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Plek (computer-aided setup)

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by therealting, Aug 21, 2004.


  1. LajoieT

    LajoieT I won't let your shadow be my shade...

    Oct 7, 2003
    Western Massachusetts
    I remember reading on some instrument builder's web site that they used either this or something very simmilar, but I forget who it was... sorry :confused:

    Beyond that I would think that this might be viewed upon similar to the Handmade bass vs. CNC/Machine Made bass debates which are always full of equally vocal proponents on both sides of the issue. While the scientific part of my brain says "of course this machine would do a *perfect* job, there's another part of me (the part that keeps me from working on my own frets) that sees it as an art to be matched to the instrument and I wonder about the computer's ability to adapt to different actions, string spacing, neck widths, radius', etc. But of course that would be dependent on the programmer/opperator.
     
  2. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Every Jens Ritter bass is "pleked".

    Great technology, I intend getting my bass done too in a few months.
     
  3. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Me too. I'm gonna check this out immediately. The plek site says there's a guy here in LA that does these computer setups. He's getting one of my basses as soon as we can hook up. Not clear from the web site if this is just a "setup", or if they do fret work at the same time.
     
  4. One of the points that the PLEK system stresses is that the computer can "see" tolerances that we can't - in all sorts of axis's and in all manner of reference. So the setup is more "complete" from the get go AND the setup is perfectly repeatable with all of this information.

    That's what I found interesting about this when I first read about it 4 years ago. It got me into about as fiery a conversation as one would want over on the Fender Discussion page. :scowl: (morons)
     
  5. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Yeah, good point. Does plek adjust the angle of the saddles as well? That would seem to be a critical piece of the setup.

    Edit: I just called Rodney Millar, the LA plek rep, and I'll be meeting him within the hour. He's already explained in great detail exactly what this process is, and I'll share his input with y'all as soon as I return.
     
  6. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    The Plek system is just to do the fretwork as far as I know. There's a shop here in town that has one of those machines (it takes up most of the room!), and they explained to me that it measures your current action and neck curvature, then grinds down the frets to the exact tolerances to how you typically set up your instrument. Seems really cool. If I had a neck that was affected by string tension, I might look into it.
     
  7. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Wow. Just saw the plek machine, it's pretty amazing. As Benjamin Strange said, it's pretty big. It looks kinda like a CNC machine turned on its side. It has a little scanning head that moves a long a track, that's about as big as the X-ray head at the dentist's office. The scanner has a laser detection system in it. The first part of the process involves scanning the neck, fingerboard, and frets. From this, a computer model is generated, that is precise down to one micron (a thousandth of a millimeter). This basically shows you the playing surface, the shape of the fingerboard, and the heights and shapes of all the frets.

    Then, the computer model of your bass is compared against an "ideal" model. The "ideal" is generated from your specifications, in relation to how you like the action (low, medium, high, etc), the scale length, the string gauges, and so on. The first part of the setup is adjusting the truss rod to the optimal tension, so the curvature of the neck is brought into line with the ideal. Then, any needed adjustments are made at the nut and the bridge. Next, the plek machine levels the frets if needed (and this process is adjustable, depending on how much frettage is available on your instrument, for example if you have an old bass and the frets have worn down, that information can all be programmed in and adjusted for).

    Finally, an electric current is passed through the strings and the sensor head measures the vibrations of the strings, so the saddle angles can be adjusted and the rest of the stuff can be fine tuned. This process can be done on any instrument (electric or acoustic, even Ovation guitars and cellos). The one caveat is that the strings must be able to transmit an electric current, so you can't be using tapewounds or Elixirs (if you are, you'd have to temporarily replace them with "normal" strings of the same gauge, which in most cases would work fine for the setup).

    I've seen and heard the results of this process firsthand. I played a bass that was recently adjusted to medium action using the plek technology, and it was darn near perfect. In fact, it "was" perfect. I also played an $18 Chinese guitar (a pawn shop special) that had been set up on the Plek, and I was totally blown away. Nary a smidgeon of buzz. It felt and played like a thousand dollar L'Arrivee.

    Anyway, Rodney has one of my "new" basses at the moment, which hasn't been mucked with, and he's going to set it up on the Plek. He charges 200 bucks to do that, which is all inclusive, unless there are major problems, like if your neck's messed up or something like that. His lead time is "about a week". So once I hear the results of that, and get a chance to evaluate it for a week or so, then I'm going to give him a "problem bass" and see what he can do with it. He's up for the challenge, and he sounded very confident when I told him exactly what the problem was, and what I wanted him to do about it.

    200 bucks may sound like a lot for a setup, but it could be cost effective in certain circumstances. For instance, I'm really picky about my setups and I generally spend several weeks dialing in a new instrument. Lately my life has gotten very busy and I just don't have time to do that kind of stuff anymore. As a result, I have five or six basses lying around that haven't yet been set up, and are basically unusable until I find the time to pay attention to them. If I can feed them to Rodney one at a time, and he does a perfect job every time, in my mind that would be cost effective.

    Edit: just played a Ritter that had been Plek-ed. Very nice. Beautiful setup job. I don't understand why more manufacturers don't set up their instruments at the factory. Probably because it takes a while, if you do it by hand. Wouldn't it be awesome if you could order a bass that was set up in advance, to your specifications? I'd gladly pay a little extra if I didn't have to muck with all that.
     
  8. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Here's a picture of the machine.
     
  9. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    It's ready! I'll post the results tomorrow. :)
     
  10. chucko58

    chucko58

    Jan 17, 2002
    Silicon Valley, CA, USA
    I paid for all my gear myself. Well, me and MasterCard.
    Well, nonsqtr?

    I gave Gary Brawer in SF a call - he's the local Plek guy here in No. Cal. I have a 6-string bass I'd like to put through the Plek treatment. He's got no waiting list, but turnaround is about a week, and the cost is $200 - more if frets need to be glued down. I might just take it up to him this Saturday.
     
  11. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Okay, here's the skinny. The computer is very precise, in terms of adjusting the neck relief, the nut height, the fret height ahd shape, and the saddle height. Here't the rub: you have to tell the computer what to do. In other words, garbage in, garbage out. Which speaks to the concept that setup is an art form, and it involves a lot of specific knowledge. Here's a f'r instance, in relation to the Plek technology. What the computer can do, is figure out the optimal trajectory for, let's say, the low B string. That'll be your reference point. You can then "pin" that string on the computer screen, and move the G string up or down, so all the other strings (except the B) move along with it. The computer will retain the radius of the fingerboard, and adjust your strings to match. But, all necks are not alike. Some aren't perfectly symmetrical, and the "action" is only one part of the equation. In practice, it's the action "relative to the shape of the neck" that matters. In other words, where you put your thumb when you play will determine if all the strings should be equidistant from the fingerboard, or if the G string should be relatively lower than the D string. The computer can do either, and the important thing is to know enough to tell it what to do.

    So, from the standpoint of the Plek technology, I'm a complete believer. Rodney did a completely fantastic job on my instrument. And it only took him a couple of days. My bass is light years better than it was before. Was it "perfect" when it came back from the shop? No. But that was my fault, not his. I didn't tell him specifically enough what I wanted him to tell the computer to do. When I got the bass back, the strings were perfectly equidistant from the fingerboard, It was indeed a perfect setup, no buzzing, perfect neck relief, etc. But I like my G string a little lower than most, in other words I like my action "not" to perfectly follow the radius of the fingerboard. I like the string radius "down" a little on the G string side, relative to the fingerboard. That feels better "to me". And, everyone will have their own individual preference.

    So while the precision of the technology is undeniable, I can tell this is going to be a bit of a learning process for me. It's actually a very good thing, 'cause it's forcing to come learn a lot about what the different parts of a setup "mean", and to come to terms with what my preferences are (even if they don't equate with theoretical perfection). Am I excited about the technology? Yes. That would be a resounding YES. Finally I have a way of telling a setup guy "exactly" what I want, and having him do it, exactly the way I want it. My first "alpha test" of the Plek technology has shown me that I really don't know enough about setup to know "exactly what I want". But I will. I'll definitely learn. Plek has shown me exactly how important a setup really is, and it's motivated me to go learn to be able to describe exactly what I want.

    I'm a complete believer in the technology. So much so, that I just gave Rodney another one of my basses. This one's a little different, it's an F bass instead of a P bass. We'll see how he does with the lower action. I'll report back in a couple of days. :)

    By the way, I can go into more detail about exactly what the computer can and can't do, if anyone's interested. Saddle angle would be one thing we can talk about. I gotta tell you though, I just spent all of ten minutes dialing down the high strings on the bass that's just been Plek'd, and it was a piece of cake. After ten minutes of additional labor on my part, the Plek'd bass is now "perfect". It's "exactly" the way I want it. There's no way I could have done that without the Plek, much less in ten minutes. Excellent technology. I highly recommend it!
     
  12. chucko58

    chucko58

    Jan 17, 2002
    Silicon Valley, CA, USA
    I paid for all my gear myself. Well, me and MasterCard.
    Thanks, nonsqtr! That's about what I had hoped to hear.

    I'm really looking forward to dialing in this 6er!
     
  13. Rumblin' Man

    Rumblin' Man Banned

    Apr 27, 2000
    Route 66
    This seems like an interesting process but what happens to the setup with the usual climatic changes that occur with wooden instruments and what if you change to a set of strings with different tension than those for which the setup was programned?

    The setup would have to be adjusted manually effectively negating whatever added precision the computer assisted process provides.
     
  14. I have had two instruments "Plekked" in the past year and in both cases the results have been excellent. I concur with nonsqtr regarding the point that you have to know what you want to get the best results. I too like a low action and I found the Plek process to really help me in this goal with out having to resort to return visits for fine tuning. Another advantage of the Plek system is that it removes the smallest amount of material necessary to achieve the requested result therefore allowing for more fret jobs before refretting is required.

    Definitely recommended.
     
  15. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA

    Well, there's always that. But, look at it this way. With an instrument "out of the box", the problems will be a lot worse than with an instrument that's been correctly set up in the first place. In the case of different strings, the most that would be needed would be a tiny adjustment of the saddles in response to variations in the string gauge. The tension wouldn't make "enough" of a difference to warrant a re-programming. The purpose of the Plek is to provide the "base", the "infrastructure", for all the rest of the stuff. If your neck relief is "correct", and your frets are aligned and properly crowned, a quick change in action becomes a piece of cake. Otherwise, you have to futz around and use the "dialing in" process to compensate for the deficiencies and idiosyncracies of the instrument.

    I just got my F bass back, Rodney said it was a wonderful instrument to work on, and that it was in the "top 10%" of all the instruments he's ever seen, relative to the quality of the fingerboard and fretwork "right out of the box". All he basically did was to tighten up the truss rod a little and adjust the nut and the saddles. Once again, the bass came back "just about perfect".

    After this second Plek, I now know a lot more about exactly what I want in terms of setup. I know about the string height measurements, the nut, and the saddle angles. The one thing I don't yet know much about is neck relief. Rodney says that the truss rod is too loose in 99.9% of the basses he sees. Both of my Plek'd basses have necks that are a lot straighter than when they started, and they're beautiful that way, they play perfectly (very comfortable).

    Next: a Roscoe, that's been a bit of a problem bass in terms of the setup. The bridge is sitting so high on the body that I have to dial the saddles almost all the way down to get the action I want, and the saddle screw adjustments become very loose ("floppy") when they're dialed down that low. We'll see how Rodney does with a challenging instrument.

    So far so good. :)
     
  16. Rumblin' Man

    Rumblin' Man Banned

    Apr 27, 2000
    Route 66
    In my experience whenever I change to strings with different tension the trussrod will most likely need to be adjusted also.

    I understand that but I achieve the same practical results doing all that myself including levelling and recrowning frets, adjusting the nut, and final setup. I don't see how the Plek process is better from a practical standpoint than a comprehensive manual setup.
     

  17. Accuracy and repeatability I would say are the main advantages. Also as I mentioned in my previous post the Plek system removes only the smallest amount of material necessary to achieve the result. It works to far smaller tolerances than would be achieved with a manual process.
     
  18. chucko58

    chucko58

    Jan 17, 2002
    Silicon Valley, CA, USA
    I paid for all my gear myself. Well, me and MasterCard.
    I got my Matt Pulcinella Level 6 back from Gary Brawer's shop in SF yesterday, and played it for a couple hours at rehearsal last night. The setup is low, but just about perfect. There's a little fret buzz when played hard, and it's the same all the way up and down the neck - no more high and low spots.

    The $200 charge includes traditional setup (filing the nut, adjusting the bridge height and intonation, etc.). I think this is the first time I've ever paid for a complete setup. I don't think it will be the last!

    I still need to take a closer look at the frets, and I want to tweak on the setup a little bit to better suit my own playing style. But I definitely think the Plek job was worth the money.

    Danny, the Plek operator at Brawer's (and a fine luthier besides), said his favorite thing about the Plek was that it crowns all the frets identically. So I'd say mechanical repeatability might be a very good thing.
     
  19. nonsqtr

    nonsqtr The emperor has no clothes!

    Aug 29, 2003
    Burbank CA USA
    Further update: Rodney just finished the Plek job on the third bass, the Roscoe LG-3005. That one's been a bit of a problem 'cause I could never quite figure out how to dial in the truss rod. Well, Rodney put it on the scanner and said the rod was adjusting the B side of the board a lot more than the G side. But, he Plek'd it and it came out perfect. Technology saves the day. :)

    This time around, he was able to program in pretty much exactly the right action. We spent some time taking measurements on a couple of the basses that are already dialed in, and when the Roscoe came back it felt just about right. The only thing I did was lower the G string just a tiny bit, maybe a couple of mils. Now it plays perfectly.