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Graph Tech Guitar Labs founder Dave Dunwoodie.

Graph Tech

Delivering “under the hood” solutions to the guitar industry

Canada’s Graph Tech Guitar Labs, the world’s leading manufacturer of guitar nuts and saddles, has been on something of a tear lately. In August it partnered with Epiphone to provide nuts and saddles made of its recently developed NuBone XB for the Nashville-based manufacturer’s Pro 1 Series guitars. Earlier in the year Graph Tech partnered with Fender to have its nuts and saddles included as standard equipment on all Fender acoustic guitars.

Graph Tech products are now sold in 42 countries worldwide. OEM customers account for roughly half of its sales; the balance are split between supplying music store repair shops worldwide through distributors, and music retail stores, sold wholesale direct, for after-market sale. Its product line includes TUSQ nuts, saddles, and bridge pins; Ratio Tuned Machine Heads; Ghost Modular Pickup System; Resomax guitar bridges; PrePlay handcare; TUSQ harmonically rich picks; and NuBone and NuBone XB nuts and saddles.

Counting all the different designs, sizes, and proprietary materials, Graph Tech makes more than 1,200 nut and saddle models. Most types and sizes are kept in stock, ready to supply any manufacturer’s or repair tech’s needs. But Graph Tech is also renowned for its collaborative product design and application work. Custom design and consultation “start with a conversation with the manufacturer,” says Graph Tech founder Dave Dunwoodie. “Often they’re looking for a particular performance quality, and we can specify the right material to produce it, at the right price point.” For example, when tests proved that NuBone XB increases an instrument’s volume and bass harmonics, Graph Tech began recommending it for use on ukuleles and small-body guitars that need more bottom end. Kala and Mahalo, the world’s two largest ukulele manufacturers, are now using NuBone XB nuts and saddles.

The remarkable range of Graph Tech’s technical abilities and service to the industry is illustrated in two recent collaborations: In 2008 it created a synthetic “ebony” bridge for a Godin 5th Avenue jazz archtop that, according to Dunwoodie, looks and sounds just like real ebony. And in 2009 it developed a nylon string acoustic pickup/MIDI system for Carvin’s NS1 Series guitars. Already offering its own Ghost Modular Pickup System with acousti-phonic and MIDI module options, Graph Tech designed the NS1 system from the ground up, including pickups, preamp, and tone control.

“For our OEM customers,” says Dunwoodie, “we want to be their R&D source when they’re trying to solve an issue—anything involving nut design, nut-saddle performance, and so on. Even better, we like to get in at the start of the development of a new model, as we did with the NS1. That allowed us to apply a creative approach to developing one of the first MIDI-capable nylon string guitars. Whatever their needs, we’ve got the answers, and we’ve been doing it for 30 years.”

In 2012 Graph Tech reached beyond its bread-and-butter nuts and saddles to create a revolutionary improvement in guitar tuning machines. Eliciting reactions around the industry that can be summed up as “Why didn’t someone think of this 30 years ago,” the ingenious Ratio: Tuned Machine Heads uniquely incorporate string core tension into the tuning equation and feature a balanced gear design that makes every string respond equally to any tuning adjustment: One turn equals about one pitch change on all strings. C.F. Martin adopted Ratio for several of its guitars, including the Ed Sheeran, model, which sports special vintage-looking buttons. Fitting most major acoustic and electric models, with both 3 + 3 and 6-in-line headstock configurations available, Ratio was recently awarded U.S. and Chinese patents, and the company has applied for patents in 11 more countries.

Noting that today’s “two most popular electric guitars were designed in the early ’50s,” Dunwoodie acknowledges tradition-based constraints on guitar parts innovation. “When you develop a new guitar product, you can’t color too far outside the lines,” he says. “Ratio Tuned Machine Heads are a good example [of what is acceptable], because they look like standard guitar machine heads, not some big, goofy device that’s bolted onto the guitar. They look totally stock, but under the hood, they make a huge difference, making tuning 30% to 40% faster and much more intuitive, without thinking about it. It’s like the difference between a standard transmission and an automatic transmission. It’s a no-brainer.” But brilliant.


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