Thursday, 19 September 2013

Haynes Electric Guitar Manual - How to 'HotRod' your Electric Guitar

A book that has been used in my guitar building exploits and adventures is the The Haines Electric Guitar Manual written by Paul Balmer.

I'm a very visual kind of person, I need pictures, graphic examples, clear instructions. Paragraphs of dry black and white text mean nothing to me, I need to be able feel the size and shape of the guitar parts as the person is instructing me about them - or at least to do a pretty good job of imagining them.

The Haynes manual is nice A4 size, not too heavy and it has a hard cover which is a good idea when there's sharp tools and soldering iron's flying about! The book has been so well thought out; the format is clear and concise, and the general tone is relaxed and friendly. When I'm learning to DIY guitars I don't want some guy coming on to me like my school woodwork teacher for example.

The manual attempts to cover a lot of ground and I think does a reasonable job in showing the novice and intermediate level 'luthier' how to set-up, service, modify and repair most styles of electric guitar themselves. Paul Balmer introduces the 'Big Four' right at the beginning of the book: The Stratocaster, Les Paul, SG and Telecaster, with detailed descriptions, pictures on their individual history, body, pickup, neck, hardware types and how they 'should sound'.

The early parts of the book may be a little dull by the more experienced player (tuning, buying options), but Balmer soon moves on to truss rod adjustment, setting action and intonation and nut replacement and modification. I think all the latter are of paramount importance to the amateur player or the the young kid who's just got into the guitar; string height and a badly cut nut are often the biggest evil in making the keen starter frustrated at the outset. Large detailed step by step colour pics with clear instructions take you through the previously occult arts of adjusting the tremelo tension, changing/replacing jack sockets, pickups, volume and tone controls, machine heads and even fret dressing and basic 'relicing' amongst other assorted esoterica.

What I found particularly useful were the chapters on the correct types of tools required: soldering irons, digital calliper's, solder. I always pick the book up when I'm changing potentiometers and caps as I often get mixed up with my 500k/200k, humbucker/single coil set-ups. But all of the latter as well as capacitors and switches are explained in detail, with little 'tip boxes' from the professional luthier John Diggins.

A few pages throughout the book are devoted to amps and effects, but just for general reference. What I did like about the amp pages where the red warning text boxes warning the unqualified and unwary away from tinkering about with amplifier wiring. I wouldn't go near the back of one of those, I'll stick to guitars, it's easier and safer.

The book finishes off with 12 specific 'case studies'; these are guitars that have been bought new and used and the potential problems the player faces when attempting to set them up and get the best sound possible. Examples include an Epiphone SG, Les Paul 'Dot'-semi, 'Classic Vibe' Squier Tele, Squier Strat, Ibanez Artcore, Eastwood Airline, Danelectro and a Vintage Flying V. All these represent the kind of entry level instruments available to the budding player and more experienced twanger who wants to modify/upgrade these instruments from the secondhand market.

But these case studies are great for any builder/player of any level as they enable you to understand all the most popular hardware/pickup/electronic configurations that you will be faced with on your long (and hopefully) fruitful and happy career as a DIY guitar buff.

Just a nice book to have hanging around in the workshop when you get a little tired of staring into a laptop screen for that bit of guitar info that you need when covered in solder and sweating like a pig.

~ H-Allen