Guitar repair – Putting a heart into a collapsing Tronad – I

Once every four score and some repair jobs comes a challenge that tests your patience as much as your abilities. What pushed me to take it on was the fact that it brought back memories of my own first guitar, how I lost it, and how it all gave rise to the Lucknow Guitar Garage.

The job was so painstakingly laborious and slow that I have decided to divide it into two parts.

The young man who brought me the instrument was himself very talented and accomplished. He wished for his ‘first love’ to breathe again, and as that storm of emotions rose inside me, I knew that I must do this.

But it was in a pitiable condition.

The truss rod cover was missing

The bridge was lifting (it gaped much more than it seems to in the photograph)

It had no bridgeplate – no, I don’t mean that it was broken, but, in fact, it seemed that men at the factory had forgotten to put one in!!!! I know you can’t make out much from my crappy photograph but what I say is true. It was amazing that the guitar had withstood the wrecking tension of the strings for any period of time; 20 years was unimaginable.

It was as dust-laden as anything would be after years of standing around

The purfling was coming loose, which had been held in place by ordinary scotch-tape.

So, the first order of business was to take the bridge off. It came off easily but left a horrifying sight. So damaged and flimsy was the top that I had no option but to cut it out

What was left of the top underneath the bridge footprint was so flimsy, brittle and worthless that without a patch underneath to shore it up, it would never have stood against string tension. Also, since it did not have a bridgeplate, there was need to install one.

For the choice of wood for the bridgeplate, I thought hard and I thought long. Finally, I decided that putting in a maple patch into a guitar which will serve as a leave-at-home guitar and be sparingly played, would be a waste and rake up the cost too.

I decided to go with these

These look like ice-cream sticks but these are actually craft sticks – much sturdier than your usual ice-cream sticks. Yes, these can also be used as ice-cream sticks.

Both sides of each were first sanded and then their edges too, to roughen them up so that they would hold glue and stick better to each other. Three layers of these were stuck together, slowly

which finally resulted in this

These are the two sides of the bridgeplate. While the first one was the face which got stuck to the top, the second one is the face where the string ballends would rest.

But the bridgeplate was too big for the space in between the braces, and so, through trial and error, the right size was sawed and sanded out and stuck

Now, came the difficult part: recreating the top in the part that was missing. That too I decided to fashion out of the sticks.

Fitting in the last bit of the ‘top’ was more laborious than the entire bridgeplate. First, I cut out a dummy on a piece of card, refined it, tried inserting it into the gap, refined it again and again till I thought it was perfect.

Transferring the shape onto wood, I discovered that it wasn’t as perfect as I thought. More refining, more sanding till the piece fit in.

The little spaces all around were filled in too till I had something that looked like a top, on top of which, the new bridge could be glued.

Meanwhile, as I was working on the bridgeplate, I also moistened the top and clamped it down, so that it would stay straight. 

   

Once the bridgeplate was ready, it was carefully glued in

Next came the new bridge. I drilled out the holes and scored the back, but by just placing the bridge on the top, I knew that it was much smaller than the footprint of the original bridge.  The owner was okay with me painting the overshooting border of the top, in black, by hand.

But before I glued the bridge, I marked its position in tape.

Inside this boundary, the glue was smeared and the bridge glued on

Thankfully, with the amount of glueing that had to be done, I had the humidity on my side:

While the glue under the bridge cured, I got to the other smaller jobs.

The purfling on the side was glued in,

a truss rod cover was fashioned out of some pickguard material I had lying around,

the hardware on the headstock was oiled and tightened,

the zero fretwire (which had developed divots) was filed and polished,

 

and, the new saddle’s length was recorded.

Read about the rest in the next post. Until then…!

 

   

 

Guitar repair – Zero fretwire: Pluses and minuses

I have written about this earlier too, but never actually dedicated a post to it. So, I decided to do so now and explain to my younger readers what all the brouhaha is all about.

So, the first frertwire on the neck of your acoustic guitar stays where it is, but right after the nut, another piece of fretwire is installed, over which the strings ride. And because this piece of fretwire comes before the first fretwire, it is called ‘zero fretwire’.

It does the job that the nut ordinarily does, for the strings ride over it, but it is not as if the nut is relegated to the dust bin. It stays very much where its spot is, only, the string slots in it are considerably deeper. This is to keep the strings in place without allowing them to slide off the fretboard. The slots in the nut are as deep as the height of the zero fretwire.

Contrary to popular belief, the zero fretwire is exactly the same height as the other fretwires and generally made of the same material.

 

So what does a zero fretwire do?

Think of the zero fretwire as a very low nut. As the strings ride over it, they are much lower than what their height would be, had they been riding a traditional nut. What this does is ensure that all strings are relatively low all along the fretboard. And if you take care of the height of your saddle, you have comfortably low action all along the fretboard.

How this particularly helps is that you can barre your ‘F’ chord with an ease hitherto unknown.    

Of course, rhythm players love it but lead players love the arrangement the most. 

 

Disadvantages of the zero fretwire

Like I said earlier, the strings ride on the zero fretwire and that the zero fretwire is generally made of the same material as the rest of the fretwires on the instrument. Now, the preferred material for fretwire is cupro nickle though stainless steel is also available. Given the ease with which cupro nickle can be worked with (as opposed to stainless steel), it is used on most instruments. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is also the undoing of the material. Because it is easily adaptable and tractable, the strings rubbing over it also damage it, demanding that it be replaced.

 

Why is the zero fretwire not used more often?

What I am about to say is entirely my observation of things. You are free to criticise it or agree with it. 

One: Guitar-building is comparatively a new art form, borrowing its learnings from violin makers and lute makers of Europe. Innovation does not play a part when it comes to changes in the basic structural format. Embellishments and minor deviations are followed at best.

Two: There seems to be an underlying fear that given the wear that the zero fretwire will face that it will have to be frequently replaced. To put things in perspective for you, how many times in your guitar’s life have you had to have its fretwires replaced? So, if it the same material used for the zero fretwire, how often would you have to replace it???   

Me? I have loved working on zero fretwire instruments and I have loved playing them equally!

 

P.S.: This post is a special post for the Lucknow Guitar Garage website had crashed and could be revived only after the intervention of the web-hosts. In the process, I lost the last post (of last Sunday) only.

Hopefully, now it will continue to run smoothly, without any hinderance. 

Guitar repair – Horn over bone: here’s the lowdown!

How many of you rhythm players, who play with a plectrum/pick, find the bone saddle and nuts are a little too responsive and the sound a little too loud? How many of you feel that it would be so much better if the response was mellower and even a little subdued?

I think I have the answer.

If you have been a regular visitor to this blog, you know how much I fancy bone for nuts and saddles over any other material. However, for a good part of a year, I have been messing around with the thought: what if buffalo horn was used in its place?

I studied some, listened to what respected luthiers had to say, and talked to some guitar-builder acquaintances here in India. Almost everyone had the same idea that buffalo horn was much softer than bone, and thus, much harder to carve. This further prompted me to think, and the result is the following.

In Western country music (as in other genres too), a technique called palm muting is used, where the palm of the playing hand partially rests on the strings near the bridge. This has a dampening effect on the sound that is produced. While using a horn nut and saddle, you can play freely without concentrating on palm muting but still get SOME of that effect.

Additionally, what you get is an accentuated bass response and a mellower treble response. Again, this set up helps those players who play with a pick or plectrum.

If you ask me, the arrangement is perfect for when you are accompanying yourself/somebody on stage and even when you are recording. Also, the music will be that much more uplifting if you’re playing for yourself, by yourself.

Needless to say that the arrangement is not so great for finger-style players.

If you wish to have a go at horn, Lucknow Guitar Garage will be happy to accommodate you by fashioning a nut and a saddle meant just for your guitar – to your playing style. What’s more there are bone bridgepins to indulge in too to complete the set!

Guitar repair – A Yamaha worth talking about!

Believe it or not, Yamaha can make a good acoustic instrument too!

That was a joke! Yamaha makes excellent stuff once you cross the Rs 22 – Rs 25K price threshold. I am the unfortunate one that I have encountered only their Rs 9 – 10K models, of which I have opened my heart out on more than one occasion (Search ‘Yamaha’ on the blogsite).

So, when the youngster was pulling out the guitar from the gig bag, unconsciously my eyes rolled up, as I spotted the ‘Yamaha’ logo on the headstock.

But this was a different guitar. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered on inspection that it had a solid spruce top!

It was basically in for a “buzz on the 3rd fret”. I surmised that like all other instruments, this too was suffering from low-humidity weather. A little turn of the truss rod and the instrument was well, thrilling the young owner.

But actually, the first thing that I noticed in the guitar was the plastic nut and saddle in it and the eye-poker that the extra length of the ‘e’ string was. The owner was chided for it.

The eye-poker

It also needed a string change (the youngster had not changed them in a year!).

But, the thing that actually jumped at me was the “noose around its neck”. I explained to the young man the dangers of the move, and he agreed to get a strap button installed.

It’s a simple enough procedure but not if you do it for the first time.

I also noticed that the fretboard hadn’t been cleaned in a long while

With the strings off, the divots beginning to form in the first few fretwires also sprang into direct sight.

The fretboard was cleaned and the fretwires were burnished, removing almost all of the pitting. A very small dimple remained but I purposefully let it be.

After the fretboard was squeaky clean, it was given a rub of the love potion, as was the bridge, and then it was ready for new strings. The owner had chosen these

I had tried to explain the wonders of bone elements to the owner, but I had also told him that it could be done at a later stage too. I think he chose to do it at a later stage.

I leave you with the customary last views of the instrument

Guitar repair – The pain of fretwire-levelling-2!!!

Remember how I say trouble comes to me in twos and threes?

Well, soon after the visit of the Fender CD140,

Guitar repair – The pain of fretwire-levelling!

as I sat down to wipe the sweat of my brow, came in this Yamaha FX 280. The complaint: terrible fret buzz all along the thinnest two strings.

The guitar seemed to be a seemingly new buy with the staple plastic nut and uncompensated plastic saddle in place. It was a very pretty guitar but full of smudges. The thing with sunburst finishes is that though they look stunning, they are fingerprint magnets, requiring constant cleaning.

I explained the wonders of bone and compensated elements to the owner and he agreed to have them replaced.

On the first run with the fret rocker, I found these (look for the fretwires marked in red)

I won’t bore you with the details, but if you wish to know the rigorous back and forth dance that fretwire-levelling can lead, the link is above.

However, before I even marked the high fretwires, I checked for neck-straightness. It had a little more relief – not too much – than what I would have preferred to see. I dialled that out.

And so, when you level, crown and polish the first few ‘upstanders’, others seem to magically appear. When you level, crown and polish those, some among the first set that you seemed to have dealt with, have gone out of sync.

Treating the entire fretboard at one go, on a new guitar, is a bit harsh (in my opinion). If in the initial set-up one has to shave down all the fretwires, what will happen 10 years down the line?!

By the time I was through with the fretwire-levelling I had pulled out much of my remaining hair and I was breathing ragged!

After a break, I began work on the bone nut and saddle. Now those of you who own/have owned a Yamaha acoustic, you may have noticed that the company uses a very slim piece of plastic for a nut. Measuring how much I had to shave off it, I discovered that half the nut would have to go to dust.

The second photograph of the nut (though not very clear) shows how much the height needed to be reduced. These dimensions I got measuring the old nut.

Likewise, the saddle was measured and marked.

Looking at the mark, it should have occurred to me that the saddle slot was canted towards the treble side. It didn’t.

After everything had been sanded and shaved and put in place, the time was right to clean up the body of the guitar before strings got in the way. A good warm water scrub and the body was shinning again.

The owner had provided his strings of choice

which were thrown on after a slight twist in the tail.

Once, I tuned them to pitch and went about setting it up, I noticed that the action on the bass side was considerably higher than the treble side – which was just right.  The strings were loosened, the saddle pulled out, shaved and returned to its slot.

Then when I tuned up the strings, the action was just right – both on the bass and the treble sides.

It was a happy owner who picked up his guitar, and nothing makes one happier than a happy customer!

Here’s a final look at the guitar

Guitar repair – The pain of fretwire-levelling!

There come moments in everyone’s life which test a man’s patience and abilities. I think this instrument brought along with it one of those moments for me.

This guitar –  a Fender CD140 – was good-looking, well-kept and clean,

and came in with the complaint of a buzz on the B string on the 13th fret. By experience I have learned that once it gets that specific, there’s bound to be a raised fretwire somewhere.

Still, following due process, I first checked neck straightness. It was straight enough with the right amount of relief, and true enough, there was a God Almighty buzz on the 13th fret.

The owner had informed me that the guitar had been standing for a few years, and I guessed that by standing uselessly, there would be more frets than just one creating problems. As I went about checking higher fretwires, I counted six – one which got tapped in and five that required the ‘full treatment’.

Now, fret-levelling, as you might know is probably the most painstakingly-repetitive and tedious work in guitar repair. Level the fretwires and then individually crown them and then individually polish them.

It began with levelling them with this, concentrating on the higher frets.

Underneath the beam is sandpaper stuck which does all the hard labour. I just put in the elbow grease. However, one has to be very careful about how hard and how long one is going on the fretboard. A little extra effort and the fretwires have gone much lower than where you need them to be.

After the beam has done its work, this is what the ground looks like – silver dust all around.

And then follows the crowning process, which again one has to execute very carefully so as not to overshoot the mark. More often than not, it is experience which tells you when to stop crowning a fretwire. More silver dust.

Then came the polishing of the fretwires that were worked upon. The polishing removes file marks from the levelling and crowning, making the fretwires nice and slick. This step in the entire process is the most tedious because you work through five or six grits of sandpaper on every fretwire that you have levelled and crowned. If there are more than five or six fretwires that you need to work on, the digits on your fingers start complaining (at least mine do)!

That done, it was time to clean the fretboard for the last time, give it a drink of the elixir, and while you’re at it, show some love to the bridge as well.

 

Strings came next and the owner chose these ones

As I tuned up the instrument and played it – horror of horrors – the buzz was still there, and if anything, more robust than before. This meant that there were other raised fretwires that I had missed, or those that ‘got raised’ due to the work done on their neighbours.

The strings were loosened enough and out came the Fretrocker

and carefully, all the fretwires 11th fret onwards were tested. Three more truant ones were found. Carefully (now with the strings on), the entire process described up till now was repeated and the strings were again tuned to pitch.

I tried loosening the truss rod and the action went up dramatically. I tried tightening the truss rod and the buzz screamed at me.

Again when I tried to check for the buzz, it seemed to have moved from the original string to a different string, different fret, but still in the same zone! Again, the strings were loosened, again spot-levelling, crowning and polishing of the fretwires took place.

And this process went on for a few times more, but it took its toll on the strings and just as I apprehended, first the ‘B’ string broke and then the ‘A’ string. Meanwhile, the ‘G’ string was looking so frayed that I was afraid to breathe over it! But it could not be helped and so, I replaced the entire set of strings.

Finally, when the guitar was done, I was exhausted both physically and mentally, but happy that I had exorcised the buzz.

When the owner came to collect the instrument I related my effort to him. Along with the effort, the time taken to complete the job had also to be taken into consideration. I also told him about me putting on a fresh set of strings and gave him the option to pay for the second set of strings, or not. After all, the strings had broken while I was working on the instrument!

A thorough gentleman, he suggested that we split the cost of the second set. Fair enough, I said, and we shook hands on that.

He was happy with the work done on his guitar, and when I called him a week later to check how the instrument was doing, the ‘all is well’ reply was most comforting.

 

 

Guitar repair – Dryness leads to splits!

This guitar was brought in by an apprehensive young lady and it belonged to an elder sibling, who had since moved to foreign shores for better academic prospects.

If you did not look at the headstock, it looked much like the guitar from a couple of weeks ago, brought in by a father, who’s girl was to return shortly from the US.

Guitar repair – It’s not always the instrument…sometimes it’s the sentiment attached!

Only, this one also had no label to it – a nameless creation.

Like that one, it had all the tell-tale signs of not enough love being shown to it and some more. The young lady had brought in the guitar for just a change of strings but then, I had to point out this to her.

Just looking at the state of the instrument, I knew it was desperately in need of a drink of water, and that was the major reason for the bridge splitting.

Work began with taking off the crusty old strings and the bridgepins – one black one and all – and storing them in the order they came out.

I worked my magic, and like I had promised her, the crack disappeared like it had never been there. The guitar was thoroughly cleaned and polished, fretboard and bridge were given a double drink of elixir after which I put on new strings, and all was good.

The guitar was returned, but not before I replaced that black bridgepin with a white one. I just could not bear the eyesore. Additionally, like I often do, I forgot to take a final photograph. I called up the girl and asked for the photograph and she dutifully obliged.

To my horror, I saw this

Look carefully, there’s a crack appearing where there was one originally.

I had the girl bring in the guitar again, and thinking that maybe, the bridgepin holes were a little too small, I tried reaming the holes. However, except for the E string, which was a little too snug (expectedly so), the other holes were just right for their pins.

Anyway, the job was done all over again and returned to the owner with apologies.

Hope it stays intact!

 

Guitar repair – When it returns for some love!

So, this one returned. It was kind of embarrassing because I could not remember the instrument for the life of me. I was even more embarrassed when the owner was positively convinced that I did something to it akin to bringing it back from the dead!!

Incidentally, it was a trans-acoustic guitar – it was one of those things that not only carries its own equaliser but even its own speaker in its belly.

Any recollections? None!

Now? None, whatsoever! 

Maybe, I’m growing old!

Anyway, the problem (this time) was that it was buzzing under amplification and the action made playing lead a pain. The owner confirmed that when played without amplification, there was no problem.

I told the young man that many times, when guitar tops are braced and sounded, they tend to acquire a resonant frequency, and when this frequency matches that of an outside, nearby source, there is an odd buzz that occurs, one that you can go on a wild goose chase and never actually find.

To cut a long story short, this was a situation which would not get solved unless you took the top off or the back off the guitar, work and trim those braces till that pairing of frequencies stopped raising a buzz storm!

The action correction, though, was not that convoluted. In fact, it was a breeze!

And that ended the work on this one.

Strangely, when the owner came to pick up the instrument, the so-called buzz was all gone. He played it over and over again but no buzz. Maybe, the saddle-shave did something to pick-up or something. I’m yet to work that one out.

He was thrilled by the action on his guitar, though!  

Guitar repair – It’s not always the instrument…sometimes it’s the sentiment attached!

And that statement is as true as the sun will rise tomorrow!

In this line of work, not often do I get the opportunity to interact with people my own age, unless it is a mother accompanying the son to ensure that I do not fleece him, or a father chaperoning his daughter, guarding her against the ‘evil eye’.

The other day, however, in walked a genial gentleman with a guitar that had certainly seen better days. He wished to have it ready for his daughter who was returning from the US of A.

It was in a gig bag but the bag itself was falling to pieces, remnants of which were seen stuck to the headstock. The adhesive holding the cheap transducer pickup had since dried over the summers and the transducer had fallen into the soundbox, the bridge was lifting, the wood of the fretboard was tinder dry and the fretwires were tarnished with time.

However, the gentleman assured me that the instrument had not been touched in half a dozen years or so. I believed him, for the guitar carried enough dust and mildew on the body.

However, what caught my eye was this:

a name slip stuck with scotch tape. I asked the man if the guitar had ever been repaired but he was sure that it hadn’t.

I let it go and began work. First came off the crusty strings. But as I removed the bridgepins, I noticed that they were not seated fully.

I tried pushing them in but they would not budge: the holes were too small for the pins. Another job to be done.

Next began a three-step deep clean of the guitar body. I was a little sceptical whether I would be able to get all that muck off the instrument, but fortunately for me, I was.

Next, the bridge needed to be taken off. For that the screws holding the bridge down had to removed first. If you hadn’t noticed, look at the photograph of the bridge again.

There are two plastic dots flanking the six bridgepins. Hiding under those are screws, put in there by the manufacturer in the mistaken belief that these will keep the bridge from lifting. For a period of time they do succeed in their intended work, but when the screws fail to hold out against the tension of the strings, they not only rip the bridge off but also a good section of the top too.

Why manufacturers insist on continuing with decades old thought and technology doesn’t fail to irk me, and is, in fact, one of my favourite rants!

With the screws removed, I tried to get my knives to go under it, but it was impossible. So, I pulled out the hair dryer and put it to work. Even with that heat, the knives refused to go under. Each time I tried to force the issue, there was a strange crackling sound.

The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that at some point in the life of the instrument, the bridge had come off and it had been reglued using epoxy resin. What sealed the argument was this stain.

It was a glue residue, left behind in the clean up after a bridge reglue. While it is very apparent on painted and sunburst finishes, it is harder to spot on natural colour finishes.

With the bridge refusing to move, I decided that it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. The little that it was lifting would not increase, at least for some time, I surmised.

What remained were superficial jobs. I began with reaming the bridgepin holes so that the pins sat better in them.

The tansducer pickup was stuck in place so that it didn’t flop around and a second cleaning of the body was undertaken to remove whatever fingerprints the guitar may have collected till now.

Then the fretboard was cleaned and the fretwires shone up, and the fretboard was given some love and a drink of oil.

When everything was squeaky clean, I proceeded to put on these strings on it

However, the action was not very desirable, though not unplayable by any standards.

I leave you with some final images

P.S.: The little plastic packet you see stuck on the shoulder of the guitar contains the screws that came out of it.

 

Guitar repair – A return from the dead for this one?

Sometimes, life presents you with a problem so complex that you’re left scratching your head about where to begin!

Recently, I was accosted by one such problem. It was called EX(tra)L(arge)????

I’ve seen a few guitars that carried signs of carelessness: a saddle that had dropped out, a black bridgepin standing proud among five white ones…But this one amazed me. It had all the tell-tale signs of a guitar that had been stripped (almost at gunpoint) of all that it possessed: saddle, strings, tuning machines, bushings, truss rod cover, heel cap…All that remained were three screws (the photo above) on the face of the headstock that once held the truss rod cover in place, as if to say, ‘Don’t lose heart, we’re still there’!

But these were all little problems. The big one was that it also had a broken neck.

When I tried turning the truss rod, it kept turning without ever catching, leading me to presume that the truss rod was broken too!

When I looked at neck straightness, it was straight, except for the area between the 2nd and the 5th/6th fret. Interestingly, the break in the neck was right under there.

I had no idea what problems putting on strings would present. But for that I needed to have tuning machines.

So, the first order of business was to put on some tuning machines. But then if you know, not all tuning machine screw holes line up. The previous machines used were held down by two screws each, while the ones I was holding needed only a single screw to hold them in place – and those too did not line up.

Then began the long process of plugging those holes and cutting them flush with the surface of the headstock. Likewise the three screws of the truss rod cover were removed and their holes were plugged.

Trying on the tuning machines gave another shock. The holes from the earlier machines were at least 2 mm smaller than what the new tuners needed! I did not have a drill bit of that size (which would have eased my work tremendously), and so, I had to manually enlarge the holes with a reamer.

Each hole took me something like 25 – 30 mins to ream to size, and I could not do them all in one sitting. The holes got reamed over two days.

Once the machines fit in their holes, I marked where the new screw holes needed to be drilled and did that.

And then the machines were screwed in place

Now, the owner wished to have a plastic nut and saddle and I was nobody to argue with that. However, I do not stock plastic spares, so I troubled the owner to get me a plastic saddle.

With the saddle in place, a new set of strings were thrown on just to see how much the break in the neck opened up under string tension. Thankfully, it didn’t open up much. However, the string action was such that you could drive a double-decker through the gap!

Also, I did something I never do: leave strings unclipped at the headstock. There was a reasoning behind it. I would need to unstring the guitar when I was trying to repair the break in the neck. If I didn’t remove them, they were liable to break while clamping, or, in the process of tuning them up.

The strings came off while they remained threaded through the bridge. Glue was pumped into the break in the neck and with the help of strategically placed cauls and some precautions, the whole area was clamped

Helping me in my effort was the humidity. It was nice and dry with 39% moisture in the air.

The set-up was left to cool off, while I concentrated on other things: the saddle for example. If I cut its present height by half that would certainly improve the action, but whether it would make the guitar playable, I wasn’t sure at all. But it had to be done.

After two whole days staying clamped up, I released the clamps on the guitar and the joint seemed solid. However, there was still that extra relief between the 2nd and the 5th/6th fret. With the truss rod broken, I needed to apply external pressure to straighten the neck to the maximum.

When the clamp was released, there was some improvement but not as much as I would have liked to see.

Now, it was the turn of the fretboard to get some attention.

There was only one way to clean the DNA caked on it…

…by giving it a bath with soap and water!

That cleaned, I was ready to give finishing touches to to neck repair. It was flooded with glue,

scraped clean and then the crack was painted over and buffed out

Again the guitar was strung up and tuned to pitch.

And from here on, I don’t have any photographs of the instrument. I got so happy with the results of the glue-up that I forgot to take photos! But I must report that the action had come down quite a bit – certainly not what I would call optimum but not unplayable by any stretch of imagination.

Meanwhile, I also patched up the heel with some pickguard material.

 

Guitar repair – Another Yamaha, expect more problems (down the line)!!

And you all know how much I love the lower end product range of Yamaha, here in India! If you don’t, search for ‘Yamaha’ on this blogsite and read on!

And because I love the F310, F310P and the F280 so much, another one of those landed up on my work table!

It seemed that the young man who brought me the instrument had left it standing a day too long. A cursory inspection revealed that the guitar hadn’t been played much and the only sign that it was more than a couple of years old, was the belt rash (belt buckle scratches) on the back: a photograph of which I forgot to take.

He had brought in the guitar with the ‘e’ and ‘G’ strings broken and the others loose (first photo), and with the complaint that when up to full tension, the action at the 12th fret was “5 mm”!!!

‘5 mm! 5 mm?,’ I asked him incredulously, and he nodded in affirmation.

However, there was no way to check that with the old strings and I had no other option but to work with new ones. The young man chose these

So, the old strings were taken off and while the strings were off, it gave me a chance to get the dirt and grime off areas that seemingly had never been touched before.

Also, while the strings were off, it gave me a chance to look into the belly of the beast. 

Again, I was unable to put my finger on the type of wood used for the bridgeplate, but what really shocked me was the gouge where the ‘A’ string ball-end would rest. It certainly didn’t look like wear, and even if there is an element of doubt, I must say that it looked like a manufacturing defect.

How long before an ‘A’ string ball end chews through the bridgeplate and the top, is hard to say, but yes, it happening is a distinct possibility. And that is why the headline of this post.   

For now, the guitar had been cleaned, polished and oiled, and new strings were thrown on. As is their wont, even new strings are liable to breaking and so, the unlikeliest of all strings – the ‘B’ string broke. That was replaced and the action was measured at the 12th fret.  The young man hadn’t been lying when he called the action at 5 mm. It was very close. Measurements were taken on the bass and treble sides, some arithmetic and some numbers were arrived at.

The strings were loosened and the saddle was pulled out. The numbers arrived at were transferred to the saddle. This amount had to be removed from the saddle. Now, remember this was a plastic saddle we were working with. A bone saddle I could easily have thrown on my sanding machine and be done with in a matter of seconds. A plastic saddle needed more care because the high speed of the machine heats and melts the saddle more than cuts it.

And so it was sanding by hand, using elbow grease.

Some 20 minutes later, the saddle was ready to be tried on the guitar. I did and the action was near perfect. (My math teacher from school would have been proud!) 

And of course, the final look at the instrument

When the owner came to pick up the guitar, I think his comment was ‘Feels like a whole new instrument, man!’

I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you!

 

Guitar repair – Getting stuck in a Vault, mending it!

Recently, I received a call asking me if I would look at an acoustic guitar with a belly. I said that I most certainly would, but added that my efforts to reduce it may or may not succeed.

Despite the disclaimer, the young man – actually a chef at a city hotel – landed up with his guitar.

However, the belly was far less than what I had been given to understand. But I did peep inside to take a look at the bridgeplate and its surroundings to check if there were some loose braces.

From what I saw, I wasn’t pleased. The bridgeplate seemed to have been fashioned out of the first piece of wood that the manufacturer laid his hands on. It wasn’t a hard wood and it wasn’t maple (or at least the varieties I recognise). If the bridgeplate and the belly stays the way it is for a few more years, I’d concede and say that it was made out of stable material. Right now, I am very hesitant to make that claim.

However, there was a different problem that needed tackling. The bridge of the guitar was lifting and thus, the action had got raised. Again, though the action was high, it was not unplayable.

So, I explained to the owner the actual problem with the instrument and he gave his go-ahead to tackle it. Also, I told him that there were a couple of ways to handling it: I could try and push glue under the bridge and clamp it shut, which may or may not work, or, I could go the proper way, pull the bridge off, clean its underside, clean its footprint on the top of the guitar and then glue it back on. He understood the issue and chose that the problem be fixed properly.

He also pointed out that he experienced string buzz at a few places along the neck. As I checked it, the neck was straight and indeed, there were a few fretwires that were standing up.

Further, he pointed out that the tuning machines on the bass side were very stiff, and indeed, I had to use pliers to get them to turn. I told the owner that I would oil the machines and see if it helps, otherwise, he may need to get the set replaced.

After he left, I got working, and the first order of business was the bridge – taking it off. Out came the pallete knives, the heat gun and whatever else. As I slowly worked my way under the bridge, the odd but familiar crackling sound of the adhesive breaking up filled me with a kind of fear. Super Glue?

Indeed it was super glue. Once the bridge came off I could plainly see the tell-tale shiny streaks.

And because it was superglue, there was damage too, to the top.

Some part of the bridge was left stuck on the top, while wood fibres had lifted off the top, which needed to be stuck back in place.

In the last photograph you can distinctly see the margin of finish left under the bridge, which keeps the bridge from adhering properly to the top. This needed to be cleaned, as also the rest of the footprint of the bridge and the underside of the bridge.

I began by just cleaning the margin of the bridge footprint.

Then the rest of the bridge footprint was cleaned from the top

And then it was the turn of the bridge itself

The last photograph shows the bridge cleaned of all super glue. The scratch marks that are seen on it have been intentionally put on it so that the glue has some space to get in and thus, the ‘glue-up’ is that much stronger and more effective.

After the clamping, I left the guitar undisturbed for 48 hours. Meanwhile, there were other things that could be done while the bridge was being glued to the top.

I cleaned up the fretboard and rubbed the tarnish off the fretwires. Earlier, I worked on the fretwires that had risen and were causing a buzz.

Also, now was the time to work on the tuning machines, tighten the bushings on the headstock and the sort.

The tuning machines were oiled and left overnight for the oil to seep in. The next day when I tried them, they turned well for a while but then got difficult to turn again. I was all set to tell the owner that he would have to replace those, but thought of taking off the tuner buttons and oiling the shaft too. Miraculously, that cured them of their malady.

It being time to take off the clamps, I took those off and let the guitar rest.

I had even convinced the owner to get a bone nut and saddle installed instead of the man-made set which had been factory-installed. I put in the new nut, knowing I would need to take it down for the action to be good at the 1st fret.

You may have noticed that I had not taken off the old strings. While I put in the bone nut and saddle, these old strings helped me reach very near where I needed to be with string height.

   

I leave you with one last look at the guitar

Guitar repair – Cut ‘n’ replace strings one by one or all at once?

This question was put to me again by a steel-string guitar owner, and I don’t blame the questioner. There are as many opinions on this as there are guitarists or guitars!!!

But shall we put this debate to rest, once and for all?

IT’S PERFECTLY SAFE TO CUT ALL THE STRINGS ON YOUR WESTERN FLAT-TOP (STEEL STRING) GUITAR AT ONE GO!

So, how did the doubt arise in the first place?

The Western flat-top guitar, as we know it, is a contemporary cousin of the Classical Guitar (Spanish Guitar), having evolved from it. The Classical Guitar – having its origins in the Lute and the Arabian Oud – acquired its final shape by the 1790s.

Classical and flamenco guitars historically used catgut strings, but these have been superseded by nylon. Catgut is a type of cord that is prepared from the natural fiber found in the walls of animal intestines. Catgut makers usually use sheep or goat intestines, but occasionally use the intestines of cattle, hogs, horses, mules, or donkeys. Despite the name, catgut is not made from cat intestines.

Classical Guitars were never constructed with a truss rod (which keeps the neck from bowing out of shape and gives relief to the neck) because the catgut strings never exerted as much tension as steel strings do. Ditto, nylon strings. And so, traditional wisdom said that while replacing strings on a Classical Guitar, strings should be replaced one at a time, to prevent the sudden loss in tension from misshaping the neck.

Notice, there is no mention of a truss rod or a truss rod cover.

That knowledge continued to hold sway with the advent of Western Flat-top/Folk Guitars, even though they had a static steel rod or a truss rod in their necks to take the strain of the steel strings, and the same misinformation/lack of information keeps getting perpetuated by internet users even today.

So, to conclude, you can easily cut off all strings on a steel string guitar without fear of damaging the neck because it has a truss rod in it to maintain its shape. But one has to be careful while changing strings on a classical guitar.

 

Guitar repair – No string artwork on the headstock!

Rave alert!

I have raved about it before and I will repeat myself for – two reasons – reader memory is short, and yours truly was, himself, reminded of this malpractice when more than a couple of guitars walked into the Garage with monstrosities like this staring at him from the headstock. 

It was frightening!

 

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the extra length of string is provided by the manufacturer just in case you have a guitar with a tail-piece (see below).

Never was the extra length of string provided for you to try and challenge the genius of #thestringartguy. Also, just because it is there, does not mean that you have to wrap all of it around your string post. 

NEVER!!!!!!!!!

2.5 turns on wound strings and 4 – 5 on the unwound ones is all your instrument needs to sound its best and sweetest! 

Now, let us see what all that extra length of string does, besides being ever ready to prick you.

A situation arises when you pluck/play your guitar which has any length of string hanging out from the tunning post. The hanging (or coiled) bit of string tries to pick up the frequency of the note you played, and begins to vibrate to it, causing an irritating buzz like sound. In guitarese (guitar lingo), we call it a sympathetic buzz. 

Only the experienced ear will be able to realise that it is the extra string vibrating, while most will go hunting for the buzz on each fret of the neck! 

Winding the entire length of the string onto the tuning post may present tuning issues, and you will be left scratching your head why your guitar won’t stay in tune.    

Until next time!

Guitar repair – Getting Alhambra in tune again!

You all might remember this one from some time back. It returned recently for a change of tuning machine sets. The owner was not happy with the tuning machines and also the crumbling buttons on them.

If you don’t remember the earlier visit by this instrument, you can read about it here

Guitar repair – A novel problem in a classical Alhambra!

As you can see, otherwise, the guitar was in very good shape, being kept well.

However, the tuning machine set on the treble side was causing problems. As I looked at it closely, I discovered tell-tale signs of efforts to unscrew the set. The screwhead closest to the ‘e’ string tuning machine was all worn out – a sure sign that a much larger screwdriver had been employed to open the small screw.

Also, it was evident that when the screw could not be removed, someone had tried to prise out the machine set by slipping in something between the set and the headstock. Try and notice the area of the tuning machine assembly around the ‘e’ string tuning machine and you will know what I am talking about.

Thankfully, when that too failed, it seemed further efforts were not made.

However, the owner knew nothing about it. When accosted, he said that since the instrument had been previously owned, maybe, it was the other owner who may have tried a few things.

The owner also requested that the strings on the guitar be retained. That was a problem. Trying to string a classical guitar is a problem in itself. Trying to unwind strings from classical guitar tuning machines is a bigger problem. But since the owner had requested, it had to be done.

With the strings and tuning machine screws off, the three-in-one sets of machines came off easily. As I tried on the new set of tuners, I wasn’t surprised to note that the screw holes in them and those drilled on the headstock of the guitar did not match up…they rarely do!

So, I filled out the old holes with wood dowels and drilled new holes

And the rest was smooth.

If I leave you with the photographs, you’ll be able to make out the rest of the story.

 

 

Guitar repair – Making ‘Sire’ sing again!

A return customer brought me this to set the action on, for a set-up, and “do whatever I deemed fit”. I was struck by its beauty – especially the bridgepins

, but the action on the guitar was decidedly high,

while the nut slots were cut too deep

In fact, the B string was caught in its slot, sounding muted each time it was plucked.

This is my second encounter with a Sire and the more I see of it, the more I’m impressed by it. If you would like to read about my first encounter, it’s here

Guitar repair – My encounter with a Sire!

As I pulled off the strings and began to work on the instrument, I was convinced that the nut and the saddle were plastic or some synthetic material, but I was wrong. They were really of bone.

So, I marked off the portion on the saddle I thought needed to be taken off and shaved it down. Likewise, I shaved the nut but this I did from the top. After this, I had to refile each slot and then reshape the nut.

Before I put on new strings, there were other things that needed attention: the fretboard for example. There was quite a bit of dirt deposited on it. Also, the fretwires had begun to develop grooves in them.

After I was through and the fretboard and the bridge had been cleaned and oiled, they looked like this

It was time to put new strings now.  The strings used were provided by the owner

  

All that work on the nut had been successful, for the B string was ringing true and was no longer getting pinched in the slot.

Also, minor irritants like scratches on the body and snugging up/loosening of the tuning machines were taken care of 

Here is one last look at the beauty. The owner was pleased with the results.

 

 

Guitar repair – 13s or 11s? Which one should I use?

That was the point of conversation with a return customer.

I will try my best to explain to you my answer that I gave him – as to all those who ask me. And in case it didn’t strike you, we are talking about string gauges.

 

13s (.013″ – .052/.054/.056″)

These are BIG strings (but in the industry they are referred to as ‘Medium’ strings!) and naturally they give a bigger bang for their buck.

However, they are a bigger strain all round – on the joints of the guitar, as well as on your fingers, on the bridge, the top…

These are essentially to be played by people who play rhythm, and do so on Dreadnought and Jumbo models. Those are the only two models that I would suggest for this gauge of string because those two models are built to take that kind of strain. The response you get then from these models, when 13s are put on them, is extra volume and sustain.

One thing I can tell you from personal experience is that once you get used to playing 13s, it will be very difficult to switch to a lighter gauge string. As far as the thickness of strings is concerned and whether they are a problem to play, no! Except for the ‘B’ string – the single thickest steel string on your guitar – I doubt you will even feel that you’re playing 13-gauge strings.

A dreadnought guitar body
A dreadnought usually has a body depth between 3.75″ and 4.75″.

Irrespective of what shopkeepers lead you to believe, these are what Jumbo models of guitars look like. But even on Dreadnought and Jumbo guitars, one should not put on 13s if the instrument is developing a belly, if the neck angle is changing, or if you have a problem with the joints of your fingers. Also desist from using 13s on Dreadnought and Jumbo guitar models of manufacturers you’ve never heard of.

NEVER…EVER…put 13s on any other model of guitar!

 

11s (.011″ – .047/.049/.050″)

These are the happy medium of string gauges. They do not sound tinny but sound equally good whether you play lead or rhythm. Perfect for the hybrid player.

What’s more, the strain on the instrument and your fingers is not the same as the 13s would exert.

And after all is said and done, there’s personal choice and preference. Nothing beats that!

Guitar repair – The belly bulge: whys and wherefores?

Happy New Year, folks! I’m back!

Of late, I have had to tend to a slew of belly bulge cases. I hope to replicate for you all the explanation of the whys and wherefores that I usually give guitar owners.

 

What is a belly bulge?

A belly bulge is said to have occurred in an acoustic guitar when the area of its top behind the bridge – towards the end block – swells up and rises. Try and imagine: the strings are pulling that portion of the top towards the headstock and along comes the belly bulge aiding the strings. As a consequence of the ‘double strain’, it is not uncommon to find that the bridge gets twisted out of shape.

Also, in keeping with Newton’s Third Law of Motion, the equal and opposite reaction to the belly bulge, the areas alongside the soundhole are forced to sink.

What these three things do together, is force the action of the guitar up to unplayable levels. If the instrument is kept under the continued strain of tensioned strings, the problem is bound to compound, the least of which is the bridge pulling up too.

 

What causes a belly bulge?

There are a few reasons for your guitar beginning to sport a belly. The first among these is an

  • Inadequately sized or inappropriate material bridgeplate

The bridgeplate is the heart of your instrument and its job is to counter the pull of the strings and lend stability to the top. If it is small in size, it won’t be able to do its job properly. In fact, it is quite likely that it will suffer a similar fate like the one in the above photograph. Think of a six-foot man with a small heart. The poor heart may be overworked and will fail at some point.

Also, if the bridgeplate is of inappropriate material, it will fail sooner rather than later. In India, mid-segment guitars – even those manufactured by a big Japanese name – bridgeplates of inappropriate material is a common problem. This is because manufacturers wish to cut manufacturing costs and increase profit margins as much as they can. And so, they fashion bridgeplates out of whatever wood they they first lay hands on.

Within a few months of purchase, such instruments start sporting a belly, and from then on, the problem only multiplies.

What you want to see is a bridgeplate made of a hard wood – rosewood, mahogany, walnut, padauk, and maybe, maple – that is capable of soaking the pressure of the strings, remain stable and keep the top stable too.

The photograph below shows the position of the bridgeplate, gives an idea of the correct size, as also its material. From the looks of it, this seems to be a healthy, rosewood bridgeplate.

  • Inappropriate string size

If you buy a proper guitar from a brand name, you can be assured that either in the owner’s manual or on the internet, you’ll find the specifications of your instrument. Among the specifications, you’ll find the prescribed string gauge for that particular model. Now, you can easily go a gauge higher or a gauge lower, but no more and no less.

Medium strings on orchestra models (OMs) or parlour guitars will wreck the instrument and XL strings on Dreadnought/Jumbo  models will never be able to evoke the same kind of response from the instrument, which it is capable of giving.

 

  • Leaving strings tensioned for long

Leaving the strings under tension for a long time (a month or more) is the single most destructive thing you can do to your acoustic guitar. It affects all the joints of the guitar, right from the headstock to the end block, and affects the bridge area – which bears the maximum strain – the most.

The bridge and the bridgeplate resist the string tension to a certain point after which they give up and from that point a belly steadily forming can easily be noticed.

 

  • Cracked/broken/loose braces

The bracing on the underside of the top of your guitar is there to support the soft wood (spruce, cedar), in the absence of which the top would immediately distort and collapse under string tension.

In case any of the braces get loose/broken/cracked, they become incapable of doing the job that they were meant to do. Unless the faulty brace is fixed quickly, there is a belly bulge coming soon.

 

Tackling a belly bulge

Here, I feel it pertinent to record that ALL acoustic guitars – irrespective of brand and size – will develop a belly over time. However, while a guitar costing Rs 1,00,000 ($1200) will develop a belly in some 1.5 – 2 decades, a Rs 10,000 ($120) guitar may develop it in a matter of few months. Also, while the belly in the former may be slight, the belly in the latter may be enough to require intervention.   

 

  • The rap exercise

In a bid to rule out a problem with the braces, it is advised that you hold up your guitar to your ear and rap the top at various spots on the top and the back with the fleshiest part of your fingertips. If you hear a second sound, an ‘echo’ of the rap, it means the brace nearest to the spot of the rap is either broken, or loose. If all other factors are normal, rectifying the brace may arrest the development of the belly.

(And for that I am at your service)!!!!!!!!!  

Watching the string tension – tuning down your instrument half a step or a full step – when you know you will not be playing it for a month or more, goes a long way in maintaining the health of your guitar.

 

 

 

 

 

Guitar repair – Strings: Which ones are the best for me?

And, we return to that eternal question!

I have dwelt upon this before (in the very early days of this blog) but since I have to explain to (almost) every customer which string would suit their style (and guitar) the best, I thought that I would put my thoughts down again for the benefit of the larger audience.

If you care to read the earlier post on strings, you can do so here:

Which strings to use; how often to change

So, which strings you use is dictated by a few things: the guitar you play (its construction), your playing style, whether those strings will be played under amplification or unplugged, and whether your guitar has a neck or a belly problem. Let’s go over each of these in a bit more detail but with the following thoughts in mind, that these are a) my thoughts, and b) there are exceptions to every rule.

 

The Guitar

The size and shape of the guitar is the primary factor while choosing strings, for the bigger the size of the guitar, bigger should be the strings that go on it; and vice versa holds true too.

Consider a Dreadnought model from any brand. The model got its name from the World War I battleship ‘HMS Dreadnought’, introduced in 1906 and was all-guns, huge and the most modern at that time. Modern guitar pioneers CF Martin and Co have the credit for the design of the guitar they named ‘Dreadnought’ which they introduced in the markets in 1916.

So, if you are holding a guitar that is built like a battleship, and put on size 10 strings (.010″) on it, you are asking a tiger to purr!!!!!!!!!

If you have a dreadnought guitar and all other factors are under control, I prescribe size 12 (.012″) strings for it, for the guitar is built to take the strain of 12s. If it is a Martin, Taylor or a Guild, I might hazard suggesting that you use size 13 (.013″), because, generally speaking, these guitar brands are head and shoulders above the rest. Yes, those are big strings, but while playing those, you will only feel the ‘B’ string bite, for it is the single, thickest steel string. Yes, there is greater strain on the neck of the guitar, but once you get used to the bang you get out of 13s, I doubt you will ever be able to go any lower.

If it is a jumbo guitar (think Gibson/Epiphone SJ200), 13s it is, most certainly.

A parlour guitar/OM model, on the other hand, I would not hazard going above size 11 (.011″).

And size 10 would be perfect for it because it is not a performance guitar but more of a personal instrument that you’re supposed to sit in a parlour and play. Even if you play a parlour guitar  on stage, I would still go with 10s, but with amplification. It all boils down to how the guitar is constructed and how much strain it can take.

 

Playing style

Often, I’ve had customers tell me that they play lead and so they prefer 10s (or even 9s), or that they are comfortable playing those gauges. What such people fail to understand is that they are getting just 50% out of a dreadnought instrument by playing those gauges.

Playing styles (finger style or plectrum player) don’t dictate string gauges, but most certainly how the instrument is set-up. The string gauge is decided by the size and construction of the guitar.

However, if you are a finger-style player only, a lighter gauge string will help.

 

Exceptions

The exception to the above rules are 12-string guitars. Even if it is a Super Jumbo you’re playing, the tension of the 12 strings acting on the neck and top of your guitar will exert so much pressure that if you wish your guitar to live and serve you long, you better not go over Size 10 strings.

 

A guitar with problems

If you have an instrument that has either a belly bulge or a neck that has risen over time, you would be well served to have lower gauge strings on it. However, first, get the problem tackled. If you have an instrument that you love very much, or, is a big name guitar, get that neck reset or belly bulge corrected, expensive though it may be.

Thereafter, if the manufacturer prescribes that you use 12s on your guitar, go a string gauge down, to keep the problem in check.

Talking about manufacturers, follow the string specifications prescribed for your guitar in the instrument brochure. However, you can comfortably go up or down one gauge.

 

Problems?

For any problem that you are facing with your guitar (set-up, belly, neck issues), feel free to get in touch with me here, or phone (70804 75556) and WhatsApp.

Guitar repair – A bridge glue-up in October (It went well)!

The last time, I had announced that I shall no longer do (any) glue-up jobs between July and September and that I would welcome these jobs October onwards.

This bridge-glue-up job came in October when the humidity gods were more benevolent,

but this was an odd one.

Obviously, it had been standing lonely in a corner of some forsaken room. You can make that out from the missing ferrules of the D and G string tuners. It had developed a handsome belly bulge and the bridge had started to come off.

Wisely or not, the owner had taken it upon himself to take off the strings, as also the bridge!!!!

He brought it to me thus.

I marked the outline of the bridge and you can see what portion of the bridge was stuck to the finish under it.

But first the belly had to be dealt with. Over two clamped sittings of 48 hours each, the belly seemed to disappear, permanently or not, only time will tell. Here are a few photographs of the time it spent staying clamped over the four days.

Then I turned my attention to the footprint of the bridge, clearing all the unneeded finish that was under the bridge.

But that is just half the job done. The other half entailed cleaning the bridge. But as I started cleaning it, flakes or white powder covered my hands and clothes. Super glue!!

After I was done with cleaning the bridge, I checked for warp in it, considering that it was stuck to a bellied top. Sure enough, there was quite a bit of curvature in it. Sanding it out would mean thinning the bridge down to a ghost of itself.

Instead, I decided to put a new bridge in place of the old one.

The only problem with that was that the new one was a few millimetres smaller than the original which threw the bridgepin holes on the top and the new bridge out of whack. The way out: plug the holes in the top and redrill them to match the ones in the bridge.

That done, it was time to glue up the bridge.

It was now the turn to set up the guitar and it began with neck straightness.

I forgot to click a photograph of it, but at some point in the life of the guitar, the D and G tuning machines got spoilt and were replaced with some very ordinary open-gear tuning machines. These were the type where the ferrules are just pushed in from the top and are not screwed onto the rest of the tuning machine. In fact, the person changing out the machines had not even bothered to drill new holes and had screwed on the new machines in the old holes. As a result, the machine heads were tilted to one side, making turning them a pain. Since I had not been asked to touch those, I replaced the the ferrules and was done with it. 

As I strung up the guitar (with the old strings that the owner had given me), I could make out that the action would be more than double of what I would like to see. So, the saddle needed to be cut in half to get me near tolerable action.

I did what I had to but still the action wasn’t as good as I would have liked it. But there was nothing more to be done.

More importantly, the owner was happy that his guitar was playable again.

 

 

Guitar repair – Pain in the season of fails: the final chapter!

I had been noticing for a couple of years now that each year, during July and August, all glue-up jobs would take two or three tries to get done. I always attributed it to my fault somewhere in the process.

However, after two guitars this year led me quite a dance in the said two months, it suddenly struck me that it was not I but the weather that was to blame. And it had been the weather all along.

With the epiphany came the decision: NO MORE GLUE-UP JOBS IN JULY, AUGUST & SEPTEMBER!!!!!!

I guess that’s fair warning enough for all you readers and prospective clients that next year onwards, Lucknow Guitar Garage will not accept glue-up jobs in these three months. I will be happy to accept these repairs October onwards.

Out of the two guitars, one absolutely refused to be healed and had to be returned almost the way it came. Remember this?

Guitar repair – Pain in the season of fails

The saga of the other guitar follows.

This guitar came in: a simple case of bridge lifting and needing to be taken off and reglued.

It took me FOUR attempts and almost a month, no less, to get the bridge to finally hold on to the top. What I was doing wrong all the while and what I did right eventually, I don’t know.

Might I add that this was an outstation instrument and I even had to suffer the embarrassment of having called the owner to pick up his guitar, only to find the bridge yawning at me.

First time around, I took off the strings, made the owner choose new strings, told him that the artificial nut and saddle won’t do; change them to bone.

I took the bridge off and indeed not all of its footprint on the top had been cleared. Also, super glue (CA glue) had been used to keep the two together.

After both surfaces were cleaned of all the remanent of glue, good, old-fashioned wood glue was smeared over the two mating surfaces and clamped shut.

Now, I understood that being the rainy season, it would require longer for the glue to cure, and so I left the clamps on for three whole days.

In the meantime, I did the other stuff: measuring

cleaning and burnishing

putting in the bone elements and new strings

Set up the guitar to near perfection with an action so low that it even amazed me.

And after two days of staying under string tension, the bridge gave up!

The next three attempts were pretty much of the same, except I did a few things more, or, employed a different route. Nothing seemed to work. A scraper bought from the Stewart MacDonald too failed to get me success in the job.

I leave you with photographs of some of the different things that I tried.

On the third attempt, I even tried to straighten the slightly curved bridge by sanding the curve out of it. The first three photos describe that. The fourth is the Stewmac scraper.

In conclusion and to reiterate,  NO MORE GLUE-UP JOBS IN JULY, AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER!

 

 

 

Guitar repair – even the easy jobs ain’t easy!

This guitar came in while I was still getting back from a bruising bout with viral fever, and trying to dig myself out from under mountains of work that had piled up all around the house!

This had to be a quick job as it had to be returned to the owner fast. He had a gig upcoming and the action on the guitar was  very high, he said.

Even without taking off the strings, I could make out that the fretboard had never seen a cloth. When I took the strings off – which, incidentally, weren’t too old – I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw

The fretboard took the most time to clean, but when the deposit came off, the fretboard shone – though with a bit of magic potion.

Then I moved my attention, bridgeside. This instrument was electro-acoustic guitar, and so, while removing the saddle, I was mindful of the piezo element lying underneath.

Yes, the saddle and the nut were plastic and the saddle was particularly chewed up but the owner was not interested in changing them.

However, manufacturers have a bad habit of installing a shim underneath the element which does little else except raise the action on the instrument.

To check, I lifted the element, and there it was

In all the above photographs you may see strings hanging around. Those are the strings the guitar came with, and I let them be so that I could work the action down and keep loosening and tightening strings without fear of breaking them. Now, when I tuned up the guitar, the action was perfect.

Now all that remained was to string up the guitar with fresh new strings and hand the instrument back to the owner.

The owner’s choice of strings

And it was time for this Tanglewood to sing.

And now, why I chose that particular photograph to head this post. It seems that the owner broke the G string on the guitar at some point and had to replace it.

Two things on this development:

  1. When a string breaks and you need to replace it in a hurry, do it. However, change the set of strings and put in a fresh set of strings at the earliest. If you don’t, the old strings will vibrate at one frequency and the new one at its own. This is particularly true of wound strings.
  2. Even if you change strings mid-gig, clip off the excess length. Don’t leave it standing out there, blowing in the breeze, to poke you or someone else. Please invest in a small pair of snippers and keep it in your guitar case. Extra length of string left unclipped is never a good idea, for besides the injury angle, it may give rise to sympathetic buzz.

Guitar repair – There are repairs that you shouldn’t undertake!

I am all for you doing maintenance work on your guitars. Those of you who have met me must recall the list of dos and don’ts that I have postered and which I insist that you take a photograph of and follow.

The aim of the #lucknowguitargarage – the workshop as well as the blog – is to acquaint you with every part of your guitar and help you ‘Mend, Maintain & Modify’ your guitars by your own hand. However, there are a few things that I insist that you don’t undertake. These include reglueing headstock/neck breaks and lifting bridges. 

It’s like this: Not all of you have an idea about glues and which glue would be best suited for a job. Yes, Super Glue is a great glue for things that don’t have to move all the time, but certainly not for things like glueing bridges to tops of guitars. Thing is that Super Glue is a strong but a brittle glue and the bridge will never ‘stay on’. When it does begin to come off, it would have remnants of the glue on the top and on the underside of the bridge which is very, very difficult to clean. More often than not, if ample amount of glue has been used, it will seep into the wood and then you can keep digging into the wood to get to the last of the glue.

With wood glue – even though it can be cleaned with water – broken headstocks and necks once joined (wrongly) will never be able to be corrected because the glue has got in between the wood fibers and getting all of it out is near impossible.

The fun part is that unless every bit of the old glue is removed, the new glue will not hold and the break will come apart again.

If you do not wish to spend the money and get the job done properly, or, if you have that unsatiable urge to do it yourself, COME TO ME…we will have a talk and I will guide you on how to go about a particular job, what glue to use, and how long to leave the break under clamp pressure. 

Just a little rant in the hope that I do not have to face a situation where I am left cleaning dried glue from breaks for days!

Next week a longer, better, and a more wholesome post! 

 

Guitar repair – Hoping JnR has a long life!

After the travel-sized adventure with the LAG, came another travel-sized guitar: JnR.

Though newish, it was in for general maintenance, some strings, but primarily for action correction.

The problem with cheaper guitars is their construction quality becomes evident very soon in their lives.

Right off the bat, I noticed that the (plastic) saddle was not the right length for the slot cut for it.

Why is this so wrong? Because the longer the saddle, better is the transfer of energy from saddle to bridge to top, improving sound quality and sustain.

Earlier Martin guitars used to sport what we refer to as a ‘through saddle’.

They were excellent creations but had to be done away with in time due to the amount of work that went into creating that perfect blend of bone/ivory merging into the wood of the bridge.

Anyway, evolutionary casualties of guitar construction aside, a saddle that does not fit its slot perfectly is bad for the instrument, both by way of sustain as well as intonation (if the saddle is thin and slot larger, making it tilt under string tension).

The owner understood the logic that I gave him and agreed to my suggestion that a proper-sized bone saddle and nut replace the plastic elements on the instrument.

However, as I began to work on the instrument and tried to take the bridgepins out, the one holding the ‘E’ string refused to budge. After much fighting, it came out but that is not the way it should be. So, I decided to ream the holes so that the bridgepins would fit just right and not be a problem.

And as I discovered, except for the ‘e’ string, all pins were tight for their holes.

Thereafter, measurements were taken and transferred to the new bone saddle and nut. Still working with old strings, I found that though the neck was straight, the action needed to come down a lot. 

Again strings were loosened, the saddle was pulled out and shaved, and the process repeated till I had the action where it should be. However, in the process, the saddle lost most of its height and much of the break angle.

I explained to the owner that this was the very extreme that one could take the saddle to, and if now, if he ever needed to bring down the saddle, we would have to cut string ramps in the bridge to give some semblance of a break angle to the strings.

Again the strings were taken off and the fretboard and bridge were shown some TLC. Here’s what the fretboard looked like after all the attention. The view of the bridge you already have above.

That done, just before fresh, new strings were put on, the hardware on the headstock was checked and tuning machine buttons were either loosened or tightened to turn easily.

With the strings, this baby looked like this- and played just fine.

  

 

 

Guitar repair – Joy setting up this LAG orchestra model!

A few years ago, I had repaired a guitar which I had never even heard of. The owner had told me LAG was a French company which had begun production in India and the instrument in my hand was among the first few guitars of the company in India.

Hugely interested by that fact, I repaired the guitar…

With a shattered top, is it ‘Bye-bye, Beauty’?

and as I went through the instrument with a fine-tooth comb, I also decided to review it

Wait, save, buy – the LAGT88D (a review)

Convinced by my ravings about LAG guitars, a return customer decided to buy one, though not the Dreadnought model (T88D) that I had raved about but a travel sized guitar – Travel-SPE.

A beautiful little thing and packing quite a bit of punch.

The owner had brought it in for a general look-up, some maintenance and a change of strings. However, I did notice that the action on it was high – strange – for this instrument was hardly a year old.

The old strings were taken off and all those inaccessible areas (due to the strings) were dusted and cleaned. Special attention was paid to the fretboard and the fretwires. The hardware on the headstock was checked and snugged-up.

Talking about fretboards and necks, I did check the relief in it and it was dead straight.

To reduce the action, the saddle needed to be shaved, and it was.

The owner had provided strings to put on.

Once I was done, the saddle was considerably lower as was the action.

I leave you with some last pics of the work done.

 

P.S: If you wish to read about the specifications of the Travel-SPE, here they are:

https://www.lagguitars.com/en_IN/products/travel-guitars-travel-guitar-solid-engelmann-spruce-top-electro-gla-travel-spe