Five Star Guitars 15th Anniversary Celebration
A Decade and a Half Later, We’re Still Going Strong!
In May of 1998, Ken Potter opened Five Star Guitars in his garage
with a dozen of his own guitars.
Now, Five Star Guitars carries some of the best lines in the industry, has a reputation for quality and service,
and provides lessons seven days a week! We have a staff of 21, a full-service instrument repair department,
and offer top-notch amp repair. Our lesson program is stronger than ever with five lesson studios,
12 instructors, a World Tour (REAL gigs booked for our students to showcase their talents), and
instruction offered on guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, violin/fiddle, piano, and vocals.
Many of our customers have been with us since the beginning.
From Dany’s first guitar students to customers who “remember the old shop,”
many of you have been with us for the duration.
Gracias! Danke! Grazie! Thank you!
We owe our continued success to you, the best customers a shop could ask for! As a token of our gratitude,
we want to hook you up with some cool gear, and we’ve got great deals in every department.
From now until Memorial Day, the sales are everywhere!
We’ve got beginner guitars for less than $40, bass gear at 15% off, select acoustic guitars at 25% off,
close-outs on effects pedals, USA-made guitars at 15% off, great deals on percussion gear,
15% off on used gear, and some crazy give-aways.
Come celebrate with us!
Swing by on a Saturday to say hello to Ken. Stop in to meet our new teachers. Treat yourself to some sweet new gear.
Here’s to another 15!
Thank you so much for your loyalty and business through the years! The future is bright, and we look forward to
sharing it with you. We can’t wait to see what’s around the corner - sharing stories, swapping gear,
learning new tunes, jamming at new gigs, meeting new faces, enjoying the company of old friends.
Thank you for choosing Five Star Guitars!
2303 NW 185th Ave. Hillsboro, Oregon USA 97124
How (and Why) to Support Your Local Music Store
Don’t Believe the Hype
There’s a stigma out there that local stores can’t get the good stuff, or that the prices are always way higher than at a big box store or online. While it is true that there are certain “Chain Store Exclusives” or that a smaller store operates on a smaller profit margin, we certainly don’t want price to be the reason you shop elsewhere. Most local shops will work incredibly hard to earn your business, and will go the extra mile to make sure you are well taken care of. Our livelihood depends on it.
Much of the “hype” created by big box stores is related to prices. But think about it…what you’re looking for in a purchase is VALUE for your dollar, not just the cheapest price. Most small stores offer their value in creative ways, sometimes in ways not so obvious. What these “price-slashing sales” do is devalue gear by making it worth less (it’s not worth $500 anymore if you can get it for $300). What we, and many other small shops do, is add value without raising the price. One of the ways we do that at Five Star Guitars is by performing a full set-up on instruments before we put them out for sale. We’ll even do it again when you buy it if you want it set to a different tuning or have different strings put on it. And we’ll even do it one more time after you buy it, if it’s still not quite right a week later. For FREE.
Read our previous posts on Guitar Setups (9/4/12) to see why this is such an essential part of what we do. And, even after doing all that, we’ll still beat the best price out there on that guitar. In other words, we give you the same guitar, professionally set up to your specs, at a lower price.
Believe the Hype
Local shops have been, are, and will always be the best at being…local. One of the things we pride ourselves on at Five Star Guitars is our support of local businesses, schools and community programs. We actively seek out local builders of guitars, amps, and pedals. We donate free lessons to school fundraisers. Our teachers put their schedules on hold to do clinics, recitals, and the Hillsboro Parks & Rec. School of Rock. We’ve donated merchandise to the Monsters of Rock event, and commissioned a custom guitar that resembles the Oregon Music Hall of Fame logo. A fully-functional, Oregon-state-shaped guitar. Complete with accurate topography, should anyone be so discerning. (If they are, they’re probably a studio musician…) Oh, and we love musician jokes!
Let Us Do Your Services
We talked a lot before about setups. That’s part of what we offer, but it goes way beyond a pre-sale setup. In order to better serve customers, local shops actively listen to what their customers are asking for and then commit to providing it. Our customers ask about upgrades, repairs, and custom work. So we hired luthiers who were good at that sort of thing. We’ve custom built instruments, turned fretted basses into fretless, rebuilt instruments that didn’t survive a trans-Atlantic flight, and restored vintage instruments. We can mod your effects pedals and replace tubes in your amps. We’ll even teach you how to do some of that stuff, and if you’re lucky (and not in a hurry) Doug will tell you a story or two.
We also offer lessons. We have seven guitar teachers and two drum teachers who are not only well-schooled and great instructors, they are active musicians in the local music scenes. What’s that cool guitar lick or funky bass line you’re struggling with? These guys do that stuff for a living every week, and they’d be happy to show you.
Take It for a Test Drive
Next time you find yourself on the way to a big box chain store, instead check out your nearest local shop and give them a chance to impress you. I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much they can offer you, how vast their knowledge and expertise is, and how quickly you’ll be treated like an old friend.
Guitar Setup, Pt. 1: The Lingo
What is a “factory setup” and why should you NEVER settle for it?
There’s a reason we staff a full-time luthier at Five Star Guitars. Actually, there are many reasons, but one in particular is that most guitars can’t simply be tuned and put out for sale. The “factory setup” is terrible. It needs a pro to work some mojo on it.
If you’ve ever read a magazine or catalog description of a guitar and have seen the term “factory setup,” you may be wondering what that refers to. Sounds pretty official, doesn’t it? But if all the lingo is new to you, you might need a crash course in guitar setup vocabulary. Here it is.
This is Part 1 of 2. Part 1 here is the glossary, Part 2 will be some DIY specs.
Overall Guitar Setup - This is the general term that refers to all aspects of playability on your instrument. Anything you can adjust that determines how easy or difficult it is to play and how in tune it sounds as you play across the neck is part of the setup. (Not to be confused with your “rig,” which is your amp, pedals, etc.).
Factory Setup - This is how the guitar was adjusted right before they boxed it up and shipped it from the factory where it was built. If your guitar was made overseas, it was probably setup overseas. This means it was setup in a different climate with different a temperature and humidity, probably weeks/months ago, and it traveled roughly 4,000 miles on a boat, truck, train, forklift, hand truck, etc. to get to you. Because the setup can change quite drastically during this journey, the factory setup often leaves a lot of room for improvement by the time it hits the sales floor. If a store simply tunes it up and puts it out for sale, there may be some serious problems with how well that instrument plays.
Action - This is the distance of the strings above the frets. It’s measured at the 12th fret when the string is open (not fretted, no capo). Higher action is good for slide playing, rhythm playing, and aggressive blues or funk. Lower action is preferred by shredders and some jazz players. On nearly every guitar, you’ll find that a “factory setup” leaves you with really, really high action.
Neck Relief & the Truss Rod - The truss rod is the metal rod inside your guitar neck that counters some of the string tension. It allows for adjustment so that you can put strings with varying tensions (or tune your guitar in new ways) and still have the playability be roughly consistent. The amount of bow (curve) in the neck is called the relief. A little relief is necessary. If it’s too flat, you’ll hear a lot of string buzzing. If there’s too much relief, you’ll have unneccessarily high action, and your intonation can be less accurate. Often, the factory setup has too much relief (too much curve) in the neck.
Intonation - Have you noticed that some guitars seem perfectly in tune when you first tune them up and pretty decent when you play open chords, but get progressively more out of tune as you play higher on the neck? The guitar’s intonation is probably off. Intonation is, in layman’s terms, the instrument’s ability to stay in tune when playing notes on all areas of the fretboard. Most factory setups probably were well intonated when the instrument left the factory, but is off by the time it goes out for sale. We’ll get into more technical terms in Part 2 of this blog, so stay tuned….
Optimizing the Nut Height - There are a lot of details associated with adjusting the nut - the slotted piece at the end of the fretboard near the tuners, like a zero fret - but here’s the short version. Each string sits in a slot that can be individually adjusted. The slot needs to be high enough so the string doesn’t rattle or buzz when you pluck it open, but isn’t so high that it’s difficult to play a first-fret note. In a factory setup, these are almost always way too high.
Pickup Height - This is more simple. Electric guitar pickups are magnetic, and the closer they get to the string the louder the signal becomes. However, if they get too close, their magnetic field actually pulls so hard on the string that the string stops vibrating and your note loses sustain. So there’s a sweet spot you need to find. Check out Part 2 to help you find said sweet spot.
Bridge and Saddle Height - This is adjusted very differently on acoustics vs. electrics. First of all, the word “bridge” refers to the part of the guitar down by where you strum, where the strings attach. On an acoustic, it’s a piece of wood permanently glued to the guitar, with a saddle (the white piece that the strings sit on) and the bridge pins (the little knobs that hold the strings down). On an electric, usually each string has its own saddle, and it may have a tremolo arm (or vibrato bar, or whammy bar, or whichever term you like to use). There are dozens of different styles of electric bridges. Wait for Part 2 on that, but here’s the main thing to understand: the saddles need to arch in a radius that matches your guitars fretboard, and need to be high enough so that strings don’t buzz when you play. This, of course, is in conjunction with all the things we’ve previously mentioned. Again, a factory setup is usually not ideal in this regard, and we’ll teach you more in Part 2.
High Frets - If a shop doesn’t check out a guitar before they sell it, they probably won’t catch if it has high frets. This is a common phenomena on a guitar that has traveled 4,000 miles and gone through several climates to get to you. If the fretboard gets dry at all, it can push frets out, and even the tiniest bit too high on, say, your 4th fret, will make your 3rd fret buzz like a chainsaw. The fix for this is hydration and, in more extreme cases, a true and crown (“level the frets”). Beware of any guitar with a “factory setup” that hasn’t been checked out by the shop’s luthier.
Until next time, when we will talk more details, numbers, and the how-to.
Guitar Setup, Pt. 2: How?
Alright, so here’s the nitty-gritty, in the same order as Part 1. Assuming you’ve read Part 1 on the Lingo of Guitar Setups (you did read Part 1, didn’t you?) or are already comfortable with all the terms, here are some suggestions on how to get the most from your guitar. Pardon the tongue-in-cheek…
Keep in mind, there’s no single right way to set up your guitar. Many great luthiers and players have specific things they like to do that differ radically from each other. That doesn’t mean one is more “right” than another. What we’re providing here is a general suggestion that seems to work across the board on all guitars, for players of all styles.
Overall Guitar Setup - Again, this is the generic setup for overall playability. Decide if you want to shred some metal or play slide. Then get to it! Your first choice to make: What gauge strings are you going to use? Your setup will begin with the string gauge and tuning you choose to use.
Factory Setup - You can do better. You deserve better. (See Part 1).
Action - Higher action is better for slide, or for blues and funk rhythm. Lower is better for a light touch, preferred by shredders and some jazzers. This is measured in thousandths-of-an-inch. For example, Joe Satriani’s guitar tech claims Joe likes “sixty-four thousandths” across all strings, or .064”. Generally, you can get your guitar somewhere between .060” and .070”. You can eyeball that gap, roughly speaking, if you picture two electric guitar A-strings, or two acoustic guitar D-strings stacked on top of each other. Often, a factory setup is over .080”, which is extra high. Everything you do to your guitar affects the action, so read on to see how.
Neck Relief & the Truss Rod - Most guitars have a truss rod adjustment as an accessible Allen wrench in the headstock (most electrics) or at the base of the neck joint inside the guitar (peek inside the sound hole of an acoustic, just underneath the end of the fretboard). This is righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. Tighter pulls the headstock back and “flattens” the neck. Looser gives way to the strings, and causes more curve (“relief”). Measure the relief this way: use your finger or a capo on the 1st fret, 6th string (play an F note). Then, look where the neck meets the body (on acoustics it’s the 12th or 14th fret, on electrics it’s somewhere around the 15th or 17th fet). Push the 6th string down on that fret at the same time as you fret the 1st fret note, and look at the gap between the string and the 7th fret. What you’re doing here is taking the nut and the bridge out of the equation and just looking at the curve of the neck/fretboard. This measurement can be super low. Again, to eyeball it, you can picture your first string barely sliding under the gap. Low relief can be .004”-.008”. Higher can be .008”-.012” or more. Less relief = lower action, but if it’s too low, you’ll get more string buzz. More relief gives you higher action and less chance for buzz.
Intonation - On acoustic guitars, you can’t adjust the placement of the saddle. But on most electric guitars, each string has it’s own adjustable saddle. To adjust intonation, you use the screw(s) that move the saddle laterally across the bridge, getting it closer to or farther from the pickups. First, check the current intonation. Tune your guitar to whatever tuning you’re going to use most often. Get it perfectly in tune with the string open. Then, fret the 12th fret and see what the tuner says. Essentially, you’re checking the tuning as the string is at full length and comparing it to the string at half length. If the string is in tune when open, but sharp when on the 12th fret, the string is getting shorter too fast as you move up the fretboard. Move the saddle away from the pickups to make the string longer. If the note is in tune when open but flat when on the 12th fret, it’s too long. Shorten it by moving the saddle closer to the pickups. Because the tension on a set of strings is not perfectly consistent for all 6 strings, each saddle will be in a slightly different place.
Optimizing the Nut Height - This is something a luthier with a good set of nut files should do. Most of us don’t have those, so here’s a quick test to see if your nut slots are too high: press each string down onto the second fret, and check the space between the string and the first fret. This shows you how high the nut is holding string. The measurement should be somewhere between .020” and .030”, so you should be able to fit your 3rd string under the gap. Too low, and you’ll buzz open strings against frets. Too high, and it throws off your intonation, as well as making it really difficult to play first fret notes. This is where a factory setup can KILL a beginner’s enthusiasm.
Pickup Height - Roughly speaking, the top of the pickup should be about 1/8th of an inch under the strings when they’re fretted on the last fret. So, fret the 6th string on your 21st (or 22nd, or 24th, etc.) fret and raise or lower the pickup on the bass side. Then do the same with the first string for the treble side. Now, about that sweet spot we talked about before. Use your ear. Strum some chords, play some lines, and adjust the pickup, listening for the sweet spot. When will you find it? You’ll “just know” that the guitar sounds better. General cautions are: 1) if the pickups are too far away from the strings, they can sound weak and anemic; 2) too close to the strings and their magnetic pull actually interferes with the strings vibration, killing the sustain of your notes.
Bridge and Saddle Height - On an acoustic, this is adjusted by taking the strings off and sanding the bottom of the saddle to lower it. If you do this yourself, be careful. While bridges are fairly inexpensive to replace, it’s very difficult to file it evenly and keep the bottom flat in the bridge trough. If you don’t get it even, the string vibration won’t transfer evenly to the top, and your tone, volume, and overall coolness go down the drain. If your acoustic has an undersaddle pickup, don’t do this. Getting it even is essential (if the saddle doesn’t touch the pickup, you’ll end up with an entire “dead string”), and you can risk damaging the fragile undersaddle pickup. Not worth it. Take it to a luthier, and make him do the tough job. On an electric, you can adjust overall bridge height, as well as the individual saddle heights. Adjusting the bridge is simple, because you usually only have two posts that adjust the entire bridge. This is the most direct way to adjust string height and action. The saddles are more difficult, because the fretboard is radiused so you have to match the radius of the saddles to the radius of the fretboard. As with nut height, there are special tools that luthiers use for this, and it is recommended to take your guitar to them for saddle adjustments.
High Frets - If your 5th fret rings out clear as a baby bird just born from it’s egg, but your 4th fret sounds like rotten eggs (i.e. it buzzes like crazy, but only on that fret) you probably have a high fret. This is yet another area where there are special luthier tools for measuring and checking for high frets, and the job of actually leveling the frets (called a true and crown) is very labor intensive. Don’t try this at home.
As you can see, a lot can be done to improve the playability and sound of your guitar. As much detail as we’ve covered here, this really only scratches the surface of all the things you could do. However, this is more than enough information to begin educating yourself on the finer points of guitar adjustments.
Kemper Profiling Amp Review
We’ve already sold a few of these, and have one left (as of today, 8/15/12, 4:00 pm) for you to come play with.
One of the most useful innovations in the music industry in recent years, the Kemper Profiling Amplifier is the next evolution in digital technology for guitarists.
Up to now, “amp modeling” has followed a fairly consistent and predictable course. The general mentality is this: give guitarists a collection of popular and rare amps in a digital form that attempts to give the player a similar playing experience and tone that they would get if they were playing the original amp. As the technology improved and the market became more competitive, the products that stood out were the ones that did the “classics” the best - who had the best Boogie, Marshall, Fender, or Vox model. Soon, everyone’s digital models sounded great, were affordable, and came in a variety of formats (amps, effects units, computer DAW plugins).
The one limitation that had always been poorly addressed: your digital amp collection was limited to what the manufacturer provided when you purchased the unit, or what they offered in paid upgrades or amp packs. In other words, as vast as your digital amp collection might be, it was still limited to what the manufacturer chose to provide.
Enter the Kemper Profiler. Any amp you can get your hands on can be “profiled” and stored inside the Profiler. Profiles can be shared, and Kemper provides a user community specifically for users to share profiles. You can even profile pedals, rack units, and other digital modelers. Now you are only limited by the number of amps available to the user community, and what others are willing to share. There are already users renting studio time for the sole purpose of profiling high-end and rare studio amps. Some we’ve seen go by: Hand wired Marshall and Vox rarities, Two Rocks, Trainwrecks, vintage Fenders, and some really cool pedals run in front of great sounding tube amps. And, of course, there’s a truckload of Rectifiers, AC30s, Twins, etc. are already being shared.
Of course, the one downside to the users-sharing-their-own-work idea is that while there are a ton of Triple Rectifier profiles available, for example, some are better than others and you have to rely on peer reviews to find the gems or take the time to wade through them all yourself. However, this flexibility also means the possibilities are endless.
Imagine your next recording session: instead of taking a van full of 100-lb. amps and cabs and then paying for studio time while you try to find that magical combination of amp, cab, and mic position, you take a single unit that weighs less than your guitar and sounds like all of your gear. And that’s the best part, it’s YOUR GEAR. You can profile YOUR unique little Fender amp instead of hoping Line 6 makes a model that sounds like yours. And if you have a fragile vintage piece that you are scared to take out of the house, profile it. Then you can take it everywhere!
When you get your Kemper, which amp are you gonna profile first?
Line 6 Dream Rig In-Store Demo With Former Gregg Allman Guitarist Marke Burgstahler
Saturday, June 23rd, 1-3 pm
PLEASE JOIN US as we welcome Marke “Jellyroll” Burgstahler, Northwest Region Sales Manager for Line 6 and former slide guitarist for Gregg Allman, as he demonstrates the amazing James Tyler Variax Modeling Guitar – 25 guitars, 11 tunings, 1 exceptional instrument!
What if you had the ability to call up 22 different high definition amplifier models, 100+ incredible modern & vintage stompboxes and effects, and choose any one of the Variax Guitar models or tunings, all with the touch of a single footswitch? You have to experience the HD500.
AND… What if you could bring it all together using the brand new DT25 Amplifier? The HD500 presets also allow you to harness boutique sound and performance in a portable 25/10 watt tube amp, co-designed by Reinhold Bogner. It is truly the Dream Rig.
June Second Saturday Workshop - Slide Guitar
Thanks to everyone who came to the slide guitar workshop, taught by our very own Geoff Metts.
Attendees learned proper technique, some cool licks, and a bit about open tunings. Geoff is available for slide lessons during the week. Check out our web site for his teaching times, as well as the availability of our other great teachers.
To those who came what was your favorite thing you learned?
To those who weren’t able to make it, we’ll see you in a month at the next Second Saturday Workshop!
Bob November of Mackenzie River Music Passes Away
The music industry recently lost a good one. Bob November, owner of Mackenzie River Music in Eugene, passed away May 21.
If you haven’t been down to Eugene to check MRM out, it’s worth the trip. Any guitar player who loves cool, unique, or vintage instruments will love the vibe. Believe me, there are not very many other guitar stores out there I would promote. This is the exception.
I lost my dad to cancer several years ago, and it’s not an experience I would wish on anyone. From all of us at Five Star Guitars, our thoughts and prayers are with Bob’s family and friends, and the MRM crew.
Head over to their web site and leave them a positive word of encouragement or donate to the scholarship fund if you are so inclined.