FretGuru Manifesto


I’m Bernie Tusko, founder of FretGuru and creator (some would say obsessive mad scientist) of all kinds of helpful tools, tips and next level strategies that will bring your guitar – any guitar – to life.

Having the privilege of working so closely with so many passionate musicians has taught me – amazing things can happen when your guitar gets out of the way.

Whether it’s with my personal clients, or with students in a teaching and tutorial setting, the results are the same – and they end up thinking of me as some sort of “Guitar Whisperer” – who can coax unreal amounts of tone, sustain, volume and ease of playing out of any guitar.

In getting to talk with and give guidance to so many passionate guitar enthusiasts around the world, one thing that I find so amazing and energizing is – despite any cultural or language differences there may be – we are all able to connect on this deeper…  common language of… personal expression.

And the willingness to expand this ability – to express more freely, and to move past the roadblocks that try to hold us back…  seems like a universal drive that keeps us growing and moving forward.

As my skill and vision for the guitar craft and has grown and unfolded, it’s taken some very unexpected turns.  I mean, at first I was blown away that what started as me just tinkering to figure out what made a guitar easier/more enjoyable to play – and made it sound better… before long had people tracking me down to work on their guitars.  “This is pretty cool” I thought… but making a career out of it?

Didn’t take long before it wasn’t possible for me to do anything else… like I’d been swallowed by the craft that I loved.  But I went with it and allowed it to unfold.  If things continued on like that, It would have been cool with me.  But I would have never guessed the turns this would take.

To think I’d be rubbing elbows with many of my musical heroes, hanging out sidestage like an honorary member of the band – even having tea around my kitchen table with them! – more than I would have ever expected from the humble life of a luthier.

If 10 years ago you would have told me that I’d have this much reach and ability to connect with so many fellow guitar geeks around the world, i’d have said you were either crazy or on drugs.

If you’d have told me that the tools I’ve developed for my personal workbench – would have found their way by the thousands to so many other workbenches around the world… to so many of my peers and A-List luthiers?!  I’m humbled and honored… and inspired to do more.

As you’ve noticed, things are coming together around here even though it’s still in the formative stages… like we’re just moving in and figuring out where everything fits. Your patience will be rewarded.

What can I help you accomplish?  What area of your playing or luthier-ing would you like to raise your game on?  You can drop me a line any time.

I’m serious about this. Here’s my direct email:

And be sure to get in the loop somewhere so I can keep you posted on what’s new.  Just find one of the “Connect” buttons and leave me the best email to reach you at.

I’m looking forward to talking with you soon!

Bernie / FretGuru

7 Responses to “FretGuru Manifesto”

  1. Doug Munson says:

    I have a Ramirez student classical.

    Can you lower the action??

    • FretGuru says:

      Hey Doug,

      It’s good to hear from you, and this is a great question.

      Without knowing the model it’s difficult to know… exactly the options available for making the action lower and more playable.

      But it’s probably safe to say that there’s no truss rod (maybe ebony reinforcement?), and likely a traditional spanish heel construction – which takes the option of re-setting the neck off of the table.

      Assuming the saddle (and nut) has already been taken down to their lowest optimal levels, the next thing I would look at is if the neck has developed excessive relief. If so, then a few other options come into play:

      You can re-fret with a fatter fret tang, and with all of the fine increments of tang widths available you can fairly precisely control the amount of “fret compression” (the wedging effect of each fret in the slot), which will counteract string tension and excessive neck relief.

      The next often overlooked option is to go with taller fretwire – that is if you’re open to a non-traditional size. While you may not be able to lower the strings closer to the frets, you may be able to raise the frets closer to the strings with taller wire. This taller wire also gives some extra room to strategically shape the “playing surface” – which I consider to be the fret tops, not the wood.

      Anyway, just some ideas and different approaches that I would consider if it were on the bench here.

      Let me know how I can help with this or any other guitar project.

      Talk to you soon,

      Bernie / FretGuru

  2. jtkrol says:

    Hi Bernie,

    I just got your fret setup and evaluation gauge NICE TOOL. I have a Takamine 6 string that the action at the 12th fret is at 1/4″. The neck is straight and the nut is good. I’m thinking the bridge needs to be lowered however it has a pickup taped to it with foil tape. Is it just a matter of carefully pulling the tape off with the pickup and lightly sanding down the bridge to lower the action? I didn’t want to mess with the bridge (this is the first one of these that I am dealing with) until I asked someone in the know.


    • FretGuru says:

      Hi Joe,

      This is something you’ll run into often.

      While you can get some improvement by lowering the saddle and bridge, keep in mind that in order to get – say a (hypothetical) 1/8″ (.125″) lowering of the action at the 12th fret, you’re going to need to lose 1/4″ (.250″) at the saddle. It’s always a 2:1 ratio.

      It’s not likely that you have .250″ of saddle height you can afford to lose, and even if you did you’d create other problems (and volume and tone would be affected significantly).

      Let’s say you did get the action down to 1/8″ or .125″. While it’s a definite improvement, that wouldn’t even make it to the realm of playability for me. Even for my most heavy-handed players (who coincidentally also play Takamines) are all in the .085″ to .095″ range at the 12th.

      If cost, value of the guitar and customer budget were not an issue, this guitar would definitely be a candidate for a neck re-set. But at $400+, it may only be feasible for a higher end guitar.

      So you will definitely need to get what you can out of the bridge and saddle without going too crazy. If this has bridge pins and not the common Takamine pinless (string thru rear) bridge, then you will be able to go lower – because you can regain some of the string angle and downforce on the saddle by deepening/re-contouring the string grooves in front of the saddle.

      Where to from there? You can use what I call the poor man’s neck re-set. There’s actually a few variations of it, and it can buy a noticeable amount of lower action.

      The goal being to create what I call artificial strategic relief – deep enough so that you’ll have to run a significantly tighter truss rod to flatten it – which changes the neck/string/saddle geometry. Not as much as a “real” neck re-set, but enough to make a real difference in playability.

      To give you a quick sketch of it – you basically tighten the truss rod (too tight) to induce a significant backbow in the fingerboard and fret tops.

      Next you will level the fret tops, making sure to center the leveling at the 6th – 7th fret. You accomplish this by adding a piece of masking tape to each end of the fret leveler – and also another piece of tape to the 1st and 15th frets. This is so you don’t remove any material from these frets until the end of the process.

      First, color the fret tops with a blue marker (Sharpie Chisel Point!). You’ll have to trust me on the color.

      Next you start leveling, making sure the initial fret material you remove is from the 6th and 7th frets.

      Once you’ve created a platform of sorts that the leveler will stay flat on (figure 4 frets minimum), you can remove all tape and continue carefully leveling, until you extend this leveled “patch” into the frets on either side of the 6th and 7th fret. Keep going until you’ve barely touched the 1st and 14th-15th frets.

      Now this is a judgement call for you as to just how much you and the customer are comfortable with taking out of the fret tops. I generally don’t like to go below .030″ in total fret height.

      If you aren’t able to get enough out of the original frets, then you can apply these same concepts to either removing some wood from the fingerboard, or installing some taller 6105 frets to give you more to work with, or doing both.

      Re the pickup/ foil tape etc, it sounds like this is not the common Takamine split saddle.

      My instinct here without seeing it, is to not disturb the pickup/tape joint, but instead, just remove the material from the top of the saddle, then reshape it to re-create any compensation adjustments.

      What are your thoughts?

      Talk to you soon!

      Bernie / FretGuru

  3. jtkrol says:

    Hi Bernie,

    Thanks for the reply. I didn’t want to mess with the pickup and tape which is why I stopped. I was actually thinking of cutting groves into the saddle kind of like you would find on a tune-a-matic bridge. My concern there is how much it would affect the intonation. I have already put a back bow in the neck (it was actually worse than what it is now when I first got it). The strings are held in with pins and frankly they are not done well because they just want to jump out when you put tension on the strings. I was thinking that cutting string groves would help with that bit I also need to look inside with a mirror because I’m not convinced that bridge plate (I believe that is what it is called still learning the names and nomenclature) is OK. I seem to remember seeing a youtube of Dan Erlewine using a tool from Stew Mac to fix a problem with a worn bridge plate where a sign of the problem was that the ball ends had nothing left to lock into because the guitar had been strung incorrectly for so many years.

    This guitar (Model EG531SC) new is sold for about $600.00 I think, so I don’t believe a $400 neck reset is the way to go. She is actually playing her electric now and will probably be leading worship with that when she starts. What do you think about putting notches in the saddle? It is one of the shaped saddles. Not the straight round over type.

    Thank you again you will never know how much having someone like you to talk to about this stuff means to me.


    • FretGuru says:

      Hi Joe,

      Cutting grooves in a saddle can work, but it’s a delicate process that involves getting many different angles right, not to mention the intonation issue. You can use grooves to quickly get the string heights in the ballpark, then lower the rest of it and re-contour it.

      In the past I’ve created a specially designed grooved saddle that I use for some of my clients, and they’re rather complicated to make… each groove is fitted exactly to each string, and once the string is in a groove (on an acoustic saddle), you can only create compensation by coming into the front of the saddle with an end mill style cutter.

      So in the case of this Takamine, I think it’s best to just take some pics, measurements and notes on the original saddle shape and contour – and just duplicate it after you lower the top of it.

      Re the backbow, it’s generally not something you’d want to leave, but the action on this guitar is so high that it will actually seem better with a backbow.

      It seems the next step is to see how much you can safely take out of the saddle and bridge – and see what that does for the action. Then maybe the next step is the poor man’s neck re-set where I spoke about – i.e. taking some material out of the center frets to regain some relief.

      Re bridge pins popping up when you install strings, you’d be surprised how little effect a worn bridge plate would have on this. The bigger cause is likely the sharp front corner on each bridge pin. Just put a healthy 45 degree bevel on the front corner of the pin – and for extra credit do a slight pre-bend on each string just ahead of the ball end.

      This should eliminate the bridge pins rising when you tighten the strings.

      Let me know how it goes!


  4. jtkrol says:

    Will do thank you Bernie thank you for the help.



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