Stewart-MacDonald has the hard-to-find tools, parts, and supplies needed by builders and repair shops. He publishes articles, by recognized experts, on his website http://www.stewmac.com/
He wrote this after visiting Beck’s Guitar Specialty Services
Way out in Arizona, ‘midst the desert heat and scorpions, Phoenix area musicians have an oasis; Beck’s Guitar Specialty Services. Luthier/Master Repairman Richard Beck’s client list includes such notables as The Gin Blossoms, The Meat Puppets, Lyle Lovet’s Band (guitarist Ray Herndon), Prince’s guitar player Jesse Johnson, Gerry Cantrell, Glen Campbell’s band, and even Glen himself (Beck does his personal instruments). Recently, enroute to the Namm show, I visited Richard to see if he had any old Trade Secrets laying around that he wasn’t using…
Located in a modern shopping center near Arizona State University, Beck’s Guitars is far more that the guitar repair shop I’d expected. Customers enter a retail showroom where well stocked parts and accessory counters block access to the rear shop which is visible through a wide connecting doorway.
Walls can speak, and the showroom tells you of Beck’s meticulous nature, and attention to detail. “A professional works here,” states the tasteful interior decorating.
“You can trust your guitar with this man, he takes good care of stuff,” guarantee the clean safety padded countertop work board and guitar neck rest.
Although Beck’s direct approach might seem rudely blunt to some, what you see is what you get, and he’s as refreshing as a cold Gatorade on nearby South Mountain. A man who obviously enjoys people, Richard entertains with his quick sense of humor. While unlocking the front door he says, “See the sign? It says ‘No food or drinks inside please.’ That’s the first clue, if you can’t read this sign – if you come in with a sandwich– then I’ll know you’re not smart enough to have me work on your guitar.”
“I like this plaque” he continues as we step inside and he points to “Picks Of The Rich And Famous” in a red lacquered frame, “it’s a reminder to me of where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through. For years I’d go backstage to rock concerts trying to sell guitars. A lot of times they wouldn’t buy a guitar, sometimes they would and I got to steal some of their picks.”
In Beck’s 15’x28′ shop, a drill press stands at the far end by the rear service door; the buffing machine is along the right hand wall between the bathroom and a small “sawdust room” used for template routing and wood planing.
Most of the power tools, a tables, thickness planer, jointer, dust collector, and drum sander – stand in the center of the room. When not in use, the power tool surfaces all become building stations, hosting a side bender and numerous molds and parts.
The repair bench extends the entire length of the left hand wall (a wall covered with tools), and though it’s covered with small tools and work in progress, the bench is amazingly uncluttered. Rich is neat, and a clever organizer. Triple tiered Magna-Bar magnetic tool holders securehundreds of small steel tools – from drill bits to chisels in an easy to reach fashion.
Along with a heavy repair load, Beck and his apprentice Kurt Painter produce a dozen guitars a year. “Mostly we build our maple Mini-Jumbo model patterned after an old Gibson Everly Brothers guitar I loved,” Beck says. “Our differs from the J-185 model (the basis for the Everly Brothers model) in that it has a tighter waist, is slightly longer overall, and it’s quite a bit deeper too. My biggest influence was John Greven of Bloomington Indiana, who answered 2000 of my first questions.
“After repairing guitars for twenty years, and seeing lots of cracks in the top along the free board, I build the area from the waist downward quite delicately, but I beef up the bracing in the upper bout. It hasn’t hurt the sound, because our guitars sound great, and are bought by customers who’ve done serious comparison shopping before placing an order. Now, along with building guitars for customers, which makes money to help keep the shop running, we need to start building some guitars for the store, too. People need to see our work, and we don’t always have one to show them.
Beck on fretting
“After I put the frets in (assuming they’re round, perfectly installed, and with very little removed from the tops during leveling) I shape them using one of four different sized triangle files ranging in width from 1/8″ to 1/4″, and in overall length from 5″ to 7”.
“I chose from seven files actually, because some are more worn than others. I just keep grabbing files ’til one feels right. There’s no science to it. The reason I have four sizes is that frets of different thickness and height require different width files to get the right ‘attack.’
“I don’t want the frets to be round. I like ’em to be sort of little mini pyramids, for the best intonation. Fret slots are calculated to be within thousandths of an inch, and someone with really good ears is gonna hear it if a string contacts off center. As for whether or not triangulated frets wear faster, I get plenty of dresses out of my fret jobs, and face it – everything’s a compromise. So unless requested not to, I file a slight pyramid shape into any of the four standard fret sizes which I rely on most. (See another Trade-Secret article about fret polishing here.)
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