Luthier Interviews: James Byrd
This is the first of a series of luthier interviews here at Dinosaur Rock Guitar. In this installment, we are interviewing James Byrd, a guitarist with recording history that spans over 20 years with acts such as Fifth Angel, James Byrd's Atlantis Rising and most recently, Byrd. A virtuoso player, James is also a talented luthier and head of Byrd Musical Instruments, the company that builds James' inovative new Super Avianti® guitar. As such, James has a wealth of experience and in this interview, we are fortunate to hear his insights on guitar construction. Enjoy!
8/22/05 Interview conducted by Andrew Craven.
DRG: James, many thanks for agreeing to this interview. I know the readers of Dinosaur Rock Guitar will be very interested to read your views on what we are going to cover. You have been playing guitar a long time and certainly better than pretty much everyone else, can you tell me a little about your guitar history and what you liked disliked about stock production models?
Byrd: I liked the Stratocaster the best of all the production guitars on account of the placement of it's controls, the scale length, and the pickup configuration. But I didn't like the neck joint, and I although I thought the body was extremely attractive, the lower body horn required a change in hand position in the upper registers which made playing certain passages hard. I also liked the Gibson flying V, but it wasn't the pickups or controls, they were very inconvenient. Some players are set it-and-forget it types, but I'm not. I want to be able to manipulate the volume and pickup selector while playing, and tend to do so rather continuously. But the flying V not only looked cool, it didn't have that damned body horn to bang your left wrist into during arpeggios on the upper fingerboard. As for the rest of them, well, you've got Les Pauls, which are very pretty guitars, but were never for me in terms of what they were about, and then you've got Telecasters. The Telecaster in my opinion was one of the best sounding guitars ever made, and for me, it's still an important measure of what a good guitar should sound like. Of course this is all extremely subjective; there is no absolute definition of what good is in terms of the way an electric guitar sounds, there are just opinions. My taste runs to instruments that go twang when played clean, and which have violin and/or flute like qualities when played with a bit of gain. To me a Les Paul is utterly dead and just goes thud when you pick a note acoustically, and when you add gain, it goes eeeeee with sort of a nasal tonality. Maybe to someone else that dullness and thud is tone, so you see what I mean about this being subjective. The rest of the guitars that have been made seem rather irrelevant in the greater scheme of things; you've got Strats, Teles, Les Pauls, and then everything else trying to be something different but not all that memorable. But to me there was also something special about the Flying V for the reasons I stated.
DRG: Your history in design also stems outside the guitar world into metallurgy, has this helped with the design of your instrument?
Byrd: I wouldn't say metallurgy specifically had very much influence. I was a metal shaping artist and designer who built everything from Aston Martin replacement body panels, to race cars and street rods. If someone needed a brand new replacement fender for a 1937 Deitreich bodied Packard, I was the guy who could make pattern from the opposite side, and shape a flat piece of sheet metal into a new fender. I did this work for 24 years and made parts for some of the most expensive collector cars in the world. Knowing in general how to fabricate and build things and make patterns, along with having an eye for style as an automotive customizer often called upon to do design, made designing and building a new guitar much easier. A guitar is not a complicated thing; it's success relies on only a few elements, but those elements are made more important by their simplicity.
DRG: You have had endorsement deals with major manufacturers through the years (Ibanez, Kramer, Fender, ESP), what led to the need to design your own guitar?
Byrd: If you spend enough time with anything you start finding the things that bother you. I knew I wanted a guitar that gave me what the Strat gave me, but with a better neck joint, a more ergonomic body shape, and certainly a better headstock. I had been having Fender put left-handed headstocks on the guitars they made for me during the late 80s and early 90s because it corrected the string tension imbalance. But it wasn't without problems, especially in the low E going out of tune. But it was really a particular day in the studio that made me move from just thinking about designing my own guitar, to doing something about it. I actually cut my hand while I was recording. The cause turned out to be a pickguard screw; the chrome plating had lifted and turned into a tiny razor blade. I didn't even know I had cut myself until my hand started feeling sticky, and I looked down and there was blood smeared all over the pick guard. It made me really mad actually. I just thought to myself: why the fuck are they using these stupid screws? They're not even actually flush, they're oval heads. That made me mad at the complacency of the industry because the truth is, guitars are what they are for two reasons only; everyone copies everyone else, and more than half the time, a dozen different brands of instruments are rolling off the same assembly lines with parts from the same parts bins; the only difference is what shape some marketing guy decided to create, and the name on the headstock. I can really think of only one company that actually DID recently put some effort and thought into doing it differently, and that's Parker guitars. Now they're not to my liking personally, but at least they didn't follow the lemmings and they cared enough to follow their own vision.
DRG: Can you give us a run down of the instruments you had used in the past and what were the pros and cons of these designs.
Byrd: The Strat, Les Pauls during highschool when I played in the jazz ensemble, back to the Strat, Flying Vs, a Gibson explorer for about six months, back to Strats and Vs. I love the way the Les Paul looks. It's just so elegant and timeless. I don't think there's a prettier guitar from a purely aesthetic point of view. But as a modern player, I really hate playing them. The Explorer was also terrible. A very unweildly guitar. I hated Gibson's way of placing the controls where they couldn't be reached without moving the hands, but I did like the Flying V for the unfettered upper neck access.
DRG: I am guessing that the positives of these instruments help form a foundation for your own design?
Byrd: My guitar is designed to sound like a really great vintage Stratocaster but to be more playable for the modern player with modern technique. Let's face it; when the Strat was conceived, people were using wound G strings, and few people played above the first position. The Flying V was only an inspiration in that I knew that there were qualities to its basic shape that were useful, that could be built upon. I prefer the longer scale length of the Stratocaster; it has a much more harmonically complex sound, and I have very large hands and find the Gibson scale length to get too cramped on the highest fret positions. So in sound and feel, the Super Avianti® guitar owes most of it's debt to the Stratocaster, and in design, it was only loosely based on the V. That was changed by off-setting the wings to make it balance properly and to be more comfortable. You see, when you remove material from the bottom wing to make room for the electronics, the lower wing of the guitar ends up being lighter than the upper wing unless you find a way to compensate for it. I did; I made the upper wing shorter. This was more comfortable for the right arm, and it corrected the instrument's weight bias so it balanced properly. I call it the Balance Compensated Wing®.
DRG: Can you get good off-the-shelf guitars from the major manufacturers these days?
Byrd: Absolutely. In fact, I'd say that in terms of playability, guitars today are light years ahead of where they were in the 60s and 70s. Especially the 70s. In the 70s, finding an off the shelf guitar that didn't have a warped neck or bad fret job was actually a task in itself. And in the late 70s, Fender guitar were just horrific; finishes so thick they were like plastic coatings, three bolt tilt neck joints that warped the upper fret board, finish piled up into the frets. When I was 15 years old, I worked at a Guitar Center selling guitars. Out of a hundred guitars on the wall back then, you'd be lucky to find 3 good ones. Today, although not much has been accomplished generally in terms of improving designs, the actual quality of instruments is vastly better. I've picked up $250 Mexican Stratocasters that play perfectly. And really, most of them do. That's a HUGE change: A Stratocaster in 1977 was a total piece of crap and cost about $400. Now mind you, a Mexican Strat is still a cheap guitar made out of a bunch of small pieces of wood glued together to save money. But the neck is straight and the frets are well finished. So I would say that getting a good guitar these days is pretty easy. And you know what a lot of it is? It's actually that there's less hand work being done. Precision machine tools are so much more accurate and consistent than any guy at a band saw. The terrible quality at Fender during the 1970s was sloppy people. I think that a lot of the improvement in guitar quality these days, is actually on account of modern manufacturing methods for critical parts like necks. A good luthier can build something magical, but a disgruntled poorly trained employee can build something terrible. Machine tools don't make mistakes. Finding a guitar that's absolutely magical though, is still hard. There are so many boutique guitar makers out there making very high quality versions of existing designs. If you want a better Stratocaster or Telecaster made with really nice wood, you can certainly find them by the dozen for less than $3,000. But that's also the problem; these guys are all basically making the same instrument. I wasn't about to do that, it's the last thing the world needed. My goal was to have that kind of quality, and then build something with a better design from a player's perspective.
DRG: When did the initial design for the Byrd Guitars Super Avianti® happen and what made you come up with its progressive yet classic body shape?
Byrd: Believe it or not, I actually dreamed it. I had already been thinking about how to design the thing, but hadn't settled on anything specific. I had one of those lucid dreams where you're thinking in your sleep, and the whole thing came to me with such intensity, I woke up and immediately got a piece of paper out and drew it out. It wasn't a scale drawing, just a sketch. I still have it, and if you saw it, the final product is remarkably close. I can still remember all of the thoughts in the dream; it was all very methodical and logical in my mind.
DRG: Where does your design philosophy come from?
Byrd: A few axioms suffice: Keep it simple, If it's not broken don't fix it, Real guitars are made from wood and form follows function. And I'm a gear head with a love for exotic Italian cars of the mid to late 1960s. When I came up with the name for the guitar, I first came up with Avianti because it sounded Italian. In fact, I've had a lot of people ask me what it means in Italian. But it's not actually even a word in Italian. What it was, was a variation of Avian, meaning Bird. It's the origin of the word aviation. And I took the Super part of it from one of my favorite Ferrari models: The Super America. There was a version of that car, which had tail fins believe it or not, and I was completely enamoured with the design. I studied the way that the straight lines of the quarter panel's tail fins were made to work with the curves in the rest of the car. There are a lot of aesthetic similarities to the Super Avianti® guitar if you look at the two creations and it's not a coincidence.
DRG: What are the critical factors/aspects in getting a good-sounding guitar at the basic wood level — before you've added the electronics and cosmetics?
Byrd: Good wood. You want a piece of wood that does something when you thump on it. You can notice vast differences between pieces of wood, even the same type of wood, in a lot, if you just go through and thump on them. A good piece will have some brightness to it, and a bad piece will just go thud. It's the same thing with a neck blank; sometimes there will be one which just sounds dead. Don't use it.
The shape of the body also has an influence on sound. I found that the V design had a better bottom end because there's less mass at the neck joint. That's where vibrating strings are moving the farthest. My guitars also have large tone chambers in them. My first prototypes used the Standard individual slots routed for the pickups. Fender had begun creating what was called the bathtub route in some of the Floyd Rose Strats they sent me in the 1990s in an attempt to overcome the problem of the massive locking bridges sucking the tone out of the guitar. It made the guitar sound better, and I reasoned that if this improved the sound of a guitar with a locking tremelo, it ought to make a good sounding guitar with a standard tremelo sound even better. So I built a Super Avianti® and put the big tone chamber in it and indeed, it sounded even better. The next thing is the neck joint; I came to believe from a lot of experience, that bolt on necks just sound better than set necks. For many years there was an almost snobbish series of claims made for set-neck guitars and against guitars with bolt on necks. It was claimed that glued in necks gave better sustain. The truth is, that a bolt on neck when it's done right absolutely sounds better than either a standard set neck, or a neck through. The reason is glue; The glue in a neck joint actually acts as a barrier to the transmission of vibrations. It's like a little wall keeping the wood fibers from communicating. A wood fiber itself when looked at under a microscope, looks just like bamboo; It's a hollow tube, with little membranes along it's length which divide it. The longer a fiber is, the lower it's resonate frequency is. But if you put something like glue on the ends of those fibers and between them, it's acting as a damper. A good bolt on neck on the other hand, is two pieces of wood fit tightly together under pressure in direct communication. I have yet to play a guitar with a glued in neck which had as full a sound as a good bolt on neck. And of course bolt on necks are a whole lot more practical and durable.
DRG: I know that you do something to the best of my knowledge unique in regards to way you cut the body in relation to the slab of wood.
Byrd: Yes. The grain on my bodies is run at an angle, it's not run parallel to the neck; It's run parallel to the lower body wing angle. I ended up doing this because it gave me a longer set of wood fibers than running the grain straight did. Remember what I said about wood fibers being little tubes with resonate frequencies? The longer that uninterrupted grain is, the lower the resonate frequency. That means a guitar with a fuller sounding bottom end. The grain length on a Gibson V or Strat is roughly 12 or 13 inches. The uninterrupted grain length in the Super Avianti® guitar body is almost 20 inches long. It's a big difference (almost 50%) and you can really hear it.
DRG: How do you balance tonal factors with looks and ergonomics?
Byrd: Pretty well I think! Now I'm sure some people won't like the looks, but most do and personally, I love it. And even people who don't immediately relate to it's looks seem to end up thinking it's extremely attractive when they've gotten used to it. It can't be mistaken for anything else on the market, and that was intentional to a degree according with the design having had some serious thought behind it. I spent a lot of time on the details of the design once I had the basic premise; everything flows from the headstock to the pickguard to the body shape from the same offset theory. I used large radiuses on the body because I never like sharp edges and points. To me the guitar should be something you want to touch and hold, not something to stab someone with. Then there is my inlayed pickguard assembly; this came out of my original frustration with having my hand cut by the screw on my Strat; I reasoned that if it made sense to use flush screws, why not just make the whole thing flush and get rid of the edge altogether. It took a lot of work and trial and error to make the idea something which could actually be done perfectly every time, but I figured out the tooling and fixtures, and it just looks so trick. I experimented with different pickguard materials as I made prototypes with the inlayed pickguard. I didn't like the way that standard three layer pickguard material looked; It just looked cheap to me, and when you viewed the guitar at an angle, you could see distortions in the pickguard at each screw location because it was too soft. So I tried Acrilite acrylic sheet, a very hard material a full 8th inch thick, and it not only looked infinitely better, it turned out to have a very positive effect on the tone. Suddenly the guitar had more spank and clarity. This is the kind of stuff that really only happens when someone spends a lot of time and energy on something, but that's what this became for me. I wanted total perfection as I saw and heard it.
DRG: On the subject of woods, what are the best tone woods for playing heavy rock/metal (and why)?
Byrd: Again, this is really subjective. I wouldn't describe the Super Avianti® as a metal guitar. I'm not sure there's a text book definition, but when I think of that concept, I don't see the Super Avianti® as having anything to do with it; I imagine guitars that weigh 16 pounds, with gigantic pickups with 4 pounds of wind on them. The Super Avianti® is designed to resonate well acoustically, and provide a very articulate sound. If someone wants to plug ten distortion boxes together and plug into an amp with three pre-amps cranked up, I'm not sure they're going to care about much of anything beyond not feeding back. Metal means something so totally different today than it did when I was cutting my teeth; Deep Purple was the definition of metal when I was growing up. Now it's music that bears no resemblance to that era. It really comes down to what sort of player someone is as to what's best. Someone who likes the way their Stratocaster sounds is probably going to love the Super Avianti®. Someone who's bought a Dime Bag Darrel guitar and thinks it's the bee's knees isn't probably going to find it's what they want. I don't believe attempting to design an instrument that appeals to everyone. I think that would be a guitar that everyone is going to find mediocre at best. You can't please everyone so why try? You want a muscle car, don't buy a Ferrari, buy the big block Camaro. This guitar is the Ferrari in that equation; it's fast but also well engineered, refined, and well balanced.
DRG: How do they select the woods you use (vs reject)?
Byrd: I tell them what I want, and they've yet
to send me a bad piece. The guys at the factory are
all musicians in addition to being craftsmen. For my
guitars, weight is critical, and I always order body
wood that's as light as possible when it's swamp ash.
(Editors note: The Super Avianti® Standard models
are alder bodies that run between 3 to 3 1/4 pounds.
The Artist and Signature Edition models use swamp ash
bodies that range between 2 3/4 to 3 pounds.)
DRG: What effect does body weight have on resonance and sustain?
Byrd: A lighter body has more bass. Weight in theory can increase sustain, but in practice, it doesn't effect what I call useful sustain. That's sustain that actually audible. A good acoustic guitar will out sustain any Les Paul I've ever heard, yet for some reason, the Les Paul has had this reputation as having a lot of sustain. What you're really doing when you build a heavy guitar like a Les Paul, is you're trading volume, for sustain that's basically useless; Because there's so much mass, the string doesn't move the wood much, and the sound you do hear is basically just the sound of the string for the most part. But a guitar CAN be designed to both have a lot of resonance and volume, AND sustain if it's done right; it's a matter of letting the string move the wood, and THEN letting the wood move the string; it's interactive in other words. A banjo is very loud, and has very poor sustain. This is because the string energy which moves the top, is never recovered. But a combination of good body design, the right bridge, and the right neck joint, can result in an instrument that recycles it's resonance to a higher efficiency, giving you volume and superior sustain.
DRG: What do you look for in this?
Byrd: I have a test that I've used for years when checking out a guitar; hang the guitar on the wall and pluck the high E string with your hand on the back of the neck joint. You should be able to feel the neck joint vibrate. Most electric guitars fail this test; you have to move the test to the B or G string to feel anything. If it doesn't vibrate there when you pluck the high E, you don't have a very good electric guitar in terms of it's acoustical properties. Next, pluck the high E string and then immediately stop it. If you hear other strings carrying over a harmonic, you've got good things happening. I have yet to build a Super Avianti® that didn't pass this test with flying colors.
DRG: The Super Avianti can come in a variety of fingerboards, what are your preferences on these woods?
Byrd: I like maple the best. Snake wood is my next favorite, but the price will give you a heart attack; the blank for the fingerboard cost us $150.
DRG: Can neck inlay work affect tone?
Byrd: In theory I suppose that it could, but I haven't built a bunch of identical guitars with different fingerboard inlays, so I couldn't tell you from any experience.
DRG: How do you fret slot the fingerboards (by hand/machine)?
Byrd: Machine. It's far more accurate.
DRG: Do you any views on the Buzz Feiten vs. even temperament scale length systems?
Byrd: It's something I'm curious about actually. I know that there are some other variations on the concept. I intend to look into it because it's sound in theory and should address a known problem.
DRG: The Super Avianti comes in whatever frets the customer wants, but how do you view Jumbo frets vs small frets and how do they effect playability?
Byrd: Customers can have any fret they want. Personally, I like big frets. Of course all of my guitars are scalloped as well, but if you put #6000 frets on a guitar, it's moving the same direction as scallops. If you're heavy handed with the left hand, you should probably use small frets or you'll play out of tune. I'm using #6000 frets with my UDC ™ scalloped finger board, so I'm doing a high wire act when I play. It doesn't make you any faster, but it definitely reduces drag when you vibrato. If a player doesn't have an even vibrato and refined sense of touch, playing on frets this big with scallops isn't going to sound good, it's gonna sound like cats fighting.
DRG: How do you set your frets (super glue/epoxy)?
Byrd: Super glue.
DRG: How much time do you put into fret crowning and filing?
Byrd: The tolerances of my necks being computer machined, are so close, the fret work that's done removes a negligible amount of material. Most of the time is spent on radiusing the ends of the frets because everything is very close to perfect to begin with. They only require the most minimal fret touch up imaginable. My necks now feature something very trick that can't be seen, but has a marked effect on playability; Fall away. It means that when the fingerboard is machined, there is a 5 one thousandths of an inch drop (fall away) from fret #14, to fret #22. You can't see it, but it means that if someone wants to set their instrument up with an extremely low action without buzzing on string bends, this is the ticket. I'm also offering a compound radius for no extra charge that's lovely; it goes from a vintage 7.25 at the nut, to 9.5 at the 12th fret. It's the best of both worlds and I've switched to it on my personal guitars.
DRG: What should a good refret job entail?
Byrd: You have to begin with a straight neck and level fingerboard. You don't want to put new frets in, and then have to do a lot of levelling. My method is to adjust the truss rod and lay the neck on a tempered glass plate, and adjust the truss rod until the neck is totally straight. Then you level the fingerboard with radius blocks and check the straightness again. You only put new frets into a dead straight, level neck and fingerboard. When the frets have been installed, you again check the neck against the glass plate for straightness; if anything is sticking up, you press it in until everything is level. Next, I take a blue sharpie felt tip pen, and I color the crown of each fret. It's the equivalent of machinists Dykem blue dye, and used for the same reason. Then you start looking for high spots. Some people use a mill file. I use a smooth level block of hard rock maple about 10 inches long with #600 sand paper glued to it, and very lightly drag it down the fingerboard. Anywhere the ink is sanded off, needs to be brought down. Always start at the nut. I repeat the process several times. Once everything is level, I mask the fingerboard with at least two layers of automotive grade masking tape, and I put the crown back on any frets that have had material removed. I finish sand the frets with #1000 grit paper, followed by #000 steel wool, and then Flitz metal polish on a piece of leather. A good fret job will not buzz, and the frets should shine like chrome and be scratch free.
DRG: Have you ever noticed a problem with bad fret scales (have they noticed problems) on guitars you have owned/played in the past?
Byrd: I once owned an acoustic guitar that would never intonate properly.
DRG: How much time do you put into carving a nut?
Byrd: It usually takes me around 45 minutes.
DRG: What nut materials do you like and why?
Byrd: I prefer graphite nuts because they don't require lubrication and everything else does if you use a tremolo.
DRG: Can these change the tonal characteristics?
Byrd: Yes, but really only on open strings. One you fret a note, the nut is out of the picture. Unless you're talking about a locking nut; those have so much mass, they keep the guitar's headstock from vibrating. The headstock is actually a crucial element for tone. One company actually came out with a product called the Fat Head, which was nothing more than a big heavy piece of brass that attached to the head stock and was claimed to increase sustain. I assure you that it definitely would alter the sound in a big way, but I don't consider it good; anything with mass, is going to resist being moved. The more mass, the more resistance to being moved. That's a fundamental of physics. What happens when you put something heavy on a guitar's headstock? You can try this for yourself and find out; put an acoustic guitar flat on your lap and then take something like a pocket knife, or guitar steel, and place it against the strings behind the nut. Strum the guitar's open strings and apply the weight and remove it. You will clearly hear the tone change from resonate and open, to compressed and narrower; what you're doing is preventing the headstock from vibrating, and you're reflecting the string's energy back down the string before it can move the headstock. I don't find that any more desirable than putting a locking nut on a guitar. It might interest you to know, that after I built my first Super Avianti® prototype, I enlarged the headstock to give it more surface area. I did it because I had a theory it would sound better, and indeed, it sounded better.
DRG: The Super Avianti® has a unique neck joint, can you tell us how you arrived at this design and what it gives the player?
Byrd: I wanted a bolt on neck for the reasons I already gave, but I wanted a neck joint that felt good in the hand. I don't like the way metal plates feel; they're cold, and I didn't want corners either. I ended up using five recessed bolts for additional rigidity.
DRG: What truss rod systems do you use?
Byrd: We're using a rather standard truss rod. I don't like what the extra heavy-duty truss rods do to the sound; they really kill the tone. The purpose of a truss rod isn't to straighten a neck, or at least it shouldn't be. It's only there to aid in support against tension. The neck is supposed to be good to begin with. The prototypes I built had the truss rod adjustment at the neck heel as Fender did in the 50s and it was a royal pain in the ass. The new USA production models have the adjuster at the headstock where it's much easier to use.
DRG: Was the Super Avianti® designed around specific electronics/pickup configurations or will it have universal appeal?
Byrd: People can order a guitar with any pickups they want, including humbucking pickups, but the heart and sole of the guitar from the beginning is an arrangement of 3 single coils. To me, a Strat is no longer what it is, when a humbucking pickup is put in it, and I feel the same way about the Super Avianti® . But if someone wants a humbucking pickup they can order it. I'll might try to talk them out of it if it's someone I'm personally dealing though. It feels like putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa to me, and really, there's no reason to do it most of the time; you can make a single coil pickup sound like almost anything, including a humbucker, but you can never make a humbucking pickup sound like a single coil. The sound is grossly colored by absent harmonics from the beginning. Some people like that and want that coloration as a permanent fixture of the sound, and for them, I guess they should have what they want. Call it a personal prejudice on my part, but I liken it to buying a Ferrari with an automatic transmission.
DRG: What part do pickups play in the Super Avianti's® tonality?
Byrd: Probably less than most guitars because the guitar has such a particular sound to it acoustically. That said, people can choose from anything in the DiMarzio line of single coil sized pickups with no additional charge, or they can buy their own pickups and send them to me if they want something different. I've tried almost all the DiMarzio pickups over the years and have my personal preference, but I explain to people what the various differences are so they'll know what they're getting when they decide.
DRG: What finished do you offer/use?
Byrd: We have two standard colors (Black and vintage cream), and for a small up charge, we can finish a guitar in virtually any commercially available automotive color code. That's literally millions of available colors if the customer wants something specific. We can also do multi-stage colours such as candy apples and pearls and special effects finishes, and custom graphics at a price.
DRG: Where do you stand on the Nitrocellulose Lacquer vs. Polyurethane debate?
Byrd: I've been doing nitro finishes on necks for a couple of years now. The good points about nitro, is that it's always going to be a pretty thin finish because it takes so many coats to even fill the grain. That's also the bad side from a production view point. And it's a very delicate finish; it's always susceptible to solvents, and even moisture. It's NOT a finish for someone who leaves their guitar sitting in a cold damp basement. Like most companies, we're going to have to shift away from using nitro if our production has to increase to meet, but it doesn't have to have a negative effect if it's done properly. That means keeping the finish as thin as possible when poly is used. On the bodies, I prefer polyester to anything else, although I've done many orders in Lacquer. Polyester is an extremely hard finish, much harder than polyurethane, and that's very good for sound. It got a very bad reputation due to Fender's extremely heavy applications in the late 1970s; Fender even touted it as desirable, calling it Fender thick skin and actually trade marking it. IF polyester is applied extremely thinly, it's as good or better than lacquer in terms of tone, and it's extremely stable and durable. The bad reputation of polyester comes from companies who used it to avoid spending time preparing the bodies with quality sanding and prep work, and they were using the finish to glop over imperfections. Paul Reed Smith uses polyester on it's top of the line instruments, so it is not an inferior finish by any means. So we use it for bodies, and we apply it over bodies which are dead perfect before paint, so it doesn't need to be thick to look a mile deep. That comes from skilled sanding and buffing, not a lot of actual thickness in the finish.
DRG: Do you have any other tips of tricks for keeping a good guitar sounding good, or perhaps improving a not so good guitar?
Byrd: Apart from changing your strings when they need it, and having a well made guitar to begin with, I'm afraid that's too broad for me to answer.
DRG: If possible can you give us any feedback on the following:
General opinions and comments (likes, dislikes and things to watch out for) on the following guitars:
Fender Strats / Fender Teles / Gibson Les Pauls / Gibson SGs / Gibson Flying Vs and Explorers / Paul Reed Smiths
Byrd: Not on anything in particular, but maybe the SG; have a very good look at the finish at the neck joint. It's a weak neck joint design, and any instability will first show up as a separation crack in the finish along the glue line. You might also want to very gently grab the headstock and apply slight pressure and see if the guitar stays in tune. The same goes for any glued in neck. And generally for any electric guitar, I advise you to evaluate it unplugged before you plug it in. The way it sounds before you plug it in will tell you more than anything else. You'll also hear any fret buzzing much more clearly this way. If you're in a music store, try to find someplace quiet. Plugging it in really only tells you that the electronics are working. 9 out of 10 times, you're not going to be playing it through your own amp anyway, and if you don't like the pickups, it's easy to fix, but if you don't like the actual sound of the guitar itself, before you plug it in, it's probably impossible to fix.
DRG: James many thanks for your time and readers be sure to check out www.byrdguitars.com for more information on these kick ass guitars.
The terms Super Avianti and Balance Compensated Wing are registered trademarks of Byrd Musical Instrument Company.
We at the Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank James Byrd for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved.