PHOTO: Cindy Moorhead
Guitar tech Gary Brawer numbers Joe Satriani, Metallica and Neal Schon among his clients. So it’s safe to say he knows his stuff.
Lots of people come into his shop and ask him to perform misguided repairs they’ve heard about from friends or read about on the Internet. We’ve asked Gary to set the record straight about guitarists’ biggest misconceptions.
1. Positions 2 and 4 on a Stratocaster are out of phase.
Nope. It’s the positioning of the pickups that cancels the harmonics and gives you that sound. It’s a mechanical “out of phase” tone, not electronically out of phase. You can get close to that sound with humbucking pickups by going out of phase or coil cutting the pickups so the remaining coils are as close to Stratocaster spacing as possible. If you put the center pickup electronically out of phase on a three-pickup guitar, the 2 and 4 positions will sound extremely thin and have weak output.
2. I need to float my Floyd Rose with lots of up-and-down movement to sound like Eddie Van Halen.
Nope! EVH has his trem set to go down only—no up-trem. Think about it: That’s the only way his D-Tuna could drop his low string a whole-step without making the others go out of tune. Any whammy work on a Van Halen record where the pitch rises is the result of Ed depressing the bar first and then hitting the chord or harmonic.
3. To get a big sound you need big strings.
No! All you have to do to debunk this is hear Billy Gibbons playing with a .007 for his high E. Santana, Tony Iommi, Brian May, and a host of others have used .008s and had tone of the gods.
4. The wood has nothing to do with the sound of an electric guitar. It’s just a place to put pickups.
If that was true you could take the pickups out of your best sounding guitar and put them in anything and your sound would follow. We have tried. It does not work
5. My guitar is going out of tune, I need new tuners.
No—or not usually. It’s always a possibility, but more often than not it’s something like putting the strings on wrong, a sticky nut, or a moving bridge or tailpiece.
6. My strings are buzzing. I need to raise the nut.
Well, that will work if your open strings are buzzing. Any buzzing from the 1st fret up takes the nut out of the picture so you have to look elsewhere.
7. Truss rod adjustments and intonation have to be done by a pro.
Wrong again! Getting comfortable with truss rod adjustments is very important, especially for traveling guitar players. A lot of guitars come with a truss rod adjusting wrench—don’t be afraid to learn to use it. I also encourage players to learn intonation. Decent electronic tuners are more available than ever, and once you learn how to set your intonation, you can check and adjust it easily when you change strings.
8. High-output pickups have no dynamics and can only be used for rock and metal.
No! Experimenting with pickup height and volume settings can pull a lot of versatile sounds out of even the hottest pickups.
9. Bass frets are big.
I hear this all the time when a client brings in a guitar for a refret: “Can I get some of those big bass frets?” Take a look at a vintage Fender bass—it has the smallest frets around. There are so many fret size options that choosing frets is very difficult anyway. It’s always best to find a guitar with frets you like and have them measured.