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What Do Guitars Have to Do With Configuring a Hi-Fi System?

One of my diversions involves building and rebuilding Fender style guitars.

This particular project has been ongoing for quite some time, and as I’ll explain, it’s been fraught with pitfalls, much like trying to dial in your hi-fi system.

So you might ask … other than this being a musical instrument, what this has to do with hi-fi.


What’s a Partscaster?

Leo Fender’s genius was in part due to his modular approach – the bolt-on neck guitar which was revolutionary at its introduction.  Fender’s first guitar was the Esquire – a single pickup version of what came to be known as the Telecaster.

In recent years, builders of fine acoustic guitars like the Taylor company have embraced the bolt-on neck concept, but in Leo’s day, it was scoffed at by the “serious” companies like Gibson.

Leo was trying to put out tools for the working musician who were no different from todays’ musicians … poor.  He was very much the Henry Ford of the musical instument industry: streamlining manufacturing, saving every possible penny, and introducing new concepts like the bolt on neck.

Over the past 20 years, parts companies have sprung up and hobbyists are “building” their own Fender style guitars from parts, and hence the term “partscaster”.

Specifying and Refining

I’ve found developing and refining these guitars to very much parallel the tuning of one’s hi-fi system.  With good parts, you can achieve acceptable results, but achieving greatness is a painstaking process of balancing strengths and weaknesses.

This particular project has been ongoing for some 7 years, and I was never quite happy with it.  I’ve changed necks, pickups, bridge saddles (and materials), tuners, strings … every conceivable part.  They’ve all made subtle (and sometimes dramatic) changes, but this guitar never reached the promised land.

I was ready to sell that neck – much as I absolutely loved how it felt in my hand.  Guitar necks are very personal, and guitarists are loath to part with a neck that feels “right” in their hand – much as it might negatively affect an instrument’s sound.

You Find Something the Last Place You Look For It

Three weeks ago, I made a minor change to the value of a single tone control capacitor (a $1.00 part).  Bingo! I had never tried that value, for reasons I can explain if there’s enough interest.

Sound familiar?

I won’t get into the technical underpinnings, but feel free to either comment below or contact me privately, and I’ll delve more deeply into this.  The short story is that even when set to “10”,  the tone control circuit loads the guitar pickup down, in the same manner that loading your MC cartridge does.

The Lesson

This is a hobby for me, and so I’ve worked at this project off and on with no pressure to reach completion, and I’m learning as I go.

If this had been a hi-fi system and I had gone through the same learning curve, it could have resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in expenses over multiple years, with most of those trials leading me down a blind alley.

I’m curious about your thoughts, but here are my takeaways as they relate to hi-fi system tuning:

  • The component you’re about to sell may not be the culprit.  Don’t shoot the messenger (see neck, above).
  • If you can at all commiserate with someone who’s walked down the path you’re taking, by all means do so.  They might just suggest the equivalent of that $1.00 capacitor change.
  • The high-priced, boutique manufacturer/dealer may be able to save you money in the long run.
  • The average dealer has always been at a disadvantage.  See next section.

The Dealer is at a Disadvantage

World-class systems are balanced on a knife edge, and can take years of tuning to achieve greatness.

Dealers are at the mercy of the manufacturers whose products they carry, and all too frequently, a model change can introduce unintended system incompatibilities.  The dealer is left scrambling to restore balance.

The solution is as it has always been – tribal knowledge of known, working combinations, in both the dealer community as well as the audiophile one.

The dealer can’t always switch vendors in mid-stream to adjust to a change forced on him, and the poor audiophile is faced with trying to separate internet mythology from truth.

Over the past two decades, the internet has fostered the growth small, boutique manufacturers – ones who have the luxury of refining a single system over multiple years of development.

Frequently, you can save years of trial and error by working with a small manufacturer who’s had the advantage this targeted focus – setting their attention to doing a few things extraordinarily well as opposed to trying to be all things to all people.

Here at Galibier, we’ve set our sites on accomplishing the extraordinary.