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My Dark Fire Visits The Luthier


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Before I left town today, I stopped over by the luthier who has his shop a couple of blocks from where I live: John Thayer Guitars.


I don't have any of my own tools. But, even if I did, I don't have the time nor the desire to work on my guitar. I probably lack the patience and, therefore, the ability. So, I brought over the parts I got and talked with him. I asked him to pull out the guitar and tell me what immediately struck him about it. Right away he said, "Oh, the frets are sharp"! HA! Yep.


Even though the frets are sharp, they never really hurt my hands. I just figured I might as well make them right.


So, for $40 to $50, he tells me that he will:


1) Dress all the fret ends.

2) Switch out the existing knobs for the speed knobs.

3) Put on the black truss rod cover, but use the black screws.

4) Remove the pick guard, filling the side hole with wood and finishing it to color.

5) Fit the locks onto the strap (the holes were to small and he has a drill).


Even though he had the correct color for the top, he thought it might be best just to leave the small black screw from the pick guard in place in the wood. He figured that any filling or coloring done to the wood, no matter what it was, would probably stand out "too much". The screw is out of the way, being close to the fretboard, and being black, he felt that the first course of action might be to leave it in place. Besides, I may end up putting the pick guard back on later.


I can get the guitar back in about 4 days, but I won't be back for 7 anyway. Nice! Better than sending it to Gibson (shipping, etc.) for the fret ends at some future point.


I'm really curious about something, though. This fellow has everything, making his guitars from scratch. So, I asked him what would be involved and what would it cost to make the back, sides, neck, etc. (all the wood that has the dark, rubbed, matte finish), to be a high gloss, black, nitrocellulouse finish -- sort of how the headstock looks. And, would it look right? I'll find out more about that when I return to pick up my guitar. He said he could do it, but, it really wasn't primary on either of our minds this go-around.

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You are a lucky man having access to a luthier of this caliber willing to do so much manual work for so little. Just the fretwork alone is probably worth all that money. He must be throwing in the other work gratis for you. Did he have any comments on the overall build quality?


PS. Have a safe trip.

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Luck? Maybe. Aren't there luthiers all around?


Anyway, this guy is totally cool and I really like him... As to comments, I will hear about that stuff when I get back. Having at least the week will give him time to download the manual (I told him about shorting the strings) and then goof around with it for a bit. When he actually works on it, I'm sure, at that point, he will get some opinions about the guitar. He will have to take the strings off and then get close to the wood.


Oh, he thought the auto-tuning was really cool and showed genuine interest/surprise that the computer would dictate intonation. I told him about the PLEK machine handling the top of the frets and that the action was fine from the factory. He knew what PLEK was, ... it's just that I wanted him to be aware that this guitar was built using the machine because he has to mess with the frets. So, he won't need to deal with the tops.

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RS, good for you. You have an excellent price from the luthier. I think he's right to not fill the hole and just place the screw back into it. Gives you the capability, as you said, to put the pick guard back on when needed later and not have to redrill the hole. That easily returns it to a stock condition.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I thought I’d report back on my experience (pardon my “best” photo attempts). Here are the results of the work I requested. It cost me $60 in the end.


Firstly, I visited John and handed over my standard Dark Fire guitar:




STRAP LOCKS: As I said previously, I don’t have any tools. Therefore, I asked John to put the strap locks onto the strap because they wouldn’t fit into the holes. He said he used a chisel tool instead of a drill to get the holes large enough to put on the locks. I have the strap on in the first photo but didn’t focus on them.


TRUSS ROD COVER: I also had him put on the plain glossy black “bell” truss rod cover using the supplied black screws. I must say, I like it WAY better than the red, “Dark Fire” truss rod cover. It blends in with the glossy black headstock, whereas, the other one kind of jumped out at you!




SPEED KNOBS: I love the black speed knobs. I don’t know why Gibson didn’t put them on in the first place! John really took care when he worked on my guitar. I noticed that he aligned the numbers on the knobs perfectly—much better than I would have been able to do (had I the patience and/or tools).


PICK GUARD: You can see that the pick guard is removed so that the wood will show. As described previously, John left in the top’s black screw. He told me that he decided to leave in the side screw as well because he wasn’t sure if I would decide to put the pick guard back on or not. But, he told me that he’d go ahead and take it out, fill the hole with wood, and “nitro/stain” (my words) it at any time. I think he made a good decision, so I left it.


So here are four photos that try to show: 1) the black speed knobs, 2) the remaining pick guard screws, 3) the top wood that is revealed by removing the pick guard, 4) the wood grain—which is NOT “flame”, as so many people seem to like, and 5) the strap locks and strap where the connections are made.










FRET DRESSING: To me, I was simply astonished at the fret dressing that John accomplished. My camera doesn’t have a macro lens, but I did try to get as close as possible and as clear as possible. I left the photos large in case anyone wants to blow up the size to try and look closer. These frets are NO LONGER SHARP! They look beautiful as well. I believe this man is an artist at heart. He seems to take great care and pride in his work. The frets are smooth, angled, and polished. The sides are simply perfect. Now, he knew about PLEK and took that into consideration when he was working on the frets. In other words, he didn’t mess with their tops (nor did he have to do so).






STRINGS: When working on the frets, John had to remove the strings, of course. The guitar had a fully charged battery and he was aware of the potential to short the strings, having downloaded the latest manual. Talking about the process, he did say that the bridge does become loose when all the strings are off. He cut them short (as if they were done at Gibson, actually) and had no trouble with the restringing nor the stepper tuner knobs afterwards. The guitar tunes just the same as when I got it from Gibson – no difference at all. John chose D'Addario Bright, Round (Nickel) Wound "XL" Regular Light Gauge; .010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046; EXL110 Strings.


INTONATION: John performed the intonation. I asked him, “Did you try using the computer on the guitar or did you do it your way”? He said he did it his normal way, so I have no information how the computer fared.


TRUSS ROD: Now, John showed me how I would adjust the truss rod (because I was asking), though it didn’t need adjustment. The strings are very close to the frets without buzzing (very low action). I saw how to measure by fingering both the first fret and the neck fret of a string and then looking at the string height between the two points… It was all very interesting. But, John said I probably wouldn’t have to mess with the truss rod to change the action.


MY CURIOSITIES: I had three:


(1) I learned that if I wanted to have a high gloss, black, nitrocellulose finish on the back and sides of the guitar instead of the present finish, that he could do it! It would take him some weeks not only because the process takes awhile but also because he’s quite busy on his guitar building. I’m told as a pretty close “ball-park” that it would cost around $300. This was a curiosity for me. Perhaps I will consider doing this after playing my Dark Fire for a couple of years or so. It is possible I may get to a time and inclination when I won’t be using the guitar very regularly and will, therefore, have the time to let it go.


(2) There was a potential concern about EMI Shielding. John can also do this work (he also builds electric guitars). To accomplish this, he would have to pull out the electronics and then paint the inside cavities. I’m not opposed to this; however, it would be practical to wait until the 1-year electronics warranty expires. Also, if this is a real problem, Gibson may supply a future solution (since the electronics are made to be swapped out). John’s main concern was, however, that there may be a grounding issue such that there could be shorting of the electronics with shielding. [1-Maybe the ground is not connected to the shield; 2-Often, the negative and the ground {ring, sleeve} are tied together but sometimes this is not the case]. There is the issue that the DF, being electronic, could, therefore, have separate digital AND analog grounds. In any case, he’d rather talk with Tronical about specifics, should the idea of EMI shielding become an issue with me.


(3) Piezo microphonic feedback might be a concern. John and I didn’t test this because another guy had just walked into his place wanting to get a beautiful 12-string fixed up. But, John did say that he didn’t notice any feedback at all. On the other hand, he said that he was only using low gain, low volume. I questioned if anything ought to be done around the bridge if this was an issue. He told me, “No, not at all”, (I’m so ignorant about this stuff). He told me that if microphonic feedback did happen to occur to just turn down the gain (duh!). Or, if I simply had a problem with that issue to come back in and he could also fix the problem. But, he said, this is not a usual problem. I said that this was not a usual guitar!


LAST THOUGHTS: So, I said, “John, do you have any other impressions or thoughts about this guitar, including any other work that might need to be done”? He told me that he LOVED the fact that this guitar can a) tune itself to any chosen selection and :) that the user could store the settings. However, no other work jumped out at him. He liked the guitar.

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Thank you very much for that most thorough and informative report! John is obviously a highly-skilled, careful, and knowledgeable luthier! He also takes the time to become well-informed in areas that are new to him; you're extremely fortunate to have such a fine and considerate person assisting you with your DF! Congratulations, and thanks again for the detailed report!

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RS, it's beautiful! I'm going to take my Dark Fire to be set up this week. (Jim Lombard, in case anybody cares or knows him.) I need to have him fix the horrible fret buzz that I have. I think I am definitely going to have him put those speed knobs on. They look so much better! I don't think I'm going to ask to have the frets dressed. They seem fine to me. Thanks for the info/pics.


If you have time, could you please post some pics of the headstock with the different truss rod cover?





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RS, Looks great... and I think the fret end dressing is something Gibson should provide from the factory when you're paying an arm and a leg. One suggestion - the pickguard screw on the side, maybe paint the head black, or get a second screw the same size and paint the head black and keep the original in original condition. Just a thought.

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BigKahune: Yep about the frets... But, I take destiny into my own hands whenever I can (or think of it!). As I mentioned prior, I could've sent the DF back (and waited 5 weeks). I chose John--someone I could actually visit, talk with, and have my guitar back within the week. Yep about the screw. However, all things considered, it is a minor issue and I mentioned (above) what I could do if I decide I don't like it there. Thanks for the nice comments!

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Great update. Glad you have your guitar back and thanks for sharing outcomes with us. My DF looks very similar to your DF now with the only difference that I also removed the black plastic ring around the toggle switch!

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Hm, I like the truss rod cover and the pick guard on the Dark Fire. The pick guard being one of my favorite features.

In my opinion the black cover makes it look cheaper. I thought the red gave the guitar continuity from top to bottom.


To each their own. If you like it, that's what counts.


I hope he didn't end up charging you just to remove the screws on the pick guard. lol

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