I love my work and I love working with guitar customers because they’re always so appreciative and happy with my work. I did “fire” a customer a few years ago who was chasing a particular tone – a tone that somehow wasn’t “released” by the setup I’d done. Although he was happy with setups I’d done on his three other guitars, this time he seemed frustrated.

Not knowing how to make a guitar duplicate a tone he can only hear in his mind, I refunded him and told him I felt he’d be better served by another tech, since I can’t chase mystical tones.

Now, here I was again, three years later, a different customer but dejavu – the “tone thing” again!

I took measurements of his guitar before making any changes, as I always do, and wrote the figures on my white board. He’d brought ten gauge strings for me to install on his Martin short-scale acoustic, electrified guitar with a “Mini-Q” piezo-type preamp.

His guitar had a backbow with negative relief and string heights that measured 0.100″ (Low E) to 0.070″ (Hi e) before I adjusted relief to 0.005″, and 120 to 90 afterward, a bad nut, and his first 12 frets were badly worn.

I did a refret, new nut and using a saddle jig and #120 sandpaper, got his string heights down to 90-70. So, I’m a hero, right? (LOL) Nope!

I always have customers sit and play their guitar before paying. I’m expecting a very happy customer, but no. He says his strings are higher now than when he brought me the guitar!

Well, actually they’re a tiny bit lower on the low-E side but without the buzzing now. “Nope. They’re higher. I don’t care about the buzzing; give me my back bow back.”

Um. Are you sure? OK. Give me a few minutes… I loosened the truss rod to give a slight negative relief, which brought string heights to 75-55. Fine. Happy customer. He pays and leaves.

But that evening, he called me. “Played acoustically, the guitar sounds way too bright and thin. G, B and e strings are much louder than the rest and the whole guitar is buzzing worse than ever before; and when I plug it in, it shreiks!”.

Hmm.. “OK, bring it back.”, I said. That morning he pulls up and drops the guitar off in my hands, saying he doesn’t have time to show me the problems, but “You’ll see!”

I felt some defensiveness rising within me, so I sat myself down and had a “little talk”. “Let’s bend over backwards to try and find a real problem. Let’s help this customer. “, I told myself.

But I couldn’t hear a problem, acoustically nor with an amp. Neither could my wife, nor another random customer who came by. So I enlisted some software help and made a visual representation of the volume of each string compared to a similar (though full-scale) acoustic/electric guitar.

Martin: audio/electric Alvarez: audio/electric

The above audio wave chart is from low-E to hi-e on his Martin and for comparison, a brand-new Alvarez acoustic/electric. While B strings do show slightly greater volume, this is explained by them being the largest unwound strings.

There was no “shrieking” when plugged in and in fact, my wife commented on how nice the guitar sounded both acoustically and electrified!

So I called and had a chat with my customer and did my best to explain what I’d done to try and find a problem, and that other than the negative relief causing buzzing, everything seemed fine.

Well, he was not happy!

What would YOU do now? Here’s the message I sent him…

Pink slip to my customer

And I haven’t even told you about the mystical tone thing yet! According to my customer, the Fishman Mini-Q preamp had such an awesome tone that Ed Shereen bought ALL of them from Fishman and that’s why there are none on the market any more*, and presumably, only my customer and Mr. Shereen have this awesome tone!

* (— except for two on Reverb, one for $35 and one for $39. And Fender put these in hundreds of low-end acoustics, but oh well.)

Or, I should say “had” because, according to my customer, that tone is now gone! Yes, even though I never touched his preamp, and I ensured his saddle bottom was filed perfectly flat and the piezo has even tension across the saddle, I have somehow lost his magical tone.

I feel bad that I couldn’t help my customer. I think if he’d allowed me to at least install twelve gauge strings and do the setup per Martin specs, his guitar would be better off.

I’m gonna feel worse when he starts posting bad reviews. Sigh. What can you do?

As much as I’d like to help him and customers like him (thankfully very few are!), the fact is that I (and you) are better off without this kind of customer. They take up way more time than most and no matter how hard you try, you can’t please them.

As Rick Nelson said in a song, “You can’t please everyone…”