22 Sep

Relic Your Neck

Hi, and welcome to RobbieCalvoGuitar.com’s new blog series, “Your Personal Guitar Tech” and my name’s Will Kelly. I’m a monthly columnist for Vintage Guitar Magazine, and operate the “Hard Knocks Guitar Shop”.

Neck Relic Fretboard Shot
We’ve all played an old Fender guitar, and absolutely fell in love with the feel of the neck. Upon closer inspection the reasons become obvious: the grey worn areas that just fell so comfortably into our hands, the yellowed lacquer and the silky but not sticky, feel to the neck. Well, here’s how to get that same effect from a new neck, without waiting 50 years!

Neck Relic Skunk Stripe
This is a standard, Strat style neck with a ‘skunk’ stripe made of walnut inlaid over the truss rod, maple with an Indian rosewood fingerboard with a 9” radius and 6105 frets. The entire neck has been finished in clear nitro lacquer first. I let this cure for about ten days so it will react properly to ageing techniques.

2) Now, utilizing an assortment of scraping tools I slowly remove the glossy finish from the rear of the neck. Pay close attention to how your hand fits the neck when in a playing position, and accentuate the finish removal in those places first. For example, there’s usually not as much wear on the bass side of the rear of the first fret position, but rather more on the treble side.

Neck Relic Prep
That’s because your thumb rarely rests on the side of the first fret position. So, mimic those physical tendencies with your own wear patterns. I use a woodworker’s knife to slowly scrape away the nitro finish, then progress to a razor blade to smooth out the raw wood areas, and finally end up using a fine grade steel wool to smooth the rear surface of the neck to a nice, satiny finish. You should have a mix of raw wood areas and areas where the nitro finish is still clinging to the wood.

Neck Relic Supplies
Here are the things you’ll need, in order to undertake this ageing process. In a small glass container, pour a couple of ounces of Lacquer thinner, and mix in a few drops of black lacquer paint. I use lacquer tints from Stewart McDonald, which come in all different shades. With a rag, wipe on the black tinted thinner, paying careful attention to the raw wood areas. You don’t want to oversaturate the raw wood to the point where the coloring gets too dark. You want to shoot for a light grey color with hints of the raw wood’s natural tones still showing through. Between coats, use an ultra fine grade steel wool to smooth out the finish. The thinner will ‘raise the grain’ on the raw wood areas, and rubbing them down with steel wool smooths out the wood fibers again. Run the steel wool lengthwise up and down the rear of the neck (but don’t sand the rear of the headstock) and stop at the nut in an uneven, ragged line. Follow this same technique at the butt end of the neck, where the flat portion of the neck block starts on the heel.

Neck Relic Nearly Complete
After the last buffing, I use some tinted amber lacquer to add ‘age’ and depth to the finish. Use this very sparingly, only as a light shading coat rather than a thick glossy finish coat. That’s going to come next. Remember, layering the ‘dirt’ and sweat stains is much more authentic looking than just globing it on in one pass. Take your time, and be conservative with all the tints you apply.

5) Once you’ve gotten the neck looking and feeling like you want, it’s time to seal the wood back…I use two very thin coats of clear nitro lacquer with each coat followed by a buffing out with OOOO steel wool.

Neck Relic Complete
The purpose of the final coats is to seal the pores of the ‘raw wood’ areas to keep out moisture and real dirt. In time, if you play the neck enough, the wear areas will just get even more authentic looking, and even better feeling to the hands. This is a cool way to customize a new guitar, and help ‘break it in’ faster for your personal enjoyment. This technique is not reversible, so don’t go trying this on your new $4k PRS. Practice on a cheap guitar, then start modding your new Stratocaster!

22 Sep

Intex Guitar Cable – Review

I am constantly on the lookout for things to improve my tone, so I jumped at the chance to give some Intex cables a try. These cables are made with Belden 8412 microphone cable, proprietary shell and military spec M642/1-1 brass jacks. It is a beautiful design and the quality of the construction is quite noticeable. Intex owner and builder, Jean-Marc du Mouchel, assures me that his cables are designed and built to last a lifetime. That’s quite a claim! Each Intex cable is serialized to each user and custom monogramming is also available.

Intex cables are offered in a variety of cable colors and shell colors, from black, red, yellow and blue for cables and white, black, red, blue, orange and natural brass for the shells. I typically like to use a red cable for my guitar and a black cable from my pedal board to the amp. This helps me set up faster and I always pick up the right cable when plugging in my guitar.

So Intex cables are built well and look amazing, but how do they sound? In a word, excellent. I put the Intex cables up against my DiMarzios that I normally use, some comparable Monster cables and a Mogami. The Intex blew them all away. I could immediately hear a tighter, cleaner bass response and crystal clear highs as compared to the other cables. The Intex cables definitely removed muddiness in the tone and provided more punch. With such a tough build quality and improved sound through my rig, these cables are a winner for me. I’ll be buying some, for sure.

I was so impressed with this product I decided to call Jean-Marc and ask him a few questions:

Ryan: How did you get started building guitar cables?

Jean-Marc: I’ve been building guitar cables for over 30 years. As an engineering student at the University of Colorado I apprenticed under two gentleman that built satellites for Ball Brothers, a NASA subcontractor, in the late ’70s. I learned to solder from those guys. One day one of them was working on a guitar cable and I asked him to show me how to build them and it just took off from there. Soon I was doing all the guitar cables in the shop, and then we started building audio snakes and doing live venue and recording studio installs. It was an invaluable learning experience.

Ryan: What makes a good cable, and why does a high quality cable matter?

Jean-Marc: That’s a tough one! In my opinion there is a difference between silver and copper, oxygen-free, etc…I truly believe there is. But there are certain environments where those quality levels in a cable are more realistic and valuable than others, such as in a recording studio. But once you set a band up in a live situation, which is typically a bar in their local town, the nuances of that really expensive studio cable are all but lost in the ambient noise of that room. I’m told my cables sound as good or better than any premium cable out there but they’ll also last a lot longer than any of my competitors. It’s great sound and reliability that sets Intex apart from the others. I have a friend of mine that is still playing one of my cables I made for him in the late ’70s. He’s used it as his main cable for the past 30 years!

Ryan: What can you tell me about the Belden cable you use to make your cords?

Jean-Marc: Love Belden cable. Thirty years later they still feel the same when I cut into them and solder to them. Their manufacturing process has been the same for all these years and I love that consistency. They are one of the largest cable makers in the world, they have fantastic customer support and they are great to deal with.

Ryan: I’ve never seen jacks like the ones you use. These are military spec, right?

Jean-Marc: Most people haven’t seen a jack like this in the music business. These are military spec and they’re built to last forever. Also, there was a time when I did not have the brass shell that covers the jack. I decided to beef that up and so I designed the hex-shaped brass shell, which is engraveable, and added the steel spring reinforcement that is actually welded to the jack assembly.

Ryan: What other products, if any, does Intex have planned for the future?

Jean-Marc: We have some other products planned that I am not at liberty to discuss at the moment, but I will say there are some other cable types out there that we think we can improve on.

Ryan: Thank you for your time, Jean-Marc.

Jean-Marc: You’re more than welcome. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

22 Sep

Snark Headstock Tuner – Review

Lately I’ve been traveling to Nashville quite a bit and I always bring my guitar so I can jam if the opportunity presents itself (and it often does). I also typically bring three pedals with me… my Fuchs Royal Plush compressor, my Visual Sound Jekyll & Hyde and my Boss DD-3 delay. I would normally bring my Korg Pitchblack tuner pedal as well, but my recent purchase of the Snark headstock tuner has eliminated the need. I always love it when I can eliminate one more thing to hook up.

The Snark is so small that it fits perfectly in a DiMarzio humbucker box, which allows me to stow it in my gig duffle bag along with my pedals, cables and other stuff without worrying about damaging it. It has a great feeling, ergonomic clip that stays put and picks up headstock vibration perfectly, allowing for silent tuning (just roll your guitar volume to zero). The display head rotates 360 degrees and the bright, digital interface is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s very easy to read on a dark stage, and it reverses in direct sunlight…making it perfect for outdoor gigs, as well!

The only two potential caveats are the tiny disc battery that would be impossible to find at gig time if it goes dead on you (keep spares in your bag!) and its delicate build. The swivel “teeth” can be quite brittle and will break if you get too rough with the unit. I feel pretty confident in the overall quality of the unit I purchased, though, and since I keep it in a hard “case” I feel like it will bring me years of service. The tuning accuracy is great, but as you might expect there isn’t as much resolution with the Snark as you’ll find on a more sophisticated electronic tuners…nevertheless, after many jam sessions I’ve found that it is more than accurate enough to keep me in tune when playing out with others.

Some other features are pitch calibration for those who tune to something other than A440, and a tap tempo visual metronome. Yes, the Snark actually has a metronome built in! Again, it is only a visual metronome meaning that you can see the pulse on the interface but there is no click or beep. Still a very thoughtful feature on something so small and compact.

If you are looking for a great headstock tuner that is tiny, light weight and simple to operate, I can highly recommend the Snark. I’ve looked and looked but can’t find a similar tuner with a better interface or a more easily positionable display.