I have stalled writing this post for weeks.
It is about an instrument that came to me having suffered severe trauma after a dumbbell (no less) fell on it! The extent of the damage made the repair cost spiral out of the owner’s comfort level and he decided not to get it repaired (at least not from me!).
I’m sure thought that he will hunt out wannabe repair persons in the lanes and by-lanes of Aminabad who will probably fix the guitar with super glue – quick and dirty – at 1/10 the cost I quoted.
Photographs of the damage follow, and what follow those, are my observations about what would have been a great repair, as also the future of this guitar. It was a Westwood.
Observing the instrument it appeared to me as if the dumbbell fell on the edge of the soundhole closest to the bridge. Obviously, the impact broke not only the soundhole periphery at two places but also cracked the X-brace right at the joint – unfortunately the X-brace joint was right under the point of impact. Due to the impact, all the arms of the X-brace too had been shaken loose all the way and were holding on to bits of glue, here and there.
Also due to the impact breaking the X-brace, other braces running up to it had also been knocked loose.
If I was to rate the damage to the face of the instrument to its innards, the outside would score a 2 out of 10 and the inside 8 out of 10.
To bring healing to this instrument, one needs to start from the inside out. Check all the braces and glue them with good wood glue ONLY.
Then the soundhole can be repaired but without cleats I doubt if the soundhole repair is going to hold too long.
Problem with super glue
Cyanoacrylate glue (or super glue) is a great glue: smaller mess, fast-curing, great, strong bond. So what is the problem? It’s strength is its greatest weakness, for it is so strong that it dries hard and brittle.
For furniture which does not need to move, super glue works perfect. For string instruments, it is the worst glue ever.
Let me illustrate with this particular guitar in question. Now, it is very easy to wick superglue down all those broken braces, clamp them and the guitar is healed. But…how long will the guitar stay healed?
As you play the instrument, as the top vibrates – and along with that the braces – the vibration is going to break the superglue loose sooner rather than later.
And what then? Will the owner get the instrument repaired again? Will anyone hazard taking on a job that has been botched earlier?
And this is where my dilemma begins. Am I doing something wrong by trying to do things the right way? The right way, the right path, is always tougher. So, am I right in making things hard for myself?
What I ended up doing
Since the instrument had come to me, I just could not let it go just like that. Earlier, before I had fully realised the extent of damage, I had told the owner that we would need to cleat the guitar at the soundhole. Now that the repair had been called off, I felt that I should do at least something for the instrument.
The impact of the falling dumbbell had caused uneven planes at the point of impact. No side wished to align with the other. With clamps and brute force, I brought the two planes together. Once that was done, I put a mix of sawdust and glue along the break.
Not a very pretty picture but at least, now, the instrument won’t ‘look’ broken. This was before I tried to disguise my effort a bit. My rationale in doing this was that the joint would come under the strings which would hide it somewhat.
However, I did caution the owner not to string up the instrument before he got the braces repaired inside.
If he pays heed the guitar will remain playable. If he doesn’t, he’ll see the instrument collapse before he is able to tune it up to pitch!