We focus primarily on new machines and technology that make music directly, but of course, these tools make instruments that make music, too. Having seen an image of a guitar string vibrating from German firm Plek A+D Gitarrentechnologie earlier this week, reader Brian Turley observes that the work that company is doing is impressive.
We’re not necessarily talking mass-manufactured, machine-made guitars, either. The device in this case augments more traditional techniques, and can be put in the hands of an expert luthier. Plek’s technique scans guitar necks in multiple dimensions, creates a virtual fretboard in which you can adjust frets, then cuts some combination of frets, nut, and saddle for the desired result. The upshot of all of this: if the frets are adjusted precisely, it’s easier to play notes and string action is least likely to impede intonation. (It plays better and sounds better, done right.)
Here’s a bit on the technique:
The computer ascertains a 3-D like graph of the fretboard surface, including the position and height of the strings. Thanks to the plek scan the relief of the neck created by the string tension is taken into account while calculating the process parameters.
In the Virtual Fret Dress menu the operator can not only determine how much needs to be cut off from each fret but can also set the fretboard radius and amount of fall-off suited for the instrument or player. You can see the height of each fret, how high each fret will be after processing as well as where fretboard buzz occurs because of frets being too high or too low.
Guitar makers and repair shops then buy these machines for their own use; it’s just one tool in a larger toolchain, and it needs a very skilled operator. Humans, therefore, are no less a part of the equation.
I’m of course way out of my depth here; I think the last time I made a guitar it involved rubber bands and a cardboard box in school. But I’d be fascinated to hear from someone working with these machines. And even for us lay people, it’s a small but fascinating window into the sorts of tools now available to luthiers.