Quantcast Ryan's Guitars: Afternoon at Glaser Instruments - Nashville, TN

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Afternoon at Glaser Instruments - Nashville, TN

It's not often that I get to hang with people of the caliber of Joe Glaser (pronounced "glay'zer"). I've been hearing about Joe and his legendary shop for quite some time, so it was a real treat to spend an afternoon touring Glaser Instruments and asking Joe questions about his craft and the clients he services. And, wow, what a client list! Keb Mo, Vince Gil, John Fogerty, Keith Urban and Brad Paisley just to name a few.

As it turns out Joe is a master of the Plek machine, a computer automated guitar fret dress and setup device (pictured above right). As one of the first Plek operators outside of the Plek company, Joe has years of practical experience with the machine and is responsible for helping create and streamline many of the important features of the latest model, the Plek Pro. This machine is able to level and crown frets much more accurately than a human being... to measurements that are within .0001 of an inch, consistently, across the whole fretboard! This allows Joe to perform fret levels and setups that are always spot on. Now, that is not to say that these guys can't do a mean fret level and dress by hand, but, according to Joe, "Once I got the machine I scanned all our hand-done work, and it was really good, but not as good as the Plek."

While on the tour we were shown many pieces that were severely damaged by the 2010 Nashville flood last May. Joe and team have been working furiously over the summer to restore a lot of these damaged instruments for musicians like Pam Tillis, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Keith Urban and many others. The shop was literally chock full of them. Some of these restored instruments will be auctioned off by a non-profit organization called NasH2O created to help Nashville musicians who were uninsured for flood damage. Many of these less fortunate, struggling musicians lost everything in the flood and are trying to get back on their feet. The work that Joe and team are doing will help raise the money needed to ease these victim's losses and to get them playing and creating music again.

As you might expect, Glaser Instruments offers full service guitar repair. There is a machining area where Joe makes the famous Glaser B Bender, a paint booth and a wood shop. Joe's great team of experts help him keep the place humming smoothly. Tom Barkstrom (pictured right) is the guitar tech and setup guy, Charley Lonsdorf is the acoustic setup and electronics expert, Scott Holyfield is the finish and structure guru, Floyd Cassista (pictured top left) mans the fretting station and John Alford is in charge of the Glaser B Bender installations. From complete restoration to refrets and simple setups, these guys do it all!

After we wrapped up the tour, Joe began working on a 250 year old upright bass that belongs to Victor Wooten. While he was working, I asked him a few questions:

Ryan's Guitars: Are you a Strat guy or a Les Paul guy?

Joe: Actually, I am a former steel guitar player so my guitar preferences aren't very much aligned to the norm, so to speak. I collect, and am most interested in, the '30s and '40s high-end Gibson archtops such as the L5 and Super 400. Not so much anymore because you just don't see these now, but about 10 or 15 years ago when they were just around I collected as many as I could find.

But I have to say that I am a giant Fender fan and have been from the very beginning. Not only of the simplicity of the Tele and the Strat but also the way Leo Fender thought and designed. The correlation between his design mind, the product and its usability just knocked me out and was a big influence on me in the early '70s when I first started doing this.

Ryan's Guitars: Why repair and what do you love the most about it?

Joe: One reason I like doing repair is because a lot of the people we deal with are in the studio all day long, world class players, and they know really quickly what's in tune and what isn't in tune with their needs... what plays well, what the difference is between this pickup and that, wiring styles, and so forth. So to me one of the great privileges of this business is the expert feedback we get on all the things we do. You learn a heck of a lot from that.

Ryan's Guitars: You are primarily a local shop, but you also receive a fair amount of work from out of town.

Joe: Yeah, we stay busy enough locally that I don't normally try to cater to out-of-town jobs. One reason is because I like having a personal relationship with my customers so I can better learn what they like. That's easier to do when someone sits down and plays in front of you. Even so, we do get a lot of guitars sent in from out of town and we treat each job we are working on as the most important one in the shop, no matter who the instrument belongs to or where it came to us from.

Ryan's Guitars: One thing I've always found annoying is going to a guitar tech and requesting certain setup specs only to get the guitar back set up to the tech's preferences.

Joe: (laughs) I often go around the country to do Plek training, or help set up the machines and while in some of these shops you find that the setups are done to the shop owner's specs only. This is very common. Here we set every guitar up differently. We ask people what their setup preferences are and that determines everything about the job we do on that instrument.

Ryan's Guitars: You certainly rub shoulders with a lot of top-notch musicians... many of whom were not top-notch when they first started coming to you for repair work. Any parting words of wisdom for the undiscovered players out there?

Joe: Everybody I deal with, who is not just a player but well positioned in the hierarchy of players, keeps themselves from getting too "settled" or they won't practice, they won't play, they won't have the artistic drive and they won't push the envelope. All the great players that I personally know would never tell you they think they are good... and some of these guys are truly awesome players, but they just don't see themselves that way.

Ryan's Guitars: What are your five desert island albums?

Joe: Are you serious? (laughs) Gosh, that's an interesting question... well, the first one would be Jessie Winchester's first album, the Beach Boys "Smiley Smile", anything by Chopin, Bob Dylan "The Basement Tapes" and Albert King "I'll Play the Blues for You".

Ryan's Guitars: Thank you, Joe. It's been a great experience meeting you and touring Glaser Instruments.

Joe: My pleasure. We were glad to have you!


If you live in the Nashville area, or even if you don't, and you are looking for the best refret, refinish, setup and/or instrument repair work money can buy, contact:

Glaser Instruments
434 E Iris Dr
Nashville, TN 37204-3108
(615) 298-1139

The shop closes at 5:30 CST on weekdays and is closed Sat. & Sun.

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