to let go of the cable, cuts out in the middle of a solo, or crackles like a campfire, while you're strumming away. The construction on these jacks leave a lot to be desired (it must cost the manufacturers a whole penny and a half (in bulk!). On all our shop customized guitars, we install a MUCH better constructed Neutrik connector (which usually involves undercutting the guitar's jack channel slightly to accomodate it)with a very positive contact. You push your cable's plug in-it goes CLICK(no wiggle-wiggle here, like the stock jack).

Strap pins:
It's amazing how "little" things can become irritating. Take strap pins for example. Those two little things can spell disaster (and they frequently do) when they keep loosening or (worse!) decide to pull out of body at the worst of times (ooops-guitar fall down-go boom!). Think we're kidding? Talk to just about any player (for a horror story) or check out the countless gripes about strap pins on harmony central guitar reviews. You'd think by now, manufacturers would have solved something as simple as this. It's mind boggling how many mass guitar makers "cheap out" by securing strap pins with a TINY, TOO SHORT wood screw (costing a metric fraction of a cent, we're sure!) that's pretty well guaranteed to start loosening the minute you start playing. We dump these "shrimps" and replace it with a "real" strong wood screw, coated with a slow setting epoxy to help prevent them from loosening and pulling out under the worst conditions (like bungee jumping off the stage). On all our acoustic (box) guitars, we take the time to properly locate & install a strap pin at the upper bout, where the strap should be, not stressing the neck and body joint.

Locking Nut:
On electric guitars equipped with Floyd Rose type bridges and locking fingerboard nuts, the nut is "normally" left "jacked" (high) on "stock" guitars sold at other stores.We take the time to remove that nut, and mill down the right amount of rosewood from the little "shelf" the locknut rests on, allowing MUCH improved playability for the guitarist. We can always a "stock" guitar by the locknut that's left high and is a "pain" to play (literally).

A new set of strings is installed & tuned and the guitar is set aside while we wait for the guitar neck to re-stabilize under tension before we make any further adjustments. Once the neck has “pulled” back to it’s resting position, we now re-adjust the truss rod for the proper amount of warp (relief) depending on the gauge of strings. Contrary to popular belief, a neck shouldn’t be “perfectly straight” to play properly. Because a string tends to vibrate in an arc, the string needs a little clearance away from where it’s fretted, otherwise it’ll buzz against the frets unnecessarily. With this adjustment done, we now check the action (string heigth) at the fingerboard nut, just above the first fret. We re-cut these nut slots using purpose designed files to get the proper angle for the strings leaving the nut and the proper string height (.022 of an inch) at the first fret allowing quick effortless playability. (by the way, if you really have to clamp down to play a simple F chord at the nut, chances are your guitar hasn’t been set-up properly.)

Okay, we now move down the fingerboard to the bridge. We re-adjust the bridge assembly to now lower the action for 3/32” of an inch clearance (or better) between the 1st string and the top of the 14th fret. We’ve found this to be the optimum for minimum buzzing, intonation and minimal fret-wear. On electric guitars, we strap on and plug into our trusty chromatic tuner and proceed to adjust the guitar’s intonation (this is what determines how more accurately your guitar will play “in-tune” across the span of the fingerboard). If your guitar’s intonation hasn’t been set-up properly, you may notice that after playing an open chord and then playing a barred version of that chord, one or two strings in the barred chord sound out of tune. Setting up the intonation helps reduce this error factor. Now the pickups get adjusted for even response from low to high strings, and while we have it on the bench, we clean the controls and switches.

For our professional level players that request it and for ALL electric Guitars & Basses sold by us, we also remove the “guts” and proceed to electrically “shield” all control cavities with conductive Lo-Z foil, actually enclosing these interference prone components in a virtual metal-within-wood “cage”. This additional time-consuming, pain-staking process reduces RF and external interferences to a minimum. It’s worth noting that we were doing this since 1972 to guitars sold by us before manufacturer’s started offering shielding on only their most expensive or custom shop models.

Finally, the guitar is cleaned and waxed with carnauba to minimize surface scratching, and then play tested again one final time to ensure everything’s up to snuff and you get a great playing guitar! It’s also worth noting that many of our competitors could care less about giving their customers a superior performing instrument, judging by the number of relatively brand-new (competitors’) instruments we get daily for a full shop set-up, either because they’re too cheap, don’t know how, or assume (mistakenly) customers “won’t notice”.

The best compliment we get on our set-up work shows when we hear of players actively seeking to buy other players guitars because they “know” it was set up at Rainbow .We also hear tales of other music stores claiming that their

guitars have been set-up by “the guy at Rainbow” just so they can sell it to an unsuspecting purchaser..........

Got a question about getting your guitar or amp repaired? Call or email us !