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The Toolbox

posted Oct 23, 2013 03:19:28 by MichaelWamback
Thought it might be good for newbies to post some info about our favorite tools for working on Chibsons. Those things that live inside your tool box that you would give up sex and snickers before tossing out. I'll start, but feel free to add. There are a lot of good tools out there.

Of course, there's the basics in terms of some decent screwdrivers, Allen keys and such. No need to list those.

Of the specialty tools that I find indispensable:

(1) A good fret rocker



This is what you use to find high frets. You span 3 frets, and if the middle fret is high the tool will slightly rock or be unstable. High frets may not always be the ones you think they are, and this will let you know for sure. If I'm leveling frets, then I use this to check them again after crowning, just to make sure everything is still level (and once again just before the final buff or polishing.) Cost: $10

(2) Diamond crowning file



Sure, there are less expensive tools for crowning frets. But as a wise man said, better to cry once when you buy a tool than every time you use it.

A diamond crowing file is used to round frets after they have been leveled. The advantages of a diamond file is that it makes very fine cuts without leaving tool marks. This makes the polishing process a lot quicker and easier. If there is just one slightly high fret, you can even use this to shave it down, rather than level all the frets. These come in 150 and 300 grit. The 300 grit is plenty fast, but won't remove material too quickly. That's great if you don't have a lot of experience dressing frets. Cost: $100

(3) Action Finder



I've already written about this great little tool. You use it to measure the gap between the bottom of the string and the top of the fret. You can measure on the 1st fret to determine if the nut slots are the correct height, you can measure at the 12th fret to set the action height of the bridge, and you can use it to measure the neck relief by pressing the strings at the first and last fret and then measuring the gap at the 7th or 8th fret. Great little tool, accurate to within .001 inch. (Before you measure relief, make sure your frets are level. Uneven frets can throw off that measurement. I actually thought my friends guitar had decent relief, but when I went to level the frets I was shocked to find it actually had a bit of back bow.) Cost: $30

(4) A really good hot soldering iron

Lots of people make the mistake of getting an iron that won't heat to a high enough temperature. A really hot iron will let you flow solder quickly on a pot, reducing the amount of time it's subjected to heat. Better yet, think about investing in a soldering station with a variable heat iron. Don't scrimp here, and don't buy one of those soldering guns as they can cause issues with some electronic parts. Cost: varies

(5) Multi meter



If you are going to wire a guitar, you need to invest in one of these. And let's face it, none of us have ever purchased a Chibson that didn't need wiring. A multi meter can be used to test ground connections, measure the "k" of pickups so you can tell which is bridge and which is neck, measure the values of pots and lots of other helpful uses. And hey, you can even use it to tell which batteries are good and which are dead in your drawer. Having a multi meter can prevent a lot of headaches. Cost: $30 or so (lots of variety online)

(6) Nut files



These are small files of various width for cutting the slots in nuts or bridge saddles. Many times, the Chibson guitars will have a nut that isn't cut deep enough, or a nut that binds the string. These files have a rounded edge to create the perfect shape for the string to rest in. The right tool for the right job. They are available individually, or in a set. Cost: approx $120 a set

(7) Fret level system

There are a bunch of ways to do this, but basically it's either a very straight file or a straight beam of some sort that you can attach sticky back sandpaper to. You can buy proper tools for this, or you can search around on the net and find clever devices that you can find at Home Depot that work well and are relatively inexpensive. You'll want one of these if your frets on your Chibson are totally messed up, with lots of high and low spots causing buzz.

These are what I consider my essential tools for making a cheap guitar playable.

You can add to that list things like sandpaper of various grades, a hand drill with foam pad and car polish (for polishing frets), a piece of leather (for final fret buff), some bore oil (or some other similar oil) for oiling rosewood fretboards, a good accurate tuner for setting intonation - and you should have everything you need to work on your Chibson (unless it needs major structural repairs.)

What else do you guys have in your toolboxes?
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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6 replies
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MichaelWamback said Oct 23, 2013 03:27:58
Should also have added:

(8) Tapered Reamer



You use this tool to enlarge the holes when converting from those damn cheap mini pots to some decent full size CTS or Bourns potentiometers. Makes quick work of enlarging the holes. Can also be used to enlarge the holes in a headstock for tuners if need be. Very useful little tool. You can pick one up for under $10 on Ebay
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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auditsq said Oct 23, 2013 07:45:55
great tips.. the crowning file from Stewmac seems like a must have.. im usin my trusty Dunlop still .. wow this place is starting to take of bigtime Michael.. thx for your input here ..much appreciated / cheers
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Rob said Oct 23, 2013 11:39:22
Thanks for the info! I'm digging that action finder you wrote about!
"Be the person your dog thinks you are!"
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MichaelWamback said Oct 23, 2013 16:07:39
Thanks guys. I really appreciate the work that CGS does, and it was a huge inspiration in working up the courage to plunk down $700 I couldn't afford to loose on my first Chibson. I also know how hard it is to get a fourm up and running in the beginning. I figured the best way I could pay him back is by trying to start lots of useful threads and post lots of comments. This could be a valuable resource, and I really want to see it be a success. Main reason being that a lot of message boards will kick you off (practically - or at least delete your posts) if you start talking up Chibsons as being any good at all. Feels like those of us who are into this hobby of buying and building Chinese guitars now have a home.

Honestly, invest the $100 in the diamond crowning file and you will never look back. It does such an amazing job, and you have zero chance of any file chatter. You can file in both directions, since it is a fine coating of diamond dust that is doing the cutting. And because it cuts so fine, it doesn't leave deep scratches that need to be buffed out.

Every time I use mine, I'm so glad I spent the money.

The slots on each edge are slightly different size. One is narrow/medium and the other is medium/wide. It's a bit hard to tell which is which, and either side will work for most guitar frets which seem to fall in the "medium" category. It's concave, so even a beginner like myself can get perfectly rounded frets each and every time. You really don't need a lot of skill to use one of these.

Read a quote somewhere back from a luthier that said the current tools are getting so good that all he does these days is pretty much sweep up after them. :)
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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EricMidgett said Oct 24, 2013 01:51:22
Quick question about the reamer. When enlarging a hole on a finished guitar, do you go from the finished or unfinished side? Should painters tape be used?

Thanks in advance and thanks for all of your posts.
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MichaelWamback said Oct 24, 2013 04:25:56
When using a reamer, particularly a tapered reamer, there really is no need to use tape. As they say, go slow and let the tool do the work. The reamer has really sharp edges that enlarge the hole by gently scraping away material. You can often insert them in a drill, but I prefer to do it by hand since it's more gentle.

I usually start on the finished side and enlarge the hole so that the shaft of the volume pot just fits into it without pushing all the way through. Remember, the reamer is tapered so the hole will be tapered as well. Once you have the finished side of the hole enlarge just enough for the shaft to fit in, I flip the guitar over and ream some from the back. This will tend to make the hole more uniform rather than tapered, and give a better fit. This is actually crucial when doing a thicker piece of wood like enlarging headstock holes for tuners.

I specifically purchased a this reamer from General Tools:



I liked the way the cutting blades were set on it, as it looked like it might be a big gentler than the others. Cost me about $15 on Amazon. It does a really nice job.

Actually, for enlarging tuner holes I use a step reamer. It's also sometimes called a "prop reamer" since the model airplane guys use them for enlarging holes in wooden propellers. The advantage to this is that it cuts holes in exact sizes with perfectly straight sides. The reason they don't use tapered reamers is that an imprecise hole would cause vibration, damaging their model airplane motors. These reamers are from Great Planes and are available in standard or metric. (The cutting tips are just the slanted parts of the reamer, the straight parts of the shaft have no cutting edge.)



The standard size makes holes 3/16, 1/4, 5/16 and 3/8 increments. The metric step reamer is 7, 8 and 10 mm increments. These are great when you want a hole that specific size. Since CTS pots are typically 3/8 inch shaft diameter, the step reamer would work well. Unfortunately my step reamer is the metric one, so I chose to use the tapered reamer I have for enlarging the holes for my pots. You can find prop reamers by Great Planes on Ebay for just a bit over $10. (I had purchased the metric step reamer to install Planet Waves tuners on a headstock with smaller vintage holes. It was a piece of maple, and it made a really nice job of it with no tearing of wood.

(I would always choose a step reamer like the one pictured for doing headstock holes if possible. You really want the walls of the holes to be straight.)

(This is one of those times where I wouldn't recommend Stewart MacDonald as a source. Their reamers are hugely overpriced, and you can purchase equivalent products from Amazon or Ebay for less than half the amount.)

If you are really nervous about chipping the finish of the guitar with a reamer, use the sandpaper method. Take a piece of at least a medium grade of sandpaper and roll it into a tube (sanding side out of course.) Insert it into the hole you want to enlarge for the volume or tone pot and work it up and down. As the hole gets bigger, you can unwind the paper a bit to continue to make contact all around the edges of the hole. This is a way to make the holes bigger that is virtually risk free. Always measure frequently so you don't make the holes too big.

Using sandpaper will take a bit of time, but if you have a couple of hours to kill and only one guitar to do it will work. I've done a few guitars that way. A reamer will do the same job in a few minutes.
[Last edited Oct 24, 2013 04:26:47]
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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