Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Guitar Repair -- Before and After


In a recent post, I explained how this guitar, which was found in a high school storage closet, had taken a beating.  The badly warped top had separated from the body and the fingerboard was loose on the neck. Other than these two issues, the guitar was in pretty favorable condition.


Here is the same guitar with a new top and an overall reconditioning.

On the outside, it looks like a new 000 Martin cutaway guitar with pre-amp, which works beautifully since the corroded contacts were cleaned and the old battery replaced with a new one.

But, on the inside it is very different.  I chose to replace the limited bracing with a full-on pre-war D18 style hand formed scalloped brace design for the top.  The internal lining and back braces were reinforced with super glue to stabilize the composite body. The ebony fingerboard was re-glued to the neck, and the warped ebony bridge was flat sanded and re-positioned on the new Martin top, which has six hand-applied coats of TruOil finish.  A new tortoise shell-style scratch guard matches the sound hole inlay, and Ernie Ball light gauge acoustic strings finish off the re-build.

Ian took it for a test run, and I think he likes his 'new' guitar.
By the way, he is a great fingerstyle picker.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why Would Someone Trash A Martin Guitar?

My young friend Ian found this Martin guitar in a closet at his school.  He asked someone if he could have it,. and the rest is history.  We're repairing it.

Sure, it's not an expensive model, but why would anyone trash a Martin guitar, or any musical instrument for that matter?

This particular guitar is a Martin custom created especially for Guitar Center stores to sell.  It has composite sides and back.  Spruce top with inlay surrounding the sound hole.  The bolt-on neck is one-piece made from thin strips of wood stock laminated together.  The fretboard and bridge are ebony, with bone nut and saddle.  And, it has a Fishman equalizer with Piezo bridge pickup, and Martin closed-gear tuners.

Now, for the not so good stuff.  The top is so warped, from (I think) extreme temperature and humidity change, that it's not salvageable.  And, as you can see in the photos, it has come apart from the interior lining, and the bracing is shot.  The back has also lifted from its lining in several places.

Aside from the top, everything else can be salvaged, and I'm confident that Ian and I can repair it with no problem.  

My friends at the Martin factory came through for me, as usual.  They had a replacement top and scratch guard in stock, and it's on its way to me as I write this missal. I'll need to profile the top and fit it with bracing (modified of course for more stability), but that's no big deal.

When we get done with the repair, it's going to be a better-than-new rig.  Maybe Ian will let me play it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bending Acoustic Guitar Sides

Crafting an acoustic guitar is not only about design and acquisition of desired wood.  It's about tools necessary to accomplish the project in a way that is successful.

In my short tenure of building acoustics, I've learned one important thing.  You must either have a full piggy bank and a willingness to part with large quantities of cash, or the ability to create unusual tools necessary for a satisfactory outcome.

One of the tools of the trade is a side bender, which is used to form raw wood into the desired shape for a guitar body.  A heat generating tube is one method, which is used by many luthiers, and another more elaborate device is a side bending machine.  I've built both, but I think the 'machine' will work best for me.

The photo above is of the tube style side bender, which I designed and built several months ago.  As you can see, it's pretty simple , , , a heating element, controlled by a rheostat, heats the copper tube to the desired temperature, and the guitar side wood is hand-shaped around the extended tube.  There is a bit of trial and error involved with this type bender, and the final result can be irregular in shape.

The bending machine on the right is a creation I designed and completed today, which takes the 'guessing' out of bending acoustic guitar sides.

The design of my machine is similar to those used by other guitar builders, but I tried to take the best ideas from other machines and to incorporate them into a unit that would work best for me.  I'll try to explain why I designed it a certain way, and how it works.

It's a four-part creation made up of a base (the brown part), a body form, which sits inside the base, (this particular form is for a dreadnought style guitar), a specially designed retainer, which is located at the end of the screw press rod, is used to form the depression at the waist of the guitar side, and four spring-loaded retainers, which hold the raw guitar side wood securely on the form during the bending process.

Yes, those are light bulbs you see on the surface of the base, which are the heat source for the process.  The inside of the body form is lined with reflective foil, and the top is covered with a sheet of stainless steel.  The waist retainer rides smoothly up and down the slotted openings in the base, because of an embedded steel blade in the retainer.  The other movable retainers (the dowel rods are there to protect my hands from being burned on the heated surface during the alignment process) can be strategically positioned at bend points on the surface of the body form to hold the wood side in place during the heating and cooling process.

I chose light bulbs for the heat source, because a luthier with thirty years experience says it's the least expensive and equally efficient way to conduct heat to bend wood.  Another method is to use a heat blanket, but it's costly and requires more pieces to mess around with.  Due to the dreadnought shape, I chose to use a 100 watt bulb in the upper bout position of the bender; a 75w bulb at the waist; and a 150w bulb for the lower bout (this will equalize the heat in consideration to the distance of the wood from the bulb.  And, the temperature can be further controlled by a light dimmer on the face of the machine.  To further control the process, I added a simple-to-use kitchen timer to the face of the machine as well, to control the 'cook' time.

This photo shows the machine set up and ready to accept  raw side material for bending.

Raw wood material is cut to the desired shape of the side pattern (profiled), and sprayed with distilled water to adequately wet it for bending.

The moist side material is then wrapped in craft paper to retain moisture, and inserted onto the stainless steel bender surface, under another movable stainless sheet.  The waist position is marked on the raw wood so as to center it correctly with the waist retainer (the center mark can be seen through the vertical retainer slide opening).

When the desired temperature is reached, the movable spring-loaded retainers are carefully moved into position shaping the side as they are positioned.

The raw material is left to 'cook' for a specified time, and then it remains in the bender to cool down, before being removed to a body mold for a longer cure time.

Why did I build this contraption, which my wife says looks like something Frankenstein might have used in the lab?  Well, the reasons are not complex.  I could pay someone to bend sides for me ($50 a set), but that seems a little foolish.  If I can build a complete guitar, I should be able to build the tools necessary to complete the job.  And, a finished bender similar to what I just created, for about a hundred bucks, sells for $485-$590 on eBay.  It seemed like a no-brainer to me.  And, besides, I love the process.  I think I may have been a mechanical engineer in a former life.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Why do we name our guitars, and why do we seem to always choose a woman's name?

I don't know, and I've really not put much thought into it, until now.  Perhaps it's because the guitars look really good.  The shape of the body?  Could be, because the usual hour-glass shape is sleek and kinda sexy. How it sounds?  Ya, especially when she's happy, there's nothing that gets your blood moving like a shapely woman purring like a kitten.  How it feels?  Oh, ya, I don't think this needs an explanation.

'Cristine' seems to fit my latest build pretty well.

She started out rough, but with a little tender care and attention she has turned out quite lovely.

Imagine, if you will, the body being a  rough slab of wood, which was in the first stage of a build.  The pickup cavities and neck pocket had been routed on the front, and the switch and pot opening had also been cut out on the back side, but that was the extent of the work, before, as legend has it, that the owner stopped work because of the onset of Alsheimer's disease.  It laid around in my friend Pat's shop for years, until he thought I should have it.  I'm always a sucker for a vintage project.

I don't know where the old after-market 25.5-inch scale neck came from, but it was the only thing about this basket case that led me to think it could be turned into something worth having.  It has real nice Grover tuning machines, so I was sold the minute I saw it.

The other item that interested me was the vintage Leo Quan 'Badass' wrap-around bridge/saddle.  It's a really cool piece of nostalgia, and no longer available on the market.

After acquiring a three-way switch; a couple single-coil magnetic pickups; volume and tone pots; and an output jack, it was time to commence building.

Pickup surrounds, switch base, and the scratch guard are all handmade from rosewood sheeting left over from the 'Elvira' acoustic build.  On the backside, the cavity covers for the electronics were made from surplus wood sheeting.

The wood body required shaping and sanding to remove imperfections, and then it was ready for sealing, priming and painting.  The rosewood pieces were sealed and clear coated to allow the grain to show, which is a nice contrast to the black body.

Magenta, green, and gold are all secondary colors, which work well together on the black surface, which is pretty stark looking as a stand-alone paint scheme.

I like having 'Cristine' in my life, 'cause she brings everything to the party.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wanna Really Cool Banjo?

I bumped into a lady the other day who wanted to sell a banjo.

Why do I need a banjo?  I don't play one. I don't know much about them.  I've always thought you had to wear overalls and spit tobacco to own one.

Oh, well, "Let me think about it", I told her.  "I'll call you if I decide to buy it."

I beat feet home to Google the banjo details.  Not a lot of info, but what I did learn led me to make a decision . . . I now own a very rare and old (91 years) House of Stathopoulo Peerless 'Supurb' model 4-string plectrum banjo.  This thing is in immaculate condition for its age.  It even came with the original hardshell case, which is beat up, but that's why the banjo is in such good shape . . . it was well protected.

Take a look, then I'll share some details.

Now, that I've peeked your curiosity I'll share a few details about this little devil.

What little information I could find says that the House of Stathopoulos Company was founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos, a maker of fiddles and lutes.  Stathopoulos moved to the Long Island City in Queens, NY in 1903, from what was then Smyrna, Ottoman Empire (now Izmir, Turkey).  Anastasios died in 1915, and his son, Epaminondas (Epi), took over the company.  Just after the end of WWI, the company began to make banjos (the period when this banjo was produced - 1923, and it sold for a whopping $102 - a great amount at the time), and continued until 1928, when the company took the name Epiphone Banjo Company, producing its first guitars (Epiphone, named after 'Epi' Stathopoulos) in 1928. Deaths in the family and a labor dispute in 1951 forced the company to relocate from New York to Philadelphia.  The company was bought in 1957 by its main rival, Gibson.  If you insist on knowing more, Google Epiphone guitars for a rundown.

So, you can see that this banjo is vintage.

OK, now to the good stuff.

It's a long scale banjo with 22 frets, which makes it a 'plectrum', rather than a 'tenor', a reason beyond age for its rarity.  It's in exceptionally good condition.  With the exception of the head, which is a newer replacement and the Grover replacement bridge, everything about the banjo is original.  The neck is straight and all the frets are solid and show very little wear.  The Grover tuners are in perfect condition, as is the adjustable tailpiece and all the other hardware.  All binding is intact with no separation.  The stainless body pieces are original and in fabulous condition.  The wood body shows a little crazing of the finish and surface scratches, but otherwise it is in excellent condition.  Geez, I hope I'm in as good shape when I'm 91 years old.

If you like pickin' and grinnin', it's going on eBay for auction.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Swap Meet Score

I bopped over to the monthly swap meet this past weekend hoping to find a few unusual trinkets I could use to decorate or enhance a cigar box guitar.  Nothing to cart home!

But, I ventured into the vintage tool arena hosted by my friend Tim, and lo and behold he had a Fender F-35 acoustic guitar propped against the wall for sale.  I checked it out and discovered that it was in excellent condition for a guitar made in the '70s.  Neck is straight, frets show no wear, tuners like new, no strings, but who cares, 'cause that's a simple and necessary fix, missing pick guard, but again that's an easy thing to correct, very light surface scratches on the top and back, sides show no wear, a few indentations on the neck underside from a capo, and ordinary wear from playing, and the bridge shows some wear from inside case scuffing.  Overall condition is 8 out of 10.

In the meantime our friend Ken came over to the booth (he is an artiste extraordinaire) to see what we were up to.  I negotiated Tim down to a reasonable price and bought the guitar.

Could have sold it twice on the way out, but that's no fun, I had to take this thing home to set it up to play.

Ken did fix me up with all the ivory and ebony I can ever use for fretboard inlays.  He really is a talented guy.  One of Ken's fascinations is to create 'piano men' from discarded grand piano parts, for guys like me to expand our imaginations in the creations of funky art, which Ken displays at museums and art shows around the country.  It's really a big deal!  I've created two displays and plan to do another.

Strings and pick guard were installed, and I polished the surfaces before firing this thing up.  It plays and sounds great, because the action is comfortable and the body is a mini-jumbo (according to the Fender Guitar Company website), and as near as I can determine the guitar was built in 1973. Unbelievable condition for a 40-year-old instrument.

It's going on eBay for sale, so if you want a really nice guitar take a look, or contact me soon and we'll make a deal.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Is It Really Beyond Repair?

A week ago I happened to come across a damaged acoustic guitar.  The headstock was completely severed from the neck in an accidental fall to the floor.  The owner didn't think it could be repaired, so he gave the thing to me.

You can see from these photos that the break is clean , but severe. During the inspection process of fitting the pieces together, I discovered that quite a bit of the problem was in the small pieces missing from around the break. That could be areal problem, when attempting to match the wood grain.  Also, there were missing binding pieces, which surrounded the headstock.    It wasn't just one color, but two, to deal with.  Fortunately, I have a supply of various colors of binding left over from acoustic builds.  In this particular case it was black and cream color that needed to be paired up and glued into the spaces left by the damage.

Before I got too involved in the project, I researched the value of this guitar and found that it is moderately priced on the retail level.  Not a bad deal if I can salvage it.  The only problem is the headstock.

The body is beautiful quilted maple sides and back with spruce top.  Nice pearl purfling and inlays.

In addition to being a cutaway acoustic, there is a good quality 5-band equalizer pre-amp installed to adjust sound from the under-bridge electric piezo pickup. And, an added touch are the Grover tuning machines.  Overall, it's a pretty nice rig.

Well, to make this story short, I cleaned up the broken pieces, by brushing away any stray small pieces of wood fiber, fitted the broken parts together to assess things and proceeded to glue the pieces together.  There are any number of recommended procedures from the experts, but as usual I let common sense dictate how I would proceed.  I chose to use the standard TiteBond glue I use in the ground-up building of an acoustic guitar.  If it's good enough for Martin, it will be good enough for me.  Once each piece was evenly coated with a light film of glue, I 'married' the pieces and applied reasonable pressure with clamps.  The key here is to join the pieces, without squeezing glue from the coated surfaces, thus the light, but adequate film.  If this can be accomplished, the glued joint will be stronger, when cured, than the wood itself.  I keep the pressure on for twenty-four hours.

The glue is set on the aligned pieces, and it is time for a stress test.  Using my bench neck rest as a pivot point I applied plenty of downward and upward pressure to the glued joint, and it held under pressure.  So, it's on to the final steps.

The missing pieces mentioned earlier were replaced with wood filler, which required me to be creative in the final steps of the finish process.  The damaged binding was repaired, and the spliced area was filled and sanded several times to get to a point of satisfaction.  The pearl logo and binding were masked off in preparation of finish.  I chose to spray the repaired area with a rich brown color, and then to clear coat it, because it is impossible to maintain the integrity of the wood grain, there were too many small wood chips missing.

I let the finish cure for a week, before waxing it with a good paste wax.  Tuners and strings were installed, and I fired it up for a test run.

Voila!  A guitar beyond repair plays like there was no yesterday.  I love it when a plan comes together.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Class. That is all.

This picture is very old and quite funny. My friend Joe the tall guy with his sister Mary Ann and someone we don't even remember. And the guy leaning on the car looking really cool is me. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

'Cella' Finds A New Home

I received word today from Lora Lee Ortiz of Vintage Albuquerque that the auction in support of art for children in Albuquerque, New Mexico was a great success, and that the handmade one-of-a-kind guitar I donated for the auction went to a new home.

Lora shared with me that 'Cella' didn't make it to the auction floor, because it was purchased for an undisclosed amount prior to the start of bidding.

It is satisfying to know that someone was so eager to own 'Cella'.  And, I am grateful to Cate Stetson and the other members of the organization for choosing me to be one of fourteen featured artists for the event.

Thanks to all of the folks at Vintage Albuquerque for the opportunity.  I'm eager for the next event, and I got another creation in mind.

For more information about 'Cella', go to

Monday, June 23, 2014

'Gutshaker II'

The only carry-over from the last hotrod I built is the license plate.  What to do with it?

I decided the proper thing was to use it as the resonator for a cigar box guitar.

I've got a bunch of Tatuaje cigar boxes on inventory, for special occasions, because they are no longer being produced, so I decided to make a three-string guitar.  The neck is walnut with Spanish cedar overlay on the headstock.  The fretboard is Ziricote wood, which is my favorite . . . it's beautiful wood! The nut, floating saddle and tailstock are made from Corian.  And the magnetic pickup is covered and painted to blend with the plate.  The headstock medallion is a Montana quarter, which seemed appropriate, because of the plate, and the thing will always be worth something.  I placed my logo in the area usually provided for the date sticker. and one of the bolt holes is now the output jack for the amp . . . it keeps things plain and simple, which I like.

I chose to paint the box black, to let the plate emphasize the build, and to also have a surface to create the little creature I refer to as the Gutshaker.

I've been doing graphics and pinstriping on rods and customs for more than fifty years, and the little guy was the focal point of the '27 T, so why not on the guitar.  And, the colors matched as well.

Bed rail art for the 'T'.

The 'T' is powered by a pumped up 327 c.i. Chevy V-8 moving muscle through a 350 turbo hydro tranny to a Corvette posi rearend.  It's so damn hot and light that it will climb a telephone pole.  And, the guitar will rattle the windows when amped up.

Yes, they're 'Gutshakers'!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Drum Sander -- Home Built by Micheal Kingsley

For the 'do-it-yourselfers' Micheal Kingsley shared photos of a drum sander that he built.

This is one of the best home-built rigs I've seen, and it will be a part of my shop in the near future.  I need this to slim down the back, sides, and top pieces, when I'm building an acoustic guitar.  And, the best part is that it will pay for itself quickly, in that my supplier charges twenty bucks for each sand job.

If you want a copy of the blueprint, give me a shout and I'll send it to your email address.

WooHoo, thanks Micheal.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

'Big Boy' Pounds Out Sound

Finally, the Zenith radio conversion to an amp is complete.  The cabinet is in great condition and the only need was to clean and polish it.  After removing all the internal mechanism and listing them on eBay (by the way everything sold for more than the cost of the redo), I scavenged speakers from another cadaver, replaced the cloth speaker cover with something vintage looking, installed a battery-powered GuitarFuel amp harness, and most everything is in place and ready to go.  Controls for the amp are located on the side of the cabinet for easy use when playing my guitar(s).

One exception.  The main face plate and dial arrangement had to be fitted to make this thing look a little bit authentic.  My son suggested that I install a small motor and light.  The light to add illumination to the face, and the motor to turn the dial like a propeller, for a little fun.

This took some 'injunity', but the result is good.  The light works on the same AC circuit as the motor, which is speed controlled through a rheostat, and both features are controlled with a push switch on the front of the cabinet.

Now, I must decide about what I'm going to do with this.  I really don't need another amp -- five or six are enough, me thinks.  It's too bulky to ship anywhere - to say nothing about cost.  And, my kids aren't into antique re-purposed furniture.  Oh, well, I just might sit back and watch the dial turn, while contemplating what a great rock & roller I might have been.   ;-)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Allmosta Amp

While shopping at one of my favorite and most unique record stores . . . yes, that's record, like in vinyl recording for a turntable . . . something the NOW generation wouldn't recognize . . . I stopped in to the adjacent secondhand store to scope out what might become the newest treasure I could not live without.

There waiting for me to purchase and turn it into a really cool guitar amp was a Zenith standup radio complete with shortwave features manufactured around 1940 . . . geez, it's a old as me, and in just as good condition.  This photo shows it partially disassembled.  I got so excited about re-purposing this thing that I commenced the dismantle before I got the camera involved.  Oh, well, you'll soon see it in all its redone glory.  Stay tuned for a finished photo.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

'Black Dog' Amp

My Doc asked me the other day how I was feeling.  He's concerned that I might be struggling with an issue or two related to my recent heart surgery.  He tells  me that it is not unusual for a fella to avoid doing some things that were a regular occurrence before surgery . . . avoidance.  OK, Doc, I understand, but that's not me, OK!

He failed to tell me that my memory might be affected.

How do I know?  Well, I've been planning on building a really cool amplifier, but I needed to order an amp harness from my friend Ty at GuitarFuel.  I thought I had a couple laying around from the last order a couple months before the surgery, but I didn't bump into them while looking around the shop.

The project got underway with the assembly of parts (except a harness, which is on order).

A great Legend Ario cigar box from Ed at Woodland Cigars for the amp body, new JBL speakers scavenged from the Hospice Thrift Store, a kick-ass Black Lab drawer pull from someplace (see, I can't remember) for decoration, and the journey began.  Can't wait to receive the harness, so I can light this thing up.

The box is made to withstand a tornado with sides a half-inch thick, or maybe it's to carry Ed's weight in the event he needed a place to sit, while watching Kim Kardashian exercise in yoga pants . . . it doesn't take a lot to entertain Ed.

At any rate, I needed to cut a large opening in the lid of the box, to accommodate the amp controls and switches, and then to create a thin wood cover for the opening.  Out comes a piece of cardboard to cut a template, and under the cardboard on a shelf was a box.  Inside that box was the harnesses I couldn't find!

Geez, Doc, I think you're onto something!  I suffer from CRS (Can't Remember Shit)!

Now, I gotta build more amps, 'cause I got a harness order coming.

Oh, well, here it is, the 'Black Dog' amp.  It's loud, and it ranges from clean to downright dirty.  So, there isn't much that you cannot do with this little tone monster.

Let me know what you think of it.

The 'Black Dog' is powered by the NO SOLDER GuitarFuel MAH5 harness featured here, and it really is a 'monster'.  With a full 5 watts of power, you have a choice of tones from crystal clear to metal mayhem. The tone expander circuit provides a flat boost and EQ control.  There's an IPOD/MP3 input (3.5mm jack) so you can play along with your favorite music, and even an A tuning note so you can have one less thing (tuner) to carry with you.  A 3.5mm headphone/ear bud jack is included and turns off the speaker, when in use.  Complete portability with a 9V alkaline battery for power, or use a 12-15VDC adapter (center + fully regulated is recommended).  Other features are:  Volume Control (On/Off as well with light indicator); 5-way rotary switch for Clean, Tube, Blues, Rock, Metal, and A Tuning note;

All kidding aside, GuitarFuel amp harnesses are the best you can buy for a DIY project.  There are other parts on the market, but none of them stack up to the GF Monster!  Sure, it's a little more pricey than the others, but, as the old saying goes, "You get what you pay for", and you get your moneys worth with any parts from GuitarFuel.  Explore what Ty has to offer, by clicking on the link on the right-hand column of this site.