Monday 25 March 2024

Maton EM225C

I don't talk about this guitar much, I have a love/hate relationship with it. Which is a shame, because I've been through a lot with it.

I bought it new in 1997, a Maton EM225C, I'd never owned a steel string acoustic before. I can't even remember why I bought it, I think it was a case of "working near a music shop, play some guitars at lunchtime from time to time, fell in love with one." It's the guitar I used for my highest viewed songs on Youtube with millions of views between them. It's the guitar I had when I discovered Tommy Emmanuel, which permanently changed the course of my guitar life. It's the guitar that I hung on the wall for 10 years when I realised that I prefer pretty much everything about nylon string guitars. But it is also the guitar I play regularly, with a plectrum, in the band at my local church, because that's the sound they need.

Since it was the only guitar I played for 10 years, it had suffered a lot of fret wear and was getting buzzy on certain strings in certain frets. The good fellas down at Profret gave it a grind and a recrown which helped the playability. It had a lot of grooves in the usual places, now it doesn't.

I noticed however several weeks that when I was digging in hard with a pick an awful buzz had returned. Oh no! Where did that come from!? After a moment of thought I realised that I had put on a new set strings that were a slightly lighter gauge.

Acoustic guitars have a truss rod, which is fighting with the string tension to set the neck relief. If you go from heavier strings to lighter, the strings are pulling less, so the truss rod will now pull the neck further back - giving a lower action - but also potentially creating fret buzz, especially when you dig in, due to this reduction in neck relief.

All good - years ago I worked out that the truss rod nut in a Maton is actually a 1/4" square head, so I made an adjustment tool which had an old 1/4" drive socket welded back-to-front on a length of steel rod, and a T handle for twisting. You whip the 7/16th hex head end pin, stick the tool in there and twist. Lefty Loosey Righty Tighty, leave the strings on, retune between adjustments.

This tool is handy for getting afeel of what your fretboard is doing. If you look closely you can see the neck relief (the bow of the neck) starting from up at the nut. That's what you want, juuust enough neck relief that there isn't any buzz when you are digging in as hard as you ever go.

This multipurpose guitar measuring tool also came in super handy for checking measurements, accurate to 1/4mm. I adjusted out a half, strummed heavily, still heard a little bit of buzz. Kept adjusting and tuning until it seemed better. I can be very heavy handed with a pick, so I need the action to be quite high.

Where does the buzz come from? The string ever-so-slightly rattling on the fretwire one fret up. So imagine you've fretted a note, so the string is pressed up against the fret you are at, there is a small gap between the next fret up and the string. As you pluck, espcially when you are heavy handed, at that initial attack on the string it will just slightly contact the fret up for a short period of time, which gives that buzz.

This can also happen from the other end, with the nut. That is only when you are playing an open note though, if the nut is so worn down you are getting the same issue but on the first fret. I had this problem on my Esteve a while back

Make sure have your tuner handy. Adjust the truss nut at string tension, small amounts at a time, retune between adjustments.

I played the next gig, but I was still hearing a little bit of buzz remaining. But the truss rod was already backed out to the point that removing more tension was not doing anything! What that means is the strings aren't heavy enough to pull the neck out for enough relief, even with the truss rod offering no resistance. If that happens, the next attempt at a cure is saddle adjustment.

If you can put some more meat back onto your saddle, then the string is up a bit higher from way down at the bridge, so there is a bit more action, the buzz may go away. It's just amazing, we are talking tenths of a millimetre between the string and the fret for the difference between clean sounds and buzz. And it might only buzz on particular strings at particular frets.

There are two ways to add meat to your saddle; super glue + bicarb soda to build the level up is my favourite, or reach into your bag of bone blanks and carve another one. I've done both in the past, this time I went with make a new bone saddle, the original black plastic one had served its purpose.

Since the existing saddle is pretty close in dimensions, I traced the outline of it onto a new saddle blank with a bit extra and ground it out with my die grinder. It's pretty quick to rough it out, then smooth off the corners with sandpaper, working through the grades. Yep, I do finish on 1200 grit and then polish with a bit of metal polish or whatever you have. Bone does polish to a mirror finish, it's quite amazing.

I popped it back in and loosely restrung it. I then marked where the strings were, and filed some little grooves in the back. So the strings won't move from side to side when I wildly strum. I got out my caliper to make sure the distances between the stings were fairly constant. Looking at my old saddle, there were some deep grooves in there, I guess 10+ years of hard playing will wear down a saddle just enough that a change of string tension will introduce buzz.

Retuning and strumming hard, I couldn't get any buzz. Yah! Which meant I could wind some tension back on to the truss rod. I watched carefully with my string action gauge at the 12th fret as I put tension back on. When I got down to around 3.25mm I could hear the buzz coming back. At 3.75mm it was pretty clean, so I left it at that. Around 1.5 hours from getting started to finishing, so it's not a super lengthy job to whip up a new saddle.

At my next gig I didn't hear any buzz! Yay, problem solved! Good luck out there!


Saturday 23 March 2024

Fingerstyle Influences

We are all influenced by music, but further to that, we are influenced by artists, and even further to that we are influenced by artists who play in a style that we'd like to emulate. There are ways to get into fingerstyle and my path started with simply learning classical guitar from the Aaron Shearer Red Book and learning how to strum various chords along with music I liked, but there were three artists that really inspired me - Tommy Emmanuel, Michael Chapdelaine and Naudo Rodrigues.

Tommy was a great starting point, through him in the late '90s I discovered thumb independence which is the backbone of fingerstyle. I've seen Tommy in concert, he's such a good showman too. I did some  of his covers back in the day. With the advent of Youtube in 2005 it got a lot easier to discover other fingerstyle artists which is where I found Michael Chapdelaine. He had a slightly different approach to fingerstyle, that seemed to be born out of classical guitar, which resonated with me more than Tommy, because that is where I too was coming from. I covered his covers of "California Dreamin'" and "Come Together".

But then it was Naudo Rodrigues who I connected with on a guitar level the most, I transcribed/re-covered many of his covers, and still do from time to time. After Naudo's influence I was at a stage where I was doing my own arrangements, my fingerstyle was basically set in motion and rather than needing to play exactly what these artists were playing, I was doing my own stuff.

Artists who influence are pivotal to anyone's musical journey, which is why I was saddened to hear from my internet mate L3fty that Michael died late last year. A friend of his wrote some moving words about him, I wasn't surprised to hear he was a troubled soul. The perfectionism you could hear in Michael's playing was both fantastic and yet deflating. It was the contrast between Michael and Naudo that was freeing for me - Michael wasn't only note perfect, he was dynamics and inflection note perfect. You can hear errors in Naudos playing and that makes his style more relatable to me. I don't want to know how to play 3 songs perfectly, I want to know how to play 100 songs adequately.

And yet, it is the striving for perfection that pushes us to new found guitar heights, but it is a balance. So thanks Michael! reminded me that I once has some correspondence with him.  I dug around and found it deep in my archives. I had covered his "Come Together" and had written up a tab and then did a video where I talked about how to play it and added a link to my tab. He asked me to take it down because he was planning on making his own tab and tutorial. I did, and then let him know, and he got back to me:

28 Nov 2007

hi Jason:
thanks very much for honoring my request.
i would love to see your performance of the tune on so i don't mind if you publish it on the youtube. it was just the teaching part that was a problem.
you are a good man and a very good guitarist.
thanks again for digging my stuff.
hope we get to play together one day.
tu amigo.


Saturday 10 February 2024

What's happening Feburary 2024

Musically busy times!

  • Over the Christmas break, I attempted to record the whole song "Wish You Were Here". Which I did! Except the singing! I featured myself on my new 12 string Gretsch and myself on my Maton 6 string acoustic, myself on the double bass, and because I'm a weak drummer I sequenced the drums...myself. It all sounds great! But after several attempts at trying to sing the song, even with pitch correction, I just wasn't satisfied.

    Luckily my youngest daughter, who can sing, felt sorry for me and has started giving me some lessons. She worked out my range is from C2 to C4 which is a shame because the song starts on C4. Yes, I did trying singing it an octave down, I didn't like it.

    But after a good warm up, and working up from notes in my range, I could hit the D4 and E4 the song requires, with almost no hint of straining, so I am going to tackle it again. I've already made a how-I-made-this video, everything is ready to go, I just need the singing! I have planned a harmony, which would be nice if was a high harmony, so I can either sing it an octave down instead or enlist my daughter to do it. I wanted it to be a video of "I made this by myself", maybe to inspire others who were thinking about doing something similar, but also it would be nice to have my daughter sing on there with me. Or she sings the whole thing!

  • Since I was revisiting "Wish You Were Here" I found some fantastic resolves with beautiful colours for my fingerstyle version, so I have been updating that arrangement. Some stuff I can't believe I had never noticed before. I've always meant my arrangements to be works in progress, as my skills develop, as my ear develops, so to add additional complexity and texture to an arrangement is how to keep the passion alive.

  • Speaking of tabs, I have finalised notifying all my Patreon Supporters that I would not longer be putting tabs on Patreon, instead everything is moving to PaidTabs. This fixes 3 issues I had with providing tabs on Patreon:
    1. It's not really legal, there is no royalty payment to copyright holders. While I could dress it up as "supporting me but hey here are some tabs for free"...yeah nah.
    2. The more tabs I put there the less value each one was. In the early days you could subscribe for $3, take the 10 tabs there, unsubscribe, okay! But the final tab I gave out to my supporters took the total to 35. So less than 10c per tab. Of course it is better to sell them individually. I don't want to be "one of those people" who is ruining it for struggling musicians trying to carve out a living while I'm living a great life with my day job and music is my hobby.
    3. I was starting to feel a burden to create tabs for my Patreon supporters. That I needed to hurry up and realease another tab "it's been 3 months already!" I like working on other musical projects in between arranging new songs for fingerstyle guitar. I don't want to create an expectation that I'm going to create an arrangement every 2 months on the dot. That's how you burn out.

  • I'm updating my tabs again and releasing them on PaidTabs. I've got more then 10 on there now, people are buying them so that's nice. It takes me at least an hour to update a tab depending on what state it is in - I want them to be execptional - so I just need to keep working through my catalogue...only around 70 to go...

  • At work the marketing team attempted to put an in house rock band together for a campaign promotion. They reached out to a bunch of people including me, I guess with a few thousand people in an organisation there would be quite a number of musos...and there was...and most of them were unavailable for the launch date. I mentioned that "If you are going to have a rock band you need a lead singer" and that if you can't pull anything together then I can play some rockier fingerstyle on the day, that's easy for me.

    They were unable to secure any of the singers.

    One of the guys who works in my team is a drummer, so I dragged him over the other weekend and got him to play along with some of my fingerstyle. I have played with drummers many times in the past and it's always good...except for my ability to keep tempo. But with a few years of playing in my local church band I reckon I have improved. We managed to bash out around 10 songs in just over an hour that we thought we could do, it's only an hour's gig. He was happy enough to play on my little electric drum kit, so I'll be able to pack up my PA, mixing desk, drumkit and guitar and a bunch of cables and ship it to work.

    It shall be fun :-)

Wednesday 10 January 2024

Double Bass Bridge

First, let's have some background to this photo.

Over the Christmas holidays I recorded a full song with me playing all the parts, for fun, because I can, because the DAW Reaper simplifies the process. I recorded the bass part on my double bass. I bought a double bass second hand many years ago when my eldest daughter was learning electric bass and really wanted to learn double bass. She doesn't play it anymore, there has been talk about selling it - they kinda take up a lot of room - but I love the sound of it and any excuse to play it will do.

Over the years the bridge has warped. I had bought a new bridge and figured I would carve a new one like I carved the cello bridge...but it would take me probably a day of effort to do. And there was nothing wrong with the existing one, just warped, which was putting the intonation out. Ha, not that my ability to fret on a fretless bass hinges on perfect intonation!

So I decided to try un-warping the bridge.

I removed it and put it in a dish of water. Of course wood floats, so I put the first water proof thing I found in the pantry on it to weigh it down. Wood is an amazing thing, by the end of the day it was fully soaked and had pretty much reverted back to the original un-warped state! Like it knew what shape it should be, and soaking freed it to return to normal.

During the soak the water took on a bit of a yellow colour, possibly leached out of the wood, possibly because whoever had last used the jar of golden syrup had let a bit trickle down the side and I didn't notice and it dissolved in.

So back to the photo. My youngest daughter looks at a dish of yellowy water on the kitchen bench, recognises the double bass bridge in it, and then sees a jar of golden syrup on top. Thinks about it for a moment. "Hey dad, what's going on here, is this how you get a sweet tone from the bass?"

Bah dum dum.

After I removed it from the water I clamped it to dry just in case it decided to go back to warped, and you can see from the photo I slipped a bit of folded paper underneath to give it a tiny bit of pre-load anti-re-warping; thinking if I pre-skew the direction of force it might be a bit more stable. One week later, fully dried, back on the bass, success!

Wednesday 13 December 2023


While still discussing what to do with my large collection of music cover arrangements I have produced over the past nearly 2 decades, my longest supporting mate on Patreon remarked 'Paid Tabs, seems to be where people are selling their arrangements' (thanks Mark). Dumbfoundedly, I went there, and sure enough, it is a website where you can sell arrangements of covers - and they look after the copyright holders. Their fee is only 20%, which is much better than Hal Leonard's 90%...makes me raise an eyebrow, how one can be so expensive and one so cheap, but I don't understand the inner workings of royalties, who am I to argue! Besides, I saw scores there from Paul Davids, Davie504, Igor Presnyakov - and I'm not going to argue with those legends!

So, finally, I have a place to legitimately park all my arrangements and sell them and copyright holders are looked after. This is what I had planned all along, and while waiting for this day to arrive I have used Patreon as a method to kinda/kinda not sell my arrangements, as of today there were 33 available to anyone who became a paid sub. That's pretty good value, I set the PaidTabs at $5.00 each which is the lowest you can go, so as good a value as you can get. I'm going to stop letting them go out the door through Patreon (I did discuss selling arrangements with Patreon and gave them a few months to think about whether they would offer a similar service...not going to happen in the near future.)

For all my existing Patreon friends, rather than just shut down the tab memberships, I have stood up two new memberships, which I have called "Basic Set" and "Fancy Set". Being $1 a month and $2 a month, where $1 a month is enough to buy a basic set of strings each year, at $2 I can get a fancy set of D'Addario coated strings! I've had plenty of Patreons who sign up, take everything and leave after a month, that was fine, I get it, but I've also got Patreons who simply want to support me. And I love that, it does inspire me!

So if you are a Patreon of mine and want to keep supporting me even if you aren't getting tabs anymore, head over to my Patreon page and change your tier to Basic Set or Fancy Set, as sometime in the next week or two I will be closing down the tab memberships.

Sorry if this disappoints you, I had mentioned this would happen sometime, I hope you had a good run while it lasted. Thanks for being here! If you do move across to the new tier, thanks for staying with me! I will keep posting stuff that interests me and maybe you, I just won't be posting tabs anymore.

In the meantime I have around 90 arrangements I need to get up to scratch and post to PaidTabs...I figure that will take me at least a year at the rate I move!