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To Sell or Not To Sell, Or The Unattainable Setup


theeyesofmorbo

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I purchased a J-45 True Vintage about six months ago, and it sounds and looks amazing. However, it's not as easy to play as my other guitar, a Martin 000-15m. I've had it set up twice by the only local luthier, but the action still feels stiff and awkward. My Martin doesn't sound as good, but it is much easier to play, which is weird since it has a normal scale length. In any case, the upshot of all this is that because I don't play the J45 and can't seem to get it set up the way I want it, I'm considering selling it. It upsets me, too, because it sounds fantastic. People have told me not to buy a guitar for the setup, not the sound, but easy of play is important to me, especially since I play a lot of barre chords. Any advice?

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I purchased a J-45 True Vintage about six months ago, and it sounds and looks amazing. However, it's not as easy to play as my other guitar, a Martin 000-15m. I've had it set up twice by the only local luthier, but the action still feels stiff and awkward. My Martin doesn't sound as good, but it is much easier to play, which is weird since it has a normal scale length. In any case, the upshot of all this is that because I don't play the J45 and can't seem to get it set up the way I want it, I'm considering selling it. It upsets me, too, because it sounds fantastic. People have told me not to buy a guitar for the setup, not the sound, but easy of play is important to me, especially since I play a lot of barre chords. Any advice?

 

Have you looked into lower tension strings? Do you have lights on? Have you tried DR Rares? It's a pity. Your Martin is no slouch. It is one of the most comfortable I have played and owned.

 

I've owned a j45 TV as well... I am puzzled, except to say if it ain't comfortable, then what's the point? Sounds like you would like a custom J45 with a 1 and 11/16 nut.

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... I've had it set up twice by the only local luthier, but the action still feels stiff and awkward. My Martin doesn't sound as good, but it is much easier to play, which is weird since it has a normal scale length. ...

If the string change doesn't solve the problem, you might want to learn how to evaluate the setup and see how well the local luthier has done for you. Pay particular attention to the nut slot depth, which is probably the biggest single factor in determining whether a guitar is easy or hard to play down near the nut. There are different levels of setup, and sometimes all you get is adjustment of neck relief and saddle height.

 

-- Bob R

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I think what folks are getting at is to give strings wound on a round core like the DR Sunbeams (the Rares are wound on a hexagonal not round core) a try. They exert less tension on neck and tend to feel a little less stiff.

 

 

I have both.. Thanks for clarifying. I thought they all were roundcore

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If the guitar has a proper neck angle, it can be set up to whatever specs you prefer with whatever strings you prefer. Check out Frets.com for good information on action at the nut, action at the saddle, and neck relief. There really is no need to choose strings to accommodate the setup you'd like.

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If you like the tone (and the J45TVs I have played all have a lovely tone) it would be a shame to get off it. As suggested, educate yourself and then ask around and find a different set up person. Generally Gibsons, in my experence anyway, are easier to play than Martins .... although that is certainly subjective. When and if you obtain a good set-up, be sure to record and save the specs so that, as natural changes occur, you can have it returned to suit you. Good luck and let selling it be a last resort.

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Thanks for all the great input, everyone.

 

I just finished putting on the Sunbeams, and I saw a definite improvement. Much easier to fret a barre F, for example. It's a little buzzy, which makes sense with the tension change. I'm going to let the strings break in for a day or two then tweak the truss rod as necessary.

 

Regarding the setup, I've done quite a lot of research on it--largely because there's only one luthier in my area and I at first considered trying to do it myself (quickly changed my mind on that). I'm sure there are better luthiers out there, and I'm actually willing to travel for it. I've called respect luthiers up to three hours drive away, asking them if I can make a future reservation, and drive to their shops and have them do it. but so far not one has been willing. They all say I'd need to leave it with for a few days at best, up to a month at worst. I live in a pretty rural area, so I feel kind of lucky to have a local luthier at all.

 

By the way, I live in coastal North Carolina--in the southern Outer Banks.

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A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, and purchased a used, deeply repaired J-45 TV from a true touring/recording pro. Bought that guitar sight unseen and unplayed, surmising that if was good enough for this band's latest acoustic album, it was likely good enough for me. When I got it I was amazed at the high-wire action this thing had but equally impressed with the excellent sound. I had the instrument delivered to a luthier in Boulder Colorado by a trustworthy guy that happened to be traveling that way - a good 4 hours drive. Spoke on the phone, picked the guitar up a month later. New saddle, work on the nut - lowered the action a lot, and it still sounds great. Give it a chance.

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You have gotten a lot of good replies and I wholeheartedly endorse the idea that any decent guitar can be set up for any action height you want as long as the neck angle is ok. Possibly it would help to invest in some equipment to gauge string heights so you can compare guitars and see where the actual differences in setup lie.

 

One other consideration. Martin uses a larger fretboard radius than Gibson, so their boards feel flatter. In addition to that, the 000-15M model is 1 11/16" (1.6875') nut size, whereas Gibson uses 1.725" on the J-45. In summary the J-45 fretboard is slightly wider and the fretboard has more of an arch or curve to it. Even when you get the setup to be identical between these two instruments in terms of action at various frets and relief, the different neck profiles and fretboard specs may make one seem more comfortable than the other.

 

Another thought: sometimes a new guitar will feel uncomfortable at first but then you get used to it and the issue goes away.

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The primary reason for having the proper neck set and proper saddle height has to do with sound -- that is why cutting the saddle all the way down or shaving the bridge is such a bad approach. Those tiny angle variations make a surprisingly large impact on a guitar's power.

 

Once that is achieved, then the other issues that must be address rather than the obvious ones of the saddle and nut are the straightness of the neck, the flatness of the fretboard and the plane of the frets. The most common requirement is to flatten the plane of the frets, which requires the the frets to be filed, dressed and polished. More serious setups may require the frets to be pulled and the fretboard planed -- or in bad cases, even replaced. Finally, it maybe even be necessary to straighten the neck -- this often requires the removal of the fretboard, but not always.

 

A good luthier -- the kind that builds high quality guitars -- is quite capable of doing all of this. If the guitar's setup issues are severe, it may be a bit pricy, but any guitar can be given a perfect setup -- and you get to define what that means for you.

 

Let's pick,

 

-Tom

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Listen to Tom!

 

You probably don't drive your car with flat tires.

 

A good or even better, a GREAT luthier will have the thing singing for you! I have witnessed some transormations on my guitars that go to my guitar tech 'horrible to play' and have come back as a dream. My J45 sounded great in the shop a few years back when I bought it, but when I played a few days, it was pretty ordinary and yes, not as much fun to play as it should have been, but a short time at the guitar tech's and Wow! - beautiful to play, easy to tune, and I haven't touched any settings in a few years and I just played it up around the 12th fret like a lead guitar!

 

 

I am fairly sure a TV model should come up with a bit of love.

 

 

BluesKing777.

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I just finished putting on the Sunbeams, and I saw a definite improvement. Much easier to fret a barre F, for example. It's a little buzzy, which makes sense with the tension change. I'm going to let the strings break in for a day or two then tweak the truss rod as necessary.

 

 

I'm a bit puzzled that you are "tweaking the truss rod" when you seem so unsure of other adjustments. I've only had my truss rod adjusted once in the 10+ years I've owned my J-45, even with many string changes, including different string tensions. The truss rod affects relief, which can have a big effect on playability, but if you are changing it often, you may be undoing whatever your luthier did in the setup. I do know one other guitarist who has needed several truss rod adjustments on a new guitar after fairly dramatic humidity changes. Truss rod adjustment is not the answer to all string buzz situations.

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I'm a bit puzzled that you are "tweaking the truss rod" when you seem so unsure of other adjustments. I've only had my truss rod adjusted once in the 10+ years I've owned my J-45, even with many string changes, including different string tensions. The truss rod affects relief, which can have a big effect on playability, but if you are changing it often, you may be undoing whatever your luthier did in the setup. I do know one other guitarist who has needed several truss rod adjustments on a new guitar after fairly dramatic humidity changes. Truss rod adjustment is not the answer to all string buzz situations.

 

I've actually never touched the truss rod. I just know that since the Sunbeams put less strain on the neck compared to Elixirs, that it might create more relief in the neck than I'd like. So far I haven't done anything, as it seems to be okay. Your advice is not to touch, I see.

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I'm actually going to be in Durham over the holidays. I'd love a referral.

 

I've got three for you. I trust all of them. In no order of preference...

 

1) Hanson and Crawford in Durham. They recently moved to Durham...used to be in Raleigh. I have not used them since the move but I still expect top quality work from them.

 

2) The Fret King - Mark Kane in Cary. He used to work inside Fat Sound until they vaporized...but Mark emerged as an independent business and seems to be doing okay on his own.

 

3) Ben Runkle - another independent luthier/guitar tech in Raleigh.

 

I've used all of them for different projects and they all do good work. But give them a call first...don't expect to walk in and get service...especially during the holidays....

 

Good luck

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