Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The King Mortone and excellence...

To quote the late Steve Jobs:

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected”

Nothing is ever easy…the King Mortone is coming along nicely. Lonnie finally got the fingerboard flat and smooth to his satisfaction. The other challenge is finding the correct screws for the tuner plates. There were a few screws missing and not all matched so we have been on a search for the correct size, color and shape of oval head screws. You would think no problem, go to the hardware store and buy new screws. It’s not that easy to find vintage replacement # 3 X 3/8” screw from the mid 1950’s. Things have changed in 60 years. Lonnie has made trips to four different specialty stores looking for a match and countless hours online looking. We think we found a good match at a vintage guitar restoration dealer. We will soon find out when the post office delivers $8.00 worth of screws for $9.00 of shipping. That is the price you pay for excellence. The devil is in the details…it is all the small details that make the big difference when the bass is finished.

The second bump in the road which was an “ah-ha” moment is when Lonnie began to fit the bridge. He always starts by using the A string to hold the bridge in place with tension to get his measurements and alignment starting place. He called me to the workshop to look at the strings, Thomastik Dominant solo tuning. He said something is wrong with the strings…the silks are barely clearing the nut. It’s like the strings are too short for the string length, which is 43” on a King. Now I know these are the right strings and I know we have used this very same string on our 1935 King bass with a 43” strings length…so I KNOW they will work.

We are standing there looking at each other puzzled and then the dim light begins to glow. How long in the tail piece? Aren’t they all the same? Oh no…we begin to measure and found out among the collection of H.N. White basses that we have (3 Kings and 5 American Standards) the tail pieces vary from 12 ¼” up to 13 1/2”. AHHHH…that was it! This tailpiece was shorter then the other basses, therefore the strings were not getting into the peg box far enough. Once we understood the “math problem” we knew how to fix it. The original fixed tail wire was still in place on the tail piece. Lonnie removed the wire (which has a possibility to fracture as it ages) and replaced it with the Clef Hi-tech tail gut. This allows him to elongate the tail piece the strings will now fit on the tuner and into the peg box properly. He will be sure to tune the after length to the new length of the tail gut. With the bridge cut and detailed we should make good strides on this bass.

It is fascinating to discover these little differences within the same brand named manufacturer. This is why I loudly disagree when a person claims one manufactured bass is better or worse then another. You can not, should not, make general sweeping statements about one brand of manufactured plywood bass that possibly spans 40 plus years of manufacturing and dozens of small changes during those years. We often wonder why some vintage basses have the “IT” factor when it comes to tone, volume, playability and mojo. It is all these little things and attention to the details that make the difference.

With 40 vintage basses in our collection we can study all these small details across all four brands: Kay, King, American Standard and Epiphone. We can make comparisons from bass to bass and really study what makes the great basses tick. All of that hard work is the excellence we expect of ourselves and our bass collection. We don’t settle for “close enough” and we don’t apologize for our high standards and excellence we try to achieve. We want our restored basses to make wonderful, joyful music AND be a blast to play.

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected”

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