Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 Best Year Ever!!!

This upcoming year we're going to increase transparency, begin the Re-Org in earnest, clean up our act, reconfigure our core competencies, pull the wool over our own eyes and maybe even grow up. out of six ain't bad!

(photo: Matt Zipkin attempts to decipher Gary's notes for installing two Thingamakits into Timmy Pizza's unsuspecting tele)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

the cool mod completed

Here Justin Oakley shows off his completed modification: a brand spanking new Fender 12 string Strat, with an entirely non-stock pickguard/pickup configuration and wiring harness. We routed the pickup cavities in the body, installed his carefully chosen Lollar Jazzmaster-style pickups into a special order pickguard, wired & shielded everything, put it all together and performed a complete set-up by hand. Because Justin is very clear about what he wants the odds of personal instrument satisfaction are vastly increased. See our entry about his mod from Saturday, October 25th, 2008, for all the details of his control array.

Friday, December 19, 2008

these things happen...

...a noise was heard in the shop, not unlike the slow sliding of entropic dissolution or a machine taking itself apart. The sound of an endless crushing falling reverberance; inexorable, unstoppable and taking forever to end.

A stack of empty cases comes to rest. No one was hurt.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"It's exactly right!"

Here Chris Palmer is displaying his parts strat-style guitar with a freshly installed EMG 60 in the bridge position. Chris wanted the guitar's original pickup system to sound more sparkly in the high end. The original pickup sounded dull to him. Gary mulled over Chris's request and suggested the EMG 60 and Chris's reaction is recorded above. As Gary has mentioned regarding the fantastically subjective nature of pickup choices: "you give us adjectives, we'll give you answers."

Friday, December 5, 2008

what are the odds?

A man named Smith confers with us regarding the pickup in his Martin acoustic guitar. It's a normal day at the shop, well...busier than usual but progressing smoothly. Several minutes later another man named Smith appears to pick up his Martin acoustic guitar and it, too, has a pickup system that engenders some discussion. The two Smiths cause the shop mgr's. brain to misfire. Lunch: forgotten.

(above: the two Smiths. Richard[L] & Steve)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

This 1976 Gibson Les Paul arrived at our shop for a much-deserved refret. During the refretting process the ever vigilant Tim noticed that the Dimarzio Super Distortion neck pickup had been worn away through years of heavy picking. By clicking on the picture to enlarge it, you can clearly see a small area of exposed winding on the end of the top of the right-hand coil. That winding, comprised of 42 gauge copper wire and thinner then a human hair, is extremely delicate and will practically snap at a glance. If that wire breaks the pickup is dead. It could be rewound or replaced of course but we offered to sidestep that expense by building up a protective shell around the hole by coating the area with a layer of cyano acrylate (superglue).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

knowledge base

The PLEK device is a spectacularly accurate machine for smoothing and shaping frets on a guitar. Whether electric or acoustic, six-string, twelve-string or a bass guitar of four, five or more strings, this Northern European invention (straight outta Berlin!) sharply reduces the amount of time required to bring a guitar up to its all around best possible playability with a greater accuracy possible than even the most experienced technician can approach. Like any tool, it's usefulness is explicitly defined by the user. Here Gary(R), an early adopter with around three thousand guitars successfully completed using our in-house PLEK machine, explains the process to Trevor, who is learning to do the work himself. Knowledge is at its most powerful and useful when shared.

Contact us: brawer [at] brawer [dot] com for more information.

Further reading (in amusingly translated English) can be found at:

levity schmevity

pressure too much? worries too overpowering? attachment too desperate? sing along with us...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Strat that weighed the least.

The owner purchased a Mark Knopfler Strat, new, online and felt that the instrument was not as advertised. Namely, the weight of the guitar did not match up to the advertising claim of "lightweight" playing. He returned the instrument, through the online retailer, and the replacement instrument he received felt still too heavy. He then contacted Fender who contacted us (since we are a warranty station for their guitars) and requested whether we would provide excellent service by facilitating the return and delivery of a third Mark Knopfler Stratocaster. Fender would ensure the satisfaction of this particular customer by going though their entire stock of these instruments at the warehouse, weighing each individual guitar and shipping directly to us for him, the Strat that weighed the least. See how helpful Fender can be? All is forgiven (almost).

Does Ed Roman do this on purpose?

Plotting from his Seekret Lair deep in the desert of the American West, does Ed Roman, in his nefarious wisdom, organize the Byzantine logistics required to have the proud owners of his instruments show up at our shop at the exact same moment? Is it espionage? Favored Nation Trading Status? Is he just trying to keep us on our toes? (Tony [L] and Ron compare their Roman guitars upon showing up simultaneously Saturday at the shop)

Friday, November 21, 2008

start the day right

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense...the morning playlist, nice and loud.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

occupational hazard

These things happen. You wouldn't want your music to be completely and monochromatically saccharine either.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"I love it!"

Intones our customer John Rongley as he checks out his Dean five string bass after having us reinstall the bridge, mill the frets using our PLEK machine and have a graphite nut installed. His demonic demeanor notwithstanding, John is a happy person with a smile for all.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

here kitty kitty....

nice hold down the fort, okay? we'll be back soon...there's plenty of food and water in the kitchen...we'll see you soon....goooooood kitty!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The election is over and one of our customers shows his appreciation of us, the election results and the state of the Human Condition in general by hooking us up with some of his own brew.

Weather: cool and partly cloudy.
Listening to: Stravinsky's "La Sacre du Printemps" (Valery Gergiev with the Kirov Orchestra)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween around the shop and home

It's Halloween and we are up to all that wacky Halloween hijinks.

The night before Halloween I had to come up with a cool guitar for my 9 year old son Harlan.
His costume is Zora, the guitar playing fish thing from the video game Zelda that plays
a guitar made of fish bones and claws n'stuff . Zora plays in a band
the Indago-go's. I found a photo of a Jackson guitar that had the same Idea we were trying to build.
I blew up some photos sections on photo paper, cut it out, glued it on foam core and cut that out.
On one side is a mini Fender amp, on the fingerboard is an ipod that has the songs from Zelda on it.
It was a big hit!!!!!

We just refinished a customers Les Paul, Cal Trans Orange. Tim happened to wear his fathers
actual flight combat suit that had a perfect match. This is helped out by our fellow acoustic guitar repair pal Mark
from Seattle juiceing up Tim with an orange recharge...

Some friends came by for a costume photo op.
Our Trev "Springstein" and Lt. T. Frick. pose with Yoshi "Jet Boy" and friend.
Oh yeah, hippy boss there in the back.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

a cool mod

Here is Justin Oakley holding up his brand new Fender Stratocaster 12-string electric guitar. Justin knows exactly what he wants and that increases his potential for happiness. It also assists us in seeing his vision through. While we can (and routinely do) provide all manner of pithy and cogent advice for the lovelorn guitarist at free (or even cheap) rates the likelihood of a happy outcome is increased by orders of magnitude when the instrument's owner knows what they want.

In this case Justin is having us install a set of Lollar Jazzmaster-style pickups. We are providing a pickguard to hold the different pickup configuration and routing the body. We'll wire the 5 position switch so that position 1 will be neck only, position 2 will be neck and bridge in series, position 3 will be neck & bridge in parallel, position 4 will be neck & bridge out of phase and in series* and position 5 will be bridge pickup only. We'll also shield all of the electronics cavities on the guitar.

After that we'll do a hand set up on the instrument; always a good idea with a new purchase.

* wiring the pickups "out of phase" cuts the signal in half for that tight, nasally sound while simultaneously having the pickups in series increases the volume and also fattens up the tone.

Friday, October 24, 2008

nice to meet you, too...

Here a chance meeting between two different aesthetics finds Billy (L) and Luke swapping knowledge and experience over a pile of used pickups. A meter is close at hand to test for DC resistance and also whether or not they work. We don't have uber-valuable vintage stuff in those boxes but we manage to keep a large assortment of serviceable single-coil, hum-canceling and bass pickups for all budgets.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"That's the best I've ever felt this guitar since the first day I bought it!"

Here's Dan Pickell expressing his pleasure upon playing his Carvin DC-400 following our PLEK (computerized fretmill) and hand set-up. These Carvins are very solid guitars. Dan's expostulation reminds us why we love what we do.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Our Reality Demo !!!!!

Our up and coming Guitar Repair Shop show has a little tiny teaser...
Thanks to Sam Franzen!

Friday, October 10, 2008

"it's how I always envisioned it"

Here's Dan Feeney paying us a beautiful complement. He's holding up his Tele Deluxe in one hand and the original pickguard in the other. The new pickguard we installed for him has a humbucker (Seymour Duncan '59) in the neck position. We built the wiring harness from the ground up with all new parts. When he opened the case out of his mouth came the quote above. That makes us feel great.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

materials (number 47 in a series)

You gotta have fretwire and there's multiple flavors. We have it in different sizes, hardnesses and various alloys. We've even custom ordered special fretwire to our own crown and tang measurements for special needs. Our suppliers (Stewart-MacDonald, Jescar, Dunlop and Luthier's Mercantile) can get us fret material in sizes from tiny mandolin wire all the way up to big fat Jumbo-style rails. Nickel-silver is the usual alloy for most frets but we stock and install stainless steel frets and can supply other, weirder stuff upon request. We keep the tubes of fretwire in a drawer but Fern recently moved the loose coils into the back stairwell where they can actually be somewhat categorized.

Reorganization in a small space is not for the faint of heart.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln

Bill Kirchen, one of the Fathers of Tone in our Universe of Guitar, stopped by prior to sitting in with Elvis Costello at the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass concerts in San Francisco at Golden Gate Park. He brought with him his current favorite, a Big Tex tele- style relic for some maintenance. We shielded the guitar, replaced the two potentiometers (note reversed control plate - he likes to swell with his pinkie!) and plekked (computerized fretmill) the frets along with a full set-up. He's very happy.

While he was playing the guitar, post-maintenance and modification, another gentleman recognized the instrument, first, and then it's owner from a recent issue of ToneQuest magazine. In an endless example of synchronicity yet another gentleman brought in a copy of the exact issue of the magazine. We obviously need to subscribe to this periodical.

And we need to see Mr. Kirchen more often, whether or not he requires guitar assistance.

an early start

this young fellow has the look, the moves and the attention span required to turn heads as a guitarist. naturally he dropped by to trade war stories.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

the girls on saturday

working on: three Les Pauls and a Jazz bass

"let's move the wax and put the fan on."
"am I going down, or up?"
"so that guy's living in a yurt behind her house?"
"he used to live rent free above the porn shop."
"plek has stopped!"
"he said he'd sell me his UV curing light when he's done with it"
"where's the two-headed fret hammer?"
"I set it up and Leo knocked it out of the park."
"a walk would do you good."
"no, your walk would do us good"
"what's for lunch?"

weather: sunny and cool
playing: right-handed fingerstyle arpeggio patterns on a lefty guitar
watching: vignettes of Paul Newman movies on youtube

glue starved or just couldn't take it anymore

This guitar came to us in two pieces. It's the original neck joint and it came apart extremely cleanly. It almost looks as if not enough glue was used during the original assembly. With this type of break we first clean up the old glue, shim the side to side part of the joint (since that's where most of the strength is required it needs to fit tightly) and then glue it up. This join will need no reinforcement since it is the original neck joint and fits together so well. Notice Tim's trick of putting a clamp on in the middle of the neck to use as a place to attach a separate clamp that pulls the neck into the body. Before putting the neck on it's also a good opportunity to check the neck angle to make sure the bridge will be the correct height off the body for desired action.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

human nature and why it can be so good

Here's Tim playing one of his own custom built Tim Frick five string basses, brought into the shop today by Jim Cooper. Jim purchased the instrument after being approached by a person on the street. He paid an absurdly low price and was taking the bass around to various shops to affirm it's provenance. No one could tell him who the manufacturer was. Turns out the bass had been stolen from Tim two years ago. When the realization sank in Jim offered it to Tim for the same absurd figure, including the various pedals and the case it all housed. Jim believes in karma. Tim is glad to have his bass back. You never know what's going to happen, do you?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The challenge of assisted sustain, making Gary's brain explode

Allen our wonderful man of many hats and blogmaster has been in and out of town so I (Gary) have been at it.
Today I had to make EMG pickups work with a Fernandes sustainer.
Owners send me these tasks from far and wide and I'm not a stranger to them. Recently Gibson hired me as a consultant to assist in the prototyping of the Neal Schon guitar ( a very cool Les Paul with a Sustainer, Floyd Rose and smoothed out neck heel joint).

Always learning!!!!

Here we have to combine a sustainer with an EMG 81 and an EMG SA pickup in the neck of a Neal Schon Les Paul. The challenge: according to the fine instructions included with the sustainer you simply hook it up as shown and you're off and running. Well, that's okay if you like low pitch oscillation creeping in while playing in the sustain mode and a deafening high pitched squeal. Our solution: install a filter to decouple the power supply between the sustainer and the EMG pickups (sharing the same power supply made them oscillate to distraction). There were a few other options but this turned out to be the most stable (and we could get away with using one battery). Result: Low rumble & squeal gone!!!!

Other tweaks, mods, etc. involved in this particular job: I tried padding the EMG signal going into the circuit to make it a little more like the passive signal it expects but I found a better idea. I added a trim pot to to the gain circuit so we have the ability to further turn down the gain of the sustain. Since the drive was much higher with the active pickup input there was plenty to spare. Here are some work in progress pics. On Fernandes's behalf they do state how difficult it is to use the sustainer circuitry in applications that stray from how it was originally intended to be used (and that we did!). I'm glad they now make it available, because there was a time they would not sell sustainers outside of the guitars they built since it is so difficult an installation. There are also a few other Sustainer products on the market that in some ways are easier to install and work great. I will go over them in the future.

Always a big thanks to our friend: Doc K.R.!!!

the wax man cometh (Tim has a melting moment)

Electric guitar pickups can squeal. The approximately 6,000 to 9,000 turns of very fine magnetic wire that make up a pickup coil can start vibrating within itself. As the gain increases so does the vibration and that brings with it the potential for microphonic feedback. Metal pickup covers, pole-piece screws or anything loose can also vibrate annoyingly on a pickup. Squeals are typically quelled by potting (or dipping) the pickup in a thin waxy liquid that permeates the coil and holds it all together. We use hot wax in a vacuum to get as much permeation as possible. Occasionally we may use lacquer or very thin epoxy - whatever is best for the job and will not compromise the pickup. Here Tim is mixing up waxes with different properties. Some experimentation is required to come up with the best formula.

a very strong neck repair

Gary was out on a mission in the South-Eastern United States and, as he will, visited a guitar repair shop. As repair peeps are wont to do they start comparing notes about what ever happens to be
on the bench at that moment. This particular visit they shared a way to inlay a graphite weave and epoxy resin into the back of a guitar neck to repair and reinforce a cracked peghead. We've tried various resin and cloth reinforcement methods over the years but usually stick to matching a wood lamination over the back of the break. With our newfound knowledge and a taste for adventure we put Trevor to implementing this graphite weave.

What's nice about this method is the way it inlays. You can control the distribution of strength of the graphite cloth by altering the direction of the fiber lengths. The cupping effect of the cloth running lengthwise with the neck will also add strength and support. The success of this repair also depends upon finding an epoxy with the correct characteristics.

The repair was a grand success and has the added benefit of a look of it's own. Think tennis racket vs spaceship. In theory this is now the strongest part of the neck. The added stiffness may add some attack and sustain to the overall sound of the guitar. I'm guessing we'll be sticking to our matching wood laminates for most of the severe neck breaks since the laminates can be stained and finished to match most wood grain. Of course we can always paint over anything. Most important, the owner that paid us do this to his guitar is extremely pleased and back on the road touring. This peg-head that had broken repeatedly is now the least of his concerns. He can get back to the important stuff like where the band is sleeping tonight.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Keeping it dry down the rapids!!

My (Gary's) girlfriend Ms. Liz just came back from a 2 week trip river rafting through the Grand Canyon. Boatman Extraordinare Matt Herman came up with a great way not to leave his guitar behind. He built a crunch-proof, boat-flip-proof, running-the-rapids-at-Lava-Falls-proof custom wood case-- waterproofed that and found a dry bag to fit the whole thing. So far so good.....and it floats!