Taking a break from reporting on repairs, I decided to dedicate this post to something that I have stressed off and on, but something the importance of which cannot be stressed enough.
I found the photograph above in one of the many guitar groups on Facebook. I wrote to the author, seeking his permission to use it as part of this blog and he kindly consented.
If you can’t read, Luc Barbeau wrote: ‘Shit happens! I had not played this guitar for a few months. I open up the case and this is what I found.’
This is not a frighteningly expensive Epiphone guitar, but then even the lowest Epiphone model isn’t exactly a cheapo. To Luc and all the readers of this blog, I say, “You should have de-tuned the guitar before keeping it away!”
What this means is that Luc now has to shell out money to have the old bridge removed, buy a new one and have it installed.
Let’s take another look at the photo that Luc posted and compare it to what the guitar may have looked like whole.
On the left is Luc’s guitar while on the right is another guitar which sports a bridge just like the one on Luc’s guitar (if you disregard the split saddle).
Personally speaking, I am not a great fan of string-through bridges, and feel more comfortable with bridges with holes and pins. My logic: under-tension strings (exerting a force of 60 to 80 kg) are always trying to pull away the bridge from the guitar top. The string-through design of the bridge only worsens the force of the strings by creating a fault line exactly where Luc’s bridge failed.
You could say that maybe the bridge had a faulty construction. Maybe! You could say that not all string-through bridges fail. True! But my point here is whatever the reason, why add to it by leaving the guitar fully tuned?
If you know that you are not going to be playing it even for two or three weeks, tune down your guitar half a step or one full step (for eg, E to D#, or D). But completely loosening the strings and having them flopping around on the fretboard, is a different recipe for disaster.
In Luc’s case, he was unfortunate that the strings ripped the bridge apart, but I have known cases (both string-through bridges and those with bridgeholes) where the strings not only pulled off the bridge but a portion of the guitar top as well!
And then there are degrees of damage that under-tension strings can do. If the bridge is not glued on properly to the guitar top, you will find the bridge lifting.
If the bridge is glued on properly, you will find the guitar bellying (guitar top lifting in the area behind the saddle). Admittedly, this is partly a fault of an inadequately constructed bridgeplate (size and/or material used), but then the string tension’s handiwork cannot be denied!
Generally, whenever bellying is seen in a guitar, you can be sure that there is some corresponding sinking in the area after the soundhole and before the bridge.
Do you see it? Again, while this could be the instrument counteracting the bellying, it could also be that one of the braces under the top have come loose/dropped off.
In any case, the fingerboard extension displays a phenomenon, what in luthiery is referred to as ‘dropping off’. (If it is) Stuck well to the guitar top, the fingerboard extension falls with the sinking top. You can see some of it in the picture above, and it is more evident below. Major operation correcting that too.
So, do not commit hara-kiri; in order to save yourself pain and money, de-tune your guitar before you stow it away for some time.