From the Kitchen Table to the Factory Floors of Fender, Gibson, Martin, Taylor - Graph Tech Guitar Labs Celebrates 30 Years of Changing the Way Musicians Play

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Founder and Head Honcho, Dave Dunwoodie has led the music industry in creating an innovative line of tone enhancing guitar components and accessories that deliver what they promise. With over 100 guitar manufacturers, on the customer list and distribution in almost 40 countries Graph Tech's mission to improve the playing experience has continued since 1983.

I wanted to sell to a larger market so I made an acoustic guitar saddle. The problem was, 23 years ago nobody put black nuts or saddles on acoustic guitars. It just had to be white! I went to every NAMM show and tried to sell my black nuts and saddles.

One night, nearly 30 years ago, Dave Dunwoodie, Graph Tech President, was mid-performance at a gig in his hometown of Vancouver, Canada. Hitting the tremolo bar on his first Fender Strat during a guitar solo, he was suddenly confronted with the problem of string binding on traditional guitar nuts. "I went to do my first big wang and went totally out of tune" says Dunwoodie.

Spurred by the resurgence in popularity of tremolo guitars and frustrated with existing nut and saddle technology Dunwoodie began experimenting with a variety of composite guitar nuts with a mission to produce a nut that would eliminate string binding and help keep a guitar in tune. After a long and challenging history of trials and errors successfully engineered the world’s first permanently lubricated nut; a formula 5 times more slippery than graphite. This marked the beginning of a Graph Tech, company that would grow to become the world’s largest nut and saddle maker supplying top guitar manufacturers like Martin, Fender, Gibson, Taylor, Godin and many more.

A born entrepreneur, Dunwoodie talks about waking up at 3:00 am with a great idea on his mind. That painful on-stage, bad tuning experience never left him. Waking late one night woke with the thought that a guitar nut, made out of pencil lead would be perfect. Soon the kitchen table became a guitar nut lab. Over many hours at the library reading everything possible about composite materials Dunwoodie finally came up with a formula and created one slippery nut!

“My first three products were a Gibson nut blank, a Strat nut blank and an acoustic guitar nut,” says Dunwoodie. Back then nuts sold for about a $1, priced his nut at $9.95 and put a small ad in Guitar Player magazine While Graph Tech made sales progress the product had some limitations. Nylon 66 tended to wear out quickly especially with tremolo use. So it was back to the drawing board or in Dunwoodie's case the kitchen table. With the assistance of some engineering expertise help Dunwoodie came up with a black nut that did not wear down and was very slippery. The problem was, 23 years ago nobody put black nuts or saddles on acoustic guitars. It just had to be white! He went to every NAMM show but no one was interested in a "black" nut.

An interesting thing happened though when Dunwoodie put his black saddle on his own Larrivee. One day, while playing, Dunwoodie recalled breaking a string at the 12th fret. This was the first time he broke a string in half and thought it was weird. A Luthier, at a music store Dunwoodie used to work at suggested he make a Strat saddle from his material so they would stay in tune longer; so he did. About a month later the Australian distributor calls Dunwoodie and says, “You know Dave, I am a notorious string breaker but since I put on your Turbo saddles I haven’t broken a string”. Dunwoodie then recalled when he broke a string on his acoustic guitar, the string didn’t break at the saddle, where strings normally break; it broke at the middle of the fret. That was when Dunwoodie had another one of his “Ah Ha moments!”

So Dunwoodie set up a drill press with a pick on it. There, in his small Graph Tech office/factory sat the drill press driven pick, guitar, turbo saddle, steel saddle and brass saddle. “My office was little bigger than a small board room" says Dunwoodie. In that small space they put together saddles, packaged products plus answered the phone. Now, when they answered the phone and in the background you’d hear the sound of the automated pick plucking away repeatedly. After about 5 or 6 hours bang; a string broke, it was the brass saddle, then another 5 hours go by and bang; the steel saddle string broke. However, the next day when Dunwoodie came to the office the Turbo saddle string was still going. His saddles would prevent string breakage.

Graph Tech's “String Saver” saddles, as they called them had PTFE in them which gave the string a little bit of play, microscopically but just enough to take the stress off that one fixed point where strings normally break. Soon Dunwoodie started getting calls from notorious string breakers; guys that normally break two, three strings a night. They told him they switched to String Saver saddles and commented “Man I’ve gone a month and I haven’t broken a string!” Even Rock legend, Randy Bachman said he went a whole summer tour without breaking a string. “I always break strings; it’s incredible I love the sound of dead strings too.” Randy wrote. He goes on to say he didn’t even change his strings once the whole summer tour.

Still Dunwoodie couldn’t sell a “black” acoustic guitar saddle or nut if his life depended on it. Determined to have his product adopted by the acoustic market, began work to develop a material that would imitate the sound transference properties of Ivory or Bone but with a consistency and harmonic content these nature-made materials lacked. In 1992, TUSQ made-made-ivory was born.

It was after reading an article, about harpsichords in Scientific American that Dunwoodie struck knowledge gold! Like guitars, harpsichords also have a nut and a bridge. The saddle he learned, acts as a filter and every type of saddle has got impedance. If you have a perfect impedance match all the energy from that string goes straight to through the saddle to the guitar top and you will have one loud, short note. The more you mismatch the impedance, the longer the note is going to last as more energy stays in the string before transferring to the guitar top. Consequently, the note produced is not as loud. The more sustain you have the quieter the note is. “It’s really a balancing act." Dundwoodie adds. The other thing, he learned is that the saddle acts as a filter. It decides which frequencies stay in the strings and which frequencies are transferred into the guitar top. Different materials produce different results as far as vibration transfer is concerned.

Dunwoodie decided to invest in acoustic frequency software so he could scientifically evaluate various materials and discover which material produced the best harmonics. “That’s how I settled on our TUSQ material formulation. I believe it sounds better than bone”. Dunwoodie says. With his sound meters Dunwoodie was able to demonstrate that TUSQ produced more harmonics than real bone.

Luthiers loved TUSQ and gave the product rave reviews but getting manufacturers to switch over to TUSQ was like pulling an elephant’s tusk! Finally, after nine years of pounding the trade show pavement Dunwoodie got the golden phone calls. Taylor and the Larrivee Guitars wanted TUSQ. Those two calls opened the sales flood gates. Soon many of the guitar makers he had unsuccessfully called on for years suddenly wanted to take a second look at TUSQ. One by one manufacturer after manufacturer began switching to TUSQ.

Dunwoodie reflects “Scientific American, is where I got my theory on nuts and saddles. Balancing impedance for the volume and adjusting for electric and acoustic instruments.” On an acoustic you want the vibrations go to the guitar top on an electric you want the string vibration to stay in the string to have more sustain.

A really good measurement of sound quality is the harmonics that are in it. That’s what gives the note its character. Take away all the harmonics and the note sounds dead. The ear likes “nice” sounding harmonics. To me, that’s really what tone is all about; the harmonics you can produce off your guitar. TUSQ simply produces more harmonics”.

So what's next for Dunwoodie and Graph Tech Guitar Labs; How about three new products lines, Chops - professional hand care for musicians and its first product, PrePlay hand conditioner, TUSQ guitar picks and Ratio Tuned Machine Heads. PrePlay is the first hand care product of its kind to address the problem of hand acidity directly at the source. A two in one product, PrePlay protects the instrument from acid and conditions the hands to improve playing performance (a little more slide and glide).

TUSQ picks are the first pick on the market with “built in” tone. Like their big brother TUSQ nuts and saddles, they got a whole lotta tone going on, you can hear it the instant you drop one on a hard surface. Their thickness to stiffness ratio really reminds me of my old tortoise shell pick from 30 years ago. And possibility, Graph Tech's greatest innovation yet-Ratio Tuned Machine Heads, with custom geared ratios, balanced to each string that provide a faster, easier and more consistent tuning experience. After 30 years improving the playing experience still continues to be Graph Tech's mission.

About Graph Tech Guitar Labs
Founded in 1983 by President Dave Dunwoodie, Graph Tech Guitar Labs manufactures more guitar nuts and saddles than any other company in the world. Focused on innovations to improve guitar tone and vibration for optimal performance, Graph Tech is the maker of TUSQ® and Black TUSQ® and TUSQ XL man-made ivory, String Saver™ saddles, ResoMax™ Harmonic Bridge System and ghost® Modular Pickup Systems, Ratio® Tuned machine Heads, Chops PrePlay ® Professional hand care for musicians and harmonically-rich TUSQ Picks. The world’s leading retailers, Luthiers, and guitar manufacturers choose Graph Tech products including: Carvin, Fender, Gibson, Godin, Guild, Ibanez, Jay Turser, Larrivee, Martin, Peavey, Samick, Schecter, Taylor and Yamaha Custom Shop.

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