The Story behind the Katana Fret-Level System
So when I started this company nearly 30 years ago what did I know about making guitars? Nothing. I had an idea and a patent pending. As I proceeded down the road of getting a prototype made and then talking production with several manufacturers, they must have all thought I was some greenhorn who didn't know anything about making guitars. They were right! I was a guitar player, not a guitar maker. I had changed strings. I think someone even told me to get my guitar "set-up" by a luthier......what's a lu-the-err???
Well I quickly learned about frets, truss rods, fret-leveling, fret migration, fret size, neck radius, high frets, low frets, forward bow, back bow, neck angle....whew, more than i really wanted to know.
Bottom line was that I assumed (and we all know the saying about what happens when you assume), that if I asked a manufacturer to build a guitar, my Fretlight, it would play like all the other guitars. Ah....No. Let me set the record straight, when you build a guitar at a factory in, say China (and this holds for all the manufacturers), you need to inspect your guitars prior to shipment. Oh, there's a couple of kids at the end of the manufacturing line testing sound and briefly playing but realize, they go through thousands of guitars....per week! Ok, so we inspect every guitar. That still doesn't mean that it's perfectly playable when it gets to the U.S.
So then it seemed apparent we needed a few guitar techs to set up guitars before they ship. Fine. There's only on way to set up a guitar and they follow a manual, right? Ah...No. I quickly learned that no two guitar techs set up a guitar the same way and the guitar doesn't play the same. I did more research on set-ups and sort of found a consensus of what needed to be done, but alas, there's still a problem. Each tech has his own playing style which was not mine. I play heavy meaning i pic the strings hard, I'm not a light player. So a lot of times when I QC'd a guitar, it would buzz. The tech would take it back make an adjustment and I would QC again.....and again....and again.
Enter Katana. Needless to say, I was frustrated at this seemingly random process. Sure, at the end of all that QC, our Fretlight guitar played fine, but I needed a more definitive process and I wanted us to blow our customers away with great playability. You might say, "Rusty, the Fretlight could never play as well as a PRS." That may or may not be true but I am never a guy to say "never". I was poking around online about two months ago, researching fret-levels, and found this tool called the Katana that allows for doing a fret-level with the strings on and the neck at tension. A light bulb went off! My engineering brain said that made total sense and was the way to do it. I watched a few YouTube videos of other guitar techs using the Katana. They were excited too and amazed at the results. This little known tool is made by a guy in Japan who invented it. I immediately ordered one and when we got it, I made our guitar techs watch a couple of how to videos on it and try it on a Fretlight. The results were astonishing because the Katana can be curved to fit the bow of the fretboard (lengthwise) the fret-level was perfect and we could actually lower the action without hearing the dreaded buzz. Time for the true test. Let's see if it plays well with my hard picking. It did - I mean IT DID! I was really blown away. It also saved the techs from constantly removing the strings. Now I cant tell you if your Fretlight plays as good as your PRS, but I will say for me, a player of over 30 years, the Fretlight plays really, really well. Like, I could play it all day well. Like I want to grab it before my other other guitars (that don't have the Katana fret-level yet).
So I guess it took me 30 years to figure this out and find an answer.....better late than never.