Trade Secrets Article

Trade Secrets Article

beckboogiesStewart-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

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.

Beck busy at work

Beck busy at work

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.

Beck's "Wall of Fame"

Beck’s “Wall of Fame”

“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”.

Beck’s favorite fret sizes
  1. .078″ x .043″ narrow vintage for Fender, Martin, and some Gibsons;
  2. .102″ x .042″ wide vintage for Gibson “wide oval”;
  3. .118″ x .058″ jumbo rock’n roll;
  4. .090″ x 0.55″ medium/tall

“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.)

Guitar/Repair/Maintenance Classes:  
Anyone interested in a one on one, hands on course tailored to their needs should call me at 480-829-9630.

Acoustic body crack repair

Acoustic body crack repair

People oftentimes call about a crack in the face of their acoustic guitar, ( or the side or the back) and need to know how this will affect the sound.  Does this make the guitar more fragile?  Will the crack spread?  How does one fix this problem????


I’ve heard several people tell me that if you just squeeze the cracked area, one could actually close the crack; but 99% of the time these cracks are caused by shrinkage or banging the guitar against something hard, and actually breaking the wood.  No matter how much clamping you do all you will likely do is make things worse.

The real answer is to carefully reinforce the back side of the crack (depending on how long the crack is, and where it is) with what is commonly known as a “cleat of similar wood”.  What this will do is to actually join the cracked area, making it stronger than before, and squeezing glue up thru the cracked area.  This must be done is a most careful manner.


The photos show an invention I devised to pull a small cleat of spruce, rosewood, or mahogany thru the sound hole, and carefully, but firmly, increase pressure on the back of the cleat, and at the same time flatten out the area where the crack may be “feelable”.

In other words, the guitar area isn’t perfectly flat and needs to be. This will also dramatically eliminate the crack from spreading up or down or in any direction.  If a crack is several inches long, then several cleats may be necessary to reinforce the damaged area and add to the stability of the crack.


The photos show the tools I’ve invented, and what the cleat looks like from behind on a 1930 Gibson guitar. If you’re getting this far into repairing guitars I invite you to examine the repair, and do your own brain work; figure out how I make this work.  I can’t give away all my secrets, but with a little brain power and some experimentation, you’ll get it.  


Hand made guitars vs. Hand crafted

Hand made guitars vs. Hand crafted

Hand made? Hand crafted? What’s the difference?

Hand made guitars!!! Hand crafted!!!  These are some of the catch phrases that I commonly hear when people are demonstrating the love they feel for their guitar, and are worried that I won’t give it the loyal love and attention, as it was HAND MADE!  The quality and integrity of their special guitar, the guitar they love, the guitar that made them write that hit song, or just play at home to impress and woo the wife or girlfriend.  What does that really mean?????

Chris Martin, President of Martin guitars, has said: “We must move to more characteristic (read defects – in his words) wood products”.  In other words, take the defects as they come as wood is a slowly yet replenishable resource, and it takes hundreds of years TO REPLENISH.

Country of manufacture stamp.

Country of manufacture stamp.


Manufactures must convince the general public to purchase a guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo, classical guitar, that is marked hand made, hand crafted, maker in the English language.  I can’t be certain, but I’m guessing there may be no more than 10 actual full time luthiers in any one of each of the fifty states, actually working full time, building instruments to make a moderate, or reasonable, or even great living at their art of instrument building.

Have any of you been to any of the big factories????  I was sales MANAGER AT WARMOTH GUITAR PRODUCTS YEARS AGO.  Nearly everything is made by a computer numeric router!  Nothing wrong with a computer numeric, for decades.  Routers do spit out literally hundreds of identical necks, bodies, braces – you name it.  But to label this kind of guitar building HAND crafted or Hand-made is just criminal!  Its like dressing a pig in silk.  You still got a pig.  There’s Gibson, Martin, Taylor, Warmouth (they actually make parts for Valley Arts, Roger Sadowsky, Rose Guitars, Buddy Blaze, dozens of small electric builders who claim to make their own guitars).  Gibson, Taylor, Martin, Guild, Fender, and off shore imports like Ibanez, Aria, Yamaha, and all the stuff now coming out of China, it’s still not hand made in the tradition of a single person making a guitar with his own 2 hands!!!

Rich at Warmoth back in the day.

Rich at Warmoth back in the day.

Custom guitars, (like the ones played Mary Chapen Carpenter, The Rolling Stones, Lindsey Buckingham, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, just to name a few), the luthiers who make these guitars are actually cutting the wood by hand, shaping it to the customers satisfaction, asking the customer what he wants and what he expects the instrument to perform, THAT’S A HAND MADE GUITAR!!!!!!

Ever notice how exactly Taylors, Gibsons, Martins, have near identical neck shapes??

So just remember when you come into my shop for work on your “hand made” guitar (as I have built many hand made guitars and basses and have learned all the tricks, by hand, and hard work), show some respect for the years we put in to the dying art of “HAND MADE GUITARS”.