Left: tool for PRS guitars, Center: tool for Taylor guitars, Right: tool for Martin guitars.

DO NOT make your truss rods accessible only by specialized tools. They should all be adjustable by a common allen wrench – even YOUR super-special design.

If you do anything where you work with a decent volume of musical instruments, you’ll likely be aware of some that have special needs. Nothing can put the kibosh on a setup session like the designer of the instrument being so short-sighted as to think, “Hey, you know what this guitar needs? A truss rod that’s only adjustable by a special tool that we can also sell!”

It’s absolute rubbish, and for many reasons. First of all, it adds more complexity to an already not easy task of instrument maintenance. There’s a ton of false and bad information out there about what is good for a guitar and not. Even folks who are extremely knowledgeable about guitars can be at odds and have differing observations. One source will say that all you need to clean a guitar’s fingerboard is water, a towel, and elbow grease. Another will recommend naphtha for the same task. Gibson will actually make the case that cleaning and polishing a guitar will change its tone, when the evidence is strong that even tonewoods have little noticeable effect on an electric guitar’s sound (that’s more to do with the pickups, and where they are on the body).  Add that to intonation (ever try to intonate an acoustic guitar?), making sure measurements are right for bridges and saddles if you want to replace or swap them out, and on top of that I need to keep extra tools that only work on one kind of guitar? Are you out of your mind?

Secondly, it’s an increase in cost. If you repair and maintain instruments, it’s another several dollar thing to buy. If someone comes to you with a PRS that needs a truss rod adjustment and you’re unaware that the thing needs a specialized tool to access the rod, you have to sit with the instrument in your to-do list until one arrives after being ordered. A job that should normally be turned over in no more than an afternoon now becomes a few days to couple weeks ordeal for both you and your customer, and a cut of your money has gone to PRS, state tax, sales tax (both concerning the dumb PRS truss rod tool), and some shipping company.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it’s an inconvenience. As mentioned above, nothing is as satisfying as waiting for a couple weeks’ worth of shipping and handling to make a dumb truss rod adjustment. If physical stores actually carried things like they did ten years ago, it would be a little less trouble, but I’ve learned not to count on anyone stocking anything. Even a good store, like the Music Emporium in Altoona is an hour’s drive for me, which is an hour too long to find that while they don’t have it, they can order it. I can order it too, and not have to make the drive even once – let alone twice. I’ve noticed that these things don’t come with the special guitars – you have to buy them separately – while I have so many  5/32″ allen wrenches that came free with the humdrum instruments that they’re practically coming out of my nose.  Making your truss rod adjustment tool a separate purchase is shitty, and marks you as shitty, too.  Even the cheap, foreign-made Martin and PRS guitars are still a large chunk of a grand, and throwing in another charge after that is terrible business etiquette that speaks volumes of how poorly your company regards its customers.

allen wrench
This simple allen wrench is the only tool you should ever need for every truss rod in the world.

Standardization is sorely needed just about everywhere, or at least it should be as common as possible.  There is no reason guitar companies should be making a big deal out of their truss rod designs.  If Taylor, Martin, and PRS were run by decent people, they’d ship you a guitar that could be treated with the same allen wrench that came for FREE with your first Squire or whatever. It should be as simple this: if you own a 5/32″ allen wrench, you should be able to adjust every truss rod on the planet.  Everything else is a result of abhorrent, sub-standard behavior on the part of big guitar companies.

09 September 2016, Wilt Hollow Workhouse Studio