Guitar repair – Get the most out of your old guitar

Remember the sound of your guitar when you first brought it home. Over time, changing geometries on that guitar due to string tension, fluctuating weather conditions, and some bad habits cause that sound to disappear.

Now that it has lost its mojo, you would be forgiven to believe that your guitar is past its prime and it is time to find a replacement.

WAIT! Is there something you can do, or not do, to get your old guitar’s mojo back? There most certainly is!

The following list has been compiled in order of priority.


  • Get a good set-up

You need a set-up as soon as you buy a new guitar, and then, at least one every year from then on.

A good set-up sets up the instrument to your playing style. You may be able to play a new guitar to a certain degree of ease, but it would be nothing as compared to one that is set up just for you. Think of the process as how a factory-made shirt is stitched to general specifications and looks okay on you. Then you get one tailor-made to your specifications. How good would that one look in comparison!

After you get an initial set-up, why do you need consequent annual set-ups? If you live in a part of the world which sees all kinds of weather, like we do here in Lucknow and Uttar Pradesh (India), you may actually be served well if you get two set-ups a year!

A clear indication that it is time to get a set-up is if your action rises or falls dramatically in a short period of time. In fact, it is a good idea to have a spare set of a nut and saddle in your guitar case – one which you can swap as and when the weather demands it.

The Lucknow Guitar Garage specialises in set-ups. Come and experience a professional set-up that is suited to YOUR style of playing. Come with a friend or acquaintance who has a different playing style and see how that set-up changes for him/her.


  • Get a bone saddle and nut


Almost as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, manufacturers will route for plastic, Tusq, micarta, Nu-bone – all artificial, man-made – material for saddle and nut. Why? It costs less! Exception to the rule may be instruments costing Rs 18-20K ($200 – $220) and above.

When the guitar is new and everything is in shape, its projection even with a plastic saddle and nut may be good. Once things start going out of whack, you need bone elements to breathe fresh life into the instrument. Why bone? Because it is the single natural densest and affordable thing known to man. There are other denser, naturally occurring things (like ivory) which few can afford.

Being dense and durable, bone elements will naturally accentuate whatever properties your guitar possesses. However, there is a slight leaning of the bone towards the bright side. So, if your guitar is normally bright-sounding, it will get brighter, and if your guitar has an excellent bass response, you will discover that it will get pronounced WITH some degree of brightness being lent to the tone.

At the Lucknow Guitar Garage, customers are always encouraged to try out bone elements. Of all the customers who took the advice, never has one returned to say that the change in volume and quality of sound is not appreciable!


  • Get yourself new strings

One cannot emphasise enough the power of new strings. Most recording artistes will change their strings just before a recording because nothing beats the bell-like clarity that new strings provide. Yes, new strings need to be ‘stretched out’ for them to stay in tune, but that is easy.

When to change strings? That is a very subjective question and depends upon how long you play each day. The more you play, the earlier you need to change strings – extra long life, treated, with moon dust – whatever they say on the label.

Let me give you a simple thumb rule that I follow: ten hours of practise daily means new strings should be put on in three weeks; eight hours of practise, 1 month; six hours, five weeks; four hours, six weeks; two hours, seven weeks; 30 minutes daily, eight weeks; 15 minutes daily, 10 weeks; off and on, 12 weeks.


  • Get cleaning that guitar

One thing that I regularly see (with my customers at least) is that out of, say, 10 customers, only 1.5 take the time and the effort to properly clean the guitar. Yes, you can clean it everyday but that is just the top you’re dusting. Remember a deposit of any kind on your guitar hampers the sound it can create.

The headstock, the fretboard, the area between the soundhole and bridge that falls under the string, the bridge…when and how do you clean those? The ideal time to clean these areas is when you are changing strings. Take off the old strings and first clean with a dry but soft cloth (preferably an old cotton t-shirt or a banyan). If you find a stubborn deposit, you can always wet a portion of the cloth and have a go with the wet cloth. However, do dry off the area that you wet.

You’ll be surprised at what a difference a deep-clean can make.


  •   Get those strings loose

Decidedly, not all of us play for 10 hours daily. Most of us (including me) skip days in between before we pick up the guitar. Sometimes, it is after a few months that we remember that we had stood up a guitar in some corner, somewhere! This is when the most damage to your guitar takes place.

With almost 80kg of force being exerted by string tension and nothing to counter it, the geometry of your guitar is bound to change. Each episode of the guitar left standing tuned to pitch alters your guitar a little more. When you keep playing the instrument, the movement of the top somehow counters and distributes the force of the strings, which otherwise act only in one direction – trying to fold the guitar in two.

You wish to gift life to your guitar, see that you loosen the strings – not completely but tuned down a step or two – each time you know that you will not be playing the guitar for three weeks or more.

At the Lucknow Guitar Garage I have seen umpteen instruments that were left standing with strings tuned. Most I was able to resurrect but there were some which were beyond salvaging. Of course, the lockdowns during the pandemic played a huge part. But now that we are past that do take care of your guitars.

For all the help that you need, there is Lucknow Guitar Garage!

Guitar repair – Fretwire munch: whys & wherefores?

Those grooves/notches/divots/pits that you see in the fretwire of your guitar is a natural consequence of you playing it.

There are reasons why they may appear sooner on your guitar and not as soon on your friend’s guitar, and there are ways in which you can delay them forming.

The following post is an effort to explain what these indentations do, how they are caused and some remedies so that you are able to delay them forming.



#Type of fretwire used

The material of the fretwire, naturally, plays a huge role in determining how soon divots appear on them. Cupro-nickle, EVO Gold and stainless steel are the three most popular types of materials used. To understand them, Cupro-nickle is the cheapest and the softest and thus given to pitting quite easily. Stainless steel is the hardest,  lasts longest and is the most expensive for working with SS fretwire takes a huge toll on the tools you use to cut and shape them. EVO Gold falls somewhere in between the two – both in terms of hardness and pricing. It also lasts longer than Cupro-nickle but lesser than SS. However, look-wise, Cupro-nickle and SS fretwire is pretty similar.

#Using a capo

Besides normal playing, a capo is known to hasten the formation of these grooves on the fretwire of your guitar, if you regularly use a capo at a particular fret. When a capo clamps down on a fret, it makes the strings (particularly the plain, steel strings) dig into the nearest fretwire.

#Using a bottleneck

Slide players are also known to develop pits sooner on the fretwire of their guitar. The reason for it is that the bottleneck naturally increases the weight on the strings, and then as in the case of the capo, the pressure of the strings causes dents in the fretwire.

#String gauge

A larger gauge string will always cause pitting faster than a smaller gauge string

#Fretting technique

A stronger grip of the fretting hand also makes it much easier for the strings to dig into the fretwire, causing the formation of divots sooner. Also, bends are particularly abrasive in the context of fretwire.


If sweat is known to affect strings, why should it not affect fretwire. That is as much metal as the strings.



# String buzz

That is the first thing that you notice in a guitar with pitted fretwire. Imagine a fretwire with divots and the one adjacent to it clean. Fretting the pitted fretwire – which is lower because of the dent in it – will make it touch the next fretwire, which is of normal height, causing a string buzz. Depending upon the depth of the dent, the buzz may range from the negligible to the most irritating.


With divots on the fretwires of your guitar, it is very logical that you will experience intonation issues. Because of the dents, a string will contact different areas of fretwires – back, front, top – when what you actually want is that a string touch the very top of each fretwire.

#Bends are harder

With pitting, bends become nearly impossible for the string is very liable to catch on the edges of the pits, genuinely affecting how clean and effective your notes sound.



#Countering the capo

Use an adjustable capo. An adjustable capo is one in which you can adjust the tension being applied.

#The bottleneck slide issue

Again, no one is stopping you from using bottlenecks, but ensure that you are using the very best glass bottleneck available. Being of a good quality, they are that much smoother and kinder to the fretwires on your guitar.

#Change fretting technique

This is the toughest of all to do for it is like changing an old habit. Maybe, a visit to a good guitar tech will help. If a set-up is required, he will do that and that should help bring the action down. Consequently, you will not need to apply as much pressure as you used to.

#String size change

Though it is a well documented fact that you get a bigger bang for your buck with larger gauge strings, the damage they cause all round – fingers, guitar top, neck and joints – is also well known. However, that is not to say that if you use 13s, you drop down to 10s. But certainly, the climb-down from 13s to 12s will be beneficial for your fretwires, and all round.

#Change sweaty hands technique

Wish as hard as one might, one can never change one’s genetic make-up. Yes, what can be changed is how you deal with it. Experts always prescribe washing of hands before a guitar is picked up. Knowing that you have sweaty hands, it is all the more advisable that you follow that advice.


P.S.: If you have managed to create divots on your guitar and are in Lucknow, the Lucknow Guitar Garage welcomes you to visit it and get your problem solved.

Guitar repair – It’s time to let your guitar drink up!

As I had predicted earlier, the humidity is possibly at the lowest at which you will see it the whole year through – at least here, in North India.

Guitar repair – NOW is the time for those glue-up jobs!

This is the best time to work with wood and build whatever you’ve been planning, for the weather is very dry and the glue will cure super fast, giving you a super strong bond. Instrument repair is no different.

Also, this is also the time to give a little drink of water to your ‘parched’ instrument. You may not feel the need to hydrate your guitar, but believe me, your guitar is thirsty.  The effects of that thirst may be more visible on solid wood instruments and to a lesser extent on laminated ones.

The latter are able to bear the vagaries of Nature due to the layers of different wood used, but the former are given more easily to cracks and splits due to the uniform character of its wood.

The suspect areas to look out for are the top and the back, the fingerboard, the centre seam on the top and the back, the neck-to-heel joint, the heel-to-body joint, and probably any joint put together with any kind of glue.

A drink of water now ensures that your guitar will swell up some, having taken in the moisture provided to it and prevent a crack from appearing. If there is a little crack that has appeared somewhere, you will notice that water will close it within 48 hours.

That said, do remember that this is a natural process of wood taking in moisture and swelling, closing any seam separations that might appear. Feeding moisture to a guitar will certainly not help fill missing pieces of wood.


How do you make your guitar ‘drink water’?

It’s pretty simple, actually. A bowl small enough to fit through the soundhole of your guitar is chosen (A plastic container of some sort serves best). Mark the inside wall in small, equal units with a fine permanent marker. Now fill the bowl three-fourths and keep it inside your guitar (with the instrument lying on its back).

As final steps, cover the sounddhole with a plastic cover and tape it down just enough that the cover does not move from its place. Next, place the guitar – bowl and all – in a place where no one is likely to move it.

Every couple of days, take a look at the level of water in the bowl. If you see it reducing, you know your guitar is drinking the water. Fill it up with more water. Continue the entire process till the time that you see the level of water reducing no more. At this point, you know that your guitar is fully hydrated and you can easily remove the bowl of water.

Experts call this process ‘hydrating’ your guitar, and there are multiple costly implements available in the market  that profess to do the same job with chemicals.

What no one is willing to talk about is the damage that they are liable to do if the chemicals leak inside your guitar.

For me, it’s better safe than sorry with my bowl of water!!

Guitar repair – Sundari gets some much needed TLC!

If BB King can call his favourite guitar ‘Lucielle’ and Willie Nelson can call his ‘Trigger’, why should not a young man in Lucknow, India, call his acoustic guitar ‘Sundari’ (Beauty)?

Whatever that might convey to you, to me it shows a stronger attachment to the instrument.

And why shouldn’t the attachment be stronger? This was a Squier Fender sporting a handsome sunburst. But more importantly, Sundari had a lot of character: booming lows, clear ringing highs and overall some excellent sustain.

Now, I must tell you that the Squier Fender is not a very high-value instrument, yet, as a starter guitar and a sturdy one at that it does get the job done.

Sundari seemed to have been well-loved

See what I mean? But seriously, the missing colour on the fretboard is more a comment on construction quality than long hours spent with Sundari!

So, what was it in for? Over time, the action on Sundari had rendered her almost unlovable and the young man wished that she regain her old charm.

The bridge was thankfully stuck down well and the relief in the neck was slightly lesser than what I would have liked to see. That made the belly behind the bridge the culprit.

Now, I know from experience that the best of instruments with the best of bridgeplates in them will begin to show a belly after a decade or so. In cheap guitars and starter level instruments it will start showing much earlier because of the quality of bridgeplate used.

As I checked it, there was a belly behind the bridge but it wasn’t alarming. However, there was huge sinkage in the top in the area between the soundhole and the bridge. This sinkage is a natural and normal counteraction to the belly, and generally, the belly and sinkage are proportional in size to each other.

However, in Sundari, the sinkage appeared much more than the belly she was sporting. This was eyebrow raising!

I took a look inside the guitar and found the culprit staring right back at me. The arm of the ‘X’ brace  going down towards the lower bout on the bass side and the sound bar adjacent were loose and I could easily slip in a feeler gauge.

Also, the arm of the ‘X’ brace going down into the lower bout on the treble side was cracked right at the ‘X’.

With cracked and loose braces, it was no wonder that the area between the soundhole and the bridge was sinking.

Also, the saddle slot seemed to be cut bigger than it was required, resulting in the saddle tilting under string tension. That needed correction too.

The cumulative effect of these phenomena was that the action on Sundari was sky high.

There were other smaller issues too. The EQ in the guitar would respond at times and completely miss at times – a loose wire, I thought. More immediately, I noticed that the EQ unit was being held to the body with a solitary 1.5″ screw pinning down one corner of it. For the rest of the EQ body there was transparent packing tape!

When I took off the strings and pulled out the plastic saddle, it was chipped and cracked and ready to give way, especially in the area where the ‘A’ string would generally ride.

You have seen the fretboard on Sundari. Following is what the fretwires looked like almost till the 8th fret.

As I made a list of Sundari’s problems, I decided to start work by glueing up the cracked and separated braces. Once done, this would reduce the sinkage to a great extent. But getting glue into places which you are seeing in the reflection of a mirror is tough. With what do you apply it and how do you work backwards?

Thankfully, I do not have very large hands. Pouring glue into a smaller bottle, and entirely through feel, I smeared glue in the approximate area, hoping that it would reach where I needed it to. Then I took another look through the mirror to check if that was, in fact, the case.

Then armed with a thin paint brush I tried pushing the glue into places I knew the glue would not have wicked into. Later, came the very tedious clean up of the extra glue.

After almost 90 minutes of this exercise, I finally clamped everything in place. Below is one side of the ‘X’ brace glued in place.

While the glue cured, I worked on the fretwires, levelling, crowning and polishing them. However, there was little I could do about the way the fretboard looked. I could have dyed it dark again but the colour would not have stayed. Also, I was not sure that is what the young man would have liked; maybe, he liked the way Sundari’s fretboard looked!!

Then came the EQ. I gently pulled off the tape and removed the single screw holding the unit into the body. I pulled it out, opened it up to find a wire almost ready to lose its connection. I resoldered it in place, closed up  the unit and then replaced the single big screw with four proper EQ unit screws.

Once everything was in place, I cleaned up the guitar side of all remnants of the packing tape.

The tilt in the saddle was taken out and new strings put in. As I tuned up Sundari in a bid to set relief in it, my problems began.

If I ‘increased’ relief in the neck, almost all strings buzzed in the centre of the fretboard. If I ‘decreased’ relief, the strings buzzed on the first few and last few frets. 

Read that sentence again! What I have written is exactly how Sundari behaved.

Somewhere down the line I felt that I had a raised fretwire. Let’s just say that was where I erred. After that I hopped from one fretwire to its neighbour and back to the first and then on to the 9th.

For four-five days I would work on the fretboard, get exasperated and leave, return, work, get exasperated and leave again. What kept me returning to Sundari was the love the young man felt for her.

Eventually, I realised that neck angle, the erratic truss rod, the slight belly, the much-reduced sinkage would not allow the action to come down to where it should ideally be. It did come down but not too much and that is exactly how the young man would have to continue to love Sundari.

But yes, Sundari possessed a heavenly voice. She’ll sing yet!

When the young man came to pick up Sundari, he brought his amplifier along to check the EQ. But he did not have a battery so I lent him a new one. When all was said and done, he walked out thanking me, carrying Sundari, battery and all!

Young man, you owe me!! 



Guitar repair is back, as am I!!!!

It’s been two months since our last rendezvous, what with the annual monthly closing of the Lucknow Guitar Garage getting extended by a month and me getting tied up with the household. However, guitar repair did not stop for so long, and I began working from the day after New Year.

In the interim, the world is a poorer place having lost Jeff Beck and Lisa Marie Presley. RIP wherever you are!

And getting down to brass tacks, you have heard me deride cheap, local – made in Indian factories – guitars often enough! But there are exceptions to every rule, and here too.

This instrument was returning to me after some time for a general clean up and some strings, as the owner was leaving to attend college in Bengaluru (Bangalore), and wished to carry his guitar with him.

Reading my impressions about the guitar then surprised me, how what I wanted to say now, was so similar to what I had already said. If you wish to read, here it is

A damaged bridgeplate & the evolution of Jolly JIMM!

This time, all that I needed to do was a deep clean, oil the fretboard and bridge, buff out the tarnished frets, and check if the belly (after the bridge) and the sinkage (beside the soundhole) had increased.

Thankfully, it was all the same, or, at least, minimal.

The action on the guitar too, was rather comfortable.

I leave you with images of the work.

Guitar repair – Shims vis-a-vis action & sound!

Recently, I got to work on a GCE guitar. Now, the brand was new to me and so I studied it. It seemed another one of those inexpensive China-made guitars in the price range of Rs 8 – 10K but its construction was not too bad – except for the bridgeplate. More on that later.

Whatever else, it wasn’t the cleanest guitar ever!

and the way strings had been wound around the tuning post, I doubt if it played very correctly.


NOTE: Ladies, gentlemen, we need just 2.5 to 3 turns on the wound strings and 5 to 6 turns on the unwound ones. Yes, the string maker has been most gracious in supplying extra long strings, but you don’t have to repay his largess by winding the entire length on to the tuning post, or, forming modern art with the strings on the headstock! Keep the winds clean and one underneath the other, and that is all there is to it.


Besides, I noticed these

A beautiful (read different) rosette and letters that looked like Mandarin to me. Nothing wrong with making a thing your own!

The complaint of the owner was its high action and because the plastic saddle was getting chewed up under string tension (particularly ‘e’ and ‘G’ strings),

he wished to have it replaced with bone.

I looked to see if the bridge was lifting but it was not. There was a belly though, which told me that the bridgeplate wasn’t the right type or the right size, and because of that bellying the action had risen uncomfortably.

My question to him was: ‘Why go for half the pleasure when you can have it all?’

Answering his puzzled look I explained that having just the saddle replaced is just half the fun. The complete effect will be apparent when both the nut and the saddle are replaced, for those are the only two points that the strings touch on the guitar, forming the effective playing length.

He got the logic but only after he had talked to the friend who referred him to me! I did convey to him a fact that in all my years of working, I have never had a patron who was not impressed with the sound of a bone saddle and nut.

And after this, you know the drill: unstring,  pull saddle out…wait…! What is that?

A shim!


ANOTHER NOTE: Shims are a good way of raising the height of a saddle, should you require to do so. However, they do take away from the purity of sound – unless, if it’s a bone saddle, you shim it up with bone, a plastic saddle with plastic, and so on and so forth.


Ah, well! The routine continued: measurements (minus the shim), grinding, sanding, filing till everything was as was supposed to be.

Before I threw on the strings, I did clean up the fretboard properly, burnished the fretwires, and the flaky white deposits disappeared. Here is the before and after

And to leave you with the last photographs

When the owner came to pick up the guitar, he was impressed by the sound of it.

I did ask him if he was studying Mandarin, and he told me that it was, in fact, Korean – all the big words – music, love, freedom, happiness, fame, hope…and I think he rattled off a few more.


Guitar repair – Never say never!

Thank god for patrons who feel I can also do justice to electric guitars!

One young man came in with his electric swearing that he would not let anyone else touch his guitar!!

Thankfully for me, there wasn’t anything majorly wrong with the guitar. There was a buzz up the neck, past the 12th fret and the fretwires were tarnished and needed some love and attention.

As I began work, the young man taught me how to take the strings off the guitar (so, I’m getting there)! 

With strings off, I found there were more than a couple of fretwires that were raised. Tapping helped some, others not so much, and so, out came the fretwire file. 

A few strokes and a check, and a few strokes and a check and the offending fretwires had ‘fallen in line’. 

Next, it was time to turn my attention to the fretboard and how the fretwires looked. Four grits of sandpaper, steel wool and some chrome polish made it look like a job well done.

But before that there was need for the pickups to be protected.

Once the fretboard had been given a coat of the ‘love potion’, it did make it look pretty

And here’s what the entire guitar looked like once I was through with it

I was happy with the results and hope the customer is too. More satisfying was the thought that an old dog can learn new tricks, after all!

Just a small post this time; next time it is back to acoustics!

Guitar repair – NOW is the time for those glue-up jobs!

Just a quick heads up, people. The humidity is down to 58%, here, in Lucknow, North India, and should drop further in the coming week.

Till mid-December rolls around, it will remain cold and dry and thereafter, cold and wet!

Now is the perfect time to get all those glue jobs done – whether it is the bridge lifting, or the binding peeling, or the fretboard coming loose, or the heel separating from the body…

Just about any glue-up job that you can think of getting done on your acoustic guitar, now is the time to get it done. Why?

And here, allow me to go off on a tangent!

Instrument repair entails using a glue that is strong yet not brittle (like super glue), will not impede the instrument’s movement (like in case of an acoustic guitar’s top), can easily be taken off (with heat and moisture – like in case of pulling off a neck to reset the neck angle)…

And so, my dear friends, cynoacrylate glue (super glue) and epoxy will not do. Those who do, do so at the risk of losing the instrument they used it on, here, and being judged and condemned to hell on the day of judgement!!

Instead what is prescribed by ‘experts’ is animal protein glue (fish and hyde glue) and simple wood glue. These are water-soluble glues. So, anytime you go wrong, or have to correct something, all you need to do is apply a bit of heat and give it some moisture and some pressure, and it will come right off.

The operative word above, was ‘moisture’. When the humidity in the air is high – above 55% – the moisture won’t let the glue dry quickly, and in fact, sometimes never completely.

It is best then to avoid seasons of high humidity when putting these glues to work.

Getting back to point, there is a window of approximately a month – give or take a few days – in which to get your repairs done and get them done properly.

The next window (here, in this part of the world) won’t open up till mid-February!

Hurry up!!

Guitar repair – Bridgeplates: Introduction and functions!

Wonder if you all remember me saying that instruments come to me in twos or threes. Either two or three of the same brand, or, two or three with the same problem.

After I finished working on two instruments with a belly bulge and lifting bridge, I thought it was time to talk about the whys and wherefores, guitar anatomy, strings and all that good stuff.

In the last two posts, I have touched upon the issue, causes and remedies but a detailed post was in order. So, here goes!

The second photo shows you a bridgeplate and where it is situated in the guitar, while the first photograph is a diagrammatic representation. There is no one design of the bridgeplate, but it usually fits into the ‘X’ brace.

As you can make out, a bridgeplate is placed on the underside of the top of the guitar, right below the bridge, and its job is to buttress this area where there is most tension – due to the strings.

The two photographs above show the bridge area with the strings and bridgepins, and the underside with the ball ends of the strings sitting resting on the bridgeplate.

Now, imagine the strings tuned up to pitch. They are pulling up with a force equivalent to almost 80kg. Their effort is to rip the strings right out of the top. The only thing preventing that from happening is the bridgeplate. If any of the following – size, thickness and material – is not up to the mark, the bridgeplate will surely give in, resulting in a belly bulge, high action, and the bridge lifting under stress – much like this

NOTE:  A little bit of belly is normal EVEN in the best guitars (the Martins, the Guilds, the Taylors and the Gibsons), but the difference from budget guitars is that the belly will appear after a decade or so of playing.

In extreme cases, the tension of the strings even breaks the bridgeplate.

I find it strange that guitar ‘pundits’ and so called experts speak about everything under the sun but seldom refer to the bridgeplate as one of the first things to check when you’re buying a guitar – new or used!

The bridgeplates that I have seen are light-coloured woods, which tells me that these are not hard woods, and thus, susceptible to buckling under the tension of the strings.

Even a maple bridgeplate (as seen above) – the wood is considered a hard wood – is incapable of bearing the strain of the strings.

Instead what you want to see inside your acoustic guitar is a piece of a dark wood



A piece of hardwood – rosewood, mahogany, ebony, walnut and paduk – no lesser than 1.4 mm thick and no thicker than 1.8 mm is said to be of the appropriate thickness.

The length and breath of the plate should be such that the ‘X’-brace pocket is relatively filled. Look at the first two photographs. That is the general ‘popular’ shape of the bridgeplate. However, I would prefer to see the area right from the point where the arms of the ‘X’-brace cross to at least some portion in line with the tone brace being covered by the bridgeplate.

Make it too large, or too thick and it will not let the top vibrate, resulting in a dull, muffled tone!

Why the emphasis on a hard wood for a bridgeplate? Because the top itself is made of soft wood which can vibrate much easier as compared to a hard wood. Basically, the hard wood compensates the vibrating top and lends a lot of structural integrity.



The gauge of strings that you usually string your instrument with plays a huge part in how quickly the neck starts creeping up (warranting a neck reset), whether the neck-to-heel joint starts separating, how quickly a belly develops and how much damage is caused to your fingers.  

The lighter the gauge, the smaller the effect and vice versa. To think that by putting on the lightest gauge there is you can delay the inevitable, is true to quite an extent. HOWEVER, what about the sound? Can you really appreciate and enjoy the tone of your guitar?

Thinner strings will always give you an amplified treble response while thicker strings will accentuate the bass response. 

If you are a purely rhythm player and own a dreadnought guitar, the thicker the strings used, the bigger is the bang for your buck! But then you know string tension is playing havoc with your guitar.

The path to take is the middle road. Not too thick strings and not too thin.

Here’s to the health of your acoustic guitar!






Guitar repair – Spalted beauty gets bone-embellished!

Recently, I had the pleasure of working on a Fender auditorium-style guitar (all-laminate construction) sporting a spalted maple top. It had the same beautiful spalted maple as headplate.

For those interested in these things, the model no. was FA-345CE SP MPL FSR LR and the serial no. was IWA1913137.

I’ll talk about its problems later but first the appointments on this baby. It had laminated Lacewood back and sides, a cutaway and some very pretty tortoiseshell binding.

The fretboard and bridge were Indian Laurel while the neck was Nato. And while the Viking bridge lent it character, the Fishman electronics on it just brought it all out. The factory-fitted nut and saddle were Tusq.

Oh, and did I tell you that it had my favourite butter bean tuners on it?!

It was in because the owner felt that the instrument had lost much of its ring and sustain. As I looked at it, I thought the action was a little high for my liking. I glanced at the bridge and I saw this

Not too much of a gap but there was one and it could be seen plainly by eye. There also was a belly in the instrument which it must have developed over time – nothing alarming but put together with a rising bridge, enough to put the action beyond playable limits.

The owner understood that bridge-correction would lead to action correction and so we decided to take the bridge off completely and re-glue it. Also, the problem of the instrument losing its sustain could only be sorted out by replacing the Tusq saddle with a bone nut and saddle. That been said, it was a bit flummoxing how and why the instrument lost tone over time.

I started by chucking the nut and saddle. But before that lots of measurements and math…

I cut the new saddle and nut to the correct dimensions and set them aside. First, I needed to pull off the bridge.

It came off with a little effort

but I failed to recognise the glue used to stick the bridge to the top. Whatever the glue, it was very clear that it had not reached the very extremities of the bridge (as you see in the last photograph). More importantly, lacquer/varnish had been sprayed over the bridge area, on which the bridge was glued directly: always a recipe for disaster!

And then began the slow and steady battle of chipping away at the lacquer – millimetre by millimetre!

In the last photograph you can truly admire the spalted character of the maple veneer.

But now that the bridge was off, I decided to try and take the belly out of the guitar. Heat, moisture and clamping was the way to go.

48 hours later, the results were very encouraging and I was happy that I would be glueing the bridge onto a flat surface – imperative for a solid, permanent glue-job.

The glueing went without a hitch. The more the number of dry runs, better is the actual job. Once complete, glueing commenced.

After three days, the clamps came off and all was flat and good. Another 12 hours and then it was time for strings.

Before I threw the strings on I decided to give some love to the fretboard and bridge

But as I threw on a fresh set of strings and tuned them up, the belly slowly returned, throwing out of whack all the calculations and shaping the saddle had received. Cest la vie!!

A whole new set of calculations and another round of sanding later, the action came down to a comfortable level. Time for the nut end of the guitar to get some attention. Each string slot was worked till each string sat perfectly in its slot. After the final shaping of the nut, here is what the saddle and nut looked like

And here’s what the action looked like

Before I let the guitar go, here are some final views of this beauty

Guitar repair – Time to bid adieu to Snow White?

I have said this before but I will say it again: wood has a memory. Once it attains a shape, it likes to stay in that shape. You can give it all the heat and moisture that you want and try to bend it the other way but soon after the external factors (heat, moisture, clamping pressure) are removed, it returns to its original position.

This could be a warped table top, cupboard door, arm rest on your favourite chair and just about anything made of wood.

In the case of acoustic guitars, try and think of a twisted neck or a tensioned-out-of-whack bridgeplate: they too shall return to the ‘normal’ they know as soon as the external factors are removed.

If it’s the bridgeplate and you throw on strings on your guitar, it is a surety that if the warp in the bridgeplate would have returned in 90 days, under  string tension, it will return in 45.

And here I am, doling out wisdom after I suffered at the hands of a particularly truant bridgeplate!

The antecedents of this naughty bridgeplate are recorded here

A date with troubled Snow White!

and here

Snow White ready to go home

Snow White returned and I noticed that someone else had tried something with it for the bridge was lifting – gaping actually – and in the yawning gap I could clearly see something like epoxy.

The owner explained that the bridge had begun to lift again and so another repair person was consulted. So, after this repair person’s luck failed him, Snow White seemed to have been stood in a corner and forgotten about! And so it accumulated dust and dust worms one too many.


The accumulation on the saddle is rather telling, wouldn’t you say so? Whateva!

But as I looked at the guitar, it was apparent that string tension had more than played its part in all the days that the instrument had been left standing. The bridge was completely contorted.

As I tried to pull out the bridgepins and remove the strings, this happened

As I took the bridge off, this is what I saw – my old friend, Epoxy!

Meanwhile, the bridge itself was on an almighty curl.

Do you see it too?

Since it was in my hands, I started working first on the bridge itself. I first cleaned the under surface and then went about trying to straighten the bridge. It wasn’t heat, moisture and clamping but just plain sanding.

Mark the bridge, lay it flat on a sandpaper and keep sanding till the marks disappear. Have a second go at it and then a third till all the marks go in two or three strokes.

The last few photographs show how flat I was able to get it. Yes, if you see clearly, you will notice that one of the wings is thinner than the other. But that had to happen if one wanted to straighten the bridge out.

But this was just half the job. The other half entailed that I flatten the belly in the top too.

However, as I looked, it seemed to me as if the there was  a crack running right through the bridgepin holes in the top. A closer inspection proved I was correct.

Before anything else, this needed to be rectified; and rectified it was.

To remove the belly from the top and taking into consideration the past of the instrument, this time, I chose a thicker, longer board, wet both the bridgeplate as well as the top and clamped up everything tight before you could breathe!

After 36 hours, there was some change but not as much as I would have liked to see. So, I had another go at it and changed the position of the clamps.

After 48 hours, the results were more encouraging.

With a relatively flat belly, the stage was set for the mating of the two surfaces: the bridge and the top.

Lots of glue, lots of planning and even more clamps later

After 48 hours, it looked like time to release the stranglehold on the instrument. The clamps were taken off and the instrument set aside to let it breathe.

As it breathed, it was just the right time to buff out the body.

And a little love potion on the fretboard and some TLC for the fretwires and Snow White was resplendent again and ready for strings.

After stringing it up, I left it for another 2 -3 days to see how the instrument was coping with the stress of the strings.

It was doing fine for that period but soon the action started rising and as I looked at the bridge…

Ah, well…! You can’t win always!


Guitar repair – The mystery of the missing saddle and a classical set-up!

It is always such a pleasure to know that not all people owning classical guitars (slotted headstocks and nylon strings) bought the instrument by mistake.

90% of classical guitars that come to me are people wanting an ‘upgrade’ – steel strings instead of nylon and other such. They wish to sling the guitar over their shoulders and rock out. It takes a lot of patient talking for them to realise that what they own is an altogether different beast from the one they were dreaming of owning.

And so, it is a pleasure when a person comes along who knows exactly how to hold a classical guitar, how to play it and what to play on it.

One such young man landed up at the Lucknow Guitar Garage with a peculiar problem. He had the strings in place but somehow, the saddle had dropped out and had gone missing! That was a new one, even for me.

And, of course, there were other minor irritants: the string ends on the headstock could have been a whole lot neater.

The guitar itself could have been a lot cleaner – the black spots that you see (if you can), are basically dirt deposited on the top of the guitar.

And, of course, the fretboard was a filth dump!

Also, the owner wished for the action on the first fret to come down: so, it was basically a set-up and clean-up job.

With the strings off, I went to work and it is truly amazing to realise how a little bit of time and some elbow grease can make your guitar look like a totally different instrument.

Then came the harder bit of fitting bone in the saddle slot. The saddle blank was a whole lot taller and wider than the slot. Incremental reductions in both dimensions left the saddle standing exactly where I needed it to be.

A fresh set of strings and all was well with the world, only except I broke a string!!!

The owner was quite forgiving though and said he had already ordered a fresh set of strings online. He was happy with where the action sat with the five strings.

Guitar repair – Bone nut, saddle & a set-up for Mr Fender!

The process of my blog posts is basically through photographs that I take of the job at hand and then try to spin a story out of them, trying my best to remember what happened and how. It had worked for me till now.

I must confess that in the best of times, recalling events, sometimes from two months ago, is no mean task. Today is Saturday, dinner time, and the fever I ran through the week has impaired my thought process terribly. As I sit down to look at the photographs, I am scratching my head – ‘Was it this’, or, ‘Was it that’???

Fair warning for a post full of inconsistencies! Here, I must appeal to the owner to write in and correct me wherever he feels I have gone wrong in documenting the facts.

On my part, I have decided, henceforth, not to rely only on photographs but to make more detailed notes while I am working.

With that out of the way, let us begin today’s saga.

This Fender CD-60 landed up on my counter almost a month back for a set-up and some new strings

Yeah! It wasn’t the cleanest guitar I have seen

but that could be remedied.

But paper shoved into the ‘e’ string hole to hold the bridgepin in, was a new one for me

And yeah, that is a plastic saddle

In the first photograph, you can see the cobwebs on the machineheads, but I failed to capture the nut there.

So, since the two had to go and were to be replaced by healthy, bone elements, let’s just cut to the chase and say that the swap took place without too much time or effort being wasted.

What I must mention here is that the owner decided to go for an unbleached nut (yellowish) instead of the usual bleached one (white). But before those got popped in, there was other work to be done. 

With the strings off, I cleaned up the fretboard, burnished the tarnished fretwires and oiled the fretboard and bridge.

Then came the fitting of the nut and the saddle: lots of measuring and sanding and measuring again before they sat in their respective slots.

With strings on, there came another few rounds of measurements and sandings. 

Finally, it was done

The issue of the paper stuck in the bridgepin hole of the ‘e’ string to keep the bridgepin from popping out, was simple enough. Once the ball end of the string sits right on the end of the bridgepin, the pin is bound to pop out as you tune up the string.

If it is ensured that the ball end is not caught on the end of the bridgepin, I see no reason why the pin should pop out.

I think I scored another happy customer!


Guitar repair – Breaking a break angle on this Hummingbird

The angle that the strings make coming out of the bridgepin holes and as they pass over the saddle is referred to as break angle.

The bigger the break angle, better is the sound quality, for the strings exert greater pressure on the saddle, driving it into its slot, providing greater/better contact. Consequently, there is minimal loss of energy (sound) and the sustain and volume get amplified.

All this happens if there is a tall saddle installed in the guitar. But as most of us know, the height of the saddle is directly proportional to the action: more the height, more is the action. Only on exceptionally well put together instruments does one get to see a tall saddle and a low action, which is primarily due to a great neck angle: a rarity indeed!

The photograph above is of the tallest saddle and the best break angle that I have probably ever seen.

The best of guitars that come to me have ‘okay’ break angles, and some, though only a couple of years old, have the saddle sitting barely a hair above its slot. (Break angle? What break angle?)

But then, having strings run only just ‘touching’ the saddle is not how the experts proposed it should be. In such a situation one has to ‘create’ the break angle.

One such instrument came to me, recently – a Hummingbird Pro. Interestingly, the instrument was only a couple of years old.

That it already had neck issues, was indeed sad. The easiest treatment was to cut channels (ramps) from the bridgepin holes till the saddle, for the strings to ride in.

Easy, did I say? Try cutting a slot in a 6 mm hole!

Better still, try finding something that is small enough to fit that hole but able to cut a ramp for a 0.52″ – 0.53″ string!

Whateva! I had the tool, I did the job!

This is just the 6th string slot being cut and then the other five were cut too.

After the slots were cut, a fresh set of strings was installed, but, of course, first the fretboard was cleaned up and the fretwires buffed out to a new shine.

The saddle area looked something like this

Unrelated to the story till now, is the photograph below.

It is the famed Hummingbird pickguard offered for your appreciation.  Notice how the edges ‘melt’ as it were, into the top. No possibility of your fingernail, or your pick catching on its edges.

The comment is in relation to last Sunday’s post where an instrument that came to me, sported a definitely amateurish recreation. If you would like to read about it, here it is.


Guitar repair – My encounter with a Sire!

Guitar repair – My encounter with a Sire!

The owner brought me this relatively new instrument for an initial set-up and some snazzy bone bridgepins.

When he pulled it out of the bag  – headstock first – I thought to myself, ‘Taylor’ but when it was out on my workbench, it seemed like an instrument in identity crisis.

The headstock made it look like a Taylor

The binding reminded one of CF Martin

while the pickguard made it look as if a child had made a poor effort at cutting out the very distinctive Hummingbird style

The bridge reminded me of another manufacturer, one on whom I can’t place a finger

Can you tell?

However, the label read

Ah, well!

I got to my job, first reaming the bridgepin holes to receive the new bone bridgepins.

And once this was done, new strings were thrown on to begin setting up the instrument. The owner’s choice of strings:

Thankfully, there was not a lot of setting up required and my job was done.

As I sat down to fiddle with the instrument, I began noticing details. It was surprisingly well built and near-premium quality solid wood had been used in its construction.

The back was a very pretty solid mahogany

and the front was a prettier solid spruce.

It also had Taylor-style EQ controls in the shoulder of the guitar

Strumming it, I was blown away by its bass response. Meanwhile the trebles were clear-ringing highs. Usually, it is hard to find a well-balanced instrument. Either it is bass dominant or else the trebles overpower the bass. It was a pleasure playing this one.

As I sat admiring the beauty of the Sire, one thing on the instrument stuck out worse than a sore thumb. The finesse with which the guitar was built, was missing from the pickguard – almost ‘thrown on’ there.

And sure enough, a closer look revealed the rough edges and the slight asymmetry. Take a look

When I, a small time repairman, fashion a pickguard, I ensure that there is not a single edge sharp enough to cut you, or, one on which your nail or pick may catch. The amateurish nature of this pcickguard was indeed an eyesore.

But that should not take away anything from the instrument and the way it sounded.

And as it often happens with me, I forgot to take a photograph of the finished job!!!

Guitar repair – Setting right Humpty Dumpty – II

This is a bit of an anti-climax, but it is what it is! Humpty Dumpty had no will to be ‘put together again’!

Jokes aside, as I mentioned in my last post, the main thing governing that this glue-up job went properly was removing the already existing Araldite somehow. Though I laboured more than I have ever on a job, I knew that there was always a possibility that there remained remnants of glue that I had been unable to reach.

So I glued up the parts with dowels thrown in for good measure, clamped it all up good and left it to dry for 48 hours.

While I waited, I cleaned and oiled the fretwires, fretboard and bridge, snugged up the hardware on the headstock and gave the guitar body a good rub, such that it shone.

However, when I began the restringing process, the two parts began separating. I halted proceedings right there, drilled in three more holes, inserted three more dowels, cut and sanded them flush and let the glue dry for another 48 hours.

But again when I tried stringing it up, the joint began coming unstuck. This time I knew that I had to call it quits. But I did stick the two offending parts – cosmetically. However, the instrument will never be able to bear strings (tension).

I called up the owner and gave him the sad news, but he took it very well.

Humpty-Dumpty is gone now but it has left behind a dull ache in my heart, an ache that will keep reminding me that I ‘couldn’t put Humpty together again’!


P.S.: For what came earlier, read

Guitar repair – Setting right Humpty Dumpty – I

Guitar repair – Setting right Humpty Dumpty – I

Humpty Dumpty…er…this Epiphone DR-100 VS came to me like this


‘Some of the king’s horses and some of the king’s men’ (with apologies to Lewis Carroll), had tried to put ‘Humpty together again’ (four times, according to the owner) but had failed in making the fix a permanent one. And so, it finally landed on my counter.

The owner said that he was willing to give it one last shot at trying to save the instrument, and I had my work cut out for me. No repair would be possible without first removing the old glue. This was no mean task for the glue tends to get into crevices and corners which not only impedes proper contact but also a proper glue-up later.

But as I assessed the instrument, I noticed that it had a rather pretty tobacco-burst. In the photograph it comes across much darker than it is.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that even the back and sides were solid mahogany, while the top was solid spruce.

The build quality was nice except that not a great deal of care had been taken in glueing on the braces, for there was loads of squeeze-out on either side of all the braces. Also, the bridgeplate looked to me as if it had been made out of some leftover spruce. If that is the case, I don’t expect it to last too long and should give way in nine to 12 months – provided this repair effort comes through.


The glue

To soften the glue, in order to have the best chance at removing it, I gave it a lot of heat. And as I heated it, I got a very familiar but terrible smell. I picked at the glue for sometime, before I realised what it was – Araldite!

I let out a string of expletives but that was all I could do and it did nothing to make the Araldite go away!

To have the best shot at removing the glue, I put on my magnifying head gear and began removing the glue. After a good 45 mins of labour, I had this to show for results. This is just one corner cleaned of the glue that was very obvious.

After one-and-a-half hours of effort there was more mess on my table but the mess on the two surfaces of the headstock was clearing.

This morning I finally managed to clear all the Araldite in sight (under magnification) from both surfaces. I had to go over the two surfaces twice each so that I could remove as much glue as I could see. Did I manage to remove all the Araldite? No way, but this is how the two surfaces looked!

I tried mating the two surfaces but there were certainly gaps. I expected nothing else considering that this was the fifth attempt at glueing the headstock. However, I wasn’t too worried about the gaps. Those would be filled with my saw dust and wood glue paste and sanded flush.

Would all this make a permanent joint? Nope! Pieces of wood would need to be installed at strategic points to actually hold the two parts together. The proper way of tackling a break like this is to cut two channels running from behind the headstock to the neck (leaving a gap where the truss rod would be) and installing splines. But that requires a proper jig which would help cut proper channels, taking into consideration the headstock angle, shape of the neck, etc. Too involved!

I have done these repairs before with just pieces of wood shoved in at strategic places and have never had a complaint. I see no reason why it shouldn’t work this time. 

But that is for later. First the two parts must be brought together – even if temporarily – so that the part two of the surgery can be performed. So, I put on a generous dab of glue on one surface and held on the mating surface where I felt it should go. 

A brad nail helped hold things together.

Now, a wait of 48 hours before I remove the nail and see how well things have bonded.

Next week: the second part of the reconstructive surgery!


Guitar repair – why instruments should not be left tuned up

Here’s a perfect example of why I keep stressing upon guitar players to de-tune their instruments if they know that they will not be playing it for three weeks or more.

String tension is a very bad thing for the health of the guitar but when a guitar is being played, some of that stress is counteracted by the movement of the various parts of the instrument (top, neck and back). However, if left standing with nothing to counter that force, string tension can have disastrous effects, as this owner learned.

Let me begin by congratulating Kadence for building the very aesthetic, all-mahogany KAD-SH-103 EQ (a part of the Slowhand series). I must confess that I am not a very big fan of guitars built entirely of the same wood (mahogany, koa, etc), but after having played the SH-103, it changed my point of view (kinda)!

Besides the sturdy construction, I was very pleased to see a nice bone saddle and nut in the instrument. But if I was to nit-pick, the slots in the nut were deeper than I like to see.  

So, the owner told me that this instrument was two years old and while he played the other guitar, this one got neglected and was left standing in a corner of a room, under string tension.

My guess is that the heel separation began somewhere in April-end – May and as the heat increased and moisture in the air reduced, the gap too increased, and was only noticed recently. What followed was bound to happen and it is only a miracle that one did not see greater damage than the heel separating.

A good clean-up of the mating surfaces, lots of good wood glue, even more clamping pressure and enough time (72 hours) cured this baby!

I had initially advised putting 13s on the guitar but soon realised that putting those big strings was a sure recipe for disaster. Instead, I ended up putting 12s on it and let the guitar stand for 4 -5 hours under string tension. The following are the ‘after’ photographs.

I also cleaned and oiled the fretboard, buffed out the tarnished fretwires, snugged up the hardware on the headstock and gave the entire body a good rub-down.


Guitar repair – dealing with over humidification!

Yes! That is a thing, a dangerous thing, and now is exactly the time (here in North India) when over-humidification symptoms begin to surface. Over a period of a month, I am expecting a lot of ailing guitars.

Just like an exposed acoustic guitar (not so much solid-body electrics) can lose moisture, become dehydrated and show symptoms thereof, an instrument can absorb moisture from the surroundings and get over humidified.

Also, if one notices that his/her guitar has dried out and the consequent humidification process goes too far, over humidification can happen, causing all sorts of problems, which may or may not be remedied.

The following are a few problems that come to my mind immediately. Please note that this list is far from exhaustive and there may be other problems associated with over humidification that have slipped my mind, or ones that I am yet to get acquainted with (We all learn each day, as we go)!


The Ski Jump

This is a classic symptom. If you look at the guitar sideways (as shown in my childish diagram), the fretboard tongue (from the body joint till its end) seems to take off into space for no apparent reason.

Also, if you sight down the fretboard, towards the bridge, you will notice that the bridge is invisible because it is blocked completely by the risen fretboard extension.

Not only does this give rise to fret buzzes, on a cutaway guitar, playing on the higher frets is near impossible for the strings are sitting on the fretwires here. 

The remedy here is to correct the humidity content, apply a little heat and pressure.  


Bellying and String Tension

Not always is the bellying in an acoustic guitar due to faulty manufacturing (crappy bracing and bridgeplate used). If it is the wet season and a belly begins to grow, it means that guitar is over humidified. 

String tension acts on the top and helps the belly grow. That is one of the reasons I tell people that if it is known that an instrument will not be played for three weeks or more, loosen the strings.


Shattered Finish

As the top expands after soaking in moisture, the finish on it does not expand in the same proportion and thus the ‘shattered glass’ look.

One may notice this phenomenon growing as the instrument continues to take in moisture. On sudden exposure to moisture – moving from a dry climate to a wet one – the shattering can be quick and dramatic. It is not uncommon for the owner to go to sleep with the guitar okay and wake up with that shattered look.

This is one problem that is the hardest to send away. Besides removing the finish from the top, back and sides and redoing the guitar again, there is nothing that can be done.

Yes, people talk about painting lacquer thinners into the crevices of the ‘shatter’ but that may work if there are one or two cracks. If it’s a maze of ‘shatter’, doing each line separately while being tedious, may end up looking botched.


Curling Pickguards

Yes, of course plastic (pickguard) shrinks with age, but sometimes, it is not the plastic shrinking but the wood it is stuck to, expanding (due to excess moisture). With the wood having moved, a corner or two of the pickguard comes loose, and then with time, the pickguard begins to curl.

First, the wood will need to be treated and then the pickguard needs to be taken off, heated some and then reapplied to the top.


Separating Fretboards


Again like the pickguard, the neck may expand on soaking in moisture, letting go of a part of the fretboard, or the fretboard may expand letting go of the neck.

Again, excess humidity treatment and then a reglue job. If done with patience this should be a clean job leaving no trace of having been worked on.


Loose Braces

Like the pickguard, the fretboard and the neck, when the top expands due to excessive moisture, some or all the braces are bound to come loose, evoking a strange rattle when you play the guitar.

After dehydrating the guitar a bit, all the loose braces will have to be detected and reglued.  


Bridge may pull up


Also due to the top expanding, the bridge may start lifting. Generally, when it is a belly caused by humidity, it is the wings of the bridge that get loose. Given enough time and string tension, the bridge getting pulled off completely is not outside the realms of imagination.


Bridgepin holes get tighter

Over-humidification may also cause the wood on just the bridge to expand. This will cause the bridgepin holes to hold the pins even tighter, sometimes making it impossible to pull them out.

If after reducing the humidity content the bridgepin holes do not get back to their original size, reaming them is the only option. 


Body comes apart/ binding comes loose

In very extreme cases, over-humidification may lead to the top and the back of the instrument to separate from the sides.  

Before this happens,  often, the binding around the instrument gets loose and falls away from the body.

Getting the binding to reglue correctly is a big pain in the you-know-what. There’s heating involved and if the right glue is not used, the binding will never reglue.


Some do’s and don’ts

  • Humidify without string tension

When you feel your guitar is dehydrated and needs a drink of water, do give that drink but completely remove string tension. That way, even if you over humidify your guitar, at least you won’t be pulling a sure belly into it because of string tension.  

  • Check the humidity inside your guitar

There are small and inexpensive hygrometers (humidity reading devices) which you can drop into the soundhole of your guitar. Once there, cover the soundhole with something that will not absorb moisture and leave the set-up for at least 48 hours.

After that time, the reading that you get in the hygrometer will be the moisture content inside your guitar. With that reading, you can either hydrate or dehydrate your guitar. Your aim should be to always keep the humidity inside your guitar between the 45% – 55% range. If the reading on the hygrometer stays in that bracket for over a couple of days at least, your guitar is at optimum humidity levels.


How to reduce the moisture content inside your guitar

That, I guess, is the aim of this blogpost. All you need to do is drop in a couple of sachets of silica gel inside the soundbox and cover up the soundhole.

Silica gel sachets are those which you often find inside shoe boxes and packaging of electronic goods.  

You DO NOT open the sachets, you just drop them as they are inside the guitar. For excessive humidity effects on other guitar parts, you need the drop a few in your guitar case, close it up and forget about the guitar for at least a week. 

Later, check, and if needed, repeat the process.

SO…if you are buying a new guitar and the salesman tells you that you must put in silica gel, just nod and forget about it. Those ‘experts’ who tell you that silica gel is needed to keep the guitar in good shape, ask them to take a walk!


There is a little caveat to this entire blogpost: whatever you have read up to this point is primarily for solid wood guitars (If you don’t know what that is, search this blog for ‘solid wood guitars’). That is not to say that laminated wood instruments are not affected by excess humidity or the lack of it. It is just that changes will be minimal and many times, unnoticeable in laminated guitars.    





Guitar repair – What will become of this guitar?

I have stalled writing this post for weeks. 

It is about an instrument that came to me having suffered severe trauma after a dumbbell (no less) fell on it! The extent of the damage made the repair cost spiral out of the owner’s comfort level and he decided not to get it repaired (at least not from me!).

I’m sure thought that he will hunt out wannabe repair persons in the lanes and by-lanes of Aminabad who will probably fix the guitar with super glue – quick and dirty – at 1/10 the cost I quoted.

Photographs of the damage follow, and what follow those, are my observations about what would have been a great repair, as also the future of this guitar. It was a Westwood.

Observing the instrument it appeared to me as if the dumbbell fell on the edge of the soundhole closest to the bridge. Obviously, the impact broke not only the soundhole periphery at two places but also cracked the X-brace right at the joint – unfortunately the X-brace joint was right under the point of impact. Due to the impact, all the arms of the X-brace too had been shaken loose all the way and were holding on to bits of glue, here and there.

Also due to the impact breaking the X-brace, other braces running up to it had also been knocked loose.

If I was to rate the damage to the face of the instrument to its innards, the outside would score a 2 out of 10 and the inside 8 out of 10.


Corrective measures

To bring healing to this instrument, one needs to start from the inside out. Check all the braces and glue them with good wood glue ONLY.

Then the soundhole can be repaired but without cleats I doubt if the soundhole repair is going to hold too long.


Problem with super glue

Cyanoacrylate glue (or super glue) is a great glue: smaller mess, fast-curing, great, strong bond. So what is the problem? It’s strength is its greatest weakness, for it is so strong that it dries hard and brittle.

For furniture which does not need to move, super glue works perfect. For string instruments, it is the worst glue ever.

Let me illustrate with this particular guitar in question. Now, it is very easy to wick superglue down all those broken braces, clamp them and the guitar is healed. But…how long will the guitar stay healed?

As you play the instrument, as the top vibrates – and along with that the braces – the vibration is going to break the superglue loose sooner rather than later. 

And what then? Will the owner get the instrument repaired again? Will anyone hazard taking on a job that has been botched earlier?

And this is where my dilemma begins. Am I doing something wrong by trying to do things the right way? The right way, the right path, is always tougher. So, am I right in making things hard for myself?



What I ended up doing

Since the instrument had come to me, I just could not let it go just like that. Earlier, before I had fully realised the extent of damage, I had told the owner that we would need to cleat the guitar at the soundhole. Now that the repair had been called off, I felt that I should do at least something for the instrument.

The impact of the falling dumbbell had caused uneven planes at the point of impact. No side wished to align with the other. With clamps and brute force, I brought the two planes together. Once that was done, I put a mix of sawdust and glue along the break.

Not a very pretty picture but at least, now, the instrument won’t ‘look’ broken. This was before I tried to disguise my effort a bit. My rationale in doing this was that the joint would come under the strings which would hide it somewhat. 

However, I did caution the owner not to string up the instrument before he got the braces repaired inside.

If he pays heed the guitar will remain playable. If he doesn’t, he’ll see the instrument collapse before he is able to tune it up to pitch!    

Guitar repair: When fretwires develop pits

Pitting of fretwires, also referred to as formation of divots, is as common a wear-and-tear problem as the disappearance of tread from your car’s tyres.

Irrespective of how much or how little you play, sooner or later, divots will form on the fretwires and it is pretty normal. Interestingly, you would have noticed that pitting takes place primarily on the thinner three strings. Why? Try cutting an apple with a knife and then try cutting it with a butter knife. The thinner the point of contact, the easier it is to cut through. The same principle applies to guitar (acoustic and electric) treble strings and fretwires.

Of those three strings, you will invariably find that the ‘B’ string makes the deepest and quickest divots. That is due to the nature of the ‘B’ string: plain steel and comparatively thick (in comparison to the ‘e’). And after the ‘B’ string, you’re most likely to find divots along the path of the ‘e’ string, and then the ‘G’ string.

The phenomenon is hastened on due to the quality of fretwire used (in India). It is the softest, and thus, the most vulnerable to pitting. Basically, fretwire, the world over, is available in three varieties: stainless steel, right at the top, cupro-nickel at the other end, and Evo Gold coming in between.

With stainless steel fretwire, one can go for a decade or even more before divots start appearing. However, the interesting bit is that stainless steel is so tough as fretwire that luthiers pass it on for other options. It is expensive too. It is a well documented fact that luthiers complain that putting in stainless steel frets on just one guitar, renders their tools useless! In its favour, you can really shine up stainless steel frets. 

On the other end of the spectrum is cupro-nickel fretwire (majorly used in India). It is soft and cheap, and thus, a favourite among guitar manufacturers in India and most parts of the world.

Evo Gold is a gold-coloured fretwire and in terms of hardness and cost, falls in between stainless steel and cupro-nickel fretwire.

All this long-winding introduction to let you know that the all-steel ‘B’ string easily bites into cupro-nickel fretwire, leaving divots all along the fretboard, wherever you play most. It’s very simple actually. You play less, you’ll see divots on your fretwires much later down the line. You play a lot, you will see them much earlier.


How harmful are divots on fretwire?

They are and they aren’t! If you do a lot of bends, pitted fretwires can hamper your playing big time. Also, if you like to create that vibrato effect just with finger pressure, that too is bound to suffer with pitted frets. On the other hand, if you just play cowboy chords, I don’t think that the divots will hamper you too much, though some players can feel inhibited by them. 

In any case, my understanding of the issue is that once the tread disappears from your car’s tyres, you either get them re-treaded or you buy new tyres! And why should fretwire be any different? 

However, while replacing bald tyres with new ones makes complete sense from the safety point-of-view, pitted fretwire is not a life-and-death situation. You do not have to get fretwires replaced at the first sign of pits appearing. In fact, you only replace fretwire which has been worked on half-a-dozen times and the fretwire has been ground almost to the fretboard. You can easily go to an ‘experienced‘ (can’t emphasise that word enough) tech and have the divots removed. 


Removing the divots – the process

Unless if the divots are in the process of being formed, working on fretwires is a slow and tedious process demanding lots of concentration.

You first work with a flat file to bring all the fretwires to the same level.

The file that I use is actually T-shaped hardened steel, very straight and very flat, on the face of which I put sandpaper.

Once you know that all the fretwires have been levelled, then comes time to put the radius back into the fretwires.

And that is done with a block of wood (called radius block) that has the same radius as that of the fretboard. 

Yes! The saddle, the fretboard and the nut should have the same radius for your (acoustic) guitar to respond to a feather touch. And so, depending upon the radius of your fretboard you choose the corresponding radius block, throw on sandpaper and give it a few passes.

Once these steps have been completed you will see the fretwires are pretty flat on the top. A little crowning file remedies that

Once the frets get crowned, the hard work begins. All these files and blocks were to remove the pits and make the fretwires uniform. 

If you look closely at unfinished fretwires you will notice the gravely look to them very easily. Unless each fretwire is worked on individually (that is the operative word) with various grits of sandpaper you can never get each fretwire polished properly.

Once that is through the cutting and polishing compounds take over, giving that much-talked-about glass-like feel to the fretwires that makes strings really slide over them.

It is a very satisfying feeling to have a customer go “Wow”, just looking at the fretwires, but then, it does create a hole in the pocket!

Guitar repair: This guitar and the missing blog post!

It is now 1 AM on Sunday, June 19th, as I begin to write this post. Till now I had been searching!

I had worked on this guitar some time back. It was an Epiphone Dove. No matter how hard I have tried searching my blog, I haven’t been able to find a post detailing what I had done to it before. 

My idea was that I would share the link here and then with three or four fresh photographs, recount what was happening now. And so, this post has just three photographs!

I even called up the owner asking him to send me the link which I particularly send to the owner of the instrument that I work on. He could not find it either.

Just a few minutes ago the thought occurred to me that maybe, I never wrote a post about the instrument! (Can that be true?) I am still confused. But it is true that I do not write a post about every instrument that I work on.

From what I remember of the work I did, I think I changed just the nut on it.

Usually, beyond a certain price range, manufacturers feel inclined to provide at least a bone saddle. The nut they consider of no consequence and so even a piece of plastic shaped like a nut works.

That was the case with this instrument too (if I remember correctly). But the guitar had been brought in because the owner was experiencing some buzz on the treble strings (e, B, G).

So, I threw out the plastic nut and installed a new bone nut dialled to the right dimensions. I remember that I myself was surprised at the really low action at the first fret. The instrument had been a pleasure to play on. The owner too was thrilled with not only the action but also the change in quality of the sound of the instrument.

The story up till now was just the preamble! All this was to introduce the instrument to you.

Well, it turned up again at my doorstep, recently, with that old problem of buzzing strings! A friend of the owner had brought it in.

That nice low action had gone lower and the neck of the guitar was straighter than what I like to see.

That is a .012″ feeler gauge and it is pushing the string up. As you can probably make out, the string slots too are not too deep.

Sadly, I don’t even have a written record of this instrument. I remember that the action at the nut was low but please don’t expect me to remember what exactly it was. What I can say is that the instrument must have been playing just fine for me to let it go.

The best way I can surmise the phenomenon is that between then and now, humidity dealt its hand and the buzzes came rolling in.

I dialled some relief into it but because the buzz persisted, I filled the nut slots very, very slightly. That all but removed the buzz.

I did not dare go any further working on the nut, neither did I wish to adjust the relief any more.

What made me stop – besides other factors – was that we were working with old, muggy strings. With a fresh set of strings and a fresh set-up, all should be well.

Guitar repair: Two saddles for one guitar?

Long time back, I had heard that guitarists often keep two saddles for each of their (acoustic) guitars, which they swap when the action became too low or high due to the rise and ebb of humidity. Though theoretically I understood the concept, practically I couldn’t get my head round it because I had never experienced it.

I own a few acoustic guitars and they are well-made, solid wood instruments which I play on a monthly rotation basis. Now, because they belong to me, they are set up well, are well looked after, and are provided enough protection. Around a month back, I pulled out one guitar, tuned it up and was horrified to find that I could not even play open strings for they were actually sitting on the fretwires!

I scratched my head trying to figure out what could have gone wrong with the neck or with the saddle for the strings to sit on the fretwires, but then realised it would take time figuring out. Instead, I put this guitar back and pulled out another one.

The next one too was suffering from the same malaise. The strings were so low that it seemed someone had taken out this guitar’s saddle and had put in another guitar’s saddle.

Saddled (pun intended) with two guitars that refused to play, I got down to working on them. Both necks were absolutely straight while both saddles were too low. I took out those saddles and installed new ones.

Here is the difference in height between the new and the old saddles.

Remember, both instruments used to play perfectly earlier (with a lower saddle). So, what changed? The more I thought about it, the more I scratched my head. We are going through very, very dry weather. Even as I write this post on Saturday evening, the weather app on my phone shows the relative humidity at 16%!!

We have had days where it climbed to 33% but by and large it has stayed between 15% and 30%. Right! Dry weather. That would mean the wood is (read guitar neck too) losing humidity. Wood drying would mean it is more likely to contract. That would mean the neck would curl upwards. But that would mean the action on the guitar would rise and not fall to make the strings sit on the frewires!!!

More head scratching! Long story short, I don’t have an answer. If you can explain it to me, please do write in.

Anyway, I took out new bone saddles; they  are nice and tall ones, and believe it or not, I just needed to remove in the vicinity of .020″ from both of them for the guitars to begin playing perfectly again.

Here are the two guitars sporting the new saddles. The old saddles have gone into the respective cases, to be used as and when the need so arises!


Guitar repair: Not all lifting bridges get reglued the same way!

I get daily calls asking me the cost of repairing this and repairing that on an acoustic guitar. Many times I am able to put a figure to it and many times I tell the caller that I would have to take a look at the instrument before giving a figure.

But almost every week I receive a phone call asking me what the repair cost would be for a lifting bridge. Some of the more inquisitive ones even ask me how I propose to tackle it, what glue will I use, etc, etc. I have to explain that not all bridges lift to the same degree, or at the same place. How much and from where the bridge is lifting eventually become price-determining factors. These also determine the course of action to be taken while re-gluing the bridge. I have repeated this answer so many times that now it goes like pushing ‘play’ on a recording machine.  

So, this blogpost is actually about how I determine what to do with a particular lifting bridge. The hope is I stop getting those phone calls, though I realise that this blog goes so far and no further.

The following are some of the common scenarios that I encounter and what I do with them. Having said that I feel it correct to also clarify that these methods that I am going to describe, generally work. However, in many cases, I do have to take a different path though the problem is the same.

If, for example, the bridge is slightly lifting (when you can push in the corner of a notebook paper, say, some 1mm and no more) at either or both wings

The bridge as seen from the end block

I like to push glue under the wings, clamp them down, and hope and pray it holds. One could let wings lifting as little as this be, but then the end of the bridge closest to the end block takes the maximum strain from the string tension. Even a centimetre of lift anywhere on this end means that it will certainly weaken the rest of the perimeter. 

Another scenario is when the wings are stuck solid but the centre of the bridge is lifting.

As seen from the end block side

In such a situation, I prefer to take off the bridge completely and re-glue it back properly. I said I preferred that route, but I do give two scenarios to the owner.

  1. I try to push glue in and if it sticks, so much the better, and
  2. If it doesn’t stick, we have to take the bridge off completely and you have to pay for both processes.

Then there is another situation where the bridge is lifting right through its extremity closest to the end block

Here, there are no options. The bridge can only be taken off, both surfaces – the top and the underside of the bridge – cleaned of all glue residue, and then the bridge is stuck to the top.

An extreme form of the same situation is the photograph headlining this post. In such a case, the ‘patient’ is rushed into the OR and surgery performed under anaesthesia. Later, the patient comes into ICU, then to the recovery room and then the general ward, before discharge. 

These were three common bridge-lift situations, and no matter what I prescribe, follow or preach, the fact is that the correct and the best way is to take the bridge off whenever a part of it starts rising, clean both surfaces, re-glue, clamp, and then give it ample time to cure.

But here is why bridges lift.

9.5 times out of 10 that I have taken the bridge off a guitar, I have seen this. If you can understand it through my drawing, there is a millimetre or two’s worth of margin all round the underside of the bridge and the same margin on the footprint of the bridge on the top too. While on the underside of the bridge this margin defines the extent to which the glue was spread, on its footprint it marks the area that the lacquer intruded on the footprint. 

The funny thing is that ‘intrusion’ never seems to look a if it happened by mistake. In fact, it looks as if it was planned to be that way.   Why that should be so, is the intriguing part.

The part of the bridge closest to the end block is where there is most stress of the strings. Go back on top and look at that main photograph again. That is exactly what the strings want to do to your bridge. With that margin left on the underside of the bridge, it doesn’t take much for the bridge to start lifting. That phenomenon is compounded by the lacquer intrusion on the bridge footprint.

Are there bridge designs prone to lifting?

Yes! And the following is my understanding of bridges and how they function under string tension. 

Of the two bridge designs, which one do you think has a greater propensity of failing?

The string-through bridge without the bridgepins is my culprit. Why? Back to the main photograph and understanding which way the strings are pulling. The string-through bridge only aids in getting itself ripped off (pun intended) due to its sheer design.

The more common bridge with bridgepins lets the bridgeplate take the first onslaught of string action. If your bridgeplate is made of a good hard wood, all is good, otherwise…, read about belly bulges in this blog!


Guitar repair: This Yamaha required emergency surgery!

This Yamaha came to me a few months ago in a great deal of distress. In between came a host of instruments with various humidity-related issues which leapfrogged this one.

This too is partly a result of the lack of humidity as you will discover.

A 3/4 guitar, it belonged to a lanky, soft-spoken recording/performing artist. As I inspected the guitar he told me that this guitar had been lying with his brother for two years. The young man was attached to this instrument and wanted it fixed proper.

I don’t think that it was cared for very much during those two years, for this is how it came to me.

While you see the bridge cracked, it was also lifting. While casually looking at it, it might appear that the crack was in a straight line. However, that was not the case. Look closely at the ‘D’ string bridgepin hole. You clearly see how the break is in two lines and not one. And it is a deep break, almost running through the entire thickness of the bridge.

I knew I had to be really gentle with the bridge to be able to take it off in one piece. But then gentle is not the word that comes to mind when you are talking about taking off bridges!

Usually, it is a 10-15 min job. This bridge, however, took almost 30. Why?

Because it was stuck with epoxy! See that shiny underside of the bridge. That’s epoxy!

Whatever, there was a job at hand and it had to be done. So, after 40 mins of scraping and sanding, this is what it looked like

After another 20 mins, it looked like this

A final 25 minutes – 85 minutes in all – later, it looked like this: nice, clean, bare wood!

Once the underside was clean, the crack demanded being tended to.

With not too much clamping pressure, I was able to make the two seams meet, well, almost! That gave me much hope and I went about filling, filing and sanding. Slow and painstaking but fruitful.

This is how it looked once I was through! Not bad, eh?!

Now, there may be some of you who might question the amount of effort and time to put a broken bridge together. Why not put in a new one? Well, I could if I had the exact same bridge. I did not. And I was sure I would not have been able to find exactly the same one no matter how hard I searched. Besides, when you put on a new bridge on an old guitar, you better be sure that the new one is slightly larger than what the old one was, otherwise it leaves a very unsightly margin of bare wood showing all around.

With what I thought was the major part of the work done, I turned my attention to the guitar itself.

The footprint of the guitar on the top needed to be cleaned of all extra lacquer and paint. But this was easier said than done, for no matter how careful you are, there will always be chips, dings and scratches that belie your efforts.

I took the chips and dings with a pinch of salt, deciding to touch up once the bridge was glued on.

Here’s the cleaned bridge area of the guitar with the bridgepin holes and the soundhole covered up in preparation for a cleaning of the fretboard. It was an electro-acoustic instrument.

Now, it was time for major surgery: to glue the bridge to the top. But here I was accosted by a problem.

The body from the outside measured 2.75″ (approximately). Then the braces were .5″ on the back. Take another .5″ for the braces on the top. What all those numbers translated to was that I had 1.75″ of space (approximately), to put my hand in, the clamps in to be able to glue the bridge to the top.

Also, the owner told me how good the electronics were. While clamping, I had to also take care that I did not inadvertently crush the piezo piece stuck to the bridgeplate.

After struggling for what seemed an eternity, I finally to get all the clamps where I wanted them to be. Dry run complete, I applied glue, put on the bridge and  clamped it so tight that air would not be able to get in. Thing is, you never get a good bond with just glue. Unless the clamping is just right, either the bond is going to fail soon, or you’re going to break something.

Here’s a look at the bridge under pressure.

After I caught my breath, I began work on a new bone saddle and nut. We could most certainly do better than the plastic nut that the company provided.

The top-most two elements are bone. The owner had purposely chosen an unbleached bone nut to give the instrument an aged look. But before those could be put in the instrument, they would have to be cut to size, and so…calculations!

Those were shaved down and while I waited for the glue to cure under the bridge, I worked on the fretboard which was in dire need of some love. There were a few fretwires that needed divots removed from them and the fretboard certainly use some cleaning and some love potion.

Also, there were minor irritants like the strap button on the heel of the instrument rather than being on its side.

I swear I haven’t seen a longer screw in a guitar. As I pulled it out, I was fearing that the screw was holding the neck and body together.

That hole was plugged and a new hole was drilled for a smaller screw, on the side of the heel.

When the clamps did come off, the bridge looked as good as new. I was happy with my work.

Now, it was time to bring everything together. It came together like a charm. Here’s a look at the finished job!