Sentimental treasure restored…almost

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-23 at 7.42.45 PM

This photograph was sent to me to see if I could rectify the problem. For the life of me I could not fathom what fungus could have caused the fretboard wood to lose its colour like this. I called the instrument in for closer inspection and when I saw it in person, I slapped my head at my own idiocy.

The fretboard wasn’t losing colour – well, in a way it was. The wood was light coloured and had been painted dark. As the paint flaked off, the natural colour of the wood was showing through.

With the owner’s permission, I decided to scrape the rest of the paint from the fretboard. A time-consuming process, it had to be done to keep the instrument presentable.


Once done, the natural beauty of the light-coloured wood shone through and made the instrument look much better.


What do you think?

Here is the guitar with the fretboard oiled and the frets polished.

The owner also wanted to change the tuning machines on the guitar as the original ones were a mix-and-match set, and some had even got twisted over time.


He wished to replace the originals with these ones.

Pretty, wouldn’t you say?

However, as expected, the holes for the screws did not match up. So, I filled up the original holes.


I drilled new holes and then installing the new tuning machines was just a matter of screwing them (pun unintended).


While working on the instrument, I noticed that 40+ years of playing had taken a toll on it (It belonged to the owner’s mother, who used to play it as a younger woman!).


I decided to touch it up a bit and the result was not bad.


And look what fell out of the guitar while I was cleaning it from the inside…


At its sight, I shrank as if I was staring at a King Cobra! This was not good, not good at all. Wonder how long it had been living there and what it had done to the wood.

The owner had also provided a new set of very jazzy black nylon strings to be put on the instrument. As I put them on and began tensioning them, I heard weird groans, creaks and crackles. Those kind of sounds are only caused by the bridge lifting off the top. But I had checked the bridge earlier to see if it was lifting and it was stuck solidly to the top.

When I finally checked the guitar, the bridge had managed to rip the top in an effort to counter the tension of the strings. The silica gel had done its bit!

There was nothing that could be done except feel sad about the instrument and the owner. Maybe, just maybe, if I had tried humidifying the instrument for a couple of weeks when I saw the silica gel sachet, this would not have happened. And then again, that would have been a big ‘if’, for as I said, there was no knowing how long that sachet had been lying inside the guitar.

Naturally, it was a disappointed owner who came to pick up the guitar. My advice to him was to play it as much as the instrument would allow, and later, to hang it up on a wall as a showpiece.

My advice to you, my readers, never, NEVER, put silica gel or other desiccants inside acoustic guitars, especially classical guitars, for these are delicate instruments and do not have the brawn and muscle that flat-top, steel string instruments are lent.



Three-fourth misery

The Little One

This baby of a baby was brought to me with the complaint that the thinner strings were buzzing. A very pretty, all-mahogany, three-fourth size guitar, I was surprised to see major divets on the frets over which the ‘e’ and ‘b’ strings ran.

The surprise was due to the fact that the owner’s father informed me that it was a new guitar, bought from a shop locally, and the child had just started learning how to play it. Also, look carefully at the guitar and you will be able to spot the film still attached to the pickguard – a sure sign of the newness of the guitar. The divets, then, were a shocker.

Gunk removal from the fretboard.

The fretboard was very dry and a light scraping and oiling helped condition it back to prime health. But do look at the fretwire closest to you. Amazing!

Anyway, it had to be cured of its ills and so the fretwires across half the board were levelled and crowned to remove the huge pits in them, and then the fretwires were polished up to a decent shine.

A little one's little one

The Mummy Returns - Part II
The Mummy Returns: The fretboard taped-off and the fretwires levelled.
The Little One's frets shine
After the crowning process.
See how they shine
See how they shine!

I did point out to the owner the badly cut plastic nut but then I did not expect him to ask me to change it. It played well enough as it was, and for the child learning, it was good enough.

End result: another satisfied customer!

Trauma in transit


This li’l one was brought to me by a harried husband who had bought the ukulele online as a gift for his wife. It was a well-constructed, high-gloss instrument with solid spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge.

The problem – as was all too evident – was this trauma caused in transit.



Look carefully how the binding is raised and how the lacquer is cracked both on the top as well as near the end-pin of the instrument. It tells you that the force of the impact was along the side of the instrument – probably on the end-pin itself. Consequently, the side had got pushed in, pushing out the binding and the top. Though the maximum damage was to this region, it extended till say midway to the lower bout.

No matter how much I pushed and pulled, the side refused to move out and the top refused to be pushed in. Thankfully though, the binding could readily be seated in its slot.

With the binding seated, I sanded lightly along the edge of the top and finally, after many attempts, got the top to sink into place.

Then began a long and slow process of filling in the missing lacquer with three grades of super glue, wet sanding with three grades of sandpaper (grits 3000, 4000 and 6000) and then buffing and polishing the instrument.

My worse-than-amateurish photography skills do not do justice to the finished product.





The result pleased both me and my customer!

Humidifying – how to

So, humidity is important. And how do you get it into your instrument – humidifiers. There are as many type of humidifiers as there are guitar models.


Planet waves
This one too hangs into the soundhole while resting on the strings
This one lies in the body of the guitar while the plastic cover lies over the soundhole, stopping the moisture from escaping, retaining it within the instrument
Another soundhole humidifier

All of these work but they are expensive. What if you can get a bigger bang for a smaller buck?

Take a look at my favourite humidifier.

Do you recognise this?
The humble kitchen scrub in a soapdish is the perfect humidifier

You can save still more if you replace the soapdish with a zip-lock bag punctured in places to let out the moisture.

All that you need to do is to soak the sponge, leaving it just moist enough – as opposed to being dripping wet – and leave it inside the body of your guitar. If you want, you may cover the soundhole with a lid of sorts.

Check the moistness of your sponge every few days and when you find that the sponge is almost as wet as when you placed it inside, rest assured that your instrument has had enough to ‘drink’.

But if you wish to be 100% sure, use this:

A digital hygrometre
Another version with a temperature reading

A digital hygrometre is a wonderful instrument: cheap and reliable. You slip one of these through the soundhole of the instrument and leave it there for a few days. To get a very accurate reading, cover the soundhole of the instrument with a lid. After a few days, the reading that you get on your hygrometre, is the humidity in your guitar.

NEVER keep both the humidifier and the hygrometre in the instrument together, for the hygrometre will keep reading the humidity content of the humidifier!!!

The devil in (the lack of) humidity

It is only creatures of the animal kingdom who find high humidity hard to bear. Acoustic instruments are uncomplaining. However, acoustic guitars react badly to low humidity and in case of continued low-humidity conditions can crack at various places, or, in extreme cases, come apart completely.

Photo courtesy Sweetwater

The most common of such places are the joints in the neck of the instrument, the top and the bridge, as seen in the photograph above.

It is also not uncommon to go to bed with the guitar in perfect condition and wake up the next morning to find one of the joints in the neck having developed a crack, exactly what happened to this poor instrument that I tended to recently.


The owner told me that the night before he was playing the guitar but when he woke up he found the action on instrument alarmingly high. As he went about inspecting the instrument, he found the scarf joint on the neck had opened up.

Thankfully, he had the sense to loosen all the strings and take the tension off the neck. When I got it, I had to tighten the strings beyond full tension to get the crack open wide enough to push glue into.


But here came the problem. The surface of the fretboard over which one jaw of the clamp would sit, was flat enough for the purpose, but how do you get the other jaw to hold tight the curve of the neck?

What followed was a fashioning of a neck caul out of two pieces of wood glued together and then carving the piece of wood so that it could support the neck. Do notice the cork, stuck to the surface to protect the surface of the neck.


With generous amounts of glue forced into the crack, the next thing to do was to clamp the joint together, take the strings off completely, and leave it untouched for a couple of days.

Clamping just like this
The view from the body of the guitar
The view from the headstock end

The owner also complained that the bass strings had a tendency to buzz every now and then. While working on the guitar, I noticed that the slots cut into the cheap plastic nut were way too deep. So, out went the plastic nut and in its stead came in a swanky bone nut.


In a couple of days, the clamps were taken off, the guitar strung up and handed over to a happy owner.

To read more about humidity and how to tackle it, enlarge the following picture.



Black Beauty gets a new saddle (and nut)

Black Beauty came in the other day, looking rather in bad shape, and needing some serious TLC. Its coat too had not been rubbed down in a while and was dusty, dirty and dank, and with enough scratches on it to rechristen it ‘Scratchy’! Of course, The Guitar Garage is just the place for getting all the love and attention that every instrument deserves.

The complaint was that the first string was buzzing, and as the eye automatically went to the problem areas – the saddle and the nut – I was shocked to find tissue paper stuck under the high ‘e’ string, where the saddle should have been. As I looked askance at the owner, he said that the saddle had got chipped in a fall and so he had stuck some tissue to help the string to ride the saddle better!

Doctoring the saddle is never a good idea (1)

Apologies for the shaky shot, but I was literally shaking in anger at the presumed ingenuity of the owner.


FOOLED YA!!!! I do have another, clearer shot!

But jokes aside…PLEASE…don’t just try stuff…there’s a load of information available over the internet, rummage through it, you will be none the worse, and what’s more, your instrument will thank you for it.

The strings needed to be changed too, dirty and gunky as they were. So, off came the strings, and as they did, what did I see:

Does your fretboard have enough DNA to write your family tree (5)

enough DNA reserves that had the ability to map the owner’s family tree!

Does your fretboard have enough DNA to write your family tree (6)

Does your fretboard resemble this? If it does, when you take off the strings the next time to change them, please make a little effort, take a wad of ‘0000’ steel wool (available at most supermarkets and corner stores) give your fretboard a thorough rub down – right from the 1st fret to the last one on the fretboard extension over the top – and see your frets and fretboard gleam like new.

But as I looked and pondered a formal chastisement of the owner, what did I see, but royal divots, from the very first fretwire (Yes! the space between the fretwires is the ‘fret’, not the wires themselves, as people erroneously refer to them), to say, the 8th or the 9th fret in the area in which the ‘e’ and ‘B’ (the two thinnest) strings would float.

Royal divets

And so, followed the painfully slow and painstaking process of levelling, crowning and polishing the frets to take out the gouges in the fretwire. Two hours later, I was hot, perspiring and panting, but satisfied: the fretwires were done.

Frets levelled (7)
The fretwires captured before getting crowned and polished

But as I went about the chore, what did I see: Do you see it too? Look closer at the high ‘e’ area of the nut. MORE TISSUE PAPER!!!!!!!!

Exactly what the nut of your guitar should not look like (3)

The more I thought, the more I was convinced that this man got his tissue paper for free!

Also, how deeply the strings sat in the nut slot was worrisome to me. Your strings should never sit more than half their circumference in their nut slots – the three thickest ones at least.

Once the fretwires had been taken care of, pulling out the saddle and the nut was a simple process. While the originals were cheap plastic elements, I replaced them with bone elements which would last much longer and lend greater volume and sustain to the instrument.

With some elbow grease put into rubbing down of Black Beauty’s coat, she looked truly resplendent! Wouldn’t you say so?

A new, handsome saddle sits smart in the bridge (2)

With a new compensated saddle installed

With the new nut things start to look up (4)
A new nut in place

El Classico had a great fall!

A very common acoustic guitar affliction is it tipping over, and the headstock cracking, or breaking, or the neck cracking or breaking. 99% of the times, carelessness on the part of the owner, is the reason for the damage – both to the instrument as well as to the pocket. The funny part is no owner is willing

El Classico had a great fall and broke his crown

















to admit that it fell and broke.

In a month I see at least one such case in varying degrees of damage.

El Classico, here, came in looking in rather bad shape. The first order of service was, of course, taking off the hardware to be able to reach the problem area. The problem is compounded when the break has an open end: the crack has broken off clean at one end. Thankfully, this crack was joined at both ends but a bad crack nonetheless. Pressed together, the sides of the crack refused to align.

El Classico - another view

What’s more, for a good repair, I needed the nut out of the way so that I could clamp down that lifting end and make it a seamless joint. But you just can’t ‘lift’ out nuts, the way you lift out saddles. Nuts are knocked out of their groove. However, knocking this nut out would mean more damage to the already lifted edge.

After much head-scratching and chin-stroking, I decided to tap the nut out from the side. With gentle repetitive taps with a hammer to a padded screwdriver end butted up against the nut, I managed to dislodge it.

Then began the slow and arduous process of dry runs to see how the misaligned sides of the crack could best be brought together. More knitted brows followed as I tried this and that and more.

Half-an-hour later I finally had it together. Glued, clamped, it stood there for 48 hours before I released it.

El Classico - in the operation theatre

Providentially, I had just acquired these small C-clamps recently, and specifically to tend to headstock and neck repairs. This online order came just a few days before this Yamaha arrived at my doorstep.

El Classico - sutured and bandaged
Another view of the neurosurgery on the Yamaha.

After 48 hours, when I did release it from the clamps that held its head together, so happy was I with the results that I forgot to take photographs. Some light wet sanding later, it looked the best that it could have.

The owner, when he came to collect the instrument, concurred with my view.


Choosing a guitar

An acoustic instrument’s sound is due to the wonder of material used to build it and is never dependent on electronics – not even in electro-acoustic instruments.

Thus, I always advise beginners and others wishing to purchase an instrument to blindfold themselves and see with their ears! You go into a shop and even as you are glancing over instruments, your eyes will stop over one or two instruments. Believe me when I tell you that you have already chosen the guitar to purchase! Such is the power of vision that it overpowers all other senses, and so, blindfolding yourself takes sight out of the equation.

It is actually a very simple process. Go to the shop with a friend, sibling or spouse and ask them to blindfold you before you enter the shop. Sit down and give the salesperson a price range in which to show you instruments.

Of all the instruments that the salesperson shows you, some will have a bell-like clarity (due to the highly accented treble range), some will have a drum-like booming quality (due to the accented bass range), while still others will be a very happy blend of the two. So, which one should you choose? Let me take the mystery out of the choice-making and tell you that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ sound. Whatever appeals to your ears is the right sound.

So, choose the three best instruments that your ears pick up for you and have them kept aside. Now, go over the other guitars once more. Choose the best-sounding instrument from the ‘rejected’ lot and have it kept along with ‘the chosen ones’. It is time now to take your blindfold off and actually see what you have chosen.

Of the four guitars on show, you will reject at least two for one reason or another (that’s the way the human brain functions). The remaining two, pick them up and play them, looking for exactly what made your ears choose it.

Once you have made your choice, go through the instrument with a fine-tooth comb.

Here is a list of things to look for:

  • Is it a solid wood instrument or is it made from laminated wood (layers of woods)? A solid wood instrument will be costlier but the sound quality will be appreciably better than that of a laminated wood instrument. If you are unsure, ask the salesperson.
  • colour inconsistency, if it is a painted guitar
  • Scratches, dents, dings in the finish. Give the neck of the guitar a proper once over both with your eyes and fingers because that is the area where your hands will stay the maximum amount of time.
  • Take a piece of paper and try pushing it under the bridge, under fretboard extension that is stuck to the top of the guitar, and at the joint where the neck heel is stuck to the body of the guitar. No more than 1 cm of a corner of the paper should go under any of these three places. If it does, reject the instrument outright.
  • Check the tuning machines for extra play/looseness. These can give you tuning nightmares later on. Have the salesperson tighten them.
  • If there are electronics on board, plug in and play away. Check that the pick-up system is ‘picking up’ all the strings by playing each string individually.

Once you have made your choice, don’t forget to buy a semi-hard or a hard case to go along. It’s like buying a helmet when you buy a motorcycle!

Debunking a few myths

1) I am learning to play so I don’t need to spend so much.

You buy a guitar only once. Buy good. If you must, wait another six months and buy the better instrument.

2) That child will grow up fast; the guitar will never

Initially, six-year-olds will look odd holding an instrument much larger than themselves, but children grow up faster than you think. Don’t make the mistake of buying a small guitar and later not knowing what to do with it. Besides, when children play a full-size instrument, it forces them to stretch the fingers on their fretting hand. Consequently, they learn to ‘get there’ faster than they would have if they had been playing a small-size instrument.

3) This guitar is old and looks used.

If it is a solid wood guitar, or even if it has a solid wood top, chances are that it will have a sound so beautiful that you will fall in love with it. Sound is produced when the top vibrates and pushes the air out of the soundhole of the guitar. The more the top vibrates, the bigger will be the sound. Additionally, the more the guitar is played the more the top moves and gets used to moving. Thus, a used guitar would be my choice of instrument. Don’t trust me? Check out the prices of guitars made in the 60s, 50s, or even in the 40s or 30s!

This should give you a clearer picture.


Happy choosing!

Acoustic Guitar

Fabri-cobbling…tools, tools, tools, and more tools

dscf6071.jpgI do a lot of repairs and modifications. I can usually bring a badly damaged instrument back from the Hades and make it sing again.

I also do instrument modifications, like upgrading the factory-installed plastic saddle and nut to bone elements, swapping plastic bridgepins with rosewood, ebony, metal or bone bridgepins, removal of dents and dings, and a lot more.

Most mass-produced instruments are made keeping the price point at the minimum. Selling for less yet being able to make a profit demands that the cheapest (in every sense) materials are used. We can’t do much about the woods used in making the guitar, but replacing the plastic nut and saddle with bone elements, increases volume and sustain dramatically. This happens because bone is a much denser material as compared to plastic. The density of bone helps transfer sound much better than plastic. Most times, a moderately priced instrument can really benefit from an upgrade.

So, if bone is all goodness, why isn’t it used in the first place? Because bone is much more expensive than plastic!

I also make customised scratchguards. There are many designs that a customer can choose from, or, he could bring in one of his own and I will make it for him.

But instrument repair goes much beyond a flat-head or a Phillips-head screwdriver, and even farther than a few F, C and G-clamps thrown in.

Any guitar technician worth his tools will tell you that for exactly the same job on different instruments, a different approach, a different set of tools, cauls – sometimes even the glue – are required.

In the course of repairing instruments, not always did I have the wherewithal or the luxury of time to place an online order with that very wonderful but forbiddingly expensive store, StewMac. Amazing tools but much beyond my reach.


A little common sense and enough time to think about the repair, and I have almost always seen light at the end of the tunnel. Not all the tools that I have fashioned can I claim to be my inventions, most being a result of descriptions, diagrams and explanations over the internet. Result: Happy customers!

The photographs accompanying this post shows some of my favourite fabri-cobbled tools. I’d love to stay and show you more but I’m still learning how to navigate this site!


What is a set-up? Why is it needed?

If there is one thing and JUST ONE THING that you should get done in your acoustic guitar, it should be a set-up. A set-up is required so that the instrument can play properly and easily, the best that it can. It usually includes adjustments to the saddle, nut, truss rod, adjusting action, adjusting neck relief (yes, the last two are separate jobs and different things to serve separate ends) checking and tightening of hardware, conditioning the fretboard and the bridge and, of course, intonation. All of this is done, keeping in mind the playing style of a guitarist.

The instrument of a finger-style player, with a light touch, will be set up dramatically different from, say, a country balladeer, who plays with a heavy hand and demands a lot of volume from his acoustic guitar.

Why is a set-up required? It’s like you saved and you spent big bucks on the guitar of your dreams, but without a customised set-up, created specifically for the way you play, it’s been a waste of time and money.

Mass produced as they are, guitars are not generally set-up at the factory, or in the showroom. My advice to youngsters and people who are contemplating purchasing a guitar is to have it set-up right after they make a purchase. That way, the guitar plays perfectly to their particular style and technique. A guitar that is properly set up is a real joy to play.

Even if you already own a guitar and have been playing for years, it is never too late to get your guitar set up . The difference that a ‘good’ set-up makes can only be experienced.

COME…experience that joy!