Extreme beauty – natural or manmade – has the ability to leave one speechless. I was too, after seeing this abalone-inlaid, solid-spruce-top, laminated-rosewood-back-and-sides beauty.
Suffice it to say that I have not seen a more beautiful acoustic instrument in my life, and believe me, I have seen a few. I could not believe my eyes and I just kept turning it over in my hands.
Admiring it, there were a few problems that were apparent. The action seemed sky-high and, of course, the bridge was lifting, as was the neck heel-to-body joint. I looked at the strings and they looked heavier than what I usually see. As I pulled out my digital vernier calipers and measured the thickness of the strings, they read .013” – .056”! And there lay the problem.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, if it is big money that you are investing in an instrument, PLEASE, also invest some time in reading the user/instruction manual very carefully. You have spent a decent pile on your instrument; spend a bit of time reading the manual too. If you didn’t get a manual, get onto the internet, type in the model number of your instrument and you will get a free user/instruction manual in PDF format.
In there, you will find all the specifications that you need – including what size strings are recommended. If it says use .010” (high E – thinnest) string, you can experiment with .011 string set, no thicker. You could even go one step down and try .09”, but that’s your leeway – one below and one higher.
The big boomers on this guitar – .013” – .056” – put way to much tension on the bridge and the neck heel-to-body joint, and this particular instrument wasn’t built to take that much strain. Naturally, it was literally coming apart at the seams.
The first thing to do was to take off the strings and let the guitar relax for a full day.
With the strings off, I decided to take a look under the hood. Handsomely scalloped braces supported the solid spruce top, though they could have been scalloped cleaner and neater. The bridgeplate was in not too bad a shape.
After that, I turned my attention to the bridge. After taping it off so that I wouldn’t scratch the beautiful finish on the top, I heated up the smallest and thinnest moulding knife that I had. With the knife hot, I went prising into the corner of the bridge that was lifting. Some minutes and a few bigger palette knives later, the bridge was off and in a relatively clean manner.
Cleaning and sanding off both surfaces under high magnification, I let that part of the instrument be as I concentrated on the more difficult job that needed to be done. I had to completely detach the neck from the body!
The need for doing it was because without taking off the neck, the crack would never be glued back cleanly and completely.
In luthierese (Did I just coin a word?), guitar-building jargon, the neck-removal is referred to as steaming off a neck, for you actually inject steam into the neck, helping melt the glue, which lets go of the neck, and you can then separate the neck from the body.
For that, you need to pull out a fret, drill a couple of holes and use them alternating between the two to inject steam. And that’s how it went. 35 minutes later, the neck was off.
While the glue was still gummy, I scraped off the majority of it, leaving the rest to be sanded off later. Then it was Rest time for the guitar and me. I left the instrument to dry off for a complete two days before I returned to it. Taking a file to it, I filed out the dried glue till only the wood could be seen on both surfaces (the neck as well as on the guitar). For the little studs, I cut strips of sandpaper and sanded them clean.
It was time to put everything together. But before that one last thing needed to be done. I took spirit and cleaned all the surfaces to be glued: the bridge, the top where it would sit, the neck heel and the portion of the guitar where it would stick.
First, I glued the neck back on and with some strategically placed wood pieces and clamps ensured that the joint would never come apart again. The major squeeze-out of the glue seen here
is not a bad thing. It shows that glue has reached everywhere and won’t let go. And it was nothing for a couple of wet paper towels. I left the neck clamped for two days to let the glue cure completely under pressure.
Next, it was the turn of the bridge. More glue, different clamps, more squeeze-out all around. More clean-up, another 48 hours. When I took off the clamps everything was dry and solid.
A dot of super glue in each of the holes I had drilled, sealed them and also helped hold the fret I had pulled out. The problem with the entire procedure is that even though the fret might be seated completely, it is seldom in line with the adjoining two frets. Either the replaced fret stands proud or is lower than the frets flanking it. So, a fret levelling, crowning and polishing was required and that is what I did for the next three-and-a-half hours!
I even lubed the fretboard and bridge and gave the entire guitar a good polish till it shone like new.
After that all that was left to do was to string ’er up and hear her sing. But I did put on lighter strings this time: .012” – .052”. The action was so low on it that I had to pull out the old saddle and put in a new, tall saddle. After putting in the new saddle, the action was still nice and low but without any string buzz.
Silly me…I got so happy seeing the action that I forgot to take a photograph! But she was a stunner, alright!