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…!

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.

 

WHY THEY APPEAR

#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.

#Sweat

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

 

HOW DIVOTS AFFECT YOUR PLAYING?

# 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.

#Intonation

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.

 

REMEDIES

#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

 

SIZE, THICKNESS & MATERIAL

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.

 

STRINGS PLAY A HUGE ROLE

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!