This neatly finished guitar with abalone binding came in with the (apparent)complaint of a high action. It needed new strings too.
Simple enough? Spoken too soon!
As soon as I hear high action, my eyes automatically go to two places: the relief in the neck and whether the bridge is lifting under string tension.
And that was just the beginning of the list of woes ailing this pretty guitar. As I looked, I noticed that the spot where the ‘G’ string rode the saddle had been chewed into.
So, off came the strings and the saddle out of the bridge…not quite in one piece!
Then it was the turn of the bridge to come off completely; for the spot on the top where the bridge sat, to be cleaned thoroughly, and then for the bridge to be glued on, clamped and left undisturbed for at least 48 hours.
A few right-sized palette knives inserted in the right places helped pop off the bridge.
The bridge came off without much fuss but as it did, I saw clearly what I thought I had seen: a crack, or at least the beginnings of one, right along its centre.
Also, notice the bridge footprint on the top of the guitar. At least a millimetre or two was without glue. You can see it reflected in this next photograph of the bridge flipped over.
But as I looked at the bridge area on the top of the guitar, it seemed oddly misshapen. A simple ruler proved me right and that my eyes weren’t playing tricks.
And I knew that that could be caused only due to one problem: if the bridgeplate (a piece of wood stuck right under the bridge, whose job is to take most of the stress of the strings pulling up at the top and keep the top stable and straight) was weak, splintered or badly cut. Bridgeplates are particularly made out of hardwoods like rosewood, walnut, ebony and mahogany to take all that strain of the strings pulling up.
In this case, the bridgeplate was badly cut and made from silly wood. A bridgeplate made from ice-cream sticks would have provided greater support! Here is what I saw inside:
The flat piece of wood with six holes in a row is what was masquerading as a bridgeplate. No wonder the poor top was in misery.
What followed was a hot-water bath for the bridge area on the top and then clamping it under a block of wood for 24 hours.
When I took off the clamps, there was hardly any difference. So, while I thought about another way around the problem, I began to work on other parts of the guitar.
First came the cleaning of the area of the top where the bridge would sit: cleaning it of old glue, lacquer (varnish) so that once glued, the bridge would sit tight and never budge from its place again. An Xacto knife and two bridgepins helped me mark the boundary of the bridge.
If you look closely at the last photograph, you will be able to see how much varnish needed to be taken off all around for bare (bridge) wood to be in complete contact with bare (top) wood.
We went to work with a chisel and a few grits of sandpaper. Just like this:
That cleaned, I went to work on the underside of the bridge itself. The cleaned up bridge presented another problem.
The crack that I saw on the top of the bridge and thought was only superficial, actually ran through the bridge.
Meanwhile, the fretboard had enough DNA on it to map the family tree of the owner; the frets needed crowning and polishing, and the tuning machines needed to be worked on too.
What I did with the bridgeplate and what were the hits and misses till I handed the guitar over to the owner: coming soon.