Bad Setup? Bad Neck Angle? Opinions sought...
I just want to throw this out there and see what you think about this scenario.
My Martin DX1 was in dire need of a setup. I'm really bad at acoustic setups so I wanted to take it in, but I also noticed that the neck angle was getting a little too steep. I also remember that my regular setup guy mentioned this last time I had it setup, which was about 2 years ago. So instead of going to my regular guy, I took it to a Martin licensed technician because the neck angle issue is a warranty repair. So I dropped it off, told the guy what I wanted and mentioned my concerns about the neck angle. Then, I picked it up today.
I was in a hurry, so while I was still in the shop I messed around with it a little to make sure it was ok. He said he adjusted the truss rod and replaced the saddle with a new bone saddle. He also told me that my guitar was under-humidified, which seems weird considering it's mostly laminate woods, and I keep my Kyser humidifier moist. Open positions were great, intonation was better and it generally felt better in my hands, so I paid and left. Tonight I played around with a little and I'm not happy. The neck angle is still way off, the action is still too high and once I get higher than the 5th fret it gets uncomfortable.
I'm going to contact him again tomorrow when the shop opens, but I'm not sure I want this person working on my guitar again. He charged me $100 for a new saddle and setup and it's not that much better than it was to begin with. He's the only Martin-certified guy in the area, so if it does need a warranty neck-reset, I'd be more comfortable driving it to the factory (it's only about an hour).
At what point is a neck angle too steep? I don't have a precise measurement, but I used a straightedge to guage the angle and it was off by enough that I thought it was significant. It accounts for the high action too.
And how should I handle this guy? I think I need to push for him to do it right, but I'm not getting good vibes out of him or the shop in general.
It's too little when you've got proper neck relief and have a saddle that's only a few mm high and still get too high an action...sounds like a reset is indeed needed.
Not that uncommon with acoustics I understand.
Ok so I talked to the guy about it and I'm not very happy.
He told me that he can't do anything else for the guitar because the action falls within Martin's acceptable range and that this is all the result of me not taking care of the guitar. He said that a lack of humidification has caused the wood of the neck and fingerboard to contract and until it is properly rehumidified I have to live with. He then recommended I put the guitar in a room without the heat on and use a humidifier in the case. He then went on to say that when properly humidified, it MAY return to it's original alignment and he MAY be able to adjust it again. If he can't, he said the next option is to replane the neck and sand down the bridge. He won't lower the action any more for fear it mgiht buzz.
It's a perfectly valid assessment and I understand everything that he's talking about, but unfortunately considering the circumstances, he doesn't make any sense to me. Here's why:
It's a Martin DX1, which, as you may or may not know, isn't made of much wood at all. The neck and fingerboard is made of micarta and a heavily resin-infused neck that (I understand, at least) is impervious to moisture changes. The top of teh guitar is the only part that is wooden. I have kept a humidifier in the case for as long as I've owned it. I keep in my bedroom, which is unheated, even in the winter, and excessively moist (we have a moisture problem in our house...too much!). I told him these things and he told me I was wrong, that there was no way I could have humidified the guitar and he scoffed when I said the guitar wasn't made of "regular" wood. I went on to say that I believed the guitar's current geometry was the way it was going to be, and that something else needed to be done. He said sorry, nothing else I can do.
I'm considering contacting Martin about it. There's obviously something wrong with the guitar. There's another Martin-licensed technician near where I work so I might take it in for a second opinion.
But what it comes down to is that I don't trust this guy at all.
How high is the action, then? In mm, at 12th fret? And the neck is set straight with truss I presume?
Maybe contact Martin directly and explain that you don't feel that, even though you took you guitar to a Martin certified tech, the guitar still doesn't play as you think it should. Perhaps they can recommend another certified tech in the same area, or maybe you could send it back to Martin to take a look. It would cost some time and shipping, but it doesn't seem like you are going to be satisfied with work of the current luthier.
Neck is dead straight. The guy predicted it would backbow in a week or two after I rehumidified it and that hasn't happened. I normally have a great respect for those who are highly trained, but frankly I think in terms of his humidity claims he's completely wrong.
If I take it to Martin I can drive it there, so that'd cut down the cost, but what really sucks is that I had a very small budget to get my acoustic setup and it's all gone on that one repair. So unless Martin's going to fix it for free, I'm SOL. I did send them an email but I haven't heard. Last time I emailed them it did take almost a week, so that's fine, I know they're busy.
I'll have to get the ruler out later and measure it up. I believe him when he says it falls under Martin's acceptable specs, but it doesn't fall under mine.
I've never understood the humidity thing on guitars...I have assumed that's something you only need to do with cheap & bad guitars, or was just some salesmen snake oil thing.
4 me, the temps and humidities change like crazy, from -30F to +90 throughout the year, and the humidity from 15 to 95...but I never had any issues with any of my guitars. My piano does suffer from changes; in winter the front board dries so well it curves as much as to touch the keys and make it unplayable in the winter, but I never had any issues with my guitars which I keep in a stand next to the piano always. I have a few electrics there and a Landola and a Yamaha acoustic - used to have a Takamine as well but sold it after playing it a decade...the Landola I've had since '87 or so with no issues at all, despite it's followed me thru rock festivals in moist tents and cars etc. and being tossed round by my kids etc. and is thus full of dings and scratches.
The only guitar I ever had any issues with was a Gibson Les Paul, which needed at least 4 trussrod adjustments per year, assuming due to humidity changes, but all my other guitars basically are impervious to that or one or two adjustments now and then suffice.
I wouldn't go back to him, once confidence is lost, it's hard to get it back. I don't think your problem is humidity, on a DX-1, about the only thing I can think that would be affected by LACK of humidity would be the top, i.e cracking or crazing of the finish. You said you use a humidifier, I would assume that would be enough. Hell, most of us here DON'T use em, at least I don't. I'm not saying its a bad idea, quite the opposite.
If your neck is straight, and the saddle is close to the bridge and the action is still too high, that almost always screams "neck reset" to me. A HUGE alarm goes off in my head when I hear "Neck Planing" or especially "Bridge Sanding" when it comes to setting action. This is NOT the way to correct high action, besides that takes more labor than a neck reset anyways.
I've seen a lot of great and vintage guitars (especially 60's and 70's model Gibsons) suffer from sanded down bridges to correct action, it was almost criminal! (one actually had ramps cut into the bridge ahead of the saddle which was the same height as the bridge!)
I'd take it to Nazareth or another Martin certified tech for a second opinion, I can't see you not being able to set up a Martin the way YOU want it set up!
The only time for a neck planing, IMHO, is to correct a badly warped neck (bowed too much or twisted). Bridge sanding is done in the initial construction of the guitar.
Too many luthiers claim great knowledge and don't think that their customers know anything, therefore the "It's your fault" syndrome. You've been playing long enough to what is right and what is wrong and what you want, kick and scream until you get it!
When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming......
like the passengers in his car.
For whatever it's worth: I just bought a new Martin DX-1. Went to guitar center planning on spending around 1500, but was blown away by the sound and sustain of the largely composite Guitar. Bought it for just under 500. I do some tech work,(mostly electrics) and decided to do the set-up my self. Adjusted neck relief to about 010 at seventh fret and took saddle down a fair amount. No idea what is going on, but I'm quite sure there's not enough adjustment left to get it down to a good level with out being on top of bridge. I tried relieving the neck to flat, but even at this the angle is just way off.
Fortunately Guitar Center has a 30 day return policy. Think i'll be bringing this back and upgrading to ???