GAD’s Guitar Review Standards

Having written a fair number of guitar reviews, I figured I would document my steps in case anyone out there was curious. Additionally, I figured having a fair bit of transparency into the process would somehow had credibility to the entire affair. Really, though, I felt like writing this so I did. The end. Well, not really. I discovered that I was writing things like “The Beesly Book” and figured that I should specify what stuff like that means instead of writing an explanation in each review.

If you’re at all interested, here’s what its like for me to write a guitar review.

Books

When writing about Guild guitars I reference the following three books:

The Guild Guitar Book by Hans Moust

Amazon Link: [ here ]

The Guild Guitar Book is called The Bible over on the Let’s Talk Guild (LTG) forum, and for good reason. Hans Moust probably knows more about the history of Guild and their guitars than anyone on the planet. Hans has access to company records and ledgers that the others authors on this list only dream about.

Hans’ knowledge and attention to detail are legendary and as a result his book is the first one I grab when referencing any Guild guitar. Unfortunately for me, this book only covers Guild guitars up to and including 1977 and most of my reviews are for Guilds from after that period. This book has book great history sections that are well written and easy to read as well as an encyclopedic listing of the guitars from the included timeline. It also has some of the best photos of vintage Guilds that you’ll ever find.

Hans has helped me repeatedly via email for which I offer my eternal thanks. We all eagerly await the next book that covers the 1980s and beyond, though I’m sure its release will cause me to have to go back and edit many of my reviews.

Guitar Stories Vol 2: The Histories of Cool Guitars (Guitar Stories) by Michael Wright

Amazon Link: [ here ]

I usually just call this book “The History of Cool Guitars Vol 2” or just “The History of Cool Guitars” and even those shortened titles are too long (and changed Histories to History).

This book covers a variety of guitar brands that didn’t make it into volume 1 such as Kay, Veleno, and Guild. The section on Guild is nowhere near as complete as Hans’ book, but it covers guitars into the 1980s which is why I use it as a reference. Unfortunately I’ve proven the reference to be incorrect or incomplete numerous times but it’s still a great place to start when doing research on vintage Guilds. It’s got a more conversational tone than the Beesley book (see below) and is easier to read. It’s also got a Guild Liberator Elite on the cover so it gets cool points for that.

Guitar History, Vol. 5: Guild Guitars by Ted Beesley

Amazon Link: [ here ]

Also long out of print, this
book is organized more like Hans’ book with a small paragraph or three on each guitar but without the readability or clarity of The Bible.

This book is useful because it also includes guitars from the 1980s though it also has been found to include errors. Note that whenever I discover an error in any of the referenced books I will point that error out in my article along with my reasoning for considering the information erroneous.

Combined, the three books make an excellent library for anyone doing research on Guild guitars (especially electrics), but as with any research project, triple checking the sources is always a good idea.

Photography

Almost all photos taken by me (as of mid 2017) are with my Canon 5D Mark III, a 24-70 f/2.8L lens, one or more Canon speedlights (two wireless 600EX II-RT and a controller, and an old 550EX), and that’s pretty much it. I shoot the guitars on a white background as shown in the pic to the right, though early shots were done on simple foam boards that I bought from Staples. My very cramped home office is used as a studio, and I use the term studio in the loosest sense of the word.

I currently have a roll of white background paper that I can pull down for photoshoots and depending on the guitar I will also use a softbox or two to get the light the way I like it.

I try not to alter the photos of the guitar except for levels (contrast, brightness, etc.) in order to ensure a white background and proper color rendition of the guitar. Sometimes I will remove a particularly annoying fingerprint that I missed while cleaning the instrument, but I always leave finish issues as they were photographed.

Though I endeavor not to alter the guitar, I do a fair bit of work in Photoshop to make the background pure white, so though I try to give a fair representation of what the guitar looks like (under artificial light, to be fair), even though the photo itself has been altered. The three-tile image of my Guild Nightbird shows an example of this process from when I still used foam boards for backgrounds. Note that I had to remove the gaps between the boards, too. I no longer have to do this with the large paper backdrop.

Web Images

I try not to use images from other websites, and when I do I endeavor to give credit appropriately. Note that I will often save a copy of the image locally to avoid newly defunct websites from breaking links. Sometimes an image has been around the Internet for ages and there’s no clear source that I could find. When that happens I just use the image and I encourage anyone who claims ownership to contact me for credit.

I do use product images from manufacturer’s websites from time to time, and the EMG Afterburner shown to the right is such an example.  I usually only do this when the product is being discussed in a positive light. If there are negative issues with a product I will endeavor to take my own photos in order to highlight the problem area.

Tools

When evaluating and measuring a guitar I use a common set of tools as listed here.

Calipers

I have three sets of calipers that I use for measuring neck width, neck depth, fret hight and fret depth. Two are analog (metric and imperial) and one is digital and sadly as my eyes age I end up using the digital one more and more because its easier to read. The jaws of the calipers are covered with painter’s tape and re-zeroed so they don’t mar the wood.

Radius Gauges

I have a set of StewMac radius gauges that I use to measure fretboard and fret radii. The set I have is designed to be used under the strings so it’s not a big deal I forgot to measure before I strung up a floating bridge guitar. These are probably the first tools I grab because I often discover guitars that don’t have a radius that matches what the catalog says they should. These tools are great for doing setups (which is why I first bought them) and are a great set to own for anyone who’s serious about their guitar’s performance.

Volt Meter

As an electronics hobbyist I have a lot of meters ranging from $10 Radio Shack “throw in your bag” voltmeters all the way up to Agilent bench-top 6½ digit monsters. The one I reach for the most when measuring pickups, though, is my trusty Fluke 179. Sometimes I’ll use the resistance function of my BK 890 LCR meter if that’s within reach and once a year or so I gather all my meters together and verify that they all measure correctly against my DMMCheck from Malone Electronics.

Pickups are a whole different issue, and testing those is not something I do during a normal guitar review.

When I do test pickups I use one or more of the items pictured which are clockwise from the top left, A BK Precision LCR meter, A gauss meter, a Fluke multi-meter, and one or more of the following oscilloscopes: Syscomp (yellow) or Analog Discovery (green) USB-based oscilloscopes, A Tektronix 2465B analog/digital oscilloscope, or my Rigol 1054Z ‘scope. There are also a whole lot of wiring and cables involved.

Sound Recording

Sound recording is either done with my trusty Olympus LS10 placed in front of the speaker cabinet, guitar, thing making noise, etc., or direct from the amp if so supported.

My amp for electric guitar reviews was an Axe-FX Ultra until 2017 when I picked up an AXE-FX II XL+. The AXE-FX II XL+ allows for USB-based direct recording which I do when one of my various Macs is available to do so.

Either of the AXE-FXs is connected to a QSC K12 powered monitor which is the same setup I use on stage when I actually play on stage which is sadly not all that often any more.

Sound files are either .wav or .mp3 files. When the files are .mp3, I always convert using Audacity at 320kbps with a high constant bitrate. The only alterations I do to sound files is to remove me talking and to amplify a low recording to the maximum allowed volume without clipping.

Neck Measurements

On necks that include binding, the width at the nut is always measured including the binding.

Neck depth is measured just behind the listed fret and does not include the fret in the measurement. The neck depth is measured from the peak of the fretboard radius to the lowest point on the neck carve at that position.

The neck radius is measured using my StewMac radius gauges.

If a neck angle is present and reported, the angle is determined by taking a picture of the guitar while flat on the ground. The angle is determined using photoshop.

Frets Measurements

I use this old chart from Dunlop for fret identification, mostly because it was the first thing that always popped up every time I did an Internet search for fret sizes. I measure using my calipers.

Measuring frets can be difficult, especially on vintage instruments where wear of the frets and the fretboard itself can affect the results. I take measurements from multiple frets from multiple positions and try to determine what fret wire was used.

Sadly, when it comes to frets, terms like “jumbo” don’t mean much other than “bigger than vintage”, and to that point, vintage doesn’t mean much, either. Still, I do my best to try and identify what’s on the guitar.

Electronics

I have a rule when it comes to guitar-based electronics that became a rule through repeated validation of its need: Never trust the documentation; always measure it yourself.

Every guitar I review starts with me pulling the control panel cover off, taking pictures of what’s inside, then documenting what I find in an ugly pencil-drawn mess like the one shown here. This drawing happens to be from the Guild Liberator Elite that I reviewed, and is one of the more complex guitars that I’ve examined.

In order to get accurate readings I will attempt to read the markings on all pots, resistors (if present) and capacitors. When markings are not present or have been obscured by things like solder, then I measure those components with the proper meter from the list above.  I work carefully to avoid breaking original solder joints, though I will repair bad solder joints as I find them.

Once the guitar is documented by hand I take that document and put it into Microsoft Visio which I have used for work for decades. I take the hand-drawn information and use Visio to make it into something useful. Believe it or not, this diagram to the right is the exact same information as the hand-drawn mess above which should make obvious why I convert them.

Clearly, I am not an Electronics Engineer, but I do my best to follow well-known practices.

Conclusion

That’s it! I’ve owned and reviewed so many guitars that this is all second-nature to me now, but I figured there may be someone who’d like to know how my sleep-deprived brain works, at least when it comes to the guitar review process.

For an easy page full of all of my Guild reviews, check out gadsguilds.com which is a special page on this site.

 

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