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A little back story from Hugh Thomas

I was recently featured on the Résumé podcast with Chris Laxamana. It's a show on the Adam Carolla network where people tell stories of the jobs they had in the past and how they got to what they're doing now.

I went on the show and talked about 10 years in the Marine Corps, crappy jobs before and after, and what pushed me to start my own business. I also talk a bit about the ups and downs of starting and running 13th Street Guitars.

It's a good listen for anyone who wants to know more about me, or that is interested in being an entrepreneur. Check it out HERE if you have some time. Warning: Adult Language

My Stratocaster Hums Loudly

This is a very common question we get here at the shop. "Why does my Strat hum in some positions on the switch, but it's dead-silent in two places?" There is nothing wrong with your guitar. This is how it was built.

For a guitar to be silent, it typically requires more than one coil to cancel out the hum. Stratocasters were designed with 3 single coil pickups. Each of the pickups on it's own produces a loud humming noise. This noise comes from the electrical system, and any other electrical noise that may be around you. The most common noise you hear is the 60 Cycle Hum coming from the power system.

The modern style Stratocaster has a middle pickup which is used in reverse. This means that when you mix the middle pickup with either the bridge or the neck, you cancel out the hum. This is why your guitar is silent in two positions, and loud on the other three.

If your guitar has a double coil pickup, commonly known as a "humbucker," then it will cancel hum by itself in position 5. Often times this is wired to turn off one coil in position 4. This allows you to mix the middle with one coil of the bridge. This is known as a "Fat Strat" and is also a popular modification for Strats.

Switch position 1 uses the Neck only

Switch position 2 uses Neck and Middle

Switch position 3 uses the Middle only

Switch position 4 uses the Middle and Bridge

Switch position 5 uses the Bridge only

Positions 2&4 Are Hum Canceling

The volume control works on the entire guitar. The tone controls do not. The knob marked NT is the Neck Tone. The knob marked MT is the Middle Tone. The knobs will interact with the other pickups in positions 2&4.

Our favorite Stratocaster pickups cancel hum in every position. These are known as "Noiseless" Single Coils. They are actually humbuckers in diguise. There are many different types available. Many don't sound like traditional Strat pickups. We have our favorites and we'd be happy to advise you. Feel free to email or call us if you want more information.

Batteries are expensive

Batteries are expensive! Well, not really. A good quality battery isn't that expensive when you consider what we spend on our music gear. When you put a cheap battery in your instrument, you may not be seeing it's full potential.

For example, we had a Taylor acoustic guitar come in for work. It was being used nightly to perform with Cirque Du Soleil on tour. The sound guy was complaining of the Taylor ES system being noisy. He could hear it through his headphones and nobody could figure out what the problem was. When I opened it up to see what's going on, I found a rechargeable 9 volt battery. Upon closer inspection, the battery was actually rated well under the required 9 volts. I swapped in a Duracell alkaline 9V, and the problem was solved.

These pickup systems, pedals, wireless units, etc... that are built to operate on 9 volts are expecting to see a proper battery. If the battery is weak, the quality degrades. You get symptoms such as noise, distortion, or failure.

You can find studies that have been done to show which batteries hold up over the long term. The basic big name brands like Duracell and Energizer are excellent choices. Usually anything that says "Heavy Duty" or the like is not heavy duty at all. These batteries die quickly and sound quality dies with them. Anything from the dollar store or discount bricks of batteries are fine for toys... but not for professional instruments. Spend the extra couple of bucks.

If you have a multimeter, check your battery's DC Voltage output. A good one will read a little higher than the rated voltage. If it reads a little under, then it's on the way out. I consider anything less than 9V to be a throwaway.

 

My guitar is new, why should it need a setup or fret dress?

My guitar is new, why should it need a setup or fret dress?

There are various reasons why a guitar may not play well when new.

  • Poor Setup from factory - Most guitar manufacturers do not put a lot of effort into the final setup process. This work takes time and precision. Large factories are concerned about the bottom line, and must turn out many guitars per day.
  • Poor fret work from factory - Many factories don't level the frets at all after pressing them into the neck. This leaves lots of room for error.
  • Effects of shipping and environment - Wood shrinks, expands, twists and flexes over time. Depending on the condition of the wood when the neck was made, the conditions it has been through getting to you, and the conditions where you are now playing the guitar - you may have some issues. Your guitar may have been built 18 months ago, shipped across the ocean on a boat, sat in a warehouse, and then hung on the wall at the store for a few months or shipped again bouncing around on a truck getting to your door. Don't be surprised if it encountered some issues. It likely needs some adjustment and definitely some new strings.
  • "Plek'd" at the factory - The Plek is a wonderful machine and does amazing work. Plek requires a talented operator to turn out good results, however. Not operating it properly can end up with poor fretwork. The setup is still performed by a person, and even though your frets might be perfect, the setup could be horrendous. (we've seen this a lot) There are some really great guitars being produced by several manufacturers with Plek, but there are also a few duds in the bunch. The effects of shipping and environmental changes still apply. The guitar may have been perfect, but again gone out of whack since the factory. It is made of wood, after all! If your Plek'd guitar isn't perfect, come see us.
  • "Inspected & setup in the USA" - This means someone took the guitar out of the box after it arrived from overseas and checked it out. If there were any major issues, these would be addressed or the guitar rejected at that point. This does not mean someone spent an hour or two dialing it in. The people who do this job will tell you it's usually only a few minutes per guitar. (they've got a lot of guitars to get through)
  • "Setup by the store" - Setup by.... the sales guy? Do they have a full time technician who is talented at setting guitars up? The person who sets up your guitar should be an expert at it. Otherwise, you may not be getting the full potential of your instrument. It's nice that they'll string it up and adjust the truss rod for you, but this free service is usually not quite the same as a full-blown job done by a luthier or setup technician.
  • My new guitar feels just fine - Great! You may not need anything at all. Feel free to bring it by and we'll give it a once-over. We'll address any issues we find. We'll also let you know if we can improve on the way it plays now. This inspection is free. If we don't believe we can make it play better, we will not pressure you to do anything. We don't want to charge money and not deliver a better playing instrument. We rely on the trust and repeat business of our clients.

So all this said - there's actually some companies that turn out very nice playing guitars. Unfortunately, these are the minority.

Contact us if you have any questions. Feel free to bring your guitar in any time to have it checked out.

Hard Case vs Gig Bag

There's no doubt that a quality hard shell guitar case is really going to protect your investment from damage. It won't be invincible in there (as we've seen some guitars break inside a case that was dropped) but it certainly doesn't hurt to have it.

Gig bags range from the thing that comes in a beginner guitar kit for $99 that isn't worth as much as the picks that were included all the way up to luxury soft cases that cost hundreds of dollars and/or fit multiple guitars. There are some quality pieces to be had somewhere in the middle, too.

If you've ever loaded your gear in for a performance, then you know what a hassle each large heavy object can be. A quality hard shell case can weigh more than the guitar inside. It always has a handle for one hand to carry it, and that means one arm is loaded down with just a guitar.

A good gig bag should have shoulder straps, and many times backpack straps. These can be invaluable when you load a couple guitars on your back, pick up an amp in one arm and another piece of gear in the other.

Now gig bags certainly won't protect your guitar if they get run over by the van... but neither will most hard cases. They give you a pretty safe way to transport easily and avoid bumps and bruises. Stacking them for long term storage may not be the best option. Hard cases win in this category.

If your guitar is acoustic and you're in an area where humidity is a concern (anywhere with less than 50% humidity) then a hard case helps to contain the humidity of your soundhole or case humidifier. A porous gig bag will likely leak out the humidity over time, allowing your guitar to dry out. A quality hard case will seal it in and preserve your guitar from the ravages of drying out.

So you may find that a hard case is best for long term use, but a gig bag can be helpful when it's more convenient. Just don't think your guitar is impervious to damage in any case... as we've seen the results to prove that wrong. Be sure your roadies don't throw an amp on top of your case.... and Gibson headstocks can break just from knocking a case over on the floor.

Craigslist: The Good and The Bad

Vintage Bass Guitar with a very twisted neck

Vintage Bass Guitar with a very twisted neck

You really can find some great deals on Craigslist. There are some drawbacks, but you can't deny it's a great resource for used gear.

First of all: It's free. If you can get on the internet and use email, you can use Craigslist. Sites like Ebay and other musical instrument specific resources charge fees for their services.

Most people don't like the prospect of someone coming to their home to buy or sell something. Many people meet up in public places. This is cool unless it's something you need to test out - like an electric guitar, for example.

We extend this offer to all of our clients: Feel free to meet with your seller or buyer here in our shop during business hours. If you're buying a guitar you're not sure about - we can give our opinion as professionals as to what work it may need, if the neck is straight, and in some cases - if it's genuine or not. (we've seen too many unsuspecting people who bought fake Gibsons, for example.)

We don't charge anything for estimates, so have us check it out before you buy if you're not sure. If the seller won't agree to having a pro look at it, you may have cause for concern.

*The fine print: We assume no liability for any personal sales conducted here or elsewhere. Our verbal opinions are just that, and the decision is ultimately up to you. We're just providing a free service to help people out, and provide no guarantee.

Good, Cheap, Fast. Pick Two.

There's an old saying that goes, "Good, Cheap, Fast. Pick Two."

Good work done Cheap, won't be fast. Good work done Fast, won't be Cheap. Cheap work done fast, won't be good.

We pride ourselves in our quality of work. We prefer not to be rushed, but we understand sometimes there are special circumstances. We will work with you, but you may be paying a higher rate.

If your main concern is price, then you may want to look elsewhere. We don't do cut-rate work at lesser quality. We always strive to be the best. There is always someone who will do it cheaper. If you haven't experienced what we can do for you, then you don't know what you're missing.

Why "13th Street" when you're not on 13th St?

13thstreetsign

I started this business out of my garage on 13th Street in downtown Huntington Beach. After I outgrew the garage, I moved on to Gothard Street. At that point, I thought "Well that sounds like a bad name for a shop, and nobody is gonna know who we are."

Now we're on Gothard Street, and people still recognize the name.

So 13th Street Guitars is reminiscent of my humble beginnings in Downtown H.B.

Everyone knows the name, why change it?