After a glut of the mundane, along comes something that forces you to burn the midnight oil, go that extra mile to provide healing – both to the instrument as well as to the owner.
Not too long ago, I got this phone call from Gorakhpur (a city some 300 km and a six-and-a-half-hour train journey away). The man tried to explain to me what was wrong with his guitar and from all the words, all I could gather was that the guitar did not make for a pretty picture, far less, music.
There was a problem right away. Trains from Gorakhpur to Lucknow (the city in which I live) were in the early evening, reaching Lucknow at night. I agreed to meet him at night considering he was an outstation customer.
He came around midnight because his train got delayed. When he showed me his guitar, I almost groaned audibly. It was a Yamaha F310 or 310 P.
But the guitar really was a mess. It seemed the owner had left it standing in some corner.
To my eyes, it seemed as if a hit right at the seam, where the side meets the top, had caused the top to crack. More upsettingly, the force of the impact had been such that the top had separated from the region around the region of the end block on the treble side to the waist of the guitar (almost) on that side.
The red marker in the second photograph shows the area where the top was separated from the side. The break was at least a foot long, or the better part of it. And as you can probably make out from the ‘marker photograph’ the top and the side were not willing to match up willingly.
Here’s a closer look
Such repairs can be really tricky jobs because if you try to push the side in at one place, it will come out at another. So, I told the customer to leave the instrument with me and as and when I would make progress with it, I would get back to him.
He agreed and left in a hurry: his train home would leave in 40 minutes.
The only thing I did that night was to take the strings off the guitar. Yep! Still tuned with the strings pulling away at the top! Then I went to bed, and for the next two days I just stared at the mess in front of me. Finally, I willed myself to touch it.
Sure enough, as I coaxed the side in from one place, it bulged out at another. This seemed like the perfect job for some spool clamps that I had made almost a decade back. I knew I would need them one day.
There was one particular area of the side that refused to be coaxed out. And again I pulled on my thinking cap. As I went into the kitchen to get water, my eyes fell on a few wooden ladles that were rarely used. With a devlish gleam in my eyes, I whacked them and before anybody could miss them, sawed off their heads.
What I was left with were quarter-inch thick wood dowels about 8 – 10 inches long. I put these into the guitar and forced out the obstinate portion of the side. It came out but went right back when I released the pressure. I tried wedging one end against a brace running along the back of the instrument but fell short of the brace by an inch or something.
I placed another rectangular piece of wood, more tall than broad, right in front of the brace and then tried my wedge. It worked!
Now that I was sure that that would work, I pulled out my clamps and for the dry run, I placed one clamp right in the centre of the break. And then as the sides bulged out at places, I pushed them in with a clamp placed strategically at that point. Finally, I had managed to make the top and the side meet almost flawlessly.
Thrilled as I was, I controlled my glee for I knew that when I put the glue in, it would be a different game altogether.
And then there was glue, but thankfully, the instrument behaved itself and the clamps did the rest. One thing that I did mindfully was to put two clamps very close together where the crack in the top was. Also, I brushed in a generous amount of glue in it.
I reasoned that the clamp pressure would push the crack closed and the glue, once it dried, would never allow it to open again.
With everything seemingly in place, and nothing else to do except to wait for the glue to dry, I turned my attention to other areas.
Of course, I threw out the plastic saddle and nut!
And put in bone. The nut was almost there but I had to cut away half the saddle to get the action right according to the old plastic saddle. Once new strings would be put on, some tweaking would be required.
And here’s a ‘before’ and ‘after’ of the fretboard
When I checked, the neck had just a wee bit of extra relief. I dialled that out.
And it was time to take off the spool clamps. I did, and everything was as it should be. Even the crack in the top had healed and there were no jagged edges standing out.
Now, that the guitar was structurally sound, it was time to make it aesthetically presentable too. Two thin painting tape strips and some black brush-on lacquer: who’s to say there was ever a crack there?
And here’s what the top crack looked like. Healed but certainly not invisible to the eye. And that was never the intention.
New strings, a phone call, a second midnight rendezvous, and all’s well with the world.
This job was very satisfying, and even more satisfying was the joy of the owner.