I haven't posted here in a while, as I've been very busy with getting my little shop going and getting my shit together here in my new home here in Norway.
A while back I recieved a Roter fan-fret 8 from MF Kitten that was in some dire need of repairs, mostly involving the neck and the electronics. I won't go into the sordid history of this company or the unfortunate experiences that some folks have had with Roter, but this particular guitar is a another shining example of the same kind of issues some others have had.
The guitar played horribly, had numerous issues, and had bad grounding noise problems that apparently wouldn't go away no matter what he did to fix it - and the project's challenge was to correct as many issues as possible for the absolute minimum amount of cash. So to help out my friend, I took the challenge as although I'm very experienced with working on ERG's, this was my first fan-fret repair. The ill-notoriety associated with this company was also not lost on me, and I wanted to see what all the hubbub was all about and check out an example first hand for evaluation myself.
Because of the number of photos involved, I wish to keep the explainations as brief as possible, but as they say, the pics themselves tell the most.
The specs on this guitar is as follows: Fan-fret 8 String, 27.5"- 25" scale, unthinkingly thin two-piece wenge neck with a padauk fingerboard bolted onto an also insanely thin swamp ash body. The electronics were as such: pickups were a Q-Tuner BL-5 high Z (yes, that's right, the bridge model) in the neck position, and an offset Merlin 8 Bridge humbucker. The 500k mini volume pot, basic 'box' toggle and the (knarly,used) barrel jack were of the lowest quality. The (also used) tuners are inline Chinese no-name brand, and are among the worst tuners I've had the displeasure to manipulate, with horriffic amounts of backlash.
The backside, showing the odd mounting arrangement and access of the pickups adjustment screws.
A closer look at the body.
Here's a look at what is probably the thinnest, awkwardly-carved, and stupidest scarf-joint placement I've ever seen on any guitar in over 30 years. I would love to ask the builder what he was thinking when deciding on this joint placement. Yes, just put it right at the spot where the neck is subject to the most flex and help glue creep (which you can see and feel at the bottom edge near the fingerboard join), instead of the more usual lower areas near the 2nd to 4th fret. The actual neck carve/profile, instead of the more common and popular D, C, oval or 'Wizard' styles, this could be basically described as a '2x4 with slightly rounded edges' profile with a completely flat back. This area near the body join was one of the areas which was asked to maybe carve that lower 'shoulder' for more comfortable upper fret access - I advised heavily against the idea, as the neck was already too thin really, and weak enough as it is.
Yes it was this thin. And this was farther up the neck near the body join, it was actually a bit thicker lower down towards the nut - the exact opposite of what it should have been.
Like I was saying. 3rd fret area measurement.
Another of the many complaints was with the poorly-cut nut. The slots were not nearly deep enough, and if you picked the string hard enough or tried bending a string on the 1st to 3rd frets (particularly with the lower wound strings), the string would just jump out of the slot.
Here you can clearly see the poorly, inaccurately cut slots. I find it incredible that a luthier shop commercially selling guitars cannot use the properly-gauged razor saws and slot files, which clearly were not used here. And to add insult to injury as it were, if you look carefully, you can see spacing is slightly out of whack on a few strings.
This simple but effective tool would have prevented that.
While we're up near the headstock, here's another design complaint that's not exactly user-friendly: the truss rod access frankly sucks for anyone (read: the average user) with just a normal 4mm Allen/Hex key.
Like so. The access cavity should have either been routed longer, or move the bar string retainer farther up. <Buzzer sound> Fail.
The only way as it was to adjust the truss rods is to use a long shaft, ball-end Allen driver. It would be possible of course to use a cut-down, stubby 4mm Allen key, but those can be hard to find or cut for the average used, and frankly shouldn't be this awkward or difficult for most people.
Another complaint of MFKitten's was the fact that he couldn't insert a thicker Planet Waves plug housing into the output jack because the barrel jack shaft hole was drilled at a too-narrow angle. Later reamed and fixed with a new decent jack.
A classic 'What's wrong with this picture?' Ok, nevermind the wonky routing job...we can clearly see the bridge pickup is quite krookedly placed in an attempt to allign the outer polepieces with the strings - rather than give more accurate and predetermined measurements to this Merlin pickup company to make a slightly narrower pickup to begin with. At least the Q-Tuner is pretty much symetrically alligned with the end of the fingerboard. These are merely minor errors in comparison to the much more serious neck mis-allignment and sloppy fit - you can see the low 8th string almost off the end of the fingerboard, and would actually just slip off when the string was fretted pretty much all the way up the neck. Not good in a guitar that was basically designed to take advantage of that low string to begin with.
Here's a shot showing the horribly sloppy fit with a large gap (more later), and a....WTF is that?! Well, it's a 1/4" router bit slip-up and plastic wood filler cover-up. Not quite.
Now back to the wonky, horrible neck with it's unlevel, railway-tie jumbo, frets. These kind of shots are difficult to take, but these will give you an idea of what I was dealing with. The neck itself was horribly bowed, had a slight counter-clockwise twist, and when the dual (and poorly installed) truss rods were tightened (and maxed, sadly) to straighten and correct the bow revealed two major fingerboard humps - lower register covering from frets 2-8 or so (and worse on the treble side), and the classic bolt-neck upper fret tounge hump. As this was in the neck itself, was deemed to be not worth the extreme amount of work involved to correct (defret, heat press, plane fingerboard, reradius, refret, redress, etc.). I make no bones about my dislike of whole, non-laminated wenge necks. I think this wood is very prone to twisting, and I've seen years of numerous twisted Warwick, Framus and Spector wenge necks to support this, IMO.
This gives you an idea of how bad the action looked and felt like play on. Go chug and shred on that. Ugh.
This was what I was presented with inside the control cavity. Cheapest components inside a roughly routed, shallow cavity that was not deep enough to cover the componets completely. I wondered what that slight bulge in the control cover was - the protruding box toggle switch.
Removing the neck showed us this. Unevenly seated anchors and would it have killed you to put a couple of more strokes of stain onto that wood. They actually put more effort into covering up that unevenly routed neck pocket.
Looking to the dreadful chinese tuners, which as we can see were all scratched up and clearly a used set that were put onto a supposedly new guitar. Almost all the Phillips mounting screw heads were stripped from being forced into a too-small pilot hole, were so tight that in a bitter irony the very last head just simply sheared off immediately as I started to turn it off.
This of course left me with this:
Ugh! Something else unexpected to fix that shouldn't have happened.
Attempted adjustment of the neck pickup was also a fail - it wouldn't budge. The pickup was wedged into the too-tight cavity and not allowing it to be height adjustable, which is inexcusable in my opinion.
Finally managing to yank out the neck pickup revealed the cavity. They really spared no expense and simply used what appears to be black marker to paint the inside of the pocket. Nice clean work. Um, no.
The bridge pickup cavity was a little cleaner route, but still with the cheap black marker.
The pickups themselves were quite different from each other, and had very high DC resistance readings, with the Q-Tuner (actually a bridge model) reading 17.04K ohms, and the Merlin 8 at a staggeringly high 24.97k ohms!
Under the saddles, which were appallingly bad with cheap plating, revealed the string ground wire(s) that appeared to be - along with the saddles as you can see - glued onto the body with CA glue. Thanks a lot. >:-/
Took a while working it with solvent to remove the CA, but now it's cleaned off.
And this was what the barrel jack looked like when I finanally managed to claw it out of the guitar, which was installed in an area that you couldn't use a normal wrench to undo the nut, no thanks to Roter's lack of design forethought. Along with hacked-up threads, it had this olive-black colored, epoxy-like goop all around the base. Why? Beat me, but this is what was put into a new guitar and shipped out like this. Boo-urns!
So we want to scrap all the electronics except the pickups for better quality components, right? Not so fast there tecchie - all the routs were haphazardly done and fit only the old, crappy parts. The cavity itself was way too shallow to accomodate a normal Switchcraft LP-type toggle, and even the shorter SC toggle was still too long and still slightly protruded above the face of the opening like the original cheap box switch. This left me with the last option for a normal toggle, and that was to utilize the squat, angled SC toggle - most often used in Gibson SG's. This would do the trick, and I had one in stock, but still required some slight routing. Same with the volume pot, which was routed for a mini pot, which I'm not entirely fond of unless there's no other option.
Here shows the area we want to rout out.
And after the main section of wood removed. I found after doing a test fit, that a small extra bit needed to be removed for the switch to fit deep enough to clear the opening. This body was even thinner than the Ibanez Saber, for which the inspiration was clearly based. We'll come back to this later.
The repairs of this guitar got sidelined for approximately 8 weeks due to the slowness of the local Graphtech distributor in getting my parts stock, which included the oversized teflon nut blanks that this guitar and another 8 string were waiting for. I always feel bad for my customers when repairs get hung-up due to situations out of my control.
Now, back to the work...
The existing nut was made from hard plastic and very brittle. Even after scoring the edges it hung on tenatiously.
The whole nut just crumbled into bits when trying to remove it. Then it became apparent why it was stuck on so well...
Because the whole nut had been severely glued down with copious amounts of CA glue, which really is not normal, as most nuts should be glued in place using only a small amount of wood glue, like Titebond. This makes it easily removed sometime down the road when the nut may be changed. I worked the area carefully with a carver's scraper to remove most of it.
It also revealed another method in which the nut was attached: the bottom of the nut included two plastic pins that were obviously just put into small holes drilled into the face of the fingerboard before gluing it down flush.
Most guitar necks have a slot/channel/ledge that is routed into the fingerboard or neck in which the nut is inserted and retained. As you can see, either due to a cost-cutting measure or just laziness, there was no slot at all. Really?!
After taking some measurements and constructing a little jig for the router, we did what they should have done in the first place and make a proper nut channel.
While we were up at the headstock end, let's get rid of that annoying tuner screw stump.
While we're at it, let's check the fingerboard radius, as we'll need to know this before starting any fretwork. Hmmm...12" radius. Same as Gibson. It's the smallest radius (most curved) I've seen on any 8 string.
Now I wanted turn my attention to the frets, and trying to level them as best as possible, which I knew was going to impossible to get perfect due to the roller-coaster neck, but we want to just make play as good as we can, as it is. After tightening the truss rods to get the neck as straght as we can. At the best point I could get, if you look carefully you can see the hump-dip-hump of this neck.
To demonstrate how unrealistically thin this neck is, the truss rods were maxed-out and here you can see the bulge from the treble-side rod's anchor pushing out from inside. Ugh..
When doing fret levelling, before commencing and after taping the board off, I used a fret rocker and check the frets both across and up and down the whole neck. The arrow marks indicate high or low points. This neck is a mess...
Here's a good example showing where the majority of the fret metal is being removed - right where the two humps I described are. I had to hog-off a LOT of metal at these points.
After levelling, recrowning and polishing. In the second pic, on the fingerboaed you can clearly see the remnants of CA glue overspill and tooling marks from gluing in all the frets. Difficult to clean off neatly, the fingerboard would have to be de-fretted and sanded with a long radius block to be done well. Cosmetic, and doesn't affect the playability in this case. Pass.
Now back to body and reassembly. As I was saying earlier, the neck was a loose fit, and you can see the gap measured .032"/.813mm, a big gap.
To fix the neck allignment (and get the 8th string back on track) and tighten up the fit, we'll shift the neck and make a filler shim from oak, which was the closest looking hardwood I had on hand. Then the fit was tight and much more secure.
While we're at it, let's fix the too-tight neck pickup cavity and level the humped neck pocket floor, then paint with shield paint.
New, fresh ground wire in place, and reinstall the saddles. After taking some careful measurements, there was some repositioning because the numbers weren't working out right.
Drop the pickups back in and get everything wired up.
Now back to finally putting some strings on and carving the new nut. Strings used were Dunlop 9-42, plus a D'Addario .54 and a .70, tuned to F standard. I consider nut making to be a real art, and many people forget how critical this small bit of material is to the playability, tone and tuning stability of your guitar. The large Graphtech blank is first roughed down to approximate shape and dimensions, then the slot locations are marked and the initial rough cuts are made using properly gauged razor saws and nut files. A chopstick taller than the nut is used to rollup and lift the strings up and down while taking the nut in and out while making adjustments or shaping/sanding.
More shaping, smoothing and slot depth filing until we have our final product. Final slot depth filing should always be done with the strings tuned to pitch.
On adjusting the pickups, I couldn't help but notice the Merlin bridge pickups' flatwork was actually warped, resulting in a curved pickup with the center strings being farther away than the outer strings. I'm inclined to think this was not done on purpose.
Finally, after setting up the guitar as best as possible, the protruding saddle height screws felt like a cheese grater under your hand, and were each ground down flush with the saddle. Much more comfortable now, and the action is now low and very playable. Sadly, it will never be a perfect shred machine though.
I see this guitar as an overly ambitious attempt, without putting more forethought into it before construction. The old woodworker's saying of "Measure twice, cut once" is well applied here - I guess they missed that class. The neck is a travesty, and thinking that you could make a neck this thin for this much tension without using multi-laminations or much better internal reinforcement with carbon-fiber or titanium rods was ridiculous. To it's credit, the body, although a bit to thin as well, at least was nicely carved and contoured, and made from very nice piece of swamp ash.
After all this work, the guitar is certainly playable and useable, although I wouldn't use this as a stage guitar or jump around with it - it's just too thin and flexes too much. What does it sound like? The Q-Tuner sounds lovely, clear and very hi-fi sounding, with a slight single coil-ishness to the tone while being quiet as mouse. The Merlin bridge pickup on the other hand sounds boxy and lacks bite. Putting this through both my Mesa .50+ combo and the actual Meshuggah and Bulb patches in a POD X3 attested to this, and the difference between this Merlin pickup and a Lundgren M8 were dramatic - no contest, and just sounded somewhat lifeless, boxy and lacked any 'snap' or sizzle.
I may make a quick comparison vid before shipping it back to MFKitten next week.
Thanks for checking out, and enduring my Roter review/repair report.
You sir, are a saint.