Crow Guitar Setup

With the frosted duco finish cured, I am able to continue with the assembly and setup of The Crow. Both the headstock face and the back of the guitar are hand buffed to a gloss finish with a series of compounds. The next step is to remove any residue.

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The nitro was flattened five percent to give it a slightly lower gloss. It’s hardly noticeable, but gives the guitar a more vintage and “lived in” appearance. The idea is to build a guitar that already looks and feels broken in and experienced.

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In this shot you can see the ivory string nut. I like this material for a lot of reasons, including its rich, grained appearance. Any tape residue on the fingerboard is removed at this point; I go over each fret with a small hand buffer to shine them up.

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Once cleaned up, the electronics are fitted in through small openings in the pickup routes. The Charlie Christian pickups are mounted on stainless steel shoulder bolts from the back of the guitar. You can see the mounting holes in the photo above.

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Held from behind and cushioned on on springs, the pickups do not touch the top of the guitar. This allows the top to vibrate freely while the pickups are isolated for feedback rejection. It also gives the guitar a sleek look because there is no mounting hardware in the front. Height adjustments are done with a 4mm allen wrench.

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After assembly, it’s time to put a set of Pyramid Nickel Classic strings on and do the setup. First I adjust the truss rod. From experience gained in thousands of set-ups, I can pretty much guess how much bow to put in even before the strings are on. I set the bridge to a middle height and then string up the guitar. With a close approximation of the final action, I then can cut the nut slots to their final depth. Then the guitar can be tuned to pitch and all the final heights and truss rod changes can be made.

To do the intonation I used my vintage Peterson strobe tuner on The Crow. I’ve had this tuner since the early 1970s and used it at Northern Prairie and the first Hamer shop in Palatine, Illinois. Here is a photo from the very first Hamer catalog—you can see the tuner in the shot. I’m wearing a tacky madras shirt that I bought in London’s Carnaby Street in April of 1973. I believe that is Martin Barre’s Standard on the bench.

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And now, here is the crow on the bench in the new Dantzig shop. Same tuner, same tech, same procedure. Thirty seven years later and I’m still at it! Just for fun we colored the photo to match the original.

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The last step is to intonate the guitar by adjusting the bridge saddles. First I set them to the 12th fret on the bench. Then I get the guitar in the playing position and tweak it from there. If you attempt to finish it on the bench while gravity pulls straight down, it’s going to be different when you put the guitar on your leg or on a strap.

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After installing the truss rod cover, which is made from black ebony with a cellulose ivoroid binding, I trim the strings neatly. I’m going to jam on The Crow for a while to break it in more, and then it’s off to the photographer’s studio for some more formal portraits. I can’t wait to show them to you.

Frosted Duco Finish Flies

Jimi Hendrix’s Machine Gun is roaring in the shop today—fitting. With the fine weather and perfect humidity, I did give ’em the gun. Four more coats of nitro on Sakura, but more importantly, The Crow got the frosted Duco black lacquer. I had to wait overnight to see the complete result, and it’s breathtaking.

Duco Drying

Exactly as I’d hoped, the Duco finish looks like crow’s feathers, and it is different on every part of the guitar. From bold, wide crystals to small intricate patterns—it’s all there.

The next step was to carefully un-tape the masked portions and then scrape the binding clean at the right time. There’s a fine line between too soft and too brittle to scrape. Happily, I got it just right.

Cutaway

I use a sharp blade to scrape the black Duco lacquer off the binding. I can vary the depth of the cut with pressure and the width is controlled by the angle of the blade relative to the side of the guitar.

Scraping Binding

Special care was needed to avoid scratching the clear nitro over the binding on the sides. After I was done I went back and did some final polishing and cleanup.

There is a pleasing tactile sensation when you touch this finish—something I hadn’t thought about but am happy with. I can’t wait to get all of the parts on this sucker and fire it up. That will have to wait for a bit while the finish cures completely.

Signature Finish Guitar Hardware

I just received my first pieces of variegated nickel hardware from Dwight at TonePros. We’ve been batting ideas around for over a year, and it’s finally coming together. Based upon the traditional TOM vintage bridge, the alloys have been massaged and the finish is unique as well.

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Of special interest are the tailpiece anchors. Machined from 1018 steel as per original vintage correct specs, they couple and ring out with a clarity that you don’t get from the cast pieces—or even brass for that matter. They are also the correct “long” length.

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The matching tuner hardware is awesome as well. They are vintage Kluson type machines, but with a few important differences. First, the tolerances are to a more modern specification that wasn’t in the originals. Second, they are locked down from the top with a nut to secure them to the headstock. I individually fit each tuner, starting with an undersize hole. This increases stability and couples the string vibration to the head of the guitar. Here’s the test fit on a dummy neck.

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I hand sand and buff each of the keys to eliminate any molding seams—this gives them a friendly feel like an old guitar. Then they are hand painted for a vintage patina. Then they are polished and fine-scuffed for a satin touch. I can’t wait to get these into the latest build. Thanks to Dwight and his crew for making this a reality.

Frosted Duco Spray

After the lengthy process to polish the cellulose tortoise binding it was just a matter of carefully taping off the parts of The Crow that would not receive the Duco.

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The shop is humidity controlled, but there had been a lot of rain so I had to wait a few days to be sure. The Duco is very environment-sensitive so the temperature and humidity needed to be exactly like it was during my tests.

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As the skies cleared and an even thirty-five percent RH was sustained. That’s the golden number—it was time to spray.

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First step—tack cloth the entire guitar. This removes any large debris that may have settled on the surface. Then a very thorough blow-down with compressed nitrogen. I also use compressed nitrogen to spray. It doesn’t absorb water, so the spray is completely dry. It’s a little trick I learned from racing cars.

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Now the moment of truth is upon us. After months of research, preparation and testing it’s time to pull the trigger. I have to admit that even after making so many guitars over the last  thirty-five years, my heart was racing a bit. Now it will have to hang and allow the paint to do its thing. As the solution dries it contracts and creates the “frosted” effect. It takes a few hours to form and dry. Hopefully all my planning will pay off.