For those of you in the know, the PLEK system is a CNC ( computer numeric control) machine that will level your frets to a high tolerance and it's pretty great how it works. Gibson have one installed in their factory and all their guitars get the PLEK treatment before shipping. A few guitar shops are getting them as well and the future look ok for PLEK.
So, it's a good rig, but will Salvi's be buying a PLEK machine anytime soon? Well, no! Why you ask? Let's do a rundown on the pro's and cons of the PLEK system.
So what's so good about it?
It's accurate! How accurate? Well if it's as good as our CNC here at Salvi's, it'll be accurate to .001mm, which is pretty tight. Gibson bought one right? It must be great!
I guess that's all the pros we need, if it levels frets and does it well, what else is there?
What about cons? Well I can think of a few actually, and my problems aren't with the machine itself, it's great, it's what comes after.
We get a few PLEK refugees here in the shop, the guitar has been done, but a few months down the track and the horizons aren't as accurate as they were. Why is that?
Guitars are made of wood. The air they live in changes constantly. As soon as your guitar sees a different moisture content, it'll subtly change shape. How much? It depends, but a lot more than .001mm that's for sure. If your guitar has an aluminium or carbon fibre neck, then go for it.
For the rest of us, the benefit of CNC is lost in the real world.
Wear. If you play a lot, your frets will wear enough in a few months to lose the presumed extra accuracy of CNC.
Operator. The machine can only do so much, the frets still need to be dressed, fine crowned and the ends done. Skill at frets still rules.
Expense. When I costed the PLEK it was about $120,000 + tax and imports. That's 1000 fret levels or more to break even. And all it does is level the horizons and do a coarse crown. Skill is still required to get it right.
Point of contact. The PLEK does 1 fret at a time. It has to press the fret to get it to cut, so how much deflection is there? I don't know the answer to that.
When you consider that we can tension a guitar on the bench and use a CNC'd flat diamond file that is 400mm long to level a fingerboard, that's 400mm of contact over 14 frets or more at a time, it is impossible not to have dead accuracy of horizon.
For my money, and the benefit of our 4000+ customers, I'll stick to a diamond level for now, it's quicker, hands on, and you can have it done in you local atmospheric conditions.
If you have a synthetic guitar, and don't mind sending it off and spending extra cash, then a PLEK may be just what you're looking for.