Guitar repair: Another belly and my screw-up!

Want it or not, here’s one more helping of a guitar belly! This came in at a time when there were five other guitars waiting for their turn to be loved.

This one was an Epiphone, some five or six years old (just a guess) but it had managed to develop quite a belly. What’s more the bridge was lifting too.

And if you didn’t see it in that photograph, see if you can spot a problem in this one.

Yup! Even without any string tension, the saddle is leaning forward. And again, it must have been because of an oversized saddle slot or a malnourished saddle, which of the two, I didn’t bother to find out.

What I did know was that the saddle would need to be replaced. And while you’re at it, might as well put in something good rather than that crappy piece of plastic. Right! Bone it is!

And while you’re replacing the saddle and putting in bone, why not replace the nut too? Make sense? Right!

But those were minutae for later. Just now the big problem at hand was the belly and then getting the bridge off the top and putting it back on such that it would never come loose again.

And so began work. And this happened!

I had a bad feeling about this instrument right then and there. I talked to the owner and told him how a bridgepin had broken off while I was trying to take it out. Naturally, he was very surprised.

I told him the cost of a new set and when he balked hearing the price, I told him that I had a spare white one and if the difference in colour did not offend him, I’ll put that in. He agreed.

But the order of operations was tackle the belly, then the bridge (no point trying to stick a flat piece of wood to a convex surface!) and then set it up.

But to properly work on the belly, I needed access to the area where the bridge was sitting right now. So…

out came the tools and off came the bridge!

Immediately, I went about cleaning both surfaces so that time would not be wasted when I was ready to glue on the bridge.

And as you can see, the ‘operation’ was performed under magnification and proper focused lighting.

Once everything was clean and dry, on went the light clamp, with some heat and some moisture for good measure.

The initial 24 hours

After that time period, the heavier clamp was called in.

Barely 12 hours into clamping, I could see the belly had all but disappeared. However, I wasn’t exactly whooping in joy because I knew that some of that belly was bound to return once new strings were put on the instrument.

While I waited for the clamping time to pass, I decided to work on the headstock and the fretboard.

Dunno if you can make out, but there’s a healthy deposit there, though the owner won’t be getting any returns, that’s for sure! And the cleaning took a good 55 minutes.

The headstock was more forgiving, just some loose bushings that needed snugging up (and, of course, some cleaning).

After 48 hours, when the clamps came off, it was time to get the bridge glued to the top.

And it was here that trouble began! All photographs that I took of my work after this point came either blurred or over-exposed. Now, know this…whenever I am clicking a photograph, it is never just one shot of one frame but at least 3 or 4 of each. God must have been in a bad mood that day, but not one photograph is worth putting here! 

Anyway, the bridge was reglued, the saddle measured for the new bone saddle to replace it. The new saddle was painstakingly cut to the right dimensions, as was the nut.

photo taken earlier

I had suggested to the owner that he use .011 gauge strings on it and he brought me a set of Black Smith strings. I was very pleased with their quality. I set up the guitar to a nice low action and when I was replacing the bridgepins, I just couldn’t bring myself to put in the white spare one along with the other black ones. So, I just broke a set and put in a matching black pin. I felt happy! When all was done, we shook hands and I moved on to the next repair.

A couple of days later, he called me to say that the strings were buzzing. As foxing as it was, I scratched my head and thought to myself that maybe, I tightened the truss rod a wee bit too much. 

I called it in and loosened the truss rod, and then some more, and then some more…Naturally, the buzz had gone but the action had increased appreciably.

As I checked the higher frets (and here’s where I messed up), there was my culprit. After the 14th, 15th fret almost every fret was high at one spot or another. Had I checked it earlier, I could have told the owner and we could have remidied it then and there. 

At that juncture, when I had worked on the guitar and returned it, and the owner came back with a complaint, my showing the high frets only sounded as if I was looking for excuses! I tapped down the frets and while some did get seated, others refused to.

Strangely, even the first fret action seemed a bit high. Through furrowed brow I reworked the nut and finally it seemed the owner was satisfied. He left me still scratching my head about how what had happened.

A few days later, he called me again. Again the strings were buzzing. I tried explaining to him again about the high frets but he told me that he had tried swapping the old saddle in and there was no buzz anywhere! 

Again I called the guitar in, as embarassing and upsetting as it was. I pulled out my callipers and tried to show to the owner that that the new saddle matched the dimensions of the old one exactly. And right there, I saw, they didn’t! I pulled out the job sheet, and indeed I had noted the right dimensions. However, those were not the ones transferred onto the new saddle and nut!

And even as I scratched my head, I told the owner that I would replace the saddle for him. After he left the instrument, I tried thinking some more how I had managed to commit such a blunder. The probable answer seemed that working on four or five guitars simultaneously is never a good idea!

Anyway, the saddle was replaced but I don’t think the owner was too happy when he left. After as many runs to the Garage, I would have also checked and re-checked my instrument. 

Here, some advice to all you who wish to have your acoustic guitar repaired. When you get back your instrument, of course, check it but use only as much force as you do when you actually play. Extra force on any one string or a couple of stings is bound to make that string buzz – especially if it is the big ‘E’ string.

My learning from the experience: CHECK EVERYTHING FIRST, and, one guitar at a time!    

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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