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"Unusual Accuracy" in a Guitar Neck?

S-H-M

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
219
Recently, I read that Stephen Cripe, the furniture-maker who crafted Jerry Garcia's Lightning Bolt guitar, had "constructed [Bolt's] neck with an unusual accuracy in the higher end, which allowed Jerry to play where he usually avoided" [emphasis mine].

I have a few irksome questions cycling around my mind now. First, as I was unable to find any reference source for the above quote, does anyone have any information on precisely what Cripe did and how he may have achieved it?

Second, If Cripe achieved unusual accuracy with Bolt, then what is usual accuracy?

Third, as a player who is routinely shocked that the highest two or three fretted notes of almost every guitar I have ever picked up--most especially the E and A strings--become woody, flat and less resonant than their counterparts farther down the neck, is "usual" accuracy what players must cope with unless and until we can either afford an instrument from some Custom Shop's Limited Run or, alternately, a disenchanted carpenter-cum-luthier sends us an unsolicited masterpiece through the mail?
 

kimock

Member
Messages
12,524
Recently, I read that Stephen Cripe, the furniture-maker who crafted Jerry Garcia's Lightning Bolt guitar, had "constructed [Bolt's] neck with an unusual accuracy in the higher end, which allowed Jerry to play where he usually avoided" [emphasis mine].

I have a few irksome questions cycling around my mind now. First, as I was unable to find any reference source for the above quote, does anyone have any information on precisely what Cripe did and how he may have achieved it?

Second, If Cripe achieved unusual accuracy with Bolt, then what is usual accuracy?

Third, as a player who is routinely shocked that the highest two or three fretted notes of almost every guitar I have ever picked up--most especially the E and A strings--become woody, flat and less resonant than their counterparts farther down the neck, is "usual" accuracy what players must cope with unless and until we can either afford an instrument from some Custom Shop's Limited Run or, alternately, a disenchanted carpenter-cum-luthier sends us an unsolicited masterpiece through the mail?
Yeah, I don’t know what that quote means or where it came from either but I’ll check around.
Ordinarily for me “accuracy” in that context would be about intonation, but if the quote was “whisper down the alley” several times removed from source it could be about neck shape, radius, fret profile, upper fret access etc. relative to personal preference.
It might not have anything to do with “slots”. Dunno.

I have two Cripe guitars, they’re extraordinary instruments, and there’s a third in the family, another Lightening Bolt type guitar that kicks my two Strat types ass in a lot of ways.
I’ll have it in my possession next week to have a look at the intonation on the 24 fret neck and compare to my guitars.

Honestly, the intonation angle on “accuracy” at an objective level with Garcia’s guitars doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
His set up was peculiar and I think it had more to do with the ease, flexibility, and range of available pitch than any idea of more accurate intonation resident in the actual fingerboard.

If accuracy meant Garcia felt like he was able to execute his chit more accurately higher on the neck because of neck profile around the heel I could believe that.
There’s no heel at all on those guitars really, neck-thru, the neck just disappears into the body.
It’s not like a Strat or a Les Paul where the thumb quits the back of the neck in the high register.
You’re pretty much “in position” with the thumb behind the second finger all the way up, and if you’re “thumb over” for leverage that lasts all the way to the highest frets too.

The “usual accuracy” wrt intonation depends on what you’re comparing to.
Les Paul’s are a little weird.

The less resonant low strings/high frets thing is normal, that’s just how short fat strings behave.
 

Chris Scott

Member
Messages
9,063
I dunno, the term sounds to me like he's referencing fretwork, as generally speaking that's where a number of instruments tend to fall on their faces, usually due to the fact that most players don't spend a lot of time up there...rising f-board tongues and overall taller wire (due to not being worn down as much as "downstairs") tend to make the area above the 15th-16th fret a bit rough in the "cleanly noted" dept..

The access part of it is a huge deal, though I don't know how that falls in the quoted claim...on a guitar with a well designed heel section, once you're up there comfortably it's like a whole other world opens up, and now it's just down to one's dexterity and muscle memory in cramped quarters.

...and the low strings up there are gonna sound like they sound, and save for (again) accurate fretwork there's really nothing that can be done to make them ring out any truer, as the wire's now both thick and short, which doesn't tend to promote a lot of sustain.
 
Last edited:

S-H-M

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
219
@kimock If you can find a source and perhaps some context, that'd be favorite. "Unusual accuracy" seemed to suggest "unusual accuracy as compared with almost every other guitar," which I took to mean "easily fretted yet still with clear, articulate notes." That seems to resonate with my experience of guitars: even so-called high-end guitars tend to lose something toward the pickup end of the fretboard.

@Chris Scott Agree. Perhaps "unusual accuracy" doesn't mean "perfect accuracy." I hadn't considered that.
 

walterw

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
37,772
If Cripe achieved unusual accuracy with Bolt, then what is usual accuracy?
not having laid hands on any of these or really knowing that much about them, "unusual accuracy" sounds more like a generic boast about overall quality than anything else. maybe it's mostly in comparison to less than awesome factory guitars of the same era?

it could just mean that they're really nice guitars, well set up. if the frets are in the right places and the setup is good then a guitar is as "accurate" as it's possible to make it, the rest is in how you play it. i doubt anything exists that's "more accurate" than the average PRS say.
 

S-H-M

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
219
@walterw The claim doesn't quite come off as a boast, especially given its appearance on a site dedicated solely to Jerry's guitars, rather than a forum dedicated to other, similar guitars and their specs and suchlike. "Unusual accuracy" in this context seems to imply "more accurate than even Jerry's Doug Irwin guitars," the two of which Jerry had played for the greater part of his career.
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
32,158
Fret shaping alone can be altered, somewhat, to affect intonation, especially if it was customized to a player's touch.
 

Mr Fingers

Member
Messages
2,556
Sounds like a myth. It's not as though there aren't 99,999 people exploring the world of guitar intonation. The idea that one guy has a "better" system is absurd on the face of it. I'm a huge Jerry fan and saw/heard him endlessly, and it is surprising to hear that he had an intonation secret, given how out-of-tune the Dead could get.
 

TylerE

Member
Messages
819
Wonder if some sort of compensation could be used... that is, instead of "mathematical" placement, work out typical intonation as played (usually sharp, IME) and adjust accordingly. Sort of a reverse Buzz Feiten (ducks...)
 

kimock

Member
Messages
12,524
@walterw The claim doesn't quite come off as a boast, especially given its appearance on a site dedicated solely to Jerry's guitars, rather than a forum dedicated to other, similar guitars and their specs and suchlike. "Unusual accuracy" in this context seems to imply "more accurate than even Jerry's Doug Irwin guitars," the two of which Jerry had played for the greater part of his career.
Yeah, it’s not a comment about the guitar’s accuracy it’s a comment about the player’s ability to get his fingers down to the frets with greater accuracy “to play where he usually avoided” which would have been in the high register.

In the implied Irwin vs Cripe comparo that’s a comment on neck profile at the heel.

I’m not gonna bother linking pics but if you’re interested just Google images for the two guitars, compare heels and do your best to imagine upper fret access.

The Irwin’s have a genuine traditional heel, which is kinda hip in a way, I like the effect of getting up over some mass on that part of the neck, but it does mean “thumb position” on some level.
I remember playing “the new guitar” when Jerry got it, expecting it to feel like a fancy Strat but it handled more like an L5 at the top of the neck.

When you got to the heel it was FAT and massive in a very agreeable way, but there it was.
The Cripe is essentially heel-less, the body is undercut where the neck joins, smooth and slim, and the upper fret access is a lot better.

If anybody here has a Les Paul for comparison purposes, slide up the neck with whatever you’ve got for a normal left hand fretting position and see where the heel starts pushing your hand away from the neck.
For me that’s right up around F# or G.

After that my thumb has to come around to the treble side of the neck, which isn’t a huge big deal but it does change the way you approach the high frets.
You don’t hit that wall on the Cripe until B or C, and then the body’s dressed away in such a fashion you don’t have to bring your thumb around, it just gets left behind for the last few frets.

Pretty sure that’s what the quote was referring to.
An ergonomic issue, and certainly not a Cripe exclusive ergonomic tweak, plenty of other instruments make use of the feature, but relative to Garcia’s guitars that would have been the first of his primary stage instruments with so obvious a diff to the previous #1, so I can see how it could be comment worthy.

FWIW, Wolf had better ergonomics in that area compared to the later Irwin’s imho.
The shape and contour of the lower cutaway, relatively petite heel, effortless upper fret access.

Final thought.
There’s an undercurrent of “How could one guitar be so much better?” in this discussion.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to actually play the exact same guitars we’re discussing here. Use them onstage.
The first time I played Wolf I couldn’t even pick up any of my own instruments for a week.
They all felt like toys.

The diff between the absolutely top-shelf sh*t like an Irwin and the garden variety boutique and vintage stuff 99% of are used to is inexpressible until you actually experience it.
I couldn’t believe how much better an instrument Wolf was compared to anything in my woodpile and I’ve got some really fine guitars.

Just to be clear, my opinion is the quote was ergonomic in nature relative to the heel of the Cripe, but that doesn’t mean some guitars aren’t a whole lot better than others.
 

S-H-M

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
219
I remember playing “the new guitar” when Jerry got it, expecting it to feel like a fancy Strat but it handled more like an L5 at the top of the neck...I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to actually play the exact same guitars we’re discussing here. Use them onstage. The first time I played Wolf I couldn’t even pick up any of my own instruments for a week. They all felt like toys.
Holy poop. Didn't realize that you were that Kimock. Thank you for taking the time to bring first-hand experience to the discussion.
An ergonomic issue, and certainly not a Cripe exclusive ergonomic tweak, plenty of other instruments make use of the feature...
This speaks to the first part of the original post: How did Cripe achieve those ergonomics? Or, which other commercially available instruments make good use of such a thin yet stable heel?
 

S-H-M

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
219
Wonder if some sort of compensation could be used... that is, instead of "mathematical" placement, work out typical intonation as played (usually sharp, IME) and adjust accordingly. Sort of a reverse Buzz Feiten (ducks...)
Indeed, this is precisely one of the things I'm wondering about.
 

kimock

Member
Messages
12,524
Holy poop. Didn't realize that you were that Kimock. Thank you for taking the time to bring first-hand experience to the discussion.
Beetlejuice!

This speaks to the first part of the original post: How did Cripe achieve those ergonomics?
Nothing fancy really, it's a neck-thru and the neck is just blended into the body with a little extra contour all around the inside of the cutaways.
Or, which other commercially available instruments make good use of such a thin yet stable heel?
Don't know exactly, I know I've seen it on modern neck-thru guitars and basses, and I'll bet there's a bunch of shredders dressed away at the heel too.
I'm just not paying very close attention to stuff that isn't right there in my lap.
 

kimock

Member
Messages
12,524
Indeed, this is precisely one of the things I'm wondering about.
I don't have time to get into it right now, but no.
That's not how it works just generally, but more importantly it would not have been the case the way Garcia set-up and played his guitars.
I'll fill in details later, gotta run!
 

S-H-M

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
219
I'll fill in details later, gotta run!
Details would be favorite, for sure, but I do have a question. Wouldn't, as @TylerE suggested, some sort of mathematical precision have had to factor into the creation of Bolt--rather than Garcia's setup and touch, for instance--as Cripe designed and constructed Bolt simply from measurement of an image and then his own creativity?

Admittedly, that's an academic question, but interesting nonetheless. What really interests me, though, isn't how Cripe got there with Bolt but how can we replicate it elsewhere or, of even greater importance, where can we find it already replicated?
 

TylerE

Member
Messages
819
Admittedly, that's an academic question, but interesting nonetheless. What really interests me, though, isn't how Cripe got there with Bolt but how can we replicate it elsewhere or, of even greater importance, where can we find it already replicated?
I'm willing to bet the folks at Alembic could get pretty close, if you're willing to sell your house.

The base Tribute already includes most of the Jerry-mods like the effects loop.

http://www.alembic.com/prod/tribute.html
 

S-H-M

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
219
I'm willing to bet the folks at Alembic could get pretty close, if you're willing to sell your house.
The base Tribute already includes most of the Jerry-mods like the effects loop.
Ah, yes, I know them well and used to check the site every month for the Featured Custom. Looking at Alembic guitars as an adult gave me the same feeling that looking at atlases did as a child: an almost daydream sense of awe, curiosity and wanderlust.

Honestly, I'm not after an Irwin- or Cripe-style guitar, though. I am eager to learn about the "unusual accuracy" in the upper register of Bolt's neck, what was meant by that and how it spec'ed out and suchlike.

Alembic could get there, for sure--no doubt. Just ain't ready to sell the house, though.
 

kimock

Member
Messages
12,524
Details would be favorite, for sure, but I do have a question. Wouldn't, as @TylerE suggested, some sort of mathematical precision have had to factor into the creation of Bolt--rather than Garcia's setup and touch, for instance--as Cripe designed and constructed Bolt simply from measurement of an image and then his own creativity?

Admittedly, that's an academic question, but interesting nonetheless. What really interests me, though, isn't how Cripe got there with Bolt but how can we replicate it elsewhere or, of even greater importance, where can we find it already replicated?
Hi, sorry so long gone. .
Gigs, flu. . teenagers, etc.

The “mathematical precision” of the fret slot calculations have been known since the 17th century.
There’s not really any room for improvement there, it is what it is.
In this case it’s not an intonation issue it’s just upper fret access.

It’s an area Cripe paid specific attention to, but there’s nothing mysterious about what he did.
He just dressed the heel away until it “fit the hand”.

Slide your hand up the neck until you bump into something.
If you run out of neck before you run out of frets, imagine whatever you bumped into carved away until you ran out of neck and frets at the same time.

That’s all it is.
 

kimock

Member
Messages
12,524
I preferred the mystery over the facts
Sorry!

Here, maybe this will make it worse at least temporarily.

Garcia wouldn’t have had any interest in or use for “unusual accuracy” in the fret placement’s affect on intonation because he was already throwing the existing ridiculously accurate calculations out the window with his set-up.

His interest was more in consistency of intonation at the level he could he manipulate it by playing than “pitch accuracy” at the actual frets.

His action was high, strings relatively light, a LOT of relief in the neck, nut relatively high, none of which contributes to accuracy of intonation at the level of checking the string at every fret with a tuner and everything’s straight up.
The low register has to be sharp, a whole bunch of the middle of the fretboard is going to be randomly flat, things might settle out around the 12th for a few frets but it’s all going progressively flatter from there.
The point isn’t for the guitar to be accurately intonated fret-by-fret so much as it is flexible to intonation adjustment by the player.

The guitar was set-up to be brought into tune by player “English” pushing and pulling on the strings, bending, vibrato, left hand pressure, right hand attack, etc.

If the middle registers were straight up on the tuner with no relief in the neck, the strings would be less easily manipulated, the action “flat”, so vibrato sharp, although I think the relief on Garcia’s guitars had more to do with timbre than intonation.
It’s the high register stuff that suffers most in performance with respect to player’s intonation if the guitar is “accurate”.

It’s very hard to add “sing” to the vibrato without going immediately sharp if the high register is correct to the tuner.
And that’s where that stuff is most important.
If the guitar isn’t headed flat in a hurry past the 12th fret the player’s headed sharp if he’s trying to sell anything guiaristic.
 




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