South Bay tune shop shootout

Update - December 12, 2004

For 04/05, two shops in San Jose were tested for base grind quality. In both cases, only a stone grind was ordered: no sharpening or waxing. At each location, they only sell complete tune packages, so I had to talk directly to the tech to get a price for just a stone grind.

Shop Overall Evaluation Cost Minimum
Base bevel
Tech Comments
Mel Cotton's San Jose $20 Greg I had them grind the base of a Burton ultra Prime 169. The grind was OK - about 95% uniform. However, the board came back with severe dings and gouges on the topsheet - WTF!!??. The experienced tech no longer works at Mel's, and there's too much OJT. Not recommended.
San Jose
$10 Justin I had Justin stone grind the base of a Madd 170. The grind was uniform and very well done, considering that the board started out severely edge high. The added bonus is that Justin does not put a base bevel on the board before doing the stone grind, so the base edge will have a 0º bevel. You can then add your own base bevel. The structure will get ground into the metal, so you need to file and/or polish it yourself. Great price, too. Highly recommended.

November 26, 2003

For 03/04, four snowboards in desperate need of a stone grind were each taken to a tune shop in San Jose for a full tune including a base grind. At each shop, a 2º side bevel was requested. The results were rated in three major categories: Base grind, Wax, and Edges. Sadly, the results show that no shop was able to perform a satisfactory tune.

Tune shop scores

Mel Cotton's
San Jose

San Jose


(out of business)
Base grind Machine Wintersteiger Wintersteiger Wintersteiger Grind-Rite
Flat base  Base high  Edge high  Edge high
Uniform grind  Slightly uneven  Uneven  Belt grind!
Wax Scraped
Edges Correct 2º side bevel  1º side bevel  1º side bevel  0º side bevel
No rust  Some at tip/tail  Some at tip/tail
No file striations
Sharp edges
Polished edges

Done well
Not great, but passable
Done poorly

First, there were a few surprises:

In summary, it is a really bad idea to have a tune shop touch your board, with one exception: Mel Cotton's in San Jose provided a very good base grind. Subsequently, I took five more boards to Mel's for a base grind only - I'll be doing the waxing and sharpening myself thank you very much. I got the all-season diamond pattern base grind. All the boards ground at Mel's, including the ones that had been to REI and Tri-City, came out very good. The base was flat and the grind pattern was uniform along the entire width and length. A true bar lit from behind showed a perfectly uniform row of tiny teeth making up the structure. The bevel on the base edges came out around 1º. I also took three more boards to Helm, to see if maybe they just had a bad day - but all three boards came back with an uneven grind.

At Mel's, you need to insist on getting the work done by Evan, who has five years of experience on the Wintersteiger. However, it's unclear how to make that happen, considering that Mel's is one of the shops that doesn't read what's written on the job slip. You might want to find out when he is in the shop, then show up and talk to the man directly. (Update: unfortunately, Evan no longer works there ... Dohhh!). Most shops, including Mel's, will tell you that you can't request just a base grind, and that you have to buy a full deluxe tune, because the price of just a base grind is not on the price list. However, Mel's does in fact have a "price ticket" for just a base grind for $20, which you will need to point out to the slacker on duty.

Other observations:

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