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The Joy Of PLEKs

Peter Hodgson
|
08.28.2014

The fretboard is where a heck of a lot of our guitaristic expression occurs. It’s where our fingers contact the strings to sound specific notes (of course), and that means that it’s an intersection between the physical and conceptual aspects of our playing. It’s where the strings get pushed, bent, tapped, hammered, pulled, flicked and otherwise harassed in the name of art. And it’s where we visualize our music, whether we think in scale patterns, chord tones, snatches of melody, fret numbers, blocky shapes or whatever else you have to do to get your music to go from your heart to your head to your fingers to your ears. So it makes sense that you should wanna take care of your fretboard and make sure it’s at its maximum potential for squeezing out those notes, blasting out those arpeggios and cranking out those chords.

Gibson PLEK machine in action

In order to provide a more consistent fretting experience from one guitar to the next, Gibson uses PLEK technology. Developed by Gerd Anke of A+D Guitarrentechnologie GmbH in Berlin, Germany, PLEK is a computer-controlled system that provides the finishing touch to a guitar’s frets with incredible consistency. The system scans the frets then automatically files and finishes them to give them the desired qualities. All sorts of data are collected during the scanning process, including the height of each fret above the fingerboard, each fret’s individual radius, the radius of the fingerboard across its whole expanse, the pitch of the neck, the relief (the amount of bow) in the neck, the alignment of the nut and bridge and other factors. The system is so intelligent that it can even tell the operator if the guitar requires a truss rod tweak before the PLEK process is applied.

After the frets are dressed and finessed, PLEK then cuts the nut slots, taking into account the desired string spacing at the nut end, the ideal nut slot height in relation to the fret height, and the profile of the edges of the fingerboard. And of course PLEK also takes into account the desired string gauge, scale length and neck curve. A skilled PLEK technician can work with the system to create a flawless setup for each individual guitar, working with the qualities of each instrument’s unique woods to create a more consistent feel from guitar to guitar despite their inherent differences.

When the guitar’s frets, nut, and saddle have been processed, the instrument is strung up and tuned. A final scan is undertaken to see if the result corresponds with the set specs. Then the frets are polished to a high gloss finish, and the job is done.

The PLEK machine takes about 15 minutes to finish its task. It was initially introduced on the Gibson Custom Shop’s Les Pauls, graduating to SGs. Now, almost a decade later, PLEK is used across the Gibson line.

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