TECHNO TOOLS

June 1, 2003



Designed and developed in Berlin by Gerd Anke, the Plek system is a computer-controlled alternative to traditional manual fret dressing. Plek scans the fret height and fretboard surface beneath each string with a mechanical finger guided by a computer-controlled arm. When the scanning process is finished, the data is converted into graphs that are displayed on Plek’s monitor. The graphs present cross-sectional views and pertinent measurements.

Then Plek superimposes a “target line” on the neck graph to represent the ideal fret height and neck-relief curve for each string. Because a guitar’s lower strings vibrate in a wider arc than the thinner high strings, Plek uses complicated calculations to provide the optimum relief curve for each string, and more relief is automatically calculated for the lower strings. The Plek graphs can also indicate if a trussrod adjustment might be beneficial. In addition, the Plek operator can manipulate the graphs to perform a “virtual fret dress.” For example, you can model different action settings, and observe how the target relief contour reacts to each change in action.

When the virtual fret-dress parameters have been chosen (and the strings have been removed from the guitar), Plek is ready to perform the dressing procedure. The computer guides a mildly abrasive rubberized wheel over each fret, and gently removes a small amount of fret material with a series of passes. It’s a carefully controlled process, and the fret height is measured after each pass. To finish the dressing procedure, the abrasive wheel applies a precisely calibrated crown contour to each fret, and then a soft polishing wheel is moved into position to buff the frets for a silky-smooth feel.

Currently, there are only four Plek machines in the United States. My ’65 Gibson Tal Farlow received the Plek treatment at Gary Brawer’s shop in San Francisco. The process took several hours, but I was astonished by the improvement. My Tal now plays like butter, and its tone speaks more clearly. I’m a believer! For more information, visit plek.com.

—Terry Buddingh    

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