how's your action?
a few days ago i shipped off a ukulele and a couple guitars (yes, my little hobby is taking over my life) to carl at carl's custom guitars for some upgrades. (my favorite line in all the matrix trilogy, when neo runs into the agents for the first time in the second movie and they're faster than before: "hmmmm... upgrades...") the uke (kala tenor ka-kt) and the acoustic (yamaha sg700s) needed some electronics so i can plug 'em in (just cuz) and the gretsch (electromatic g5120) was just begging for a rocker bridge (better mass for tone and fewer snags for whammying the bigsby), and as part of the service carl was kind enough to adjust the action on all three, just for me. (he'll do it for you too if you ask him--he's good that way).
i think any non-musical women otherwise interested might be disappointed to learn that "action" in this context means the height of the strings from the fretboard, and adjusting it is a definite art because too low and the strings'll buzz and go dead on you, but too high and it's like trying to pull telephone wires down to the street with the tip of your finger--literally--and just right isn't as easy to achieve as you might think. (something i've tried with varying success on previous instruments, proving that you always want to send an expert to do an expert's job on something like this). well, the review is simple: all three play better, sound better, (another of the adjustments is to adjust the string length from the nut to the bridge, and i swear this isn't dirty, either, to just the right distance so that the tone carries true on every one of the frets all the way up the neck), and FEEL better (the importance of good action can never be underrated) than ever before. carl even polished them all and treated the wood so they look better than ever, too.
naturally, i plugged in the uke first, and was wow'ed by how awesome it sounds with its new under-saddle piezo. a uke expert advised me to go with the glue-on option instead, to be able to amplify the tone *after* it's resonated through the wood, but i've thought a lot about it, and i think i'll prefer the wider frequency response that i'll enjoy from the saddle (the little piece the strings sit on at the bottom where the vibrations are the most direct and "true" as far as the strings are concerned) instead of going for the richer, but less versatile, tone i'd get from gluing a piezo to the inside of the soundbox and working off the wood. yeah, it may have lost me just a wee bit of "uke"-ness, but i'm going to make up so much more of it in everything else that i think i can live with it. (worst case, i switch to the glue-on later, or, even, buy a second and better uke which isn't far out of the picture, either). the great news for me, (though not so much for my neighbors), is that the saddle pickup puts great tone into the amp, and fuzzes up like cotton candy, or a basketful of barbed wire, just as you please. AWESOME. (thanks, carl!)
the acoustic is similarly tuned in via the (new bone) saddle, and sounds GREAT. a bone saddle really amps up the volume, richness and tone all by itself as compared with the composite version that's stock with the guitar, and carl has mine sanded down to perfection so that both the sound and the action is like, as mike meyers in his best barbra streisand fan voice says, buttah. fun. the even funnier part is learning how carl's ear and mine are so different. i had worked in the last set of strings until they were mellow mellow mellow, and really liked how they smoothed themselves out and gave up every bit of their original (to me, tinny) twang. (along with, granted, some of their other tone, but that's what i mean by different). carl immediately recognized the setup needed new strings, which were in the case, and he put on, but i'm finding that i'm compelled to whale the crap out of it as hard as i can so i can beat these new ones into submission, too. i LIKE my sound a certain way, hey. it's great when you start to "move in" to your instrument, and you know both what you like, and how to get it. (step #1: take it to carl).
as for the gretsch, well...
carl likes the feel of the flat-wounds on the gretsch, too. (strings that are smoother and not as ridged, albeit a tad more expensive). there's something they compel in you when you feel them, and i know they're most popular for jazz players who go for that smoother sound, but i absolutely adore the way they heat up when you crank up the gain and overdrive 'em through the tube amp, and rock out. ("little sammy was a punk rocker...") with the rig all tuned up the way only carl has been able to tune it, the whole thing absolutely SINGS. i could not possibly be more pumped.
the seymour duncan twin tube pre-amp comes from ups on monday. i got a chance to test drive one, and it's absolutely what i want for the whole set. the obvious capability will be kicking some serious ass when the hollow-body gretsch is cranked up and rolling. the 16 volt system and twin tubes will give the guitar a massive and very pure power drive into whatever amp i'll be running with it, (the fender blues junior in carl's signature all-wood cabinet, tyvm), and it'll rock like very few people's toys will rock. (now, if only i could actually PLAY it...) but for the uke...
everybody keep leaning me towards the truer "uke" sound, but i know that's not what i'm going for--not entirely, and not every time. oh, the seymour duncan will push clean signal like nobody's business, and that's the fine part about that. the uke will sound full and clean and perfect when i want or need it to. but with the tubes warming everything up and pushing it just that little bit further, my little wooden toy is going to have a growl and a bite to it whenever i please, too.
can you tell i'm like a kid in a candy store?
step one: dump anyone in your life who doesn't believe in your dreams.
step two: live 'em.
step three: encore!
if you've ever wanted to get your best out of a stringed instrument, talk to carl. he's gonna hook you up and leave you smiling and breathless with the way it plays, and that's a fact. and then, when you think you can stand it, you can boogie up to portsmouth on saturday, and see carl really cut it loose, and then you'll know there'll always be more to which to aspire.
i'm loving life today. are you?
follow your dream.