Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sourcing the Parts

My typical approach to, um, just about everything, is to figure out what, “Acceptable,” is and then go a level or three beyond that.  Especially when it comes to anything that’s manufactured, there is more junk than ever in the marketplace. At least in America, people seem to be willing to trade cheap-in-price for poor workmanship and product longevity.  Yes, that widget was only $9.37 at Wal*Mart, but the $18.99 one you put down probably would have lasted until you died, but you’ll be back at Wal*Mart in another 2-4 years to replace that cheap widget (after griping for those 2-4 years about how lousy it was).  There are few things in this world that don’t abide by the saying, “You get what you pay for,” at least at the middle-class level.  There is an obvious leveling of the QPR (Quality:Price Ratio) as you approach Luxury items, but as a general rule for the 99% who are reading this, buying up a level (or three) of quality is a wise, long-term investment.

Having said that, one of my challenges for this project was to keep the budget minimal.  As much as I would love to drop 18:1 Gold Grover Rotomatic tuners ($160ish), Vintage Fralin pickups ($200ish), an acoustic-enabled bridge (another easy $200), and any number of other high-end parts, I don’t have remotely close to the budget to bleed $800 toward one instrument, let alone whatever the costs would be for the 3-4 I intend to have either built or participated in the build of at the end of this year.  So what to do?

I have been using a combination of Stewart-MacDonald and Allparts as my baseline source for parts to get an idea of what the common luthier has access to get a ballpark idea for brands, styles, and prices.  Predictably, eBay has been an extremely good source of (so far) quality parts at excellent prices. In several cases, I’ve been able to purchase directly from an American small business and have correspondence with the proprietor about my project and get some sage advice for incorporating their product into my design.

 Another somewhat unlikely source for parts comes from Craigslist and Freecycle.  I have acquired two acoustic guitars from Freecycle.

  • One is a Jasmine (Takamine’s entry-level) ¾ sized Classical Style guitar that had a snapped headstock (which I easily, if crudely, glued back together to make a perfectly playable instrument). This gives the girls something they can play with as they graduate from the awful kids guitar I bought them a few years ago.  Cost to me: $0.00
  • The other is so poorly made (or refurbished) that there are no identifying marks on it. The value point here is potentially some tuners for the Ukulele project and a truss rod for a guitar neck later on.  There may be some use for the back as the top of a Ukulele, but everything else is so bottom-drawer that the value with this guitar will be solely tearing it apart to see how an Acoustic is put together. Cost to me: $0.00
Blank Headstock
A very unusual adjustable
 acoustic saddle/bridge.
Likely will cut one tuner off each
 side and use the tuners on a Uke.

Quality abounds! Laminate top and a gorgeous ebony paint job on a clearly-not-ebony fretboard.
No markings inside the guitar either. Must be the company that made it didn't want to be identified!\

...and why not a painted saddle, too? Lifting off the soundboard, too.
I don't think there's enough adjustment in the screws to compensate for that!

My best find to date has been a Craigslist purchase on my last Anaheim trip.  I found someone offering a pretty thoroughly thrashed Ibanez electric guitar for $50. The neck was broken, the electronics were compromised, and the body was pretty well beaten up. I offered $20, he countered with $30. When we met to swap cash for product, we started chatting and it turned out he had a project idea for the body (which was essentially useless to me) and my main want was the tuners. So we took the neck off, I gave him $15, and walked away with 6 tuners, a fretted Rosewood fretboard, a truss rod, and a template for the neck pocket & heel (somewhere in the neighborhood of $80- $100 in project materials).  The extra bonus of getting a broken neck is that the whole thing easily came apart and fit in the suitcase for the trip home!
Yeah, that's going to affect the playability.
The fretboard was clearly glued down, but I'm pretty sure
the headstock-to-neck joint was simply a pressure-fit.

Another view of the break.

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