Last week, you took a look at the problems. This week, you shall see me sorting them out.
The order in which I decided to go about the work was this:
- Take off bridge
- Clean bridge and area on top where it would sit
- Clean guitar body of epoxy glue
- Glue bridge back
- Install new tuning machines
Taking the bridge off
It is never too difficult to take off a bridge that is lifting, but of course, there are exceptions. This one did not give me too much trouble. A few spatulas and palette knives and it was off.
The photo on the right gives you a very clear picture of where the bridge was lifted up from, how much and for how long. You may be able to guess the answer to the first two questions, for the third, suffice it to say, that you won’t see dust build up like that in a few weeks or even a few months.
Cleaning bridge and area on top where it would sit
Now that it was off, I set about cleaning first the bridge. Here is the bridge through a few stages of cleaning.
After it was thoroughly clean, I wiped it down with lighter fluid and scored the underside with an awl – not very deeply – but just enough for the glue to sit in and have something to grip on to. But very pretty wood.
Notice, there are two locating pins in the bridge that help seat it exactly where it should.
But that was just the underside of it. The top of it, which had collected dust over the years and had braved the elements, needed to be cleaned too. Here are some of the tools I used to clean it.
Sandpaper of different grits stuck on different contoured objects to reach every nook and cranny. That black pen-like thing is a nail cuticle remover. The middle one a PVC pipe leftover, and the one on the right is just a wood block I fashioned for the purpose.
Then followed the area of the top where the bridge would sit. Cleaning old glue residue completely off it and off the underside of the bridge is imperative because unless the old glue is removed, the bond with the new glue won’t be a very strong one.
The photo on the left is the bridge area cleaned, while the one on the right shows, how much glue and dust came off it. Blades, scrapers, knives: oh, I went to town on it!
And while I was armed with all these, I decided to scrape clean the binding too.
Cleaning the guitar body of epoxy glue
After that it was the turn of taking the epoxy resin glue off the front, sides and back of the guitar. Before I started on that, I thought long and hard about the tool(s) that I would use. After much choosing and rejecting, I turned to my trustee wood-carving micro chisels.
After that it was a good two hours of dripping sweat as I carefully peeled and chipped away at the glue. At places, it came off whole, while at others, it entailed more sweat.
When it was finally over, both the guitar top and me were breathing a little easier.
Once the top was clean, it was the turn of the back and sides.
And when you have a lifting seam like this,
you require a really thin and small dispenser to get glue into the opening. Something like this:
Installing new tuning machines
While this dried, I decided to take the old tuning machines off and clean up the headstock of the guitar. It was a good thing that I did that because, when I tried on the snazzy, new tuning machines, they wouldn’t go in. Holes for the old tuning machines were much smaller and had to be reamed!
Reaming is a painfully slow process and you have to go slow, otherwise, if you overshoot the mark, there is nothing else to be done but to fill up the hole completely and start all over again!
You can see the reaming taking place in the left photo, as also the new tuning machines waiting to be installed. The photo on the right shows the need for clamping the neck down so that the strain of reaming the headstock did not get transferred to the neck. If it did, it was quite possible that the neck would crack, or even break into two!
And that was not the end of the work on the headstock. The holes where the screws of the old tuning machines went in, did not match up to where the screws of the new machines would go. So, I had to fill up the holes with pieces of wood, mark the point where the new screws would go in, and then drill out new holes.
Fitting the new tuning machines was just a matter of 24 screws and a Philips-head screwdriver .
Here’s how the headstock looks now:
Later, it was time to give a bath to the guitar and clean it of the years of dust and grime deposition. But before that could happen, the area where the bridge would stick to the top had to be covered and protected from getting wet.
That’s painter’s tape and on top of it, packing tape, cut exactly to size.
Meanwhile, the process of ‘bathing’ the guitar included dry sanding the entire body with ‘0000’ steel wool and then wet-sanding with 2000, 3000 and 4000 grit sandpaper.
That black block you see is hard foam, used in packaging, and something that I picked up from the road.
The final step was polishing the entire body. Of course, the intention was never to make it look like a brand new guitar but for it to look like a well-cared-for guitar.
Glueing the bridge back
Once everything was clean and smelling good, it was time to glue the bridge back on. But before that, both surfaces had to be as dry as they could be. So, I employed my heat gun to dry out the bridge area of whatever moisture might have crept under the ‘covers’.
And while that dried, I gathered everything that I would need for the glue-up job.
And the glue? Here it is, and more than was required. While doing a glue-up job like this, I have realised that there is no such thing as too much. If it is too much, it will ooze out and can be wiped away. If it is too little, the joint won’t hold.
The photo on the extreme right features a violin clamp. Not a very powerful clamp but then it has a lot of reach. You clamp bridges to tops by clamping through the soundhole, and usually, the distance from the soundhole edge to the farther edge of the bridge is 5 -6 inches. This Hobner’s bridge was fixed some 8″ away! Only a few of my collection of clamps had that kind of reach and so I had to ‘deploy’ my pair of violin clamps.
Put it in place, clamp everything together such that not even the air will be able to get through
and once the glue starts oozing out from under the bridge, wipe, wipe, wipe, and then wipe again. For once the glue dries, there’s no way to get it off, except with a scraper or a chisel.
While the glue dried, I went about shaping the new bridgepins.
Also, all that scraping on the top of the guitar had left scratches and marks just inside the margin on the lower bout that weren’t very pleasing to the eye.
I thought about it and came up with this:
My reasoning: 30+ years for a guitar’s age translates into it being a teenager. And like any teenager, there’s no harm if it experiments a little with its looks. So, I taped off the binding and the inside of the top, leaving a 1cm channel in between, which I painted black. With the white tape removed, it did come out looking nice.
I have done such glue-up ‘operations’ umpteen times without a single failure. I failed this time, and rather magnificently. The law of averages had caught up with me. And the only reason, I could think of why I faced so many failures was the moisture in the air.
In all, I had to reglue the bridge four times! Here is the view of the re-glue efforts the 2nd time, the 3rd time and the 4th time, and each time I left it clamped for longer and longer: 60 hrs, 72 hrs, 96 hrs and then a full week.
And each time, these went under the top to provide support and increase clamping pressure.
It stuck the fourth time but I don’t think its going to stay that way for too long.
NEXT TIME: Some free gifts, some odds and ends!