Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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Huss & Dalton T-00-14 Guitar Setup

Most of the time I work on older guitars. (I'd say 'vintage' but that's getting so overused.  I am now seeing stuff from the 1980s being referred to as 'vintage'!).  But there are the occasions that I work on things that are recent.  This is a case in point.

This is an amazing, incredible Huss & Dalton Model T-0014 Custom.  It belongs to a good friend of mine, who asked me to do a setup on it.

Wow.  I am privileged to get to do this work.

The guitar was made in early 2014.  It's so nice and shiny and new that I put a new carpet mat on the workbench to make extra sure it didn't get scratched.

Here's the headstock.  Incredible Indian rosewood overlay - just fabulous.

The guitar is from H&D's 'Traditional' line - and this one is based largely on Martin's 00-18.

With one difference.

The difference is that the workmanship on this guitar is just astounding.  Martins are beautifully made, but this guitar's another thing entirely.  As a Martin owner and lover, I thought I would never say such a thing.

On the H&D, everything fits exactly.  There are absolutely no flaws anywhere.  Not a hint of a glue drip to be found.

And the best part might be the finish.  It's just impeccable.

The gorgeous koa binding was an option.  I can't find words to describe how beautiful it is.

It's so glossy I had a hard time getting good pictures of it.

The rosewood on the back is simply stunning.

We are really in a golden age of lutherie.  There are so many fine makers, small and larg(er) that quality is at an incredible peak.   Makers are taking classic designs and elevating them to new heights.

The tuners are 1930s Martin-style made by Waverly.  Fantastic quality.

And they look great. I love those small tuning knobs.  And the brass gear.

Did I say the finish is amazing?

So, enough drooling and get to work!

I measured the low E action at a crazy 9/64ths of an inch.  My friend called the guitar "the cheese grater" because the action was so high.

This need-for-a-setup is not uncommon on new guitars, even such a fine one as this one.  The guitar is still settling after it's built, and most builders figure that the dealer will do a setup to the individual's preference.

In this case, for whatever reason, the dealer did not set it up.   But fortunately for me, I get to do it!

I measured a tad over .020 inches relief at the 9th fret.  The neck dips like a bowl.

I'll adjust the truss rod, set the nut action, and set the action at the saddle if needed.  Huss and Dalton provided a nice tall saddle for just that reason.

The truss rod adjustment nut is a 1/8 inch hex located at the top of the neck block.   I have a regular hex wrench in there for this picture, but I'll use a longer wrench for the actual adjustment.

You can't get enough leverage on the nut with a short wrench to turn it much.

Here's another shot of the neck block along with the ID plate.  The workmanship inside is simply astounding.  And look at that rosewood!

It also smells wonderful.  I wish I could shrink myself (like Paul McCartney in Help! ) and crawl inside the guitar and spend some there.  It's that inviting.

I'm not sure this guitar has a bolt-on neck, but if it does, I'm betting the screws holding the plate on cover the bolts for the neck.  I need to look that up. 

Ironically, there is a "use light strings" label there.  The guitar shipped with .012s.  I suppose they are light, but I'd call them more like medium-light.

At any rate, I'll be putting .012s on it.  They're a good compromise between .011 or lighter (too light, thin and rattly-sounding) and .013s.   I was an .013 adherent for decades, but now I think .012s work just as well.

I really dig these Stew-Mac u-shaped truss rod wrenches.  At less than 10 smackers a pop, I can afford to have a full set of different sizes.

After a couple twists of the wrench, we have the relief down to maybe .004 of an inch.  Hard to capture it under the mediocre lighting in The Dungeon, but if you look closely, you'll see a sliver of the green background between the straightedge and the tops of the frets.

I probably could have gone a tad straighter, but the neck may further settle, and the thing is pretty much perfect as is anyway.

I save 'absolutely straight' for Rickenbackers!

Now a couple of strokes with the trusty nut files.  I like to get the nut action as low as possible - meaning a few thousandths of an inch over the first fret.

If you haven't played a guitar with proper nut action, you are missing out.  Playing in the first position is effortless when the action is correct.

The action at the 14th fret (I set action height measuring at the body joint on acoustic and electric guitars) is  ok at this point, but it's a tad high.

So I popped out the saddle and am going to take a bit off the bottom.

Check out the nice compensated bone saddle.  It's marked for the bass ("B") and treble ("T") sides at H&D.

With some 100 grit paper on my trusty fret leveling block, we take a few passes on the bottom of the saddle.

Be sure to watch the bottom as you go to ensure it stays square!  I sometimes use a second block as a fence to keep the saddle upright.

And sometimes I carefully just wing it.

Almost there.  I like to make a short mark for depth across the saddle, sand some, put the saddle on and tune it back up and test.

If it's still high, I'll repeat the whole process.

Taking off a small amount at a time (say a 64th of an inch or less) ensures you won't go too low.

In the end, I took about 1/32 off the bottom on the bass side and just about 3/64 off the treble.

The action at the 14th fret is now just below 5/64ths on the bass and exactly 4/64s on the treble.  The guitar plays very well and the owner is happy!

I forgot to say how it sounds.  It's very balanced and incredibly loud, especially for the smallish body size.  I can only imagine how it will sound 10 years from should be fantastic.  It's not cheap, but you get what you pay for in workmanship and tone.

Oh I almost forgot!

Check this out.  It's on the inside of the guitar's top just below the soundhole.


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