Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Is it better with or without a hat?

I sent my D18 to Bryan Kimsey to have him do that voodoo that he do. You can tell before and after clips due to the hat. I’ll withhold revealing the mod for a bit so you all can guess.


So do you like it better with or without the hat?

Well, it’s hard to tell from a you tube video on computer screen speakers, but your guitar sounds great either way. I’m guessing before is with the hat & after is without, so I’ll say hat sounds brighter & a little more harsh kinda like brand new strings played for the first time & head of hair sounds more mellow & a little bassier. There is a difference. I would even describe the sound as before, he’s using a thin pick & after, he’s using a thicker pick.

Since you went to the trouble of sending it out, I doubt if it’s just different bridge pins or saddle or anything simple. I can’t really tell a difference in color of the nut & saddle in the video, but the nut could still have been replaced with one of different material & still have the same color. It could be the frets were replaced with stainless steel frets, but I don’t know how much different the sound would be. Could be bridge plate work, could be bracing but Golden Eras already have scalloped bracing, so I guess I don’t know. Good one Mike, you should drag this out for awhile. I’ll have to think about it more while someone else is trying to figure it out. Beautiful guitar by the way.

As far as which one I like better… They both sound good, I’d have to hear it in person to really answer that.


“I’m guessing before is with the hat & after is without” - correct

Good ear JW, and good thoughts on the mods too. I had a bunch of stuff done, but this video only covers one modification. Unless someone goes to Bryan’s site or is already familiar with the things he offers, I don’t expect anyone to correctly guess the exact mod. However, your comments were just the type I was hoping to generate. Thanks for the compliment on the looks of the guitar, I’ll pass them on to Mr. Martin next time I see him :slight_smile:

Even with my tiny laptop speakers, there is a big difference between the two. I’d need to hear it in person (or at least through speakers bigger than my thumb nail) to decide which I like better.

That’s pretty amazing you could hear the difference on the laptop speakers. I think I’ll get my guitar back end of next week. I am pretty excited.

JW hit many possible mods and they were well thought out. In order to help with anyone who wants to guess, here’s a list of some of the things that Bryan does that I could have had done that might have changed the tone:

  1. Shave back braces to pre 90’s dimensions
  2. Scalloping/voicing of top braces
  3. PMTE added to bridgeplate (small plate of wood)
  4. Stainless steel frets (I had first seven done… they weren’t even ready for replacements, but now I won’t have to replace them for a very very long time)
  5. Replace nut
  6. Remove popsicle brace
  7. Bone saddle (original was FWI)
  8. Plug and redrill tuner holes (so tuner shafts are in contact with wood)
  9. Replace bridge pins with a different material

I had 6 of the 9 above items done. But in the video, the before and after was only due to 1 item changed. Also note, I asked Bryan about the placement of the mic being a bit different. He said it was a stereo mic that isn’t greatly affected (which is why he uses it for that purpose).

OK Mike, this is getting even better. It’s kinda like one of those cartoons where two pictures look exactly alike & you have to find the 8 or 9 differences.

My guess would be that you did not have #'s 1, 2 & 8 done, but the rest you did. The braces are already scalloped & that’s an awfully nice guitar to be cutting & drilling on. I’ve never bought into the tuner posts having to touch the wood. Once the strings get past the nut, I don’t see much of an affect. I’ve even heard of people cutting down their tuner posts & countersinking the bushings into the headstock & then trimming the plates down (the part that screws into the back of the headstock). I can’t imagine wrecking a good set of Waverlies for such a small amount of tone difference if any at all. I’m not a luthier though & I know this could be highly debated & I could be wrong.

I’m anxious to here it after all the work has been completed, especially if only one of those items was done in the video. I have no idea which one that was, but you mentioned that you already had the first seven frets replaced, so you either gave it away or that one doesn’t count. I’ll take a stab in the dark & say removal of the popsicle brace was the one item.

When my Collings needs fret replacement, I think I’m going to go to stainless. Does stainless make any difference in tone?

Thanks for the post, J.W.

Thanks JW. We have one guess, and unfortunately, it’s not the right one. Popsicle brace is off the table. In theory, that should allow the upper bout to more freely move allowing the sound to open a bit and typically add a little complexity (more overtones). I visualize it as similar to the difference between a 14 fret and 12 fret model (I have no idea if that’s a valid visualization).

I guess I did give away that I got a partial replacement with SS frets. Once I get it back I’ll be able to tell you how much effect they have on tone as mine will be mixed. Some people say they have a little more ping to them. My goal was not having to touch them for many moons. Flatpicking wears those puppies down.

The guitar in the video had everything done (that I had done) with the exception of the 7 frets and the associated nut tweaking. The other items were done prior to the one item being compared. So in essence, the hatless should be about what I hear with the exception of anything the frets do.

I got my guitar back. Bryan did a fantastic job. The tone is exactly what I’d want in a dreadnought. The bigger bottom and snappier mids are what are most noticeable. I think there’s alot more going on in the high frequencies now as well, but that’s a more subtle change. As far as setup, he did a great job as well. The action is a smidge lower and it feels looser. I suspect the looser feel because of the new frets on the lower 7 allowing for less relief and the improved feel (also full height frets are easier play in several ways). The great thing is that the SS frets will last a very very long time. There was a question about the tone of stainless frets. To my ear, the SS frets have a teeny tiny slight difference in tone, but I think I actually prefer it. It’s a bit snappier. With all the changes, it’s a huge jump for this guitar. It now compares quite well to my CS-21 spec 0000. I look forward to comparing it with various other dreads.

Well, the thread has generated only one guess. I suspect the mystery part question isn’t generating widespread pondering. I’ll hold off on posting what the change in the video was for a bit just in case someone else wanted to guess. However, I’ll go ahead and narrow the list to only what I had done on the original list (that might be responsible for the tone change in the video):

  1. Shave back braces to pre 90’s dimensions
  2. PMTE added to bridgeplate (small plate of wood)
  3. Stainless steel frets (I had first seven done… they weren’t even ready for replacements, but now I won’t have to replace them for a very very long time)
  4. Remove popsicle brace (***already guessed and it was incorrect)
  5. Bone saddle (original was FWI)
  6. Plug and redrill tuner holes (so tuner shafts are in contact with wood)

I really have no clue, but I’d think that shaving the braces and adding the PMTE would make the biggest difference, so I’ll make my guess the PMTE.

Ding ding ding ding ding! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Larry is the winner of… our congratulations. If you want me to send you a set of string or something, let me know.

You hit on two items that allow for more bass response (the biggest difference I hear in the hat video). The back brace changes allow the back to move more better. The PMTE allows more energy transmission to the X braces. Bryan says it takes several weeks of playing for it to really allow the back to move. If it develops more, great, but I like it fine the way it is. The feel of the bass vibrating through the instrument is fantastic.

If anyone is considering sending their guitar to Bryan, I can say I am glad I sent mine to him. He self admits that he is not a restoration project guy, but he does what he does very well. If you want to maximize what your guitar can be as far as playability and tone, he is the guy (I am sure there are others who are great, but I can only vouch for his work). Bryan’s rates are quite good. Of course you want to get more than a minor tweak done if you send a guitar because of the hit that one takes with shipping. Mine was about $100 going (50 shipping and 50 insurance) and $50 coming back. All told, I think I spent just under $600 (including shipping). No doubt, that’s a wad of money. However, I have a guitar that is comparable in tone to an Authentic spec guitar (not saying it’s the same or equal, just saying they are in the same class to my ear) for significantly less than what a used D18A would cost me. And, I prefer the GE neck to boot. In addition, I suspect if Bryan told me how much time he spent on it, I bet his hourly rate would come out so low that I would be embarrassed. For example, he replaced my glued in saddle with a hand shaped bone saddle (with ideal compensation and wonderful action height) for $45. In addition, he salvaged my FWI saddle so I can make a uke saddle with it! Take out the cost for the bone blank, and I bet there are kids at McDonalds making more per hour what he made on that saddle. He tells you what things are gonna cost before he does them, and it’s obvious in his actions that he only wants to do what he thinks is best for you. In a nutshell, if I rewound time to before I sent it, and I had my money sitting there and I could keep the money or send it again, I would eagerly spend the money again. To the best of my memory, he is the first guy I have paid to work on an instrument in over 30 years, and I am glad that I did.

After such praise, I feel compelled to make clear that I am not affiliated with Bryan in any way other than being a satisfied customer.

Congratulations Larry! I suppose this means I win second place . (I should get the old strings off the GE since you get a new set). :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

I’m glad you’re happy with the work Mike. That’s kinda chancey, cutting down the braces, but It sounds like Bryan’s done enough to know what to expect in tone. That’s a great deal of work for that amount of money. I kinda wish I’d kept my '56 D-18 & sent it to him. I didn’t like the neck though & there’s not much he could do about that. It was just too narrow so I traded for a Collings D-2HG with 1 23/32" nut width that I’m very happy with. I would like to get another mahogany someday to go along with the Collings & I think it’ll be with adirondack. As I said - maybe someday.

I’ve heard of Bryan Kimsey but can’t think of where. Is he also in a band or does he primarily work on instruments?

Again, I’m glad it worked out good for you Mike. Oh, and Larry, you look pretty good up there on the first place podium.


A set of strings? I thought first prize was the guitar. What a disappointment!

I would agree it seems chancy JW except for a couple things… First, Bryan has done a ton of them and has a bunch of youtube documentation of the results. Secondly, the back brace shortening and popsicle brace removal are moving the guitar back more in the direction as they used to be made. The back braces were shorter and fatter up until around 90. The pre-war guitars were popsicle-less. Also, the 1995 GE came without popsicles (and a sitka instead of Adi top), and I think Authentics are popsicle free. Collings and many other smaller shops build with these features. So while they are changes for this guitar, they are not pure test pilot territory. The PMTE on the other hand is kind of test pilot stuff as far as Martin is concerned, but it is reversible. However, I can’t imagine me wanting to remove it. I suspect the only downside to the added low end is it might be much more picky about recording (and I can live with that).

I am not sure if Bryan has done anything with bands where one would recognize. He is a very good picker. He has been camp guitar doc at quite a few picking camps. I am pretty sure I first heard of him through the unofficial Martin guitar forum. He is well known and active on those forums.

BTW, I think JW said there was quite a bit done for the money… I also had some stuff done that hasn’t been previously discussed… new hand-shaped pickguard (that’s a huge tone enhancer), polished headstock while the tuners were off and he did some nut work to account for the added .005" of fret material. Probably a few other things I can’t think of. In short, he treated it like it was his for a while. I think I got alot of great work for the money.

Nice Mike! Glad to hear it turned out well. I would love to let a pro like Bryan look at my guitars, it’s the shipping I’m afraid of.

Wish I could have had a guess, but I wouldn’t have guessed you changed the bracing.

Do you think it’s easier to fret with the SS frets? I’m assuming you had the same short frets I have on my Marquis. I have to mash the strings against the fretboard pretty hard. My frets are in rough shape after a relatively short amount of time as well.

Hey Shawn,
The profile of the frets seem to essentially be the same as the “new” frets up on the neck. When the guitar left, they had lost about .005 from new. They were due for some light attention, and maybe would have lost another .002, so they weren’t even down to where I would have normally replaced them. Since he is comfy doing SS replacements, I said “go for it.” All that said, hammer ons and pull offs are a bit easier with the “like new” fret height. There is a teeny change in tone, not better or worse, just slightly different. I doubt most would hear the difference if it were pointed out. Otherwise, there isn’t a difference that I notice. The big advantage is the way they should wear. I used to play fingerstyle, and my frets wouldn’t need to be touched for about 5 years. With flatpicking, it’s more like a year or a year and a half before they get a bit worn. The SS should slow that wear to a crawl.
I still haven’t done fret replacements myself, and I am thinking… as I do need them, if I keep getting SS, I might not ever need to replace them again.

Ah, I see. I assumed you went with taller fret wire too.

I have never played a bad one, but I bet yours is off the charts now. Congrats and I hope we get to hear it sometime.

I have never had a tall fret guitar… I tend to get a bit excited and over-grip at times (especially when performing). I don’t notice it until everything starts going sharp. I figure with tall frets I could probably pull the notes a quarter tone sharp (or more ) :open_mouth:
I know… the answer is to quit over-gripping, but it just happens sometimes.

I am enjoying it. It plays great and sounds to me just like a dreadnought should sound. If it’s any indication of what I think of his work, I am planning on sending my OM out there in a few weeks.