Tinkering with the Universe: The Luthier and the Repair Guy

At this year's Holy Grail Guitar Show, we spoke to Canadian guitar builder Mike Sankey and Plek-equipped repair expert Ian Weston about the advantages of their professional relationship.
Due to the background noise at the show, the sound quality isn't great, so you may want to activate subtitles on the video.
There is also a transcription of the interview below:

PLEK: Ok, so what brings you here to the Holy Grail Guitar Show?

Mike Sankey: Well we love guitars. I make guitars, my name is Mike Sankey, Sankey Guitars. And you know, if you make awesome guitars. and you love awesome guitars, this is the place to be, absolutely. All of the best stuff is here.

Ian Weston: My name is Ian Weston, I'm helping out Mike Sankey with Sankey Guitars at this Holy Grail Guitar Show, but I also run Weston Instruments, in Ottawa, where I repair lots of guitars in a year. And I also happen to be Plek-equipped.

PLEK: How does that work for you two?

Mike Sankey: Well, I mean, Ian primarily got it as a repair man, but I take advantage of it as a builder because I can bring some of my instruments to him and not just have them Pleked and he hands them back...but more to the point is that the scanning ability helps me to become a better builder. When we scan the instrument, I've got better data for how I can improve my own fretboards, how I can improve my abilities with my own instruments. And so it has really really helped me to up my game, and now they play better than ever before.

Ian Weston:It's true, I mean, the first instrument Mike brought me was about a year ago when I had just gotten the machine and we had to take quite a bit of material off the frets because there was a lot of room for improvement. And now I've done the fourth or fifth instrument for Mike and we just skim the tops. I mean, he was almost there already on his own.

Mike Sankey: Yes, But it's all because I've been able to see with a finer eye.

Ian Weston: And, I mean, one thing that is often overlooked is that we can build such a better fingerboard with the machine. Just look at the fret-slotting ability where we can leave basically no air under the fret tang, at any point.It's an under-rated machine I think.

Mike Sankey: You can do a lot of things - more than one would suspect - so it's really useful for builders to have access to somebody who has one and knows how to use it.

PLEK: How about things like compound radius, do you go into that?

Ian Weston: Oh, I do. Compound, "double-compound", also known as advanced fallaway.

Mike Sankey: You can do absolutely any shape of fretboard, or any combination of shapes of fretboard. You could probably even do one twisted in a circle and it would figure out a way for it to play really nicely

PLEK: Has it affected your building?

Mike Sankey: Well, I don't know if it has influenced how I create the instrument. But it has certainly helped me to make them more playable, and to pay more attention to the playability aspect of it. Because as I luthier, I just sort of build it and then I give it to the player, and it's sort of: Go figure it out! But, you know, being able to see how much it matters for that instrument to be playable, I think that it really helps my clients to feel confident and comfortable playing it, yeah.

PLEK: Is this something that you pass on to the players?

Mike Sankey: Yes, I sell it up to them every chance I get. Even to clients who purchased a guitar in the past I'm like - hey, after a few years, usually the wood settles in. It takes a little time. But if you want to, you can bring it back to me and I'll arrange for it to be brought to a better spec - better than new, yes.

Ian Weston: And I think one of the most important things to mention about this tool is that it is in fact a tool. It's not a magic box that thinks on its own, makes decisions. As I tell people that come to my shop, I can machine your last fret down by four ten thousandths of an inch, I can cut your neck right in half, and everything in between. It really is just a tool, like a surgical robot.

Mike Sankey: Well, it needs a good operator, and this is why I'm really happy that Ian has really gotten into the nuts and bolts and maths and numbers, which is not what I do. And so he takes care of all the technical aspects and is learning to use the machine to a degree that I don't think it was even designed for - he's just gone beyond that.

Ian Weston: They're letting me play with stuff that you're not supposed to play with!

PLEK: Tinkering with the universe?

Ian Weston: Yes, I'm tinkering with the universe!

PLEK: That's cool guys. Thank you, see you again!

Ian & Mike:  Thank you!


Holy Grail Guitar Show
Sankey Guitars
Weston Instruments

PLEK is sponsor of the Holy Grail Guitar Show.



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