All posts by USACG Team

Tolerances

Does size matter?

We sometimes receive an upset call or email from a nice customer that ordered say an .840 profile on their neck and it arrives and they whip out their trusty set of calipers and lo and behold its an .856.  “It’s an outrage…it’s a scandal!  I can’t believe it…this is going to ruin everything…do they not have calipers there?… What the $#@&!”

We operate, in most circumstances, within an acceptable tolerance of 20 thousandths.  That looks like this – .020.  As you have probably noticed from the pic above it’s not much…actually it’s just a bit larger than the G string on a set of guitar strings.  We did some random testing a few years back and our crew could start feeling a difference in a neck at around .030 -.040…30 to 40 thousandths.  And understand that these are guys that touch thousands of necks each year.

Could we get it closer?  Probably….that would mean that we would need to have machines finish everything and we don’t really believe in that.  We do all of our major cuts on CNC’s to assure we are starting from the same place, but we still finish EVERYTHING by hand, and we think that’s part of our secret sauce.  That basically means if “Schmendrick” was late because of car problems and his girlfriend yelled at him A LOT last night your .840 may come out at .820 lol.  Or if they had a great dinner and a nice IPA and the car started just fine you may get an .856!

I guess the point is that our tolerances are pretty tight…but if you are waiting for the UPS guy with a set of calipers chances are you are going to be disappointed….but once you get it completed and playing you will be thrilled….we stake our reputation on it.

Roasted Wood

What does roasted mean?

The “art” of tempering wood has been around for a few years now, and one would think that we would have eradicated all of the misinformation that exist…but NO!

One of the things that pops up most of the time, especially about roasted maple necks, is that fact that someone is buying it because they “won’t have to put a finish on it.”  Let me end this here and now.

ROASTED WOOD REQUIRES A FINISH. 

There we’ve said it, now no one will ever ask again….we wish lol.

We think much of the disinformation comes from the reality that the tempering process DOES reduce the size of the moisture holding cells in the wood.  Someone must have heard that and ran straight to “it can’t absorb moisture, therefore, it needs no finish.”  The truth though is a bit stranger.  If you follow our Instagram we have a few pictures up of occurrences of major cracking in roasted necks during the manufacturing process.  These things happen because the company that those tempered boards came from did not get enough moisture back into the wood…a very important step in the process.  There is still moisture in tempered wood, and there needs to be.  As a result, we now buy all of our tempered wood from one of the originators of the process.

Now, you CAN put just a light oil finish on a roasted neck and it will do wonderfully.  Where on a regular maple neck you might do 8-9 coats of oil, you can probably do 4-5 on a roasted neck and it will be just fine.

So, the final verdict:  yes it needs a finish, but it can be a lighter oil finish that anyone can do successfully.  Makes sense?  Great!

OH…and a final note that probably should be its own discussion.  You MUST pre-drill roasted wood for tuner screws, neck screws, string trees, etc.  If you don’t predrill them they WILL, in almost 100% of attempts, crack right where you are attempting to place the screw.

Light Weight Body Wood

How light is light, really…

Phone Caller:  “I’d like to buy a lightweight (LW) body please, but no one has what I need.”
USACG: (Thinking this will be easy) “We typically have those in stock, what specifically were you looking for?”
Phone Caller: “I’d like a 2 lb Mahogany body please.”
USACG: (now realizing the impossible task at hand) “um did you say 5lbs?”

Sounds funny now, but when you are on that call and trying to get a well-meaning customer to understand that I could find a unicorn, stuff it still alive into a shipping box, and ship it to them faster than what they want, things must be tred upon lightly!

Here are some facts about wood weight to keep in mind:

  • Alder – great tone wood, LW means something in the 3lb to 3lb 15oz range.  Alder has gone up in price twice in the last 12 months and we are seeing some scarcity not only in the LW stuff but also in the wood itself.
  • Swamp Ash – basically the same as Alder above BUT there has been a recent blight in the stuff being milled so the LW stuff hasn’t been as abundant.
  • Mahogany – 5 to 6 lbs is pretty typical here and if you want LW we consider anything in the mid 4’s to mid 5’s LW.
  • Basswood – LW is the same as Alder and Swamp Ash and depending on the body and the routs it can be pretty low, in the 3lb range.
  • Pawlonia – this is a distant cousin of Ash and is EXTREMELY lightweight.  A full body of Pawlonia can be in the 2lb range BUT BUT BUT, we don’t suggest it.  It tends to not hold screws very well.  One of our favorites is a 3 piece body with a center made of Swamp Ash and wings of Pawlonia.  Will yield a 3-4lb body almost every time and holding screws is not a problem!
  • Maple – don’t ask for lightweight maple.  There is no such thing.  It’s all heavy.  It sounds AMAZING, but you are going to have to sit down a lot or essentially be a body builder if you’re going to gig with it.  Do you sometimes wonder why so many guitarists use a different guitar in the studio than on the road?   Wanna bet that studio guitar is an all maple body?!
  • Pine – in that 3 to just under 4 lbs range is considered LW in our world.
  • Roasted Alder/Swamp Ash/Basswood/Pine – the Tempering process does shave a few ounces off so you will hear us say that these woods are consistently lighter weight than their non-roasted counterparts.

There are of course other good woods out there.  Limba/Korina comes to mind.  We don’t keep that stuff in stock and it does tend to be a few ounces heavier than say Alder or Swamp but not as bad as Mahogany when you find the right piece.  We’d like to stock more of the Black and White varieties of Limba but finding consistent quality and quantity is harder with these types of woods.

A quick footnote, we do offer “Chambered bodies” and you might be surprised how many guitars you play that don’t look chambered yet actually are.  You don’t have to put the F hole in there ya know and chambering will always knock off a few unwanted ounces!

Hope this helps you understand weights a bit better and if you want our opinion…there is such a thing as “too light!”

The Care of Feeding of Your New Neck or Body

Greetings Earthlings. In today’s installment of “Huh..?!,” we are going to highlight some do’s and don’ts that we have learned over many moons when it comes to guitar and bass bodies and necks. Ready?

Care Instructions – Do’s and Don’ts

DO – take your time finishing and assembling your instrument

DON’T – leave it in the box for two years, in the garage, and then wonder why it is “extremely warped.” “Yes, your neck does look like an S…how long was it in the garage sauna again?”

DO – Spend some time researching shapes and thicknesses of necks

DON’T – wonder why your 990C neck feels like a baseball bat handle and not like the Wizard II neck you had imagined it would be.

DO – make sure your parts fit before you finish it in hot pink and teal lacquer

DON’T – call us because the J Bass pickups you purchased do not fit in the humbucker routs. We aren’t mind readers!

DO – stand in front of the mirror holding your guitar while doing Pete Townshend swirly arm rotations and waggling your tongue like Gene Simmons

DON’T – try to sling it around your neck without the neck bolted to the body. Only bad things can happen. We promise. Stop doubting us.

DO – understand that its wood and will have some inherent flaws because you know…it once was a living thing and had bugs chewing on it, lightning hitting it, birds pooing on it, bears scratching up against it, bees living in it…

DON’T – measure the numbers of Birdseye’s in a square inch with a magnifying glass. Do you see some Birdseye’s? Yes? It’s Birdseye maple. No Birdseye’s? NOT Birdseye maple. Only 3 Birdseye’s in a square inch? Still Birdseye maple. And no we can’t call the Birdseye maple supplier and ask them to put more Birdseye’s in it.

DO – Write funny love songs that you can sing to your significant other

DON’T – sing them to your significant other until you have tried them out on someone else. We’d suggest the cat. Or your Dad. Both will likely exhibit the same response.

DO – put some sort of finish on your body or neck pretty quickly

DON’T – let it “season” in the Barbecue grill in the back yard for 4 months. Its NOT the same as roasting.

DO – have fun and enjoy the process

DON’T – store hot dogs in your hot dog rout…they get squishy and gross.

DO – understand that your 21-fret neck won’t come with 22 frets.

DON’T – worry that your neck has Maccassar Ebony on the fretboard and not the Nascar Ebony that you ordered. They are the same thing…sort of…well you got the name wrong but we are pretty sure this is what you wanted. Rock the Casbah or Rock the Cashbox? Either way just keep rocking….

DO – ask us if you have any questions at all

DO – send pictures when it’s done because we STILL love looking at the amazing things you guys and gals build

DO – smile and have a great day 😊

Peace. Thanks for reading about the care of feeding guitar and bass bodies and necks.

 

Rosewood

“Is this the man who lured Taggert and Rosemont into a gross dereliction of duty at a strip tease establishment…Uh, it’s Rosewood sir.”

Ever since being lured into that gross dereliction of duty we have been struggling with Rosewood…maybe not his fault but still, right?!

At this point everyone is aware of the CITES regs that hit us in late 2016. We responded immediately by cataloging all of our Rosewood and working with the US Dept of the Interior and various other governmental agencies to establish a Master File so we could export Rosewood. According to our inside person at the time we were the first guitar company to successfully navigate the process. It should have been easy from there right? NO…and I could spend an entire blog on the pain for us and our customers for the next 6 months (I wont!) but the truth is the problem with Rosewood started much further back than that.

Acquiring Rosewood Guitar Wood – The Challenge

The ability to acquire consistently good Rosewood has been a struggle for quite a few years now. And it certainly seems to be getting even worse. I “dislike” about 60% of the Rosewood fretboards I see, “absolutely hate” about 20%, and “really like” about 20%. It’s just ugly, period (it’s not the suppliers fault, it’s just coming out of the ground that way!). Take a look at guitars from the 80’s…its hard to find a BAD piece of Rosewood. Dip back into the 70’ and 60’s and there are some gorgeous examples…and A LOT of them.

So, what do we do now?

If you had asked me 3 or 4 years ago if I thought that we would stop using Rosewood one day I would have said no…no way. Today, however I can see an end. The Pau Ferro we get is much higher quality, same with Katalox and any number of other woods that folks are beginning to substitute for Rosewood. We had a supplier pull some nice Rosewood out of a Church in Oregon or Montana or somewhere but, you know, how much more of that can you find? You can’t! The end is near, and you know what, it’s okay. We will all survive and be better because of it. We survived the breakup of the Beatles and embraced the Stones, we went from bell bottoms to straight legs; VCR to DVD to Netflix; Dave to Sammy…need I go on?

When you get ready to build your next neck and you want a darker fingerboard don’t start at Rosewood. Do some research, look at some of the other options out there, we think you will be pleasantly surprised. We will continue to be picky about our Rosewood and try to nab as much as we can but maybe now is the time to start changing. Don’t risk a banana in your tailpipe…