To Plek, or not to Plek.

Discussion in 'The Backstage' started by Paul Hickman, Mar 4, 2021.

  1. Paul Hickman

    Paul Hickman Member

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    I just read an online description of this process. And being a machinist, I take issue with a few of the claims.
    One company claims .0005" difference in your fret levels can cause buzzing.....BULL ****! A human hair is .0035" approx. Noway .0005" is gonna do ****! Heat and humidity changes just from day, and night can cause measurement changes larger than that. And besides the fret board is wood, it's going to grow, and shrink.
    They claim that they measure the neck in over 6000 places for a detailed model of the neck.
    Hell we don't measure parts for the Space industry that closely.....more marketing BS.

    Now for me, I've always leveled my frets by hand, and using a capo as a stop, continued leveling, and moving the capo down the neck giving me an ever so slight taper to the fret height as you go down the neck. I.e 1st fret is slightly taller than the 2nd, and so on.
    For craps sake, those super duper aerospace tolerances are going to go to crap as soon as you leave the room the guitar Plekd in.
     
  2. pancake81

    pancake81 Well-Known Member

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    No doubt there is some marketing BS in there. I think the take home message is the machine is precise and does a much better job than Tony in the back room.

    All but one of my guitars are NOT pleked. They are all set up properly and play great. My guitar that is pleked, plays fantastic as well.

    If you have me 10 guitars and said one is pleked, which one is it. Friggen no one could tell; they would all point and guess.

    I like the idea, and would never shy away from buying a pleked guitar or Having it done as part of a set up.
     
  3. Paul Hickman

    Paul Hickman Member

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    I understand Plekd in the manufacturing process, to maintain consistency, but it's still wood, and wood moves. Have you ever seen the results of a CNC machine that burped its programming mid cycle?
     
  4. pancake81

    pancake81 Well-Known Member

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    Absolutely. Woods moves, that’s part of it magic and why it creates such beautiful tones. In regards a CNC machining “burping”. Nope, that’s not my field of expertise
     
  5. Biddlin

    Biddlin Well-Known Member

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    I have six factory plekked Gibsons. None have gone to crap. I had my Strat plekked at a shop in San Francisco and designed the fall away and relief on the computer before the process to approximate "and using a capo as a stop, continued leveling, and moving the capo down the neck giving me an ever so slight taper to the fret height as you go down the neck. I.e 1st fret is slightly taller than the 2nd, and so on." with microscopic precision. Some 6 years later it is still the best playing and feeling Strat I have ever played. I love my older guitars and have no issues with them, but for note clarity, ease of play and accurate intonation, the plekked ones are a little better, imo.
     
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  6. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    If you do the geometry with triangles, a fret that is 1 thou too high needs an added bridge height of 15 thou to clear it. I only have one plekked guitar - a Les Paul Traditional. And it is one of my least troublesome. The only downside I can identify is that plekked frets have a very flat top, and I did use a fretting file to improve their profile.
     
  7. Paul Hickman

    Paul Hickman Member

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    Those .0005 tolerances that they claim go to crap, I'm not saying Plekd is wrong, but over exaggerated.
    There is a reason why wood is measured in fractions, and not thousandths. Plekd as a manufacturing process I agree with, but don't over sell it.
     
  8. Col Mustard

    Col Mustard Well-Known Member

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    I talked this over with my luthier back in Ann Arbor, who is world class.
    He said that the machines are a good innovation, and they are capable of
    very fine work, but he also said that the results depend on the skill of the
    operator.

    Right back to regular Gibson repartee... there's good ones and bad ones.
    If the operator had a rough night or isn't paying attention, my luthier says he
    can do a better job. My luthier also claims that he does a much better job than
    any plek machine because he listens to his client play, and then he uses his
    training and experience to set up the frets for the client.

    I believe him because that's what he did for me, on all my instruments from
    acoustic guitars to fretless bass. I brought him my 2012 SG special '70s trib
    which was supposed to be plekked at the factory. It was still pretty new
    when I brought it in. He checked it over and said
    it seemed right on. And I've had zero trouble with that guitar.

    My only experience with a plekked guitar. A good experience.
     
  9. Go Nigel Go

    Go Nigel Go Active Member

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    I have never had a guitar "plecked", but I have looked into it out of curiosity. I agree with what Col Mustard said above, it is all about the skill and knowledge of the person running the machinery. I have seen a couple of good videos of the entire process made by reputable luthiers, and they all said the same thing; "if you can't do it by hand you have no business running a pleck machine". The Luthier must use his/her knowledge to monitor and guide every step of the process to prevent the machine from screwing up the process and removing too much material. Final fret dressing is still done by hand. Also, my understanding is that the main benefit is speed, not precision. Just like in any machine shop, the CNC machine is only as good as the operator, and class fit work (where things are measured in ten thousandths of an inch) is still "finished" by hand in most cases.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2021
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  10. Bob Womack

    Bob Womack Well-Known Member

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    I use the services of an excellent luthier/tech who does work for national artists... and then me. I have bought three Plek'd guitars and have come to two generalizations about them:
    1. It seems to me that Pleking at the factory serves to tell me that the guitar does not have a terrible neck. If I buy a Plek'd guitar, my tech will be able to whip it into shape for me.
    2. Plek'ing is only as good as the manufacturer chooses to make it. From what I can tell there are multiple qualities of Plek'ing. I've had $3k guitars with nicely Plek'd frets and $800 guitars from the same companies that are only moderately-well Plek'd. It seems that you really get what you pay for, even in Plek'ing.

    I'm about to take a new, expensive, nicely Plek'd guitar for its setup with my tech. Why? Most manufacturers set up to an average height setup that can reasonably accommodate light-handed players and heavy-handed players. However, I play with a really light touch that allows the nut to be set lower than a hard player would like. A lower action at the nut requires better fret dressing than a higher one. You really can't set up a guitar in a way that will please everyone so manufactures take the middle road.

    Bob
     
  11. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    What manufacturers mostly do is set an action that they know will survive any climate change without fret buzz. They do that the obvious way - with a specified string clearance. Once the guitar is at its new home and stable, that height can be reduced greatly to a proper playing level. If your local luthier sets string heights to the original Gibson spec, go find a new luthier.
     
  12. Norton

    Norton Well-Known Member

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    Nothing great or terrible about a plek machine

    it's a machine.

    Easy to find a bad "luthier". Hard to find a good one. but when you do, keep on their good side.

    I do my own fretwork/refrets but if I had a Plek machine I'd use that instead. Just like I'd use a cordless drill over a hand crank drill.

    Tools! Electricity! these are good things.
     
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  13. Go Nigel Go

    Go Nigel Go Active Member

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    Exactly, It is a tool. I became curious what this process was because of all the fuss being made anywhere people are talking about guitars these days. The Plek machine is an impressive tool for quickly measuring and dressing fret heights. From what I can see, there is no real difference to the player whether the guitar is correctly set by hand, or by a using a Plek machine. It is all about the skill and knowledge of the luthier. If you don't know how a proper set up is supposed to turn out, the machine won't save you from wrecking a good guitar faster than a dog can pee on the carpet. If you do know what a proper setup should be and how it is done, you can do it by hand or with a Plek machine. Your customer won't know the difference unless you tell them. The Plek machine should allow a skilled luthier to properly set up more guitars per day, but that's about it.
     
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  14. Biddlin

    Biddlin Well-Known Member

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    It does much more. For most hobbyists, there may not be a discernible difference between a good manual fret job and a plek treatment. For some, the shallow cut nut seems to be an issue. They re-cut it, then have to have the frets redone because they changed the geometry. Others like Don find the "flat" fret treatment problematic. These issues have not not occurred to me until others brought them up. If the Plek technician has you in the room he can take those preferences into account and literally tailor the cut to suit. My Strat is tailored to my light touch and heavy finger vibrato.
     
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  15. Go Nigel Go

    Go Nigel Go Active Member

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    I am not going to argue that pleking isn't a good (maybe even a great) way of setting up the guitar, it obviously is the quickest way to do it accurately. I am just saying all the same neck and string geometry should be taken into consideration when doing it by hand as well. There are a lot of steps which can be done much more quickly with a Plek machine, but it is ultimately just a lot of measurements and adjustments that can be done manually or with the machine. I will admit that it is more likely the luthier with a machine may take fewer shortcuts, but that doesn't change the fact that the job should lead to very similar results if done properly either way. I would absolutely consider getting my next setup done with a machine if the opportunity presents, but I think there is a lot of hyperbole going around right now that leads to conclusion this is anything more than a proper setup done correctly. It's a really nice machine that will dramatically increase the output of a skilled luthier and possibly reduce errors due to fatigue and/or shortcutting the process. I have known a few really good luthiers, and several not so great. The best ones do a lot more work (and measurement) on a setup than the mediocre ones, and they also get superior results.
     
  16. donepearce

    donepearce Well-Known Member

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    There is one fundamental difference between hand and Plek. In a manual setup you take off the strings and adjust the truss rod so the neck is dead flat, then you sand the frets to level. Then you restring and set the relief. Under Plek that is all turned round. You adjust the neck for best relief, and with the strings still on, the Plek machine measures all the frets as close to the strings as possible. Then the strings are taken off and the frets are measured again. Each fret is then ground by the amount that would have corrected it to the desired relief curve when it was under string tension. This is a weakness - it grinds to somebody's opinion of what the relief curve should be. However, there is no doubt that Plek is a great deal better than many luthiers.
     
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  17. Go Nigel Go

    Go Nigel Go Active Member

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    I agree with the "better than many lutihiers" part, and many do just do the "dead flat with the strings off" method. That is a big shortcut that may satisfy some customers. I have known several however who use a straight edge and feeler gauges (among other things) to do the same thing as a Plek. You have to do the measurements manually with the strings on and off, and a lot of math. The plek automates that, which from the luthier's perspective is a huge benefit. The plek automates the process I have seen the best luthiers I have dealt with employ, and that process was very likely used by the developers of the Plek machine. It's a great tool and simplifies a very complex procedure. I would not be surprised at all to find out that some of those "best luthiers I have known" are counting their coins from the sofa cushions right now, trying to figure out if they can afford one of these machines. The process it replicates is the correct way of doing it.

    To be honest though, all of this is nothing compared to the work I have seen done by violin builders who frequently will assemble and disassemble the instrument (not just removing the strings) a couple of times during the set up of a new instrument. Setting up a new or restored violin for proper geometry , sound, and playability can take a couple of weeks. Precision violin work is still all done by hand. The "best" machine built instruments out there still require a lot of hand work just to be considered a good starter instrument. To be even remotely taken seriously as a mid tier instrument you are talking 100% hand built and adjusted.

    I guess what I am saying is that the Plek simplifies a labor intensive process, but that process has been done without automation by the best luthiers for decades because automation wasn't an option. Now it is. The only downside will be if people start relying on automation so much they are no longer capable of understanding the entire process or doing it manually. That knowledge is still vital to keep the machine from doing something stupid. Machines still can't understand what humans want or need, they just follow instructions. The operator must have the knowledge and skill to handle the organic components of playing a musical instrument and make sure you don't get a very precisely measured travesty that is not satisfactory. Only the human can decide when something is mathematically "correct" but organically wrong.
     
  18. Voxman

    Voxman Moderator Staff Member

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    I had 2 expensive dogs, while the plek machine made them my best players. Did it to 4 guitars n results were brilliant
     
  19. Norton

    Norton Well-Known Member

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    I don't doubt it voxman.

    but a good luthier actually Interested in fretwork could have very likely delivered the same results.

    The plek machine is a great machine in the hands of a really excellent operator. And it is capable of overall level of micro precision. I have been really impressed with plek work. The operator went the extra mile for a fairly important customer multiple times. Multiple vintage basses with super consistent results.

    I've been really underwhelmed by plek work too. plenty of cookie cutter factory plek setups at gibson that are acceptable but nowhere near impressive.

    I've also had fretwork done by really great guitar builders. Equally impressive in every regard to a plek. Complex problems included.

    But.... we'd all probably get better results with a plek machine and a half way decent operator, than a half way decent tech working by hand.
     
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  20. Biddlin

    Biddlin Well-Known Member

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    Suddenly I crave waffles!

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