PJD is the latest UK builder to install the near-mythical Plek machine. Will it change their world? We find out


The Plek is a sophistica­ted computerco­ntrolled machine designed to achieve optimum playabilit­y for fretted instrument­s – electric or acoustic. Developed during the 1990s in Germany by Gerd Anke and his team, the Plek machine began being used in the very early 2000s by the likes of veteran guitar-repair guru Charlie Chandler here in the UK and Joe Glaser in Nashville, the first repairer in the USA to install the system in 2001. Since then it’s been adopted by plenty more, not just repairers but manufactur­ers, too, not least Gibson and Martin, and more recently retailers such as Peach Guitars and Andertons here in the UK.

PJD is hardly on the same scale in terms of output as those legendary USA manufactur­ers, and PJD’s pre-Plek’d guitars haven’t lacked in the setup or playabilit­y department­s. So, what’s the appeal? “We discussed it a lot up here,” PJD’s founder, Leigh Dovey, tells us. “It’s not just ‘put a guitar in the machine and it comes out playing amazingly’. It’s a tool that’s used by people who are already very, very good at what they do. But dialling things in to within a thousandth of an inch is something that only a machine can do and it’s

very consistent.”

In brief, PJD’s Plek Station initially scans the fingerboar­d with strings on and tensioned. “Each string gets its own set of results, at all fret positions [and] the results can be grouped together to give an overall picture,” the Plek website explains. Then it begins levelling and recrowning each individual fret to achieve the optimum playing action. It also cuts the nut slots to the correct height.

Leigh continues: “For us, time does factor in, but it’s more that we can get a really, really consistent­ly good playing action. You see, all our Standard guitars have the same scale length, the same radius, the same frets and the same string gauge. The Plek machine is perfect for that. I don’t care how good you are, you’re not going to get the same level of consistenc­y [by hand]. If you’re only building two guitars a month, that’s a different thing and you wouldn’t need a Plek because you’ve got the luxury of time to spend making sure it’s perfect. But using the Plek also frees up Luke Bushby, who does all our fretting. It doesn’t finish the ends of the frets – we still have to do that – but it means he can spend less time doing the laborious stuff, the levelling and recrowning, which on repetition becomes quite labour-intensive. So, time does come into it, but it’s more about being about to offer the bestplayin­g guitar we possibly can.

“It all takes about 20 minutes, which is pretty quick,” Leigh adds, “and once you’ve done it a few times it all makes sense. It’s a lot quicker than doing it by hand. After the Plek process we then give the frets a buff and we shape the top of the nut. That’s the only thing it doesn’t do, although that is something Plek are working on – a completely finished, rounded nut, which would be fantastic!”

Have you compared the Plek process to the human method, we wonder? “Yes, and it’s kinda weird. Initially, we couldn’t quite put our finger on exactly why the Plek process feels better. The fretwork that Luke does is world-class, exceptiona­l; he’s got very good at it. But you’re talking about such small tolerances and it’s often those that turn a guitar from pretty good to amazing. In the right hands, I feel it’s better, although I’m not surprised.”

“The Plek machine [gives us] a really, really consistent­ly good playing action” Leigh Dovey

Custom Wares

While PJD has been concentrat­ing on offering its new affordable Standards, the company hasn’t forgotten the bespoke market with its new Custom Shop. “Basically, it’s just myself and Josh Parkin working on a small number of instrument­s,” says Leigh. “We discuss the build directly with the customer: wood selection, neck profiles, different setups – all these options are on the table. It’s where we can have a bit of fun as well, not just with the guitars but with the pickups as well.”

Up to this point those pickups have all been hand-wound by Josh, but more mechanisat­ion is now in play with a new automated pickup winding machine that’ll produce the units for the Standard series models.

“[2023 was] about getting things in place,” concludes Leigh, “so for 2024 we’re now looking to make between 25 and 30 Standard guitars a month. In the Custom Shop we’re aiming for a lot less, around 100 in total – one or two a week.” Clearly busy times ahead with a lot more to come.

based on a pickup that was conceived in the mid‑1940s, but it holds its own here with push, edge and vocal depth, and while the mix certainly isn’t a classic offset voice it adds some welcome bounce and nicely rounded jangle – very Peter Buck, in fact.

It doesn’t sound like we have a treble bleed on the volume, so pulling that down obviously cleans things up a little, but you do lose a little definition. There’s no coil-split for the bridge, either, which would probably work well to add a little Fender-y attack on its own or voiced with the neck. So, while it might not be the most stylistica­lly versatile PJD we’ve ever plugged in, don’t be fooled by the light pink finish – this St John has certainly got attitude in truck loads.

The Bigsby is no wide-travel whammy, but the light shimmers here add some welcome retro flavour to the St John. That recessed tune-o-matic has smooth saddle grooves and slightly rocks as you move the arm, and the light travel means that tuning stability is very good, too. No complaints here.


The new PJD Standards are very aggressive­ly priced for a UK build, and although the combinatio­n of the Plus-level vibrato and the ‘spray over’ finish increases the cost here, the quality and feel of the build remains superb. Yes, we’d love to see a more classic pickup set option, not least for those of us that use pedals to increase power and thickness. But as it is, the St John excels at powerful indie/alt-rock and more. It’s a really strong-sounding voice, though both the neck and mix can sound very sweet with a little volume reduction, too.

Moreover, it’s the feel and playabilit­y and the new, more mainstream neck shape that punch well above the price point here. Superb craft in non-precious dress and an obvious choice for any gigging musician.

It might not be the most stylistica­lly versatile PJD, but this St John has attitude in truck loads

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 ?? ?? PJD’s Leigh Dovey (left) with Plek’s Nick Glöckner
PJD’s Leigh Dovey (left) with Plek’s Nick Glöckner
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 ?? ?? PJD isn't a fan of tricky electronic­s, so it’s a standard master volume and tone drive here, although a coilsplit switch for the beefy Wadfather bridge humbucker might prove useful
PJD isn't a fan of tricky electronic­s, so it’s a standard master volume and tone drive here, although a coilsplit switch for the beefy Wadfather bridge humbucker might prove useful
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