Thursday, June 01, 2017

March 14, 2015 - Che'gu Awal and Friends at Telok Chempedak

Organized by JPN Pahang, "Pertandingan Juara Remaja Sekolah-Sekolah Peringkat Negeri Pahang 2015" was held on March 14, 2015 at Telok Chempedak, Kuantan; from 3p.m. to 10.30p.m. This competition brought together primary and secondary school bands from the whole of Pahang. One band even made it all the way down from Cameron Highlands. On hand to entertain the crowd during breaks was Che'gu Awal and Friends, featuring Che'gu Awal (keyboards), Frankie (drums), Rizal (bass), Wan Kamarul (sax), Ezreen (vocals), CA (guitar/vocals); and Azhar (percussion).

Photo Credits: Pif Viva and Dyda Jameela.

Ovation 1986-6 Electric-Acoustic Guitar

To mark its 20th Anniversary (1966 - 1986), Kaman Music introduced the "1986 Ovation Collectors' Series" which showcased 6 and 12 string US-manufactured electric-acoustic guitars; including the 1986-6 model featured in this post. Discovered in a used goods store and purchased by the owner at a ridiculously-low price (I'm not allowed to say), this 1986-6 was sent to me for an electronics diagnosis/repair (intermittent and noisy output), as well as fretwork and setup.  

The top of this 1986-6 is laminated Sitka Spruce, while the body is a shallow round back featuring 7-ply black/white/black binding. The single cutaway begins at the 14th fret, greatly enhancing upper-fret access. The paint job on the body is matt dark brown with silver speckles, while the back of the neck and headstock are gloss dark brown. Tuners are 3-a-side Schallers finished in black chrome. Meanwhile, the bound fretboard features 20 medium-jumbo frets and a scale length of 24.25 inches.

I'm quite certain that the fretboard is ebony based upon the rich dark color, smoothness and almost imperceptible grain. Fretboard markers (3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th and 17th) are abalone figure-of-eight inlays, while side markers are black dots. The 12th fret stands out above the rest due to its gorgeous abalone "1986" inlay that changes color depending on the viewing angle. Topping off all this gorgeousness is the soundhole, which is surrounded by an intricate abalone rosette.

The walnut bridge looks solid, with the strings strung through the back. There are two small round abalone markers on the top of the bridge, which hide the two bolts that secure it to the bridge plate. This is the first time I'm seeing bridge-fastening bolts on a high-end acoustic, but I suppose Kaman knows better. Good thing the saddle more than makes up for my disappointment with the bridge design. The compensated saddle consists of six pyramidal segments within a metal baseplate. Thanks to this baseplate, the saddle fits snugly in its slot, with no forward/backward or side-to-side movement at all.

Nice, now let's lift up the baseplate and have a look at the piezo strip beneath. What? Just bare wood? Here, one may logically deduce that the piezo-electric element is built into the saddle segments, as all that can be seen are two bare wires twisted/soldered together, plus a coaxial output cable to the preamp. This coaxial cable terminates in a mini mono jack, which plugs into a corresponding socket on the preamp enclosure.

The preamp is an OP-24. It's housed in a sturdy metal box, and getting into the innards is a tedious task; to say the least. A single 9V battery powers the OP-24, and it is housed in a separate battery box, accessible through the soundhole. The OP-24 features a single rotary volume control. As the original knob was missing, I stuck on a chrome dome in its stead. Beneath the volume pot is a spring loaded battery check button, which lights up a red LED when pressed (provided the battery has enough juice left). EQ duties are handled by three (Bass/Mid/Treble) sliders; each allowing 12dB of boost/cut.

Having disassembled the OP-24 from the saddle to the stereo output jack, I was able to service the connectors, jacks, pots and sliders; and eventually trace the source of the noise and intermittent output to a couple of frayed wires. Cutting and resoldering these wires solved the problem, thank goodness!

A couple of fret ends were also a tad unseated due to binding shrinkage. These frets were reseated properly by gently tapping the ends with a fretting hammer and securing them with super glue. Now it was time for fret leveling and dressing. This time special attention was paid to reducing the fret end bevel angle, as the high E string was prone to sliding off the fretboard. Reducing the bevel angle more often than not results in a slight increase in fret width. Note that once the fret is wider, the high E string won't be slipping off the fretboard edge so frequently. The frets were then polished with 0000 steel wool; and the fingerboard cleaned and conditioned with lemon oil. Now the ebony fretboard was even slicker than before.

The final part of the job was setup, starting with a fresh set of 10 - 49s. I did not need to adjust the truss rod as the neck was as straight as could be. However, the action was too high for the owner's liking. This meant that I had to lower the saddle height. Simply deepening the notches on the saddles turned out to be insufficient, so I ended up slightly flattening the peaks of the saddles and re-notching them. This was done slowly and carefully in stages, as there was always the danger of cutting into the piezo element inside each of the six saddle segments.      

The end result of all this effort, thankfully, is an instrument that scores high marks in terms of looks, playability, projection, and tone; on its own or through an amp. I'd like to think that this was what the 1986-6 used to sound like all those years ago.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Magic Touch of Roka Dyer Maker

Once upon a time in the 20th century, an Indonesian luthier decided to craft a custom thinline classical guitar. Over the years, successive owners added various mods to the instrument, including a preamp and Fender-style output jack. It's said that the guitar spent some years at sea before finding its way into the possession of an elderly gentleman from Kuala Lumpur. Which is where local musician/sound engineer "Prof." Din discovered the poor thing, beaten and bruised beyond repair; or so we thought.

For starters, the bridge and under-saddle (presumably) pickup were missing; as were the tuners and preamp innards. The frets and fretboard were bowed inwards, so much so that the entire length of the fretboard was lower in the middle than the edges. Imagine that if you can! To make matters worse, the back of the guitar was missing a chunk of wood near the output jack, and someone had filled the gap with plywood. The top was no better, being severely discolored and  uneven with large dents and divots marring its surface.

Both Prof. and yours truly were in agreement that only a bona fide luthier could do justice to this guitar. And so it was handed over to Kuantan-based luthier extraordinaire Roka Dyer Maker for a total makeover. Roka, as some of you might already know; once studied under internationally-acclaimed luthier Jeffrey Yong.

The post-restoration transformation was mind-blowing, to say the least. The frets and fretboard were as level as it gets. A new preamp, pickguard and bridge were in place. The guitar looked and sounded fantastic, something local bluesman Shafie can attest to. Prof. was so pleased with the end result that the guitar's now sitting in a glass display case; only to be taken out when absolutely necessary. Roka Dyer Maker, you da man!

Image Credits: CA and Roka Dyer Maker

Monday, May 22, 2017

August 27 2016 - Jeffrey Yong Guitar Workshop

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, and Kuantan guitar aficionados were excited as can be. And why not, for renowned Malaysian luthier Jeffrey Yong was about to treat them to a two-hour-plus workshop at the delightfully elegant Rocana Hotel. This workshop was organized by JZ Lim and Kay Shoun of Jammer Music -- kudos to them for succeeding in bringing Jeffrey to Kuantan, no easy feat indeed!

The workshop started off with a slide show narrated by the master himself. Jeffrey showed us loads and loads of beautiful images of under-appreciated local and Asian tonewoods that were usually discarded or used as firewood. Amongst these were mango, monkey pod (raintree), blackwood, rambutan, and even lychee. Jeffrey stressed that local tonewoods were on par, if not better; than "traditional" tonewoods favored by luthiers from the USA and Europe. However, before you take an axe to the mango tree in your back yard, take note that the mango trees Jeffrey is talking about are hundreds of years old and really huge.

During the slide show, Jeffrey also talked about some of the steel string and classical guitars that he had brought down to Kuantan in terms of design rationale, construction techniques and materials used. Following this was a demo session featuring Jeffrey's proteges and friends on his stunning handcrafted guitars, including the "Special Limited Edition" series. The man himself is no slouch on the classical guitar, as he ably demonstrated to an awestruck audience. And no wonder, for Jeffrey used to teach classical guitar full-time before adding luthiery to his resume in the mid '80s.

Then came the time everyone had been eagerly anticipating, a hands-on session with Jeffrey's guitars. Even in these inexperienced hands, they played smoothly and sounded heavenly; for want of a better word. The master took this opportunity to chat with some of his old friends and proteges, including Tele Wong and Kuantan-based luthier Roka Dyer Maker.

All too soon it was time to bid farewell to the master. Come back real soon, sifu.