Guitar repair: A belly bulge and some TLC for a Washburn!

Remember, how I say that problems/guitars of a certain kind/make seem to come together? Well, here’s another belly bulge though not quite as dramatic as some of the ones I have recently tackled.

This instrument came in sometime back with all the tell-tale signs that it had been given up on. But it wasn’t half as bad a guitar as some of the ones I have seen.

The complaint was a painfully high action and a crushed saddle. Now, when I hear high action, my reflex is to check if the bridge is lifting or not. When I checked this one, sure enough, the bridge was lifting. And you can see the saddle crushed under the ‘G’ string.

But besides the lifting bridge, there was a healthy belly too (Apologies, I did not take photos of that). So, why wouldn’t the action be high? The order of operations was belly first, bridge later. No sense trying to stick a flat bridge to a curved top. However, to properly tackle the raised area, the bridge needed to come off.

Usually, with a bit of heat and some coaxing, lifting bridges come off without too much fuss. This one fought me tooth and nail. In fact, as I pried with my palette knives, there were a couple of points uder the bridge where the knives seemed to hit a kind of a wall, almost making me believe that the bridge had been glued to the top with the help of wood dowels (not an altogether alien practice)! However, after some more trying, the bridge eventually came off, and what I saw surprised me, and much of it didn’t.

What surprised me was that the choice of glue – it seemed like cyanoacrylate glue (super glue), but I wasn’t very sure. What didn’t surprise me was the clean perimeter of the bridge and a corresponding clean area on the top. The evenness with which the almost quarter-of-an-inch area had been left without any glue on it – both on the bridge and the top – seemed to suggest that there had been a conscious effort to leave that area.

And the more I see bridges and tops, the more convinced I get that most builders are misinformed into believing that ‘THIS’ is how it has to be done. Whether force of habit brought on by misinformation, or, plain tardy work ethic , let me try and put this as clearly as I can: COMPLETE GLUE COVERAGE OF THE BRIDGE AND THE TOP IS IMPERATIVE FOR A SOLID BOND!

With the bridge off, the path had been cleared for the heat and pressure application to tackle the belly. (If you wish to read about it, I have described that process in preceding posts.) I did not take photographs of the process since I have written about it in detail and at that time, it seemed repatitive. But after 48 hours, the belly seemed to have subsided substanially – whether permanant or not, only time would say.

Now, it was time to clean the bridge and the top in preparation for the glue-up. Usually, when a wood glue is used, 5 – 10 minutes is ample time to clean the bridge of any old glue residue and slivers of wood that are pulled off from the top. Without an iota of exaggeration, cleaning this bridge took me nearly 30 minutes!

It was CA glue, no doubt.

Look at the cleaned up areas and the lighter colour. Now, look at where the glue deposit is still to be removed. The dark, patchy areas distinctly point towards CA glue being used. CA glue to glue on a bridge to the top??!! And just when I think to myself, I’ve seen it all, something like this comes along, telling me, ‘You ain’t seen s*#t, yet!’

Seriously, CA glue? Now, don’t get me wrong. CA glue is a wonderful glue: it hardens fast, it holds good and is excellent for jobs where the glued parts don’t involve a lot of movement (in furniture, for example), for the simple reason that it is a hard and brittle glue. It is NOT the glue to be used on musical instruments, and especially on those parts that are dynamic and given to a lot of movement – an acoustic guitar top for example. 

Used on an acoustic instrument, it will dampen vibrations and then, most certainly break and give way once the vibrations become too strong for it, just like it did in this instrument.

Whateva! So now that I had it on my hands to clean up, clean up I did but it was a a slow and painstaking process.

The last photograph shows what I scraped off the top. Have you ever seen saw dust or dried up glue look so white? This was CA glue!

Now that everything was clean and nice, it was time to put everything together. Ample wood glue and enough clamps.

Another wait of 48 hours and the Washburn would be ready to receive strings.   

And while that bond was curing, I decided to take off the tarnished hardware on the headstock and dipped them in a vinegar-water solution which brought back some of the lost shine to them. I also installed a new bone nut.

Once I did string the guitar, a set-up showed that the (new bone) saddle would need to be brought down, cutting down on the break angle of the strings to saddle. To come close to the desired angle, I cut slots in the bridge.

I cleaned up and oiled the fretboard, shone up the fretwires, and all was well with the world.

I am happy to report that the owner was very pleased with the results.

Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me:

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