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Hummingbird 1+ Year Setup = Thrilled


BoSoxBiker
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(Sorry for the length. Writing and surgical head injury do not go well together.)

And this is what happens when no local luthiers within an hours' drive and actually wanting to do luthier work exist. I would have preferred to pay for this a year ago. Now I am glad I could not. I went to great lengths to practice before doing anything to my nice guitars.

My Hummingbird has had moments of brilliance since I got it 23 months ago. The initial main set-up specs were decent enough, but I had to have this guitar right on it's lowest action point or deal with some impressive Arthritis pain. My preference for playing with minimal flareup has been a string height right at 5/64ths and 3.5/64ths, and neck relief somewhere around .006" and .004". Anything lower that and fret interference became an issue. If both measurements were on the low end, I had fret buzz - period. Anything above it, pain became a quick issue. I had the spare time, so I kept up with it. I tried .011s on a different guitar and did not care for it.  Every man chooses his poison, yah?

So, last year, I bought a Stewmac Fret Rocker and the Dan Erlewine (Stewmac) guitar repair book to see what I could do. I know I could have done similar with things around the house and internet sources, but this seemed so easy. As it turned out, this guitar was in decent overall shape and well within Gibson's range of specs. One notion grabbed attention. The suggestion in the Erlewine book that a Luthier could make a guitar even more playable and less noisy (sans fret buzz) by going to some more exacting standards and measurements. On a high level, basic view, he mentioned string height at 4/64 thick E @ 12th and just a hair over 2/64 on the thin E, and then neck relief down to .004".  

As lofty as it seemed, and I was suspicious, the individual items he wrote about made sense. I decided to try these things, but to take my own sweet time in doing so. I practiced on an Epiphone ES-335 and a ESP LTD acoustic guitar (a $350 laminated B&S solid top pile of junk I got from MF for $99 on a SDOTD. about 8 years ago. Good thing, as I ruined 3 nuts.

He goes into decent detail by describing what he looks for both the topic at hand and it's relationship to the big picture. I got a better sense of the big picture and geometry involved. I carefully inspected, measured and learned what I needed to do. I'm fairly uncoordinated with such things, so buying idiot-proof tools where it made sense was in order. That said, I also knew that I needed to figure out a way to do all of this over a longer period of time so that I might get better at each component than if I rushed into one big long weekend task. This took me a year, including the practicing on the more affordable guitars. I know my own demons. Coordination challenged is just the beginning for me. hah! 🙂

My hummingbird was somewhere along this point a year ago. I wanted to make that totally clear. This is in no way, shape or form, a Gibson bashing. More to the point, it is a compliment. I can compare this whole plan of attack to my SJ along with a Taylor 614 and a Martin D41. It is, indeed, possible to set up a Gibson Acoustic to such playable standards without getting a bunch of racket and noise. 

So my starting point a year ago:

  • Neck relief (6th to 8th fret) - .006"
  • Saddle Height (measure from top of bridge to bottom of string) - 10/64th lowest and 14/64th highest.
  • String height from body to bottom of string right before the bridge - 12.5mm highest points
  • Normal (non-excessive based on pro demos online) resonance in the B-E strings
  • Bridge Pins all wiggled WITH loose string in place.
  • 16" radius fairly consistent throughout, including all of the frets and strings at both ends. Just the high spots discovered with fret rocker.
  • String height at nut (measured at 1st fret thin through thick, and following a radius) - .021" - .026"
  • Hi-spots in frets using fret rocker - 8 varying from being really anal to quite obvious. The 3rd and 15th were end to end.

 

I replaced the saddle first, as part of removing the UST earlier, and got it to match the original overall height. I did like these two changes tonally speaking, but of course, it did little to nothing for the overall playing ease. I was still somewhat high on the overall saddle height using both the body and the bridge based measurements.

String height at the nut was next. I got the files over the holidays. I practiced on a couple other less expensive guitars, too, before attacking the hummingbird. Initially, this took quite some time as I was very timid after ruining a nut on the ESP LTD Acoustic beater guitar. I got them knocked down part of the way to the Erlewine spec. The method of using feeler gauges left my confidence quite low. I ended up getting that high-priced nut-slotting gauge from Stewmac, which was one of my better tool purchases to date. I ended up between .014" and .016" high-E thru low-E. The low-E was supposed to be closer to .020". I got over-confident and quick. I adjusted the others to maintain radius as closely as possible.  This was my big error of the whole long-term project, but it worked out well.

Next up in the plan was the fret leveling. I did one practice guitar doing an entire fret leveling, and another guitar doing spot leveling. One of the many things I learned was that even the little tiny high spots mattered as string height was reduced. All of the wires with in radius sans the high spots, and only two wires needed end to end attention. I did the somewhat risky thing and did the individual thing. I spent much money again on a tool - the Stewmac Fret Kisser - which allowed me the freedom to file without going to low. it worked. As this was my third guitar to do fret leveling on, the resulting crowning and polishing went very well. More expensive files and some darned nifty sanding cloth and a butt-load of tape. 

The last item was also the first item. A new saddle. I could have sanded the other one, but I had bought one as part of a (somewhat)matched set with dyed Colosi pins I got earlier this year. Might as well actually use it. I installed it, but did not go down to or below the height of the old one. I left the guitar otherwise setup overnight to settle in before deciding on how much more to take off. My plan was to leave the neck relief around the .006" mark for room to handle weather variations. I took the saddle down enough to leave my string height at 4.5/64ths and the 2.5/64s. If Erlewine's specs worked for me, this would leave me with with a minimum of .5/64 up or down before getting fret buzz or getting above that Arthritis pain trigger height. The amount I needed to come off the saddle would also reduce the actual saddle height numbers to 12/64(from bridge) and 11.5mm (from body). 

The sanding went decent enough, and the strings went back on just in case I needed to take more off or put my old saddle back in. Turns out it was just right. It took some playing and a few hours for the 2-day old strings to settle down from being both new and de-tensioned twice, but it worked and is still working after a few weather changes. The end result is best of both worlds. Plays like a dream with any sort of buzz resonance at extreme lows. The guitar is louder, too, which took me a few sittings to get used to. That Hummingbird motor is more evident. There is this sort of warmth that developed over the course of a 2-1/2 playing session last night that's hard to describe.

My ending measurements. I can go lower, but why? I wouldn't do it with this saddle right now. If I do anything other than the, it would have to be 100% reversible.

  • Nut - .014" to .016"
  • String height 12th fret  4.5/64 and 2.5/64
  • Neck Relief - .006" (in playing position. Closer to .008" on bench with neck rest below 3rd fret)
  • Saddle height from bridge (8.5/64 - 12/64)
  • Saddle Height from Body  highest point 11.5mm

 

Remaining issues:

  • Defect #1: (Minor ) Went too low on the bass strings at the nut according to the Erlewine spec.
  • Defect #2: (Minor) High-E string is in danger of messing up the radius at the nut.  (I was too much of a pansy to knock it down another .001". It's borderline, but I'm not convinced the contact point and break angle are perfect on this one and I can't see clearly even with my magnifying glass.) 
  • Defect #3: (Minor) There is not a single bit of doubt when testing the radius at the bridge. All strings are clearly vibrating on the radius gauge. The radius at the nut is not so obvious. The B string barely hits the gauge at all because of the slightly raised high E string.

 

Summary - I was 90% of the way to this level out of the box. I took tons of effort to get that final 10%. Would it have been worth it if not for arthritis flaring up? Who's to say. Worth every bit of effort to me right now, though. 🙂

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Interesting read, so the length doesn’t bother me.  I’d never given much thought about all the potential detailed work that is part of a setup.  It’s definitely more than I want to do or am capable of doing.  Yet, as you show, just that little bit of change makes a big difference.  And it truly means a lot when you’ve got some arthritis....lol.........It’s really cool when your great guitar becomes a legend.  Congrats!👍

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Yes, congratulations PB!

I am fortunate to live close to one of the best luthiers in the country - if I go there in the middle of the day, the traffic is usually pretty good - fairly useless later on. But the bone nut, saddle and setup he just did for my 2002 J50 is just worth any painful drive! It is all just so...perfect. Playability Plus! And he does all that work while on the phone to other customers. He can smell a bad nut height from across the room, when you walk in the door!

 

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

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Thanks, guys! It was indeed a satisfying accomplishment. I'm having some flareup this afternoon, but I can still play guitar. Gotta watch it with songs with lots of barre chords.

@fortyearspickn  - I'd starve to death as long as it takes me to do this. LOL

@michaelsegui - I should have taken some pics. I will take some when the SJ is in the counter and taped up.

@BluesKing777 - That is fortunate. I do have a good electric guitar and amp guy here, at least. Actually, a couple of them. 

@duluthdan - It plays VERY nice. I left it about 1/128 high, mostly because I can get heavy handed at times. 🙄   I will finish the job, so to speak, if I don't have to do any adjustments over the Summer. Of course I'll try it with an old or cheap saddle...  🙂

@MissouriPicker - It's my Wife's favorite to look at and hear, and now a clear favorite to play. It is a true luxury to be able to play something like this. I do not take it for granted. 

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Congratulations PB on the work you've done and on your patience.  I enjoy working on my guitars and trying to improve them, but after awhile I get impatient and don't want to worry about that last couple thousandths of an inch and just want to get back to playing.  I admire your ability to take your time and get everything just right.  I believe Mr. Erlewine knows his stuff and is pretty good at conveying what you need to know.  

Sounds like that 'Bird will be enjoyed for many years to come.

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Quite the read. I'm almost finished. Did you sign with a publisher yet?

 

On 6/3/2020 at 10:48 AM, PatriotsBiker said:

The suggestion in the Erlewine book that a Luthier could make a guitar even more playable and less noisy (sans fret buzz) by going to some more exacting standards and measurements. On a high level, basic view, he mentioned string height at 4/64 thick E @ 12th and just a hair over 2/64 on the thin E, and then

 

That's mighty low. Is this for an acoustic, or an electric guitar? Does scale length come into play when considering string height?

What are you measuring string height with?

There might be more electric players testing the acoustic waters if they could achieve the results you've obtained on your HB. Maybe. 'Still doesn't go up to 11, though.

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10 hours ago, 62burst said:

Quite the read. I'm almost finished. Did you sign with a publisher yet?

 

 

That's mighty low. Is this for an acoustic, or an electric guitar? Does scale length come into play when considering string height?

What are you measuring string height with?

There might be more electric players testing the acoustic waters if they could achieve the results you've obtained on your HB. Maybe. 'Still doesn't go up to 11, though.

LOL - Sorry about that. That'd be one way to keep me forever busy. 🙂

This was Dan Erlewine talking specifically about Gibson acoustics on page 33 of his book, "Guitar Player Repair Guide". He is quick to note to not set up a Martin in the same manner, or you will lose customers. (paraphrasing) I think that is mostly down on the bridge end. Much bigger break angles down there, IIRC.

I don't remember what he said about scale length and string height. He did talk about tension a bit, IIRC. I'll re-read that section before proceeding next week.

Electrics are a whole next level lower. I got my 2014 Epi 335 that was not made on someone's best day down to 3/64  low-E and a little under that on the high-E. I did some hardware changes, too. a whole other topic. It was my first fret leveling, so not too bad, I guess.  It doesn't play as nice, as tight nor as quietly as a nice Gibson 335. It does play  on par with a couple poor US made examples I've seen. It definitely does the 335 thing very well, at least as far as I can tell. I'm no Larry Carlton.

I am measuring string height at the 12th fret and bridge/saddle with a 6" machinist's ruler. Neck relief with feeler gauges and a straight edge. The string height at 1st fret (for nut slot depth) using this kind of pricey string height gauge. Stewmac String Height Gauge  I think it's over-priced, but running feeler gauges under strings by sight, feel and ear is too wide open for interpretations - at least I thought so at the time. It took a lot of uneasiness out of the equation.

I agree with your thought on electric players converting to acoustics. I was skeptical about this for a long time. Still kind of am. I did what I did and still left a little room to go down further.

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5 hours ago, PatriotsBiker said:

I don't remember what he said about scale length and string height. He did talk about tension a bit, IIRC. I'll re-read that section before proceeding next week.

The reason I'd asked about possibly different setup specs for long-scalers was the higher tension, and if that would factor into things.

The reviews for Dan E's book are all over the place, but his videos for StewMac are an easy watch- like visiting your favorite repair shop. Since you've been expanding your setup tools, you might appreciate the Digital String Height gauge that LMI sells: https://www.lmii.com/measuring-tools/2869-lmi-digital-string-height-gauge.html .  The tool is quick, and removes the inconsistencies from readings I was getting when  viewing the StewMac String Action Gauge. The video might sell you on LMI's digital gauge, as it did for me, if you can get past hearing the demo person constantly describing it as string heidth. One thing, though: the internal return spring for the plunger could be a tad stronger, as the weight of the measuring rod pushes the string down a little, requiring a few thousandths to be added to the reading. 

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1 hour ago, 62burst said:

The reason I'd asked about possibly different setup specs for long-scalers was the higher tension, and if that would factor into things.

The reviews for Dan E's book are all over the place, but his videos for StewMac are an easy watch- like visiting your favorite repair shop. Since you've been expanding your setup tools, you might appreciate the Digital String Height gauge that LMI sells: https://www.lmii.com/measuring-tools/2869-lmi-digital-string-height-gauge.html .  The tool is quick, and removes the inconsistencies from readings I was getting when  viewing the StewMac String Action Gauge. The video might sell you on LMI's digital gauge, as it did for me, if you can get past hearing the demo person constantly describing it as string heidth. One thing, though: the internal return spring for the plunger could be a tad stronger, as the weight of the measuring rod pushes the string down a little, requiring a few thousandths to be added to the reading. 

I imagine the book reviews would be all over the place. The book is not perfect. I had to augment it with a lot of information online. It was more overview than it was detailed at times. It did seem to serve well as a central starting point on many topics.

That string height gauge looks nifty at half the price. Not a great thing about having to add a few thousandth. I imagine that could vary by string and position?

I don't know how much the scale would affect the specs. An interesting thought, though. Erlewine took some time to write about it, and that he was thinking more along the lines of the Gibson short scales when talking Gibson and then Martin long scale when talking Martin. His Martin specs were generally higher, but his discussion on why people claim the Martin can handle a heavier hand without buzzing is due to radius more than other factors. (16" verses 12") Generally speaking, my SJ-200 has been living in the same basic setup specs as the Hummingbird has the past couple years. It's been consistently easier for me to play, too, despite the scale length and the size.  

(fwiw - My Martin still has 13s on it, the relief is .005", and the string height is between 5.5/64th and 6/64ths at the 12th fret. All of that is stock except 1/8th of a turn on the truss rod, and minor nut slot filing to and take the strings down to .016" through .021" (High-E to Low-E). I've done nothing with the frets nor the saddle. The frets had minimal issues when I went over it with the fret rocker, but I've misplaced my notes from that. Maybe 1 higher fret and 2 other small high spots. I'll probably take a whopping 1/128 off the saddle when the time comes.) 

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Alrighty, then. Just so nobody thinks all I do is sit back and show off the occasional positive project......

Yesterday, June 9th, was SJ-200 day. It will be again in about 5-6 days. I ruined a nut. I had it on the bench, so to speak, did all my measuring and inspection and had four main items. #1: Very minor spot fret leveling except two frets as high as any I've had. #2: Lower the saddle and #3 truss rod adjustment to go from .003" (?) to .006". (measuring the relief on the bench was .005" - I think I may have adjusted this on the bench the previous time and not allowed for the decrease when in playing position.)

#4: The last item was to back-file the nut slots and sand/polish the top of my nut down so that it wasn't pinching the strings. The nut slots on this guitar have always seemed off to me. A cross between being too tight, too sticky and somewhat high on the backside. I think in this instance I'll wave some time and let the Stewmac video w/Dan Erlewine to his show and tell bit below. I did get the Hummingbird and my cheapos to land in good spots, but not this one. I made my marks as shown in the video and went to it. Turns out the highest spot on the G-B-E strings was back towards the head-stock. When I back-filed, I took off the height. Nut ruined. New one(s) should be here on the 15th. DOH!!!

 

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Good of you to "fess up" on the most recent work that didn't go to plan. . . we've all been there. My worst was taking a non-buzzing guitar to a very well known (mostly electric) luthier to see if he could dial the guitar in, just a little more. He could never get rid of the buzz after that. 

EDIT: Another mishap, of my doing- when filling some screw holes with superglue/wood dust that didn't line up with the new tuners, a super light "string" of the CA landed on the back of the headstock. . . the superglue instantly ate into the nitro of the finish. Much of it compounded/buffed out, but it's still there.

'Never thought that a nicely carved nut would be something that would tip the scale from two similar guitars that were being considered, but here we are. Definitely not a fan of strings swallowed and choked in deeply cut slots, either.

Dan E's vids are always informative, but we pay the price for the lesson;  first, with the 4 or 5 product placements in his infomercial, then secondly if you decide to pay StewMac's prices for the as-seen-on-our-YouTube"info.

Edited by 62burst
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I don't learn anything by not fessing up, right?

Well, technically, the buzzing guitar, that's on the luthier, not you, yeah? 🙂 (I know - certain things you just leave alone - like balancing tires when the car doesn't shake.)

I contemplate doing the super-glue and bone dust thing, but decided against it for similar reasons. I'm sure to do something off with that stuff.

I still can't decide if I would have left the slots alone if guitar had been noise free after leveling the frets. I was very surprised at how much improved the low-e was after the back-filing. The A-D strings didn't make a difference that I easily noticed, but I could have very well knocked them down a bit, too, just not as bad as the G-B-E strings.

Yes, those videos do make the task look so much easier with the tools. After screwing this nut up, I started doing the math again on that silly file stopper for something like $115. That's a lot of nuts even if I'm ruining Tusq or Micarta. For this, though. I've got 4 bone nuts coming in for under $20. pre-shaped, pre-slotted, and matching the specs of the ones Graph Tech Tusq XL 6400-00 that I saw as being claimed to being the ones they supplied to Gibson.  I really do not feel like shaping one. It'd look like a Picaso. TBD

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One week and two nuts later. Good thing I ordered one extra <ahem> pair of nuts, My first installation was going on well and then I must have caught something with my file as the G-string slot was down to .012. I was tempted to live with it, but it started getting more noisy. I re-checked my slots and that one had dropped to below .010". Radius was toasted, too, obviously. Time for nut #3.

This took a while longer, and that's before taking it wicked extra slow on slot filing. I got to the higher end of the slot range and played it some before letting it set overnight in case a repeat drop happened. It didn't, and it was fine. I took the slot filing triple extra slow before knocking the top down to stop pinching strings and such. It came out fantastically this time. I'm between .014" and .019" and has a good radius. No pinching (so far) on the G and B strings. 

I finished it off with some additional saddle sanding. I aimed a bit higher just as I did with the Hummingbird. Overnight, though, the string height was about 1/128 higher than I was aiming for. It was playing OK, but could have been better. I decided to twist the truss rod down from my middle-ground of .006" to .004". That improved playability a ton. The string height did drop slightly, of course, which is now down to 4.5/64 and 3.25/64.

I did have the truss rod down there before the fret leveling. It really purrs down there. Not sure why and not sure I care, I think. If this ends up being too close to the edge of specs with eather changes and Summer humidity, I'll try moving it back up and sanding that last bit of saddle down. If not, I'll call it good and leave it alone.

In the end, I was very nervous and am really sick of working on guitars ATM, but I am very close to being as pleased with the SJ surgery as am/was with the Hummingbird results. Woo Hoo!!!  (and phew!!!)  🙂 

(I did take some pics of the makeshift guitar repair zone with the SJ taped up and mid-procedure. I'll crop and post later.)

Edited by PatriotsBiker
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Updates on both guitars.

HB - The tweak adjustment I made about 2-days after the fret leveling was all it needed. It's played and sounded great. The stupid grin never left. The strings are starting to wear a bit, but that's OK for as much as i played it over 2-plus weeks. I'm calling it done. It's in the case now so that the SJ can can run through it's paces.

SJ - OK, so the next day's worth of settling has happened. After playing some more this morning, I decided to file down 5/6 nut slots a 1-3 thousandth each. I'm now between .013 and .017. I did bring the relief back up to .005, almost .006", which I hope gives me room for most weather and humidity changes. In the end, I did not sand the saddle down. I'll call that an extra layer of safety or room to grow if needed. I'm still at 4.5/64 and 3.25/64 after filing the grooves and bringing the neck up. It feels fantastic, and I am much happier with it than I was yesterday.

On 6/4/2020 at 9:55 PM, 62burst said:

That's mighty low. Is this for an acoustic, or an electric guitar? Does scale length come into play when considering string height?

 

One issue on the SJ that I thought was odd was how the B-E strings used to feel flimsy and unsubstantial. It stretched out my fingers like a long-scale does, but was easier to play than my short-scale Bird. It's been like that since the beginning, too. The SJ now feels like it has the tension of a long scale. Getting the extra tension and definition was something I did not expect. I actually thought it was a Martin trait until today. Has to be either the nut slots allowing the strings to slide better, or the clearance due to the fret leveling? Not sure what else it could be.

A couple weeks on the stand to make sure, but so far, so good. Much happier about it today. It might join the HB and D-41 as being difficult to put down. A little personality shift that's hard to explain.

 

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Here are a few shots from the SJ surgery. Three of my little guitar related tool bags and boxes are on the counter in the back ground. Old re-purposed headphone boxes are really useful.  Note that the off-white tape in use is not standard masking tape. It's a low-tack tape they sell to be easy on guitar finishes. As tape, it almost doesn't work.

 

Getting Started - Room and table prepped for surgery.

IhfgFpZ.jpg

 

From The Top

iJQZfUF.jpg

 

It's hard to look at

1ItyGGH.jpg

 

Closer, please, Clarise! Closer! - Hannibal Lector MD

GhO2ZWT.jpg

 

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  • 8 months later...

Hello!

I have Gibson Hummingbird Early 60'  made in 1999.
I set it up as follows:
- neck relief 0.25 mm at 8 fret with capo on 1st fret and pressed on 17th fret (E 6)
-action on 12th fret E(6) = 3 mm
-action on 12th fret E(1) = 2.5 mm
-strings height at 1st fret = 0.75mm  E(6)
-string height at 1st fret = 0.40 mm E(1)
strings gauge  = .012-.054  DR Sunbeams

all measured and  done with Stew mac tools.

I wander do you know Gibson factory spec  for the setup?

Thanks
best regards

Edited by janko
more explanation
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1 hour ago, janko said:

Hello!

I have Gibson Hummingbird Early 60'  made in 1999.
I set it up as follows:
- neck relief 0.25 mm at 8 fret with capo on 1st fret and pressed on 17th fret (E 6)
-action on 12th fret E(6) = 3 mm
-action on 12th fret E(1) = 2.5 mm
-strings height at 1st fret = 0.75mm  E(6)
-string height at 1st fret = 0.40 mm E(1)
strings gauge  = .012-.054  DR Sunbeams

all measured and  done with Stew mac tools.

I wander do you know Gibson factory spec  for the setup?

Thanks
best regards

I converted and rounded the measurements to reflect the same units of measurements I was using and placed beside in bold. Hopefully someone will point out any mistakes.

- neck relief 0.25 mm (.010") at 8 fret .....
-action on 12th fret E(6) = 3 mm (7.5/64th)
-action on 12th fret E(1) = 2.5 mm (6.25/64th)
-strings height at 1st fret = 0.75mm  E(6) (.029")
-string height at 1st fret = 0.40 mm E(1) (.016")

I don't know what the factory specs are, but I do know that I've seen them listed differently from time to time. There was a checklist in my case when i bought mine new 3 years ago.  Here's what was hand-written on the spaces provided. Keep in mind, this is done in the relatively dry climate of Bozeman. I'm in a more humid climate and it came in a bit thicker.

- neck relief = Not even a space for it.
-Action 12th L=5, H =3  *which I assume is 5/64th(2mm) and 3/64th(1.2mm)
-Action 1st L=23, H=16 *I assume that's .023"(0.58mm) and .016"(0.40mm)

I've seen a few things. According to a book written by the Stewmac Luthier, Dan Erlewine, factory spec neck relief was .012"(0.30mm) I do not recall what mine was. My latest Gibson came in at .010"(0.25mm), but I do not recall whether that was bench or playing position.

As Gibson and everyone else says, and I'm sure you know already, these are all sort of rough guidelines. It has to do with playing style, preferences and how much you can get away with due to other factors like the net set angle and level frets. Leveling my frets was the biggest thing that allowed me to get the low action I wanted without serious buzzing. It all started with that Fret Rocker on Stewmac, but I'm sure the same could be accomplished with a series of small straight-edges.

You've been measuring. Are you just curious, or is there something you're trying to improve?

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On 6/3/2020 at 5:48 PM, BoSoxBiker said:

(Sorry for the length. Writing and surgical head injury do not go well together.)

And this is what happens when no local luthiers within an hours' drive and actually wanting to do luthier work exist. I would have preferred to pay for this a year ago. Now I am glad I could not. I went to great lengths to practice before doing anything to my nice guitars.

My Hummingbird has had moments of brilliance since I got it 23 months ago. The initial main set-up specs were decent enough, but I had to have this guitar right on it's lowest action point or deal with some impressive Arthritis pain. My preference for playing with minimal flareup has been a string height right at 5/64ths and 3.5/64ths, and neck relief somewhere around .006" and .004". Anything lower that and fret interference became an issue. If both measurements were on the low end, I had fret buzz - period. Anything above it, pain became a quick issue. I had the spare time, so I kept up with it. I tried .011s on a different guitar and did not care for it.  Every man chooses his poison, yah?

So, last year, I bought a Stewmac Fret Rocker and the Dan Erlewine (Stewmac) guitar repair book to see what I could do. I know I could have done similar with things around the house and internet sources, but this seemed so easy. As it turned out, this guitar was in decent overall shape and well within Gibson's range of specs. One notion grabbed attention. The suggestion in the Erlewine book that a Luthier could make a guitar even more playable and less noisy (sans fret buzz) by going to some more exacting standards and measurements. On a high level, basic view, he mentioned string height at 4/64 thick E @ 12th and just a hair over 2/64 on the thin E, and then neck relief down to .004".  

As lofty as it seemed, and I was suspicious, the individual items he wrote about made sense. I decided to try these things, but to take my own sweet time in doing so. I practiced on an Epiphone ES-335 and a ESP LTD acoustic guitar (a $350 laminated B&S solid top pile of junk I got from MF for $99 on a SDOTD. about 8 years ago. Good thing, as I ruined 3 nuts.

He goes into decent detail by describing what he looks for both the topic at hand and it's relationship to the big picture. I got a better sense of the big picture and geometry involved. I carefully inspected, measured and learned what I needed to do. I'm fairly uncoordinated with such things, so buying idiot-proof tools where it made sense was in order. That said, I also knew that I needed to figure out a way to do all of this over a longer period of time so that I might get better at each component than if I rushed into one big long weekend task. This took me a year, including the practicing on the more affordable guitars. I know my own demons. Coordination challenged is just the beginning for me. hah! 🙂

My hummingbird was somewhere along this point a year ago. I wanted to make that totally clear. This is in no way, shape or form, a Gibson bashing. More to the point, it is a compliment. I can compare this whole plan of attack to my SJ along with a Taylor 614 and a Martin D41. It is, indeed, possible to set up a Gibson Acoustic to such playable standards without getting a bunch of racket and noise. 

So my starting point a year ago:

  • Neck relief (6th to 8th fret) - .006"
  • Saddle Height (measure from top of bridge to bottom of string) - 10/64th lowest and 14/64th highest.
  • String height from body to bottom of string right before the bridge - 12.5mm highest points
  • Normal (non-excessive based on pro demos online) resonance in the B-E strings
  • Bridge Pins all wiggled WITH loose string in place.
  • 16" radius fairly consistent throughout, including all of the frets and strings at both ends. Just the high spots discovered with fret rocker.
  • String height at nut (measured at 1st fret thin through thick, and following a radius) - .021" - .026"
  • Hi-spots in frets using fret rocker - 8 varying from being really anal to quite obvious. The 3rd and 15th were end to end.

 

I replaced the saddle first, as part of removing the UST earlier, and got it to match the original overall height. I did like these two changes tonally speaking, but of course, it did little to nothing for the overall playing ease. I was still somewhat high on the overall saddle height using both the body and the bridge based measurements.

String height at the nut was next. I got the files over the holidays. I practiced on a couple other less expensive guitars, too, before attacking the hummingbird. Initially, this took quite some time as I was very timid after ruining a nut on the ESP LTD Acoustic beater guitar. I got them knocked down part of the way to the Erlewine spec. The method of using feeler gauges left my confidence quite low. I ended up getting that high-priced nut-slotting gauge from Stewmac, which was one of my better tool purchases to date. I ended up between .014" and .016" high-E thru low-E. The low-E was supposed to be closer to .020". I got over-confident and quick. I adjusted the others to maintain radius as closely as possible.  This was my big error of the whole long-term project, but it worked out well.

Next up in the plan was the fret leveling. I did one practice guitar doing an entire fret leveling, and another guitar doing spot leveling. One of the many things I learned was that even the little tiny high spots mattered as string height was reduced. All of the wires with in radius sans the high spots, and only two wires needed end to end attention. I did the somewhat risky thing and did the individual thing. I spent much money again on a tool - the Stewmac Fret Kisser - which allowed me the freedom to file without going to low. it worked. As this was my third guitar to do fret leveling on, the resulting crowning and polishing went very well. More expensive files and some darned nifty sanding cloth and a butt-load of tape. 

The last item was also the first item. A new saddle. I could have sanded the other one, but I had bought one as part of a (somewhat)matched set with dyed Colosi pins I got earlier this year. Might as well actually use it. I installed it, but did not go down to or below the height of the old one. I left the guitar otherwise setup overnight to settle in before deciding on how much more to take off. My plan was to leave the neck relief around the .006" mark for room to handle weather variations. I took the saddle down enough to leave my string height at 4.5/64ths and the 2.5/64s. If Erlewine's specs worked for me, this would leave me with with a minimum of .5/64 up or down before getting fret buzz or getting above that Arthritis pain trigger height. The amount I needed to come off the saddle would also reduce the actual saddle height numbers to 12/64(from bridge) and 11.5mm (from body). 

The sanding went decent enough, and the strings went back on just in case I needed to take more off or put my old saddle back in. Turns out it was just right. It took some playing and a few hours for the 2-day old strings to settle down from being both new and de-tensioned twice, but it worked and is still working after a few weather changes. The end result is best of both worlds. Plays like a dream with any sort of buzz resonance at extreme lows. The guitar is louder, too, which took me a few sittings to get used to. That Hummingbird motor is more evident. There is this sort of warmth that developed over the course of a 2-1/2 playing session last night that's hard to describe.

My ending measurements. I can go lower, but why? I wouldn't do it with this saddle right now. If I do anything other than the, it would have to be 100% reversible.

  • Nut - .014" to .016"
  • String height 12th fret  4.5/64 and 2.5/64
  • Neck Relief - .006" (in playing position. Closer to .008" on bench with neck rest below 3rd fret)
  • Saddle height from bridge (8.5/64 - 12/64)
  • Saddle Height from Body  highest point 11.5mm

 

Remaining issues:

  • Defect #1: (Minor ) Went too low on the bass strings at the nut according to the Erlewine spec.
  • Defect #2: (Minor) High-E string is in danger of messing up the radius at the nut.  (I was too much of a pansy to knock it down another .001". It's borderline, but I'm not convinced the contact point and break angle are perfect on this one and I can't see clearly even with my magnifying glass.) 
  • Defect #3: (Minor) There is not a single bit of doubt when testing the radius at the bridge. All strings are clearly vibrating on the radius gauge. The radius at the nut is not so obvious. The B string barely hits the gauge at all because of the slightly raised high E string.

 

Summary - I was 90% of the way to this level out of the box. I took tons of effort to get that final 10%. Would it have been worth it if not for arthritis flaring up? Who's to say. Worth every bit of effort to me right now, though. 🙂

 That's mighty low. Is this for an acoustic, or an electric guitar? Does scale length come into play when considering string height?

What are you measuring string height with?

There might be more electric players testing the acoustic waters if they could achieve the results you've obtained on your HB. Maybe. 'Still doesn't go up to 11, though.

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1 hour ago, annafedora said:

 That's mighty low. Is this for an acoustic, or an electric guitar? Does scale length come into play when considering string height?

What are you measuring string height with?

There might be more electric players testing the acoustic waters if they could achieve the results you've obtained on your HB. Maybe. 'Still doesn't go up to 11, though.

That is for acoustic guitars. SJ-200(Maple), SJ-200(Rosewood), Hummingbird Standard and a Martin re-imagined series D41. I've only got the one short scale, so I can't speak of the long scale verses short scale aspect. My Hummingbird does play the easiest as far as stretching my fingers out and such, my both my SJ-200s are a dream to play as far as pure action is concerned. 

I use mechanics rules, straight edges (notched and flat), feeler gauges and that mechanical-dial string height gauge from Stewmac for nut slot depths. Keep in mind that the only way the low action thing works for me is the leveled frets. I think that might have been Erlewine's big argument in his book also gotten from Stewmac. Without the leveled frets, buzzing galore below or even at 5/64 and 3.5/64.

All that said, listening to my guitars over the past 3-6 months, they have sort of steered me to their preferred action and neck relief, which on all were just a bit higher. The SJ-200s like being about 4.5-5/64 and 3-3.5/64 and the HB like being closer to 5/64 than 4/64, and near the 3.5/64 mark on the treble side. Neck Relief about 6/64 - 7/64. Those add up the points where they sing loud and proud, warm and rich and whatever else we can throw at them. Nice sweet spots sonically and for my fingers. The SJ-200s can creep down to or even below 4/64 (bass side) and get away with it, but it starts to feel too soft unless I bump the relief back towards .010".

The Martin D41 is it's own beast, but still can be fairly low. It likes 5-5.5/64 and 3.5-4/64 and .007" - .010" relief. Nut slots not quite as shallow, too. All of it was just a little bit more than with the HB. I had the Martin down close to 4/64 and 3/64, but did not like it. Not sure I remember why at the moment. Might have lost a little projection and/or clarity.

 

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20 hours ago, BoSoxBiker said:

I converted and rounded the measurements to reflect the same units of measurements I was using and placed beside in bold. Hopefully someone will point out any mistakes.

- neck relief 0.25 mm (.010") at 8 fret .....
-action on 12th fret E(6) = 3 mm (7.5/64th)
-action on 12th fret E(1) = 2.5 mm (6.25/64th)
-strings height at 1st fret = 0.75mm  E(6) (.029")
-string height at 1st fret = 0.40 mm E(1) (.016")

I don't know what the factory specs are, but I do know that I've seen them listed differently from time to time. There was a checklist in my case when i bought mine new 3 years ago.  Here's what was hand-written on the spaces provided. Keep in mind, this is done in the relatively dry climate of Bozeman. I'm in a more humid climate and it came in a bit thicker.

- neck relief = Not even a space for it.
-Action 12th L=5, H =3  *which I assume is 5/64th(2mm) and 3/64th(1.2mm)
-Action 1st L=23, H=16 *I assume that's .023"(0.58mm) and .016"(0.40mm)

I've seen a few things. According to a book written by the Stewmac Luthier, Dan Erlewine, factory spec neck relief was .012"(0.30mm) I do not recall what mine was. My latest Gibson came in at .010"(0.25mm), but I do not recall whether that was bench or playing position.

As Gibson and everyone else says, and I'm sure you know already, these are all sort of rough guidelines. It has to do with playing style, preferences and how much you can get away with due to other factors like the net set angle and level frets. Leveling my frets was the biggest thing that allowed me to get the low action I wanted without serious buzzing. It all started with that Fret Rocker on Stewmac, but I'm sure the same could be accomplished with a series of small straight-edges.

You've been measuring. Are you just curious, or is there something you're trying to improve?

Thanks for your reply,
I just measure  and want to compare to original Gibson specs. I  know that bluegrass , etc.  players want higher action. I am sort of in-between blues fingerpicking and bluegrass. My setup suits me fine in my climate.

Thanks again

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