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Classical and flamenco guitars historically used catgut strings, but these have been superseded by nylon.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

 

 

Guitar repair – Pain in the season of fails

A headstock repair going wrong, not working, is still understandable, but a bridge reglue not happening, ever heard that one? How wrong can one go with cleaning the underside of the bridge, its footprint on the guitar top, smearing glue and clamping the two together?
HORRIBLY WRONG, says my experience! And, blame it all on the weather (the humidity in the air).

So, this young man came to me with a lifting bridge on a Hertz guitar

I took one look at it and said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it’, but also pointed out the plastic/artificial nut-saddle duo his instrument was sporting. I reasoned that with the bridge stuck nice and snug, it would be twice the pleasure listening to the dreadnought sing if a bone saddle and nut were to be installed. And with fresh strings…ooh, la, la…!

And, of course, I pointed out the eight holes on the bridge. I told him the two on the extremes hid nuts and bolts – a useless weight addition – that in my opinion, did precious little. Before I took a look, I handed him the mirror to look at and confirm what I was saying was, in fact, true. And, it was.

The first course of action was to take off the strings, the saddle and the bridge. As I pulled out the saddle, I saw this hiding underneath

I pulled out the useless piece of plastic and measured the saddle

to transfer the dimensions to a bone saddle. That done, I kept the new saddle aside to use later.

As I observed the instrument, I noticed these huge divots in the fretboard. The guitar had been played!

Next to work on the bridge. For the bridge to be removed, first the hardware holding it to the top of the guitar would have to be removed. Carefully, the plastic dots hiding the bolts were removed and saved. They would eventually go back in their holes without the hardware.

Next, the nuts and bolts were removed

With this done, the assortment of knives were brought out to lift the bridge off the top of the guitar.

Some heat, some persuasion and the bridge came off pretty clean.

The margin that you see all around is the place where the glue was never put or never reached. Cleaning the old glue off is always a headache and this particular job was no different.

After the cleaning, it looked much better, telling me it was glue-up time. But before that could be done, the holes through which the bolts had run through the top had to be filled.

Sawn off, levelled, the top was now ready to receive the bridge. Glued and clamped, the instrument was left untouched for approximately one-and-a-half days. Usually, 24 hours is more than enough to do the job.

And these are the clamps that I usually use for bridge glue-ups. They have never failed me.

In the meantime, I worked on the new bone nut and brought it to the right size.

worked on the fretboard, cleaned and oiled it

After two days, when I had strung up the guitar, I noticed that the break angle at the saddle was far from desirable.

String slots were cut to give the strings some semblance of break angle

Work done, I called the owner to come and collect the guitar. And right there, before our eyes, the bridge started creeping up again.

I sent him back and decided to have another go at the bridge. Again, it was taken off, cleaned, reglued and re-clamped. And yet again, it decided not to stay down but to come off.

Astonished, I apologised to the owner and asked him to leave the guitar with me for some time. This time, when I took the bridge off, I checked with a straight edge if there was a more-than-appreciable twist to the bridge that prevented it from getting glued.

There was a bit of a twist but nothing so dramatic as would prevent all that glue and clamping pressure from overpowering it.

I removed that little twist, added more clamps and cauls and left the guitar undisturbed for a week this time.

And yet after a week, it decided not to stick!

There was little else to be done but to tell the owner that this was not getting done. I did promise him though that I would have another go at it once the rains go away.

 

Guitar repair – With the rains, comes the season of fails!

However beneficial the rains might be, it is not good for glue-up jobs! The heat and the humidity combo of the season (at least in this part of the world) refuses to let the glue dry no matter how long you leave the clamps on.

As examples, I will present two instruments that refused glue-up that were bread-and-butter type glue-up jobs.

This one is Epiphone but a different model from the one I worked on last time.

It seems just fine till you look at its headstock

And to make matters worse, the owner had tried to glue up the break himself. According to him, he had managed to glue it up but a second ‘accident’ caused it to break again.

The headstock and the neck carried all the tell-tale signs of an ‘operation’ having been performed earlier.

While cleaning up would be quite a job, I was confident that with the help of wooden dowels I could put ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ together again! I had before!

And as I looked I saw that the fretboard and the bridge were exceedingly dry. Strangely, as I ran my fingers over to feel for fretwire sprout, there was none.

But cleaning of the glue from off the headstock and neck had to be done first and took all of two days – four working hours each day – carefully picking out each little piece of glue from all crevices.

After I was done, it did look clean and new – except for the dings already on it.

Then began the glue-up process and some ingenious clamping. But before that all the tuning machines had to come off the headstock. This was for two reasons: one, they might come in the way of the clamps, and two, their weight might pull headstock down in the glueing-up process. 

A lot of thought and time was put into the amount of glue to be used, the placement of clamps and cauls

After two days of staying clamped, it seemed cured and the fortification of the joint began.

 Three strategically placed wood dowels always manage to hold the headstock and the neck together.

I had explained to the owner that once I was done with it, the joint and the dowels would be visible but he wouldn’t be able feel them, even if he wanted to. He had agreed and he said that he wanted a functional guitar and didn’t care too much for looks. 

With the three dowels holding the headstock and neck together, the process began of sanding everything smooth: first with a hobby file and later, with various grits of sandpaper.

In the end, you could see the joint and the dowels but could not feel the slightest lip anywhere.

The owner had also chosen strings for his guitar and I decided to put them on in front of him. As I did and tuned up the instrument, the action rose with a creaking sound: never, ever a good sign.

I turned the instrument around and there was the break opening up again!

There was little else I could do except apologise profusely to the owner and return the guitar to him. I did that.

 

 

 

Guitar repair – A Dove that sings sweet!

The action on your guitar is primarily dictated by neck angle, and then there are a host of other factors.

Neck angle is another element where (comparatively) expensive guitars score over cheaper guitars (putting another tick in the ‘expensive guitars’ column’)!

This well-maintained Epiphone Dove Pro came to me for general maintenance, a check-up and some fresh strings.

Immediately, I could see that though the saddle was of bone, the nut was a plastic one (the first pic).

And even though it had a bone saddle, the owner brought a new bone saddle which he had earlier purchased elsewhere. He wanted me to replace the old one with the new one.

Also, healthy divots had formed on each fretwire, right up to the 10th or the 11th.

The fretboard and bridge were very dry and in need of some serious TLC.

Work started with taking the old strings off the guitar and keeping the bridgepins in the order that they came out.

However, as I removed the saddle from its slot, I instinctively dug in and found these sitting there: a wire-tie and some pieces of string!!!

Next, the old, plastic nut was knocked out of its slot. Measurements were taken of its dimensions

which would then be transferred to a swanky new, bone nut.

Cleaning the fretboard and filing, crowning and polishing of the fretwires came next. I must say I was very happy with the results achieved.

The bridge too was shown some love and it shone!

Working on the new saddle, all those wire ties and string pieces had to be taken into consideration. Dialled in that saddle looked rather low.

With the new nut and saddle in place, the instrument was strung up with the owner’s choice of strings which he provided. Not the best and certainly not something that I would recommend to go on a Dove Pro. I did ask the owner to choose better strings next time.

But before I threw on the new strings, I checked and adjusted the neck.

and then as a last touch, shaped the bridgepins so that ball-ends of the strings would not catch on the pin ends.

With the strings on, it was amazing at what I saw and measured. The action was crazy low and better still, it did not buzz!!

But what worried me was the string angle. The very low saddle left little to no break angle. I did not talk to the owner about this but when he did come to pick up the guitar, I did point out what the situation was. I told him that string slots/ramps were needed and on the next visit I would cut them.

But I leave you now with a shot of the beautiful Dove, as also one of wounds received during the battle!

 

 

 

 

Guitar repair – A novel problem in a classical Alhambra!

As you might have guessed, this was a classical guitar that came to me with a unique problem.

But first, Alhambra. This is a 58-year old Spanish guitar-making company that has made a name for itself in these few years (Few? CF Martin and Co was established in 1883!!). The firm makes classical, flamenco and steel string guitars but is known more for its classical and flamenco models.

The guitar came in with a peculiar problem: one that I saw for the first time. Its gear on one of the tuning machines had lost a couple of teeth due to which tuning issues had arisen.

Eighteen years ago, when I had decided that guitar maintenance is what I wished to do after superannuating, I had started to buy things that I ‘may’ need. One of these things was tuner gears. For 18 years those two dozen gears have quietly sat in the box I kept them in, waiting for a customer to arrive, until he finally came knocking.

But these were three-in-a-row tuners (as is usually the case in classical guitars). To work on a single tuner you had to dismantle the entire assembly on one side of the headstock.

This was fine work involving small screws. Ideal for pulling out the magnifying lamp.

This also meant taking the strings off on that side. In a steel-string guitar, I would just loosen the strings and pull them out from the bridge…but…

…they were so neatly tied and the bridge was so pretty that I instead pulled them off from the other end (Read I was just plain lazy!).

After the replacement of the gear, I replaced the tuner assembly, put all the screws back, rewound the strings on the posts, and that was it.

There was another problem. If you look closely at the photograph above, the tuner button on the key on which the gear was replaced (E), was also ready to fall to pieces. The tuner button of the ‘A’ string too was shattered. The owner wanted those replaced too but I do not keep tuner buttons: too many varieties in design, shape, size and colour for a small set-up like mine to stock.

I asked the owner to purchase them and bring them which I would replace. 

 

 

Guitar repair – Facelift for humble oldtimer

Back in the day – say mid-80s – these imitation jazz guitars flooded the Indian market but mostly of smaller towns. Of course, the metropolises had their swanky shops selling ‘branded stuff’, still do.

Now, these guitars are usually patronised by first-timers eager to get their hands on a ‘guitar’! Their sale price is right and they don’t look too bad, but the best thing about them is the zero fretwire. But that is where the goodness ends. From here on, it’s all bad: material, construction, tunability, etc, etc, etc.

But with the zero fretwire in place, one is assured of very low action, for the strings actually ride on it. The purpose of the nut in these guitars is to ensure that the strings stay in place and don’t fall off the fretboard.

The young man who brought it in, has another, newer guitar and this was his first guitar. For sentiment’s sake, he wished for this to be working again, and so, honouring his wishes, I took in the instrument, though I usually turn those of its ilk away: too much work, time and effort and too many people not willing to pay for it all!

And so it began, by pulling off everything – pickguard, tailpiece – and first giving the guitar a good hot water bath. Well, there was no splashing around but more like a sponge bath.

Then it was the turn of the fretboard and bridge to get some love and attention.

The tarnished fretwires were polished till they almost shone.

Dryer than cinder, the rosewood-type wood looked ashen, almost shocked at the scrubbing it had to go through. But with some love potion, it was all good. Notice the bridge and the saddle. The bridge has these two discs with which you can move it up or down if you wish to raise or lower the action. The pieces of brass that you see stuck in the wood are individual saddles for each string. Cool, eh?

The young owner had also said that the tuning machines used to be a problem (why wasn’t I surprised?) and asked me if I had new ones to replace them.  I told him that I did not have new ones and asked him to buy some from the market. After a few days, I recalled having an old set that I had salvaged from a guitar going to be thrown in junk. He agreed to buy them at half price.

Once I had swapped them all, it turned out that one of them was not working properly. So, I told him to keep the tuners, buy new ones and then bring the guitar to me whenever he feels. I would swap them out again for him.

But if you disregarded that one string (the one wound on the truant tuning machine), the action was good! It was still a player!

 

 

 

Guitar repair – introducing the ski-jump fretboard!

So, remember how I say that similar guitars or guitars with similar problems come together? Nothing could be more similar than the gentleman who brought in the guitar featured in the last post and the one that is featured in this one.

In fact, they almost arrived together – 10 mins apart! And I’ll be lying if I say I have seen two guitars exhibiting the same problem, so spectacularly, coming in so close together.

This was an Ibanez.

and what appeared to me as a solid wood instrument.

However, the irritant to the initial inspection was

the three plastic dots on the bridge. From experience I know that these hide nuts and bolts used to fasten the bridge to the top. This is an archaic design concept that holds little water now for the nuts and bolts are only a disaster waiting to happen.

It is like this: there will be string tension and that tension is bound to try and lift the bridge. Without the hardware installed on the bridge, it will come off cleanly and may be reglued properly. With the hardware in place, when and if the bridge does come off it will take a portion of the top with it – making it a much more costly repair.

In any case, it wasn’t a faultless repair. Glue that must have squeezed out from under the bridge, was clearly visible.

There was another problem that I could see with bare eyes. The guitar had a belly. And it was worth about two coins. 

So, before anything else, the belly had to be dealt with. The thing with guitar bellies is that they give in to the heat and pressure treatment but because of wood memory and continued string tension on a bad-material, or, bad-sized bridgeplate, return after a certain period of time.

But I had to give it a try and so

this is how the instrument remained, bound for a period of two days. Of course, you can see it is flatter than a pancake here, but once the clamps come off, it is a different story. Once string tension starts acting, it’s quite another story yet.

Meanwhile, I approached the guitar’s problem of fretwire buzz. My trusty Fretrocker found these

which were duly levelled, crowned and polished, while the rest of the fretboard was cleaned and given some TLC.

Before and after photographs for your perusal.

I had asked the owner to continue using 10-47 strings for some time, see how the instrument was taking their stress and then gradually move to 11s and then 12s, ultimately. I strung the guitar up with the 10-47 strings that the owner had provided and confidently called the owner to come and pick up the guitar.

When he came and played it, to my horror, the fretwire buzz was very much there and well. I asked him to leave the instrument with me and went straight to the tongue of the guitar – the area of the fretboard from the body joint till its end. Indeed the fretwires were high.

I sanded the fretwires flat, crowned and polished them and then when I strung up the guitar, there was a very slight buzz remaining. This I let it be and asked the owner to wait till the rains set in. If after a fortnight of the rains setting in, the buzz did not go away, I asked him to bring the instrument in.

And now for some explanation of the ski-jump fretboard.

That is an exaggerated view of a ski jump but usually it happens when the guitar is over-humidified. The neck block swells and raises the portion of the top over it. Naturally, the tongue of fretboard stuck there, also rises.

But this was different. This guitar was as dry as a matchstick. So why here? This was due to the different rates of shrinkage of the neck block and the top. The top had sunk while the fretboard was still high from the neck block which was not that dry. 

The humidity rise when the rains set in would naturally affect guitar geometry, and that is why I asked the owner to come in if the problem persists.

Guitar repair – Where them raised fretwires at??!

This was an Epiphone DR100 which came in recently, and (as you can make out) it was in need of some real TLC. The owner, in his bid to get the action lower, admitted that he had shaved the saddle down a tad too low. Thus, an irritating buzz had crept in which refused to go away try as he might.

At the very onset, I will warn you that this is the first among a string of like problems that came to me starting from early June. All of them showed symptoms of suffering from the extreme heat of May and the consequent dehydration.

I took one look at the saddle and told him that it would have to be changed. As you can see for yourself, it is not only short but it was even a bit thin for the slot, making it tilt in its housing when the strings were tensioned.

I gave the owner two very clear options: a) I could swap the micarta-type-material saddle for a bone saddle customised for its slot, or, b) I could slip in a cheap plastic saddle, which again would be short in length and thin for its slot (Generally cheap plastic and micarta saddles have been found to be only of one length – at least in this part of the world – 72mm).

He intelligently chose bone. At his response, I told him the difference a bone nut would make as opposed to a plastic/micarta nut that was already in place. Both elements – saddle and nut – being of bone, render a purer sound as opposed to one element being of one material and the other of a different one.

The two photographs on top show the two elements originally installed in the instrument.

Listening to my logic, he thought long and hard and decided to get a bone nut installed too. Then, he asked me, almost pleadingly, will the buzz in his guitar go away? I smiled at him and said confidently that yes, that will be sorted.

There was this also that I noticed and wondered if part of the raised action could be because of this. The owner sheepishly accepted experimenting with glue. The joint was structurally solid and there was no point in trying to make the slightly raised seams disappear and add to the expenses of the owner.

There was also this that I noticed:

an odd discolouration on the shoulders of the instrument. It was almost as if the instrument had been left out in the sun for days on end, or kept in room close to an open window through which the sun streamed in directly on it. I asked the owner if the instrument had been left in the sun, but he was categorical in denial.

A part reason for me asking him about the sun factor was the fact that the fretboard was exceedingly dry.

Dutifully, I took the old strings off, took out the saddle to measure it and

saw this in the saddle slot. Efforts had been made to raise the action.

I measured the saddle and the nut, dialled in those dimensions in their bone counterparts and fit them.

Then the entire fretboard was given a drink of the magic potion – twice – before it seemed to come to life. And while I was at it, the bridge too got some much-needed attention.

The neck was straightened and it was time to string it up.

The owner chose these strings

The instrument had amazing action and I was very happy with it. After stringing, I played and checked for a buzz, and sure enough it was there – more pronounced on the 6th, 5th, 2nd and 1st strings and lesser on the others.

 

The handy fretrocker, helped me find some high fretwires (marked in red).

I called up the owner and sent him this photo. He agreed to have these worked on. These were dealt with and the buzz seemed to have gone. Unfortunately, it had not.

When I checked again, the buzz was still there. As I went finding raised frets, the high ones seemed to be all on the tongue of the fretboard. Again, I called the owner to tell him about the situation.

This time he threw a fit and asked me to take back all that I had done in the instrument, blaming me of trying to make money by revealing one problem at a time.

He was correct to quite an extent, and yet, I would have been forgiven for not checking for a phenomenon that I knew existed but had never really come across in my 15 years of repairing instruments. I quietly took back the saddle and nut that I had so carefully cut to size and let him go after paying for just the strings. 

Next time: Another guitar, same problem and an explanation of the raised fretwires on the tongue of the fretboard.

 

Guitar repair – May mayhem in (North-Central) India

I live in the mango belt, here, in North-Central India. Early in March, mango growers voiced fears of a severely hit mango crop for the flowering season was passing without many blooms appearing on mango trees.

Later in May end, newspapers again quoted elated mango growers who said that the mango crop this year was far better than they had expected. The reason for the good crop, they said, was the abnormal, extreme heat that was experienced in the month.

And now onto acoustic guitars. The ‘abnormal, extreme heat’ of May didn’t just ripen mangoes quickly, it got to guitars as well!

Proof of that statement has been walked into the Lucknow Guitar Garage, almost on a daily basis, ever since June stepped in! The one complaint: Sudden, inexplicable fretwire buzz.

Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, a heads up that the next few blog posts are going to deal with fretwire buzz and fretwire sprout.

And now for a simple explanation about what really is happening. The odd sharp showers notwithstanding, May’s extreme heat dried up wood everywhere on guitars (all guitars). So, wood shrank, fretwires stood up and sprouted, and centre seams opened up.

So, stop troubling your truss rod and if you take it to a shop, stop the man if he tries to worry the truss rod!

Free advice to all you guitar owners: Please feed water to your thirsty guitar!

Another piece of free advice: Drop your guitar at the Lucknow Guitar Garage and see the buzz disappear!

Fair warning: The next few posts are all going to be fretwire buzzes and fretwire sprout!

 

Guitar repair – Another initial set-up. The awareness grows!

This came in recently for an initial set-up. I asked the owner how he got the idea of getting a new guitar set-up and he told me that he had been reading my blogs regularly!

Yes, I have talked about the need to have a new guitar set-up umpteen times. And for the sake of the new reader, I will repeat myself.

Guitars are ‘manufactured’ in factories to general specifications. For them to play the way YOU want them to play, suited to YOUR style of playing, a specialised set-up is required. Think of the set-up as a fine-tuning of your car where simple things like if you are a clutch-rider, are compensated for.

Also think of the entire process as buying a ready-made shirt from the market and getting one stitched purely to your dimensions. Wouldn’t the one stitched sit better on you? Likewise the initial guitar set-up.

It is most beneficial for the learner for he/she starts off with a comfort level raised many times due to the personalised set-up. For the intermediate player (who has bought a new guitar), the initial set-up will immediately strike him, for he is used to how his old guitar plays and sounds.

Getting back to the guitar, this was a Yamaha FS800. Solid spruce top (look carefully at the characteristic longitudinal fibers) 

Nato back and sides

I am sorry, that’s not a very good photograph but when I took this, there was no electricity in the house and so the wood grain did not come out at all. Now, I am no expert on wood but to my eyes, the wood grain looked much like mahogany. I could be wrong (and the specifications on the Yamaha site say I am).

But the photograph of the label is a good one, for it shows the wood fibers clearly, proving that the back is solid wood.

(And Wikipedia says) Nato wood is a collective name for wood from Mora trees (the best-known species are Mora excelsa (Mora) and Mora gonggrijpii (Morabukea). Mora may vary in appearance, with reddish brown being the dominant color, but with varying shades and often with darker or lighter streaks. It has a similar appearance to mahogany, and as such it is often referred to as ‘eastern mahogany’. 

The nut and saddle material was made out of ‘urea’ (that’s a new one for me), so said the specifications. To my eyes, it was just plain plastic.

The fretboard and bridge material was walnut and the die-cast chrome tuners felt good to turn.

There was a slight dulling of the fretwires all along the neck, so these were quickly polished to lend them a sheen.

Most importantly, the braces were scalloped but in a fashion other than what I know scalloping to be. Yes, the height of the braces had been planed out in places but the tops of the braces were flat. Usually, with guitars of a certain pedigree and the braces are cone-shaped with the broadest part stuck to the top. The other end of the braces would have been pointed but that point is rounded over. With scalloping then, the braces would look something like this, though not so extreme.

However, the bracing was very different

The bridgeplate – my main concern – was some insignificant/unrecognisable (to me) piece of white wood (see above). How long it will resist the pull of the strings and stop the guitar from bellying, I truly cannot say.

Anyway, the guitar got a new bone nut and saddle, with dimensions to sport a good action at the 12th fret (.090″ – .080″), and at the first fret too (.019″ – .017″)

I showed love to an otherwise dry fretboard with instructions to the owner to return in six months for me to give the fretboard and bridge some more TLC. Both were terribly dry, sucking in the love potion, almost immediately. 

The choice of strings of the owner were these

The neck of the guitar was straighter than what I would have liked to see, and so, a wee bit of relief was dialled in. Intonation was checked and found to be spot on (a couple of cents never hurt anyone).

Also advised was a shoulder strap button, regularly missing in most guitars.

And even though the guitar was relatively new, the owner had already spent time on it, for when I handed it over to him and he played it, he appreciated the lower action and the quality of sound of the instrument.

I was happy that he was happy.  

A note to you all: It’s never too late to get an ‘initial set-up’. Come and get one today at the Lucknow Guitar Garage, and see for yourself the difference it makes to the sound, your comfort level and the overall playability.

 

Guitar repair – That buzz may not be from the fretwires!!

This is a return customer. Then, I had swapped the plastic nut and saddle for a bone one, I think.

The guitar came back to me recently with the complaint of a buzz on the 1st/2nd frets of the high ‘e’ and low ‘E’ strings.

But what caught my eye was the condition the guitar was in. It seemed it hadn’t been loved in a long time.

What also caught my eye were the string slots. It seemed somebody had tried to lower the 1st fret action by deepening the slots. I am all for experimentation but with a couple of fail-safes: proper knowledge and right tools. If those too fail – somehow – then one should be ready with an alternative, whatever it is that one is experimenting with (nut/saddle/strings).

When strings sit on the fretwires, a buzz is bound to appear. Also, with slots so low, who is to say that the string is not rattling inside the slot but on the fretwires? When string slots need to be lowered, the nut too needs to be brought down proportionately.

Anyway, now that the problem had presented itself, there were two ways out: either fill the slots and re-cut them, or, replace the old nut with a new nut. The cost difference was negligible and taking the latter route meant lesser work for me. Thankfully, the owner agreed to replace the nut.

Work commenced with taking the crusty old strings off the guitar, and as I was taking them off, I saw this:

the perfect example of how NOT to wind the string around the peg. See, just because the manufacturer was kind enough to provide you with a certain length of string, it does not mean that you HAVE to use all of it!!

Just two or three winds of the thicker strings and five or six of the thinner strings (B and e) will do just fine.

Next, even though cleaning and polishing the instrument is usually the last step in the list of jobs, I had to clean the guitar first to begin work on it. Then began the deep clean, burnishing of the fretwires and a drink of the fretboard elixir.

Before I had taken off the strings, I had checked that the action of the guitar was on the higher side, Shaving the saddle was out of the question for it was already lower than what I would have liked to see. The way out? Cut string slots/string ramps.

These help create an an acute angle as the strings come out of their holes and travel to the top of the saddle.

Checking the fretwires for high spots, I was surprised to find many but none that would cause a buzz around the 1st/2nd fret area. Wonder if you can make out the marked areas on the fretwires (damn the watermark!).

Those were dealt with before treating the fretboard to a delicious drink of the magic potion.

The old nut was knocked out, measured and its dimensions transferred to a new one. As the nut sat snug in its slot, it was time to string up the instrument.

The choice of strings of the owner was

And before I let you go, I’ll leave you with some shots of the finished job.

All cleaned up, I could even read the name on the headstock: ‘gb&a’!!!

Guitar repair – Save the ‘heart’ of your instrument

Can you guess what this is and what its possible use could be?

This has been the reason for my preoccupation over the last few months.

The way guitars are constructed in our dear India, you must shell out upwards of 15K to acquire a decent guitar. Anything else in the lesser price bracket is a disaster waiting to happen. Notice, I have not named brands and models, instead I quote a price range.

Like I have said often, after you cross that 15K price barrier, you get an instrument which has elements which justify the price. Elements? Almost everything used in the instrument is of a (comparatively) superior quality – most importantly – the bridgeplate. The bridgeplate is the heart of your guitar.

But not all of us can afford to shell out 15K – 20K for a guitar. An overwhelming majority falls for a 4K – 5K instrument. What the quality of elements is in this guitar, I leave to your imagination. So, within six months (a year at best) you will find the instrument develop a belly that an ‘expensive’ guitar may not sport in a decade!

Why does this phenomenon happen? String tension tries to pull the top up of the guitar. It is the job of the bridgeplate to counter that tension and prevent any bellying from occurring. Because the material used for a bridgeplate in a ‘budget guitar’ is just any piece of wood that the manufacturer managed to lay his hands on, the bridgeplate is found woefully inadequate.

The first photograph is a cheap bridgeplate which has seen better days, while the third one is what you would expect to see in an ‘expensive’ guitar. The second photograph shows the positioning of the bridgeplate on the underside of the guitar top.

Keeping all that I have said till now as the background, I had my thinking cap on, trying to figure out a way to deal with the deluge of of cheap guitars that come knocking at my doorstep.

The solution to the problem is what the Western world calls a Mitchel’s PlateMate (a mate of the bridgeplate) developed by Mitchel Meadors, a talented Bluegrass musician and inventor.

The PlateMate gets stuck on the bridgeplate and takes the brunt of string tension on itself, providing years to the bridgeplate. This has a two-fold effect: a) the bridgeplate is protected from damage from the string ball-end, and b) since the bridgeplate is not taking the tension of the strings directly, it stays ‘unstressed’ for longer.

On Mitchel’s site, the Plate Mate sells for $19.95 plus shipping and handling. That’s Rs 1654+ shipping and handling!!!!!

Would you pay 2.2K – 2.5K for the Plate Mate to be installed in a 4K – 5K instrument? I wouldn’t!!

StewMac, a respected but frightfully expensive luthier store, also in the US, charges $26.66 plus shipping!

And, here’s where I come in. From those strips of metal, I shall shape individual PlateMates that are made to fit your guitar only. Think of it as buying a readymade shirt and getting one stitched to your measurements and it will be done at 1/3 the price of the bigger players.

Right! So, the bridgeplate is protected and bellying will be delayed by installing the PlateMate. What effect will it have on the sound of the instrument?

Most finger-style players – those who love to arpeggiate chords – will love what the PlateMate will do to the sound of the instrument. However, country/bluegrass style musicians who cherish the bass response of their instruments may not like the modification.

But, then again, that is my assumption. If you are a country/folksy musician, maybe, you will like the change of sound, after all!

If you wish to protect your bridgeplate, do drop into the Lucknow Guitar Garage and experience the transformation the PlateMate can do.

 

 

Guitar repair – Tit-bits to get you out of a fix – I

Yeah, I know I have been missing our dates for long now. However, the thing is that while I have been decidedly occupied, the work that has been coming in has been mundane, or,  something that I have already written about. It would indeed be boring to be repetitive!

So, now that I am relatively free, I decided to send your way little pointers and hacks that would make your life easier, should you find yourself in a bind. These are things that spring to mind as I write. That is why the ‘I’ in the headline: there will be more tips and pointers that I will put down, as and when I remember.

 

Taking a coin to bridgepins

All of us have encountered that particularly obstinate bridgepin that refuses to exit its hole – try what you may. Try too hard and you end up breaking the peg!!

What I usually do in such cases, is slip my hand into the soundhole of the guitar, a coin in hand. Reaching underneath the pin, I push up the pin from below with the face of the coin (and not its side). Unless someone decided to super-glue the pins in (wow!), they’ll pop right out.

 

Packing a guitar

You may be sending it to an outstation friend/sibling/cousin, but the mistake that most of us make is to try and protect the body. That is not where are attention should be focused.

Of course, once it is in a hard case (imperative for shipping), the body is protected. No matter how much you throw the case around, the top and back of the guitar are generally protected. However, the impact is very likely to knock the headstock off the neck.

The headstock-neck joint is what needs extra protection, and the best way to provide that is to wad up enough newspaper below AND ABOVE it, when the guitar is in the case. The quantity of wadding should be such that when you close the lid of the case, you have to use  force to close it.

Let’s not even begin to talk about semi-hard cases being used for shipping!

 

Saving your instrument from heat/direct sunlight

Summer is upon us, here, in North India. It is time to take extra care of your guitar and especially if you know that your instrument is a solid wood instrument – or at least if it has a solid top.

Don’t leave it in a room that gets direct sunlight and is seldom opened. Long hours in direct sunlight is another guitar killer. What happens is that heat/direct sunlight sucks moisture away from the instrument, affecting it cosmetically and structurally. While the former makes the guitar look ugly, the latter affects its life. For more, read earlier posts about humidity and how it affects your instrument.

However (for those of you in the region), if humidity issues have affected your guitar enough for it to need special attention, please feel free to WhatsApp or call me. You will find my contact details on the top right of this page.

 

Never leave a capo on the headstock of the guitar

A capo hanging on the headstock is the worst thing that can happen to a guitar. It adds weight to an already susceptible region of the guitar, dampens vibrations and causes finish damage.

For performing artistes among you, I suggest you keep a chair/stool/small table handy to lay your picks (plectrums) and your capo (if you use one). While the guitar is in its case, keep the capo in a pocket of the case. Sitting perched on the headstock, the capo adds weight to it putting the headstock-neck joint under stress. Imagine the less-than-an-inch material behind the nut of the guitar. You’ve added the weight of a capo to it, and it just needs a good knock to the guitar to snap the head right off the neck! 

If that does not happen, the capo sitting on the headstock for long, will certainly damage the finish discolouring it or even damaging it, as the rubber/synthetic material used on the capo will react with it.  

If you do manage to break the headstock on your guitar, feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll try and do the best I can with it.

Until next time…!