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Dalton Roberts

Not long ago, several of my picker friends suggested that I let Sonny Thomas "set up'' the action on one of my favorite instruments, Eppie.

Actually a "set-up" is really a "step-up," a chance to bring the standards of the instrument up to where they were when it was originally designed. Even the little metal frets hammered up the neck wear out over time; every string touching a loose fret will either rattle, sizzle or lose some volume. So you get a once-expensive guitar that has become a rattletrap. The tiny rattles become the loud, hot zingers of rock'n'roll music, destroying its quality.

When the prophet Ezekial is called in and reports that your neck bone is not connected to your shoulder bone, become concerned.

And since Eppie is a Gibson Epiphone that was designed in 1947, she could use a little "stepping up" by Sonny.

A luthier by trade (luthier is a fancy name for someone who fixes stringed instruments), Sonny had already set the action on another of my guitars, a Frontier Model that Gibson's Epiphone Division began making in 1949, and he'd made a powerful sound improvement to that instrument.

I love coming into contact with new concepts like set-ups. By becoming aware that there is an original purpose and plan for something I own, I am able to keep it performing at that level. Always hang onto any of the original schematics, especially for electronic equipment.

But when it comes to personal "step ups," ways to reset your own standards to their original settings, there generally are no original schematics handy. There will be, though, if you keep a personal journal. I started keeping a personal journal in 1980. First, it was daily, then weekly, then monthly. The fact that it went back to daily attests to its value.

My father was always working on the set-up of his work and his life. Among many magic gifts, my father has been called "the best VW mechanic" in this town and a fine preacher. So in the little nook where he worked he kept a VW repair manual and on his night stand he had a German bible.

The moment I found out that all things must be set-up properly and checked at least every few years was the same sunny summer day I went to Sonny Thomas' shop to pick up Eppie. A precious old pal, bassist Tom Smalley, found Eppie for me. He knew how much I loved its sweet soul-cleansing sound and, as soon as he saw it, he wrote me an email.

I stroked her once and breathed an audible "Ahhhh." We played the rest of the day.

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