After three decades, still finding new ways to
rethink guitar hardware
There was basically only one way to tune a guitar until a high-performance guitar components specialist decided to make it easier, not to mention faster and more intuitive. That company was Graph Tech Guitar Labs, the British Columbia-based team that’s spent the past three-plus decades re-engineering guitar components and accessories. Over the years, Graph Tech has produced innovations in nuts, saddles, bridge pins, and pickup systems that sell as standard equipment on some of the world’s top guitar lines, or as performance extras for players who like to “hot-rod” their instruments. In 2013, however, it came out with its highest-impact product in years: the RATIO tuned machine heads. In simplest terms, RATIO’s technology allows each string to be tuned evenly with a single turn—a marked departure from conventional designs. Before RATIO, because each string responds differently to tension, guitarists had to tune accordingly, giving the high E string an aggressive twist to produce even a small adjustment and giving the low E string a much smaller turn while being careful not to “overshoot” the right pitch. RATIO’s solution: balance the machine heads by setting each string to a different gear ratio, ranging from 12:1 to 39:1. With a full turn of the RATIO knob, each string is adjusted by a full tone.A Global Player
“Over the last 300 years or so, guitar machine heads have not really changed,” says Graph Tech founder and President Dave Dunwoodie. “The aesthetics may have changed, but the internal mechanics have not. Graph Tech has basically reinvented the guitar machine head with RATIO. The result is fast, accurate, and intuitive tuning.”
A longtime guitarist and tinkerer, Dunwoodie founded Graph Tech back in 1983. Working over his kitchen table, he started out experimenting with a variety of composite materials to eliminate guitar nut string binding. After engineering the world’s first self-lubricating nut with a formula that’s five times slipperier than graphite, he formalized the effort in Graph Tech Guitar Labs. From there, the company introduced numerous other innovations in guitar components and accessories. Its TUSQ manmade ivory nuts, saddles, and bridge pins are engineered to transfer a full spectrum of frequencies from the strings to the guitar top, yielding improved sustain and balanced lows. Its TUSQ XL and String Saver nuts and saddles, shown to reduce string breakage by 90%, come impregnated with PTFE, a proprietary synthetic lubricant that cuts down on string friction and binding while enhancing tuning stability.
From raising the bar on nuts, saddles, and bridge pins, Graph Tech took its approach to high performance guitar hardware. Its Resomax bridges, designed with a unique alloy, offer extreme durability while optimizing guitar tone and harmonic richness. The Ghost Modular Pickup System for guitar and bass installs easily to yield authentic studio-quality acoustic tone—or an infinite range of blends between electric and acoustic, with an option for MIDI-compatible output.
Among Graph Tech’s newer products are its TUSQ guitar picks, which make use of the manmade ivory material in a range of picks with “built-in tone.” Introduced around the same time was its CHOPS PrePlay hand care product, which cleans and conditions a guitar player’s hands while also adjusting their pH level from a slightly acidic 5.5 to a neutral 7, helping to preserve the guitar’s strings, finish, and components.
Graph Tech now distributes its products to 42 countries. Its components are used by such artists as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dick Dale, Alex Lifeson (Rush), and Chad Kroger (Nickelback). They’re integrated at the OEM level by guitar makers including Fender, Framus, Gibson, Godin, Hagström, Ibanez, Martin, Schecter, Taylor, and Yamaha, among many others. In a newer development, its TUSQ and NuBone nuts and saddles have found a growing market in the ukulele segment, “which seems to continually grow,” says Dunwoodie. To manage its growing network of connections in the fretted instrument world, the company expanded its team this year, adding Shaun Verreault and Gary Lambert in Business Development, while Justin Stadig came aboard in Customer Support, Maria Cruz took the post of production and sales supervisor, and Jamie Bobyk became Graph Tech’s new marketing and communications manager.
For 2017, Graph Tech is planning at least two new product introductions. While the details haven’t been announced yet, the company’s latest entries are expected to include a high-tech component for the guitar and bass family as well as a new professional hand care product from the CHOPS line. Graph Tech also plans to introduce a weekly “T.V” videos series aimed toward opening new sales channels. In an effort to counter and crack down on unauthorized sellers of Graph Tech products who violate MAP policies, an official Amazon store is also in the works. As Dunwoodie says, “Our goals have never changed: world domination”—he cracks—“and a set of RATIO tuners on every guitar in the world.”
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