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